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Estonia: As Nordic as the Nordics?

Our geographically-savvy readers are probably already aware that Estonia is not part of the Nordics (yet). It is, however, very close to its Nordic neighbours, both physically and culturally. In fact, 55 percent of Estonians identify as Nordic.

Estonia: As Nordic as the Nordics?
Tallinn Old Town. Photo: Kaupo Kaldal/brand estonia

Let’s take a look at ten things that you probably didn’t know about this country of some 1.3 million people with well over 2,000 islands and the most startups per capita in Europe.

It’s perfectly located for easy access to the rest of Europe

Photo: Kaspar Orasmäe/ brand estonia

Without cheating, can you place Estonia on a map? Don’t worry, you aren’t being graded so we’ll help you out. The nation is just south of Finland and is bordered by Russia to the east and Latvia to the south. To the west is the Baltic Sea that separates it from Scandinavia.

The nation’s largest airport is in the capital city of Tallinn, where you can hop on a flight to any of 27 different destinations, the vast majority of which are major European cities. It was declared the best small airport in all of Europe by Airport Council International and business is absolutely booming.

It’s the most digitally-advanced society in the world

While you might have assumed that the chip-implanting Swedes, the always-connected Danes or even those digital radio pioneers in Norway would lay claim to this title, Wired magazine gives it to Estonia.

This is because nearly everything can be done online in Estonia, from voting to registering births and deaths. Estonians conduct 99 percent of their government interactions online, which is incredibly easy to do on the go when nearly all of the country’s public spaces offer free wifi. In 2016, Barack Obama said: ‘I should have called the Estonians when we were setting up our health care website.’

Click here to see job listings in Estonia

It’s the IT hub of the Nordics

Photo: Starship

Yes, yes, we’ve addressed that it’s not technically in the Nordics but if you work in IT and want to advance your career, Estonia is the place to be. It has the most startups in Europe per capita and its workplaces’ lack of organizational hierarchy makes it easy to reach your career goals as fast as your talent and ambition will take you. 

Be warned though, you’ll have some competition. Estonians have long embraced and understood technology. They created the software behind Skype and Kazaa, two global companies that absolutely revolutionized communications and peer-to-peer sharing. TransferWise, which changed the way the world does international money transfers, was also developed in Estonia, as was the cloud-based startup GrabCAD, which allows engineers to manage and share CAD files and build products faster.

Then there’s Estonia’s innovative e-Residency programme, a first-of-its-kind scheme that allows entrepreneurs, freelancers and digital nomads to start and register a company online from anywhere in the world with the backing and support of the Estonian state.

It has Scandinavian-style parental leave

The Nordics may be the countries most synonymous with generous parental leave schemes, but Estonia is truly one of the best places in the world for new parents.

Photo: Renee Altrov/ brand estonia 

Embracing the work-life balance of its Nordic neighbours, Estonia offers seven different kinds of parental leave that total as much as 87 weeks off. Women are entitled to 140 days of pregnancy and maternity leave while new fathers are given two weeks off prior to birth and then two months of paid leave after the new bundle of joy arrives. On top of that, parents are then given an additional 435 days (not a typo!) off to share until the child turns three. Even adoptive parents are given 70 paid days off.

Find out more about the business environment in Estonia

It’s crazy affordable compared to the Nordics

You’d be hard-pressed to find a tech hub with lower living costs than Tallinn. Salaries in the tech sector are competing with global salary levels in the information technology sector and increasing each year while the median rent of a medium-sized apartment is €620 per month. That’s less than a third of what you’d pay in London or Amsterdam and half of what a similar dwelling costs in Copenhagen or Stockholm.

What's more, it has food and drink prices that would make Scandinavians weep with envy. A pint of beer will only set you back €3 ($3.40) and a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant only costs €38 ($43). The country is also home to half of the top 60 restaurants in the Baltic States as determined by The White Guide Nordic 2017 – so one thing's for sure, you won't struggle to find a decent meal!

Groceries are equally as affordable. A loaf of bread and a dozen eggs would only cost you one measly €2 ($2.30) coin, while a liter of gasoline goes for about €1.23 ($1.40). We could go on, but we can hear you sobbing from here.

Public transport is more than affordable – it’s free!

Photo: Rasmus Jurkatam/ brand estonia 

Residents of the Estonian capital were the first in the EU to be treated to free public transport. Since 2013, they’ve been able to hop on the city’s buses, trams, trains and trolleys at no cost (well, OK, they had to spring for a so-called ‘green card’ that cost a whopping two euros). Tallinn’s free transport was an experiment that caught the attention of urban planners the world over, and it’s worked. In fact, it’s been so successful that the Estonian government decided to take it national.  

Find out more about working in Estonia

Taxes are a lot lower than in the Nordics

Photo: Rasmus Jurkatam/ brand estonia 

Estonians may feel Nordic, but they don’t get taxed like Nordic people.

Estonia has a 20 percent income tax, which is not only well below the rate of the Nordic countries but also much simpler than the progressive tax scales favoured there. In Estonia, everyone pays the same tax rate regardless of their income level. Businesses too can benefit from lower taxes with a 0 percent corporate income tax on retained and reinvested profit.

VAT is also lower in Estonia than in the Nordics, at 20 percent for most goods and services and a reduced rate of 9 percent for certain products like books.

The people of Estonia enjoy a great work/life balance…

Workers in Estonia receive 28 days of paid vacation and an additional ten public holidays per year, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the country’s beautiful nature. And there is no shortage of that. A full 50 percent of Estonia is forest land and there are nearly 3,800 kilometres of coastline to explore.

Photo: Renee Altrov/ brand estonia 

If you fancy yourself more of an urban explorer, you’ll find plenty to your liking in the heart of Tallinn. The city’s Old Town is such an “exceptionally complete and well-preserved” medieval city” that it’s been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city’s juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern lends itself to a number of postcard-worthy sites to visit during all of that time off work!

Click here to see career opportunities in Estonia

Estonians are so proud of their country’s working environment as frontrunners in technology that the country has launched its ‘Career Hunt’ promotion. The top 23 applicants from 15 countries are invited to spend an all-inclusive five day trip to Tallinn where they will meet the country's brightest IT stars, enjoy the sauna culture and skip the queue straight to final rounds of job interviews with top tech companies.

…. even in winter

Photo: Tõnu Tunnel/ brand estonia

Temperatures reach between 20 and 30 degrees in summer but Estonia can be downright frigid during the winter months. It’s not unusual for temperatures to drop down to -20C but, like their Nordic neighbours, the locals hardly let that stand in the way of a good time. Estonians really embrace the winter through a thriving sauna culture and outdoor activities like husky sledding and ice skating on some of the country’s 1,400-plus lakes. The thick blanket of snow also adds a whole new element to Estonia’s natural and manmade beauty, giving you another reason to go out exploring. After all, you’ll probably have some remaining days off and extra money in your pocket.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Work in Estonia.

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How to make the most of Sweden’s public holidays in 2019

Swedish companies offer generous holiday allowances, and with a range of secret tricks you can make them stretch even further. Here's how to make the most of Sweden's public holidays in 2019.

How to make the most of Sweden's public holidays in 2019
Taking just five days of annual leave can get you a 17-day holiday in 2019. Photo: Gustav Sjöholm

This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more Membership Exclusives here.

If you're working in Sweden, you're already one of the luckiest employees on the planet when it comes to annual leave, even before factoring public holidays into the equation.

By law, firms have to give full-time staff 25 days off, and many offer extra days and benefits on top of this. For example, most employees have the right to take at least four consecutive weeks off in June-August if they choose, and you'll find that Sweden's larger cities empty out in those months.

But on top of those paid vacation days, there are several so-called 'red days' (röda dagar) in the Nordic nation. Plenty of workers schedule their breaks away around these public holidays and by doing so you can get long stretches of time off by only using a few of your precious vacation days. Keep reading to learn the tricks to make the most of this, and the other factors to be aware of.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about annual leave in Sweden

1. Check your company's approach to annual leave around public holidays

Some firms offer de facto bonus half days ahead of public breaks, while others ask staff to take annual leave in the days before or afterwards, in order to synchronize company work schedules.

The dates in between public holidays are known as klämdagar which means 'squeezed days', for example a Monday which falls between a weekend and a public holiday the next Tuesday. Some employers offer these as extra vacation days, and for those that don't, they are popular days to take off, meaning some businesses offer a 'first-come-first-served' policy for these sought-after days.

That means planning ahead if you want to take time off then, but consider whether you might actually want a few quiet days in the office while your boss stays at their summer house after a national holiday, perhaps saving your own annual leave for dark November or frozen February.

If you do shift work or are a member of a union, you're likely to get extra pay for working public holidays. If red days take place over a weekend, some firms – but far from all – offer an alternative weekday off instead.

If you're not sure what your company's policy is, don't be afraid of discussing holidays with your employer. Sweden's approach to work-life balance means they are more likely to think less of you if you don't plan any time off.


Photo: Christian Ferm/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

2. Book early if you want to travel during 'red day' periods

Swedes love to plan, so if you're thinking about travelling around Sweden over Midsummer or enjoying an Easter getaway, now is the time to start organizing. Hotels, flights and even trains and popular restaurants can get booked up months in advance, with prices rising as the holidays get closer. If you have family abroad, it could be more expensive to return home to visit them, or for them to visit you.

3. Beware of restaurant and attraction closures

In many countries public holidays can often be a chance for tourist attractions to cash in on extra visitors, but Swedes often consider their time off to be sacred. 

If a particular museum, restaurant or attraction is a major appeal of a destination, check in advance that it will actually be open to avoid disappointment on the day.


Photo: Lina Roos/imagebank.sweden.se

4. Be prepared for your Swedish friends to leave town

Public holidays are a classic time for Swedes to leave the country's big cities and head to their parents' places or second homes in the countryside, so they can be a lonely time for foreign workers. Start dropping hints early if you're hoping for an invitation to a Swedish summer house this Midsummer, or check online social forums to connect with other internationals who are in the same boat.

5. Check school term dates

It's obvious that if you've got school-age children, you'll need to know when their term starts and finishes — be aware that these dates differ in different parts of the country. But even for workers without children, it pays to check when the summer holiday is, as well as the spring break (sportslov) and autumn break (höstlov or läslov).

Traffic is often very busy at the start and end of these periods as families escape from the cities, and hotel prices can also rise due to the spike in demand. In particular, if you want a winter skiing break, you're likely to save money (and have a more peaceful holiday) by avoiding the time in February when ski resorts are packed with families enjoying the winter sports break. You'll find a comprehensive list of the dates on the SkolPorten website.

Keep reading below for a list of Sweden's public holidays in 2019.


Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se

National public holidays in Sweden in 2019

January

Tuesday January 1st – New Year's Day – Public holiday

It's a good start to the year, because New Year's Day falls on a Tuesday, and many employers offer December 31st as a day off making this a four-day weekend. Unfortunately that means Epiphany, January 6th, falls on a Sunday, so 9-5 workers miss out on that extra red day.

April

Friday April 19th – Good Friday – Public holiday

Monday April 22nd – Easter Monday – Public holiday

It's a long wait until the next set of public holidays, but 2019's late Easter means there's a better chance the weather will have improved if you want to use the long weekend to explore Sweden. 

May

Wednesday May 1st – Public holiday

Thursday May 30th – Ascension Day – Public holiday

Walpurgis Eve on April 30th is often a de facto half-day (but check with your employer first). In 2018 it falls on a Tuesday, so by asking for the 29th off plus a full or half-day on the 30th depending on your company's policy, you can get a five-day stretch off work.

There's another chance at a long weekend later in May if you get the Friday after Ascension Day off. But it's a popular klämdag, so make sure you get there before your colleagues.

June

Thursday June 6th – National Day – Public holiday

Friday June 21st – Midsummer's Eve. This isn't technically a public holiday, but because the day is such an integral part of Swedish summer traditions, most employers will give you the day off anyway. If they do, there's a chance they'll also treat you to a half-day off on the Thursday.

And if you take the Friday after National Day off, that's two long weekends in one month.

November

Friday November 1st – All Saints' Eve. Not a public holiday, but because it falls the day before All Saints' Day, which is a public holiday, there's a chance you'll get half the day off. But ask your employer first.

December

Tuesday December 24th – Christmas Eve

Wednesday December 25th – Christmas Day – Public holiday

Thursday December 26th – Boxing Day – Public holiday

Tuesday December 31st – New Year's Eve

Wednesday January 1st, 2020 – New Year's Day – Public holiday

Just like Midsummer's Eve, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve are not technically public holidays, but they are almost always treated as such anyway.

This year the Christmas holidays are positioned so that all fall on weekdays. This means that if you also take off the 23rd, 27th, and 30th (or if your employer offers any or all of these as klämdagar), you'll get 12 consecutive days of holiday. Take off the 2nd and 3rd as well and you'll get a 17-day stretch for the price of only five days' annual leave. Perfect if you want to travel overseas to visit family or enjoy some winter sun.

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