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A Guide to Lapland in Winter: Money

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For three countries that are part of the Schengen zone, Norway, Sweden, and Finland don’t make it easy to cross the border money-wise. Only Finland uses the Euro; Norway and Sweden use their own versions of kronor. This combined with the fact that Lapland is a pretty remote place can make the idea of trying to access your money — and pay for basic needs like bus rides — a bit daunting. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Money

Exchange Rates

The current exchange rates can be seen below.

Finnish prices can be easier to gauge for people coming from countries like the US and Australia, where the exchange rate is much closer to one-to-one. Watch out when you go from Sweden to Norway, as the Swedish krona is usually worth only 90% of the Norwegian krona. That 10% difference can make a big dent on your pocketbook.

Credit Cards

One thing that will save you from foreign exchange pain in the short term is your credit (or debit) card. All three countries were among the most credit-card friendly nations in Europe, and you’ll rarely be forced to pay in cash. If you do have to use cash, you’ll usually know in advance so you can withdraw the right amount beforehand.

This will save you from foreign exchange pain in the short term because your credit institution may charge you 3% or more per transaction for foreign transactions. In addition, they may not give you a very favourable exchange rate, which will make an already expensive destination seem moreso. However, they will also charge you for foreign ATM withdrawals — starting with a $5 base fee and possibly adding on a percentage of the transaction as well. Therefore, it pays to understand exactly what your card will charge you well before you leave.

Travel Made Simple has done a very useful post on the most traveler-friendly credit cards from each country. One such example is the (Australian) 28 Degrees Card, which gives you an up-to-date exchange rate and has no foreign transaction fees (but has a higher interest rate to make up for it).

Credit Card With Money Ver3

If you use a chip-and-PIN card, you may have already noticed while traveling that the PIN works in some countries but not others. For many Australian cards, the PIN works in Norway and Sweden with no problem, but require a signature for all transactions in Finland. Unlike in the UK, where cards are outright rejected when a shop’s credit card reader asked for a signature, everyone seems to be happy to take the card regardless of whether it is used with a PIN or signature.

ATM Access

Some of the small towns, including Inari in Finland and Reine in Norway’s Lofoten Islands, have ATMs that are not associated with banks. Instead, they could be found in the town’s main hotel, convenience stores, or petrol stations.

The town of Kaaresuvanto, just on the Finnish side of the Finland/Sweden border, does not have any ATMs, but the Neste Oil station lets you withdraw cash with a transaction (usually the cheapest thing you can find, i.e. chewing gum).

Some towns, like Porjus in Sweden, have no cash facilities, and the nearest ATMs are a 45-minute drive away. Even if your credit card does have foreign transaction fees, this is where you’ll likely find yourself using it anyway.

Cash Before You Go

If you are visiting only one region of Lapland or Northern Norway, it’s likely that you’ll be flying there from that country’s capital. While I never advocate traveling with large amounts of cash, I would recommend that you withdraw some cash from an ATM before leaving either Oslo, Stockholm, or Helsinki. Not only will there be a lot more ATMs to choose from, but there’s a chance you could find one that has a reciprocal agreement with your bank and therefore has reduced fees.

It’s important to carry some cash — I’d recommend the equivalent of US$50 to $100 — just to get yourself out of any situations that absolutely require cash.

Travelex

Burning Money is Financial Crime and Waste in China

If you can at all avoid it, don’t use a money exchange…especially at airports! Cash is not so hard to come by in Lapland that it’s worth the ripoff exchange rates that you’ll be given.

Crossing Borders

Many people’s main concern money-wise in Lapland is whether they will be able to pay for things immediately after they cross a border. The fact that credit card is taken everywhere — even on buses — made this a non-issue, as does the fact that cash is accessible in the first towns you stopped in on the other side of the border.

Border Crossing

The border crossing between Sweden (Sverige) and Finland (Suomi) in Karesuando/Kaaresuvanto.

That said, there can be situations that catch you unaware and without cash, so it’s best to give yourself some time to get your money situation sorted once you arrive in your first destination in a new country. Two example situations of being caught out are:

  • Arriving at the Sami Easter Festival in Norway and needing to pay the entry fee in cash to an attendant in a parking lot. We were running late so we didn’t have time to stop and withdraw money. Luckily I had been in Norway a few weeks prior and managed to dig enough change out of my wallet.
  • Arriving at a hotel in Kaaresuvanto, Finland and being told that my pre-booked dogsledding trip could only be paid in cash. They took two currencies — but despite the fact that the hotel virtually straddled the Finland/Sweden border, those two currencies were Euros and British Pounds. Luckily they let me put off payment until after the fact since I was also staying at the hotel.

Sales Tax

Value Added Tax (VAT) — the equivalent of sales tax in America and GST elsewhere — is fairly hefty in all the Nordic countries. In Norway and Sweden, it is an additional 25% on top of your purchase, and in Finland it is 24% (as of November 2013). However, this is always included in prices that are quoted to you, so you don’t have to worry about adding additional amounts on at checkout for tax.

Tipping

Like most countries outside of the USA and Canada, tipping is not expected in any of the three countries covered by this guide. Since service staff and tour guides are paid reasonable wages, they are not depending on your tip (or anyone else’s) to earn enough money for their time to be worth it.

no tipping

You should feel perfectly comfortable rounding up bills in restaurants and taxis, especially if you feel that you received exceptional service. A very friendly taxi driver that gives a lot of advice for where to go on your trip comes to mind. However, trying to tip a tour guide in cash when he or she clearly wasn’t expecting it is a bit more of a grey area. It might be well-received, but it might also cause an uncomfortable exchange where they refuse.

It’s important to carefully read your bills in Norway. Before you consider adding a tip, check to see if it’s already been added for you. Restaurants and tours, as well as other operators, can include up to a 10% gratuity in their bill.

For more fine-grained details on tipping in each country, WhoToTip.net is a great resource.


Even though it seems daunting that you may have to deal with up to three currencies throughout your trip, with a bit of research and pre-planning, you can save yourself quite a bit in fees and keep yourself out of (the admittedly few) binds for money that you may find yourself in.

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