Aalto researcher exchange

2012/04/11 by Lassi A. Liikkanen

Going abroad as an Aalto employee
Step by step guide to foreign exchange

This guide describes necessary actions for a Finnish university employee when going to work abroad as a visiting researcher. It has been written from Aalto university to US -point of view, but many of the principles hold beyond that context as well. This article give my personal opinion on how to manage things and views expressed here are not endorsed by Aalto university.

1. Making it possible

  • Contacts to host organization
    • TKK's bidirectional agreements
    • All available contacts. No existing formal ties are needed, but the receiving organization must be persuaded to handle the bureaucracy needed to invite you officially
  • Funding
    • Projects, internalization funds in Tekes projects, also travel funds (restrictions may apply)
    • Personal grants, where you're going determines what you can apply for. Academy of Finland provides generic funding for post-graduate, post-doctoral and senior exchange
  • Negotiation within the home organization
    • Both your supervisor and the head of the department must support your ambitions

2. General issues

See current Aalto information in the intranet Aalto INSIDE

  • Make a travel plan (matkasuunnitelma, TKK form 55; in english) and remote work contract (etätyösopimusmalli )
    • Requires a detailed financial plan, this is part of the form but probably requires an appendix to specify additional costs (visa, immigration, money transfer, research expenses) at HIIT, bring to Andrea after completed!
    • Implies getting a travel insurance from Aalto (will be automatically created)
      • Tuula Kinnunen 24 530 makes this arrangement, she also knows most about the practical stuff (Mirja Tuominen second, 24528)
    • There is a guide for remote workers (soon to be deprecated as a new one is coming out in summer 2010)
      • Minna-Mari Moisio (040 353 8294) plans a new guidance and maintains Aalto instructions
    • Remember to request for an advance (matkaennakko). The regulations are currently bit unclear, but you should be able to get advance for few months rent and other relocation costs.
    • Requires an approval of your supervisor and the signature of HIIT director
    • Tuula Singh 24 509 has been arranging remote work contracts, but you will unlikely need to contact her

Securing your life

Check your insurance coverage, do you need additional coverage beyond what is offered by Aalto insurance?

Maintaining Finnish citizenship benefits, if you stay abroad over 1 year

ETK

Eläketurvakeskus (ETK) will secure pension insurance if you are employed by Aalto
This office take care of things if you're going to EU/ETA or some other denoted country (USA, Australia, Canada, Chile, Israel)

KELA

provides all additional social security services and benefit
The following applies only if you do not get a decision from Eläketurvakeskus (see above)
To maintain your eligibility for Finnish social security, you need to make an application. Select form based on the lenght of your stay:

  • Under 1 year: Y39
  • 1 year or more: Y38
  • THIS IS CURRENTLY NOT PROCESSED ELECTRONICALLY
  • Return to KELA international office
    • Visit: Höyläämötie 1a B, 00380 HELSINKI, Mail: PL 78, 00381 HELSINKI
    • Read more info
    • Contact international services
      • Tel. 020 634 2650
      • inter.helsinki@kela.fi
    • They can also provide social security for family members based on family membership
  • Processing this application can take over 11 months, so don't expect a decision very soon
MELA

IF you have a Finnish grant for working, you should check about the requirement for pension insurance from MELA

  • Customer service 020 630 0650
  • Leena Vehkomäki and Kristiina Helen or Sirkku Rekola (020 630 0680) should know best
  • You always need to make application for the insurance, EVEN if you would not be intending (or eligible) to get an insurance
    • Different types of grants work differently here, whether they are targeted working or just non-specific (kannustus) grants
    • Non-specific grants (no specific time, no duty) do not require insurance
      • Academy of Finland grants are of unspecified type for MELA; so it is up to you to define whether you redact your costs
  • MELA decision will effect your KELA and Eläturvakeskus decision
  • MELA decision can take over 3 months so if you want the decision before you go, take it up well in advance

Taxation

If your stay exceeds 6 months, Aalto university can if requested will automatically cease to withhold tax and the responsibility is transferred to the employee.

  • There are some conditions
    • Is there an agreement between the countries?
    • Are you going to spend at least 6 days a month (in average) in Finland during the time? (over 183 days in 12 months)
    • See, http://www.etk.fi/Page.aspx?Section=41068
      You should contact verotoimisto
  • Verotoimisto (Tax) international office, 020 697024 (Verohallinnon kansainvälinen henkilöverotus palvelunumero)
  • Aalto will take care of minimal tax deduction (social security, pension), during your stay. This means that your salary will reducted by appr. 2.5%
    • You will pay the taxes to the recipient country
  • You should predict the Finnish taxation income beforehand: change your tax deducation rate to match your Finnish taxable income
    • Instructions
    • Call verokorttipuhelin 020 697 000 (9-16.15, pvm/mpm)

Note that in the lack of or despite of international agreements, choosing to continue pay taxes to Finland does not necessarily mean you would not be a subject to double taxation in the target country. For instance, different US states might not follow the international treaties similarly.

IPR contracts

If your host university requires an IPR transfer agreement, you need to check this Aalto (TKK) Innovation center to ensure conflicting interests of your employer and contractors. Difficulties may arise if you're funded by a Tekes or similar company-based source for which Aalto has made an agreement to pass on exclusive IP.

  • rahoitus@tkk.fi handles all project contracts

Travel

Return tickets (flights) are valid only within a year from the departure date. Additionally, most companies restrict the latest return date to 330 (or similar) days from the present date. This means that you can't buy this kind of ticket. Many carriers allow changes to economy class tickets for an additional fee.

When buying tickets, you may encounter even more restricted dates. It is worth checking out different agents or flight company sites to get the latest possible return.

  • Lufthansa sells 365 days advance, changes 100eur
  • BA 330 days in advance, changes 150eur

One way tickets are much more expensive, but return ticket's day of return can be changed (for a price) if necessary.

Sending stuff to your destination is expensive. If you can, taking the bulk of stuff as additional baggage is the cheapest option and can be reimbursed from Aalto if you have included in the travel plan

3. Preparations for a US visit

Getting a visa (J-1)

Steps:

  1. Get a DS-2019
  2. Get a visa
  • Arrangements with the host organization to acquire DS-2019, an official proof of your US visitor status
    • May cost something to the visitor
    • Will take about a week to appear
    • Probably requires a formal consent from the sending organization (HIIT)
    • You need to know the dates when you are going in and out. This will determine your latest entry date to US
  • Applying for a Visa
    • Always check for current info on: http://finland.usembassy.gov/visas.html
    • From May 2010, Finnish travellers will use an electronic form DS-160 which replaces previous DS-156, 157 and 158 forms (read more)
    • The non-refundable Machine-Readable Visa application fee (MRV fee) from April 2010 onwards for J-1 is $140, this can be paid with a Finnish bank transfer on current euro rate
      • Printed receipt from the web bank is OK for the interview
    • The SEVIS fee, currently $180, must also be paid before the visitor applies for a visa. It covers the cost of administering the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
    • The DS-160 form is here: https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/ FAQ here
    • Interview scheduling form is here: https://evisaforms.state.gov/default.asp?postcode=HLS&appcode=3
    • Phases in the process:
      • 1. Acquire a digital passport photo (facial photo less then 6 months; square 600-1200px; natural color in 24bit sRGB; JPEG format; size <240kB; see info)
        • At least TunninKuva at Ateneuminkuja, Helsinki center, takes these with a guarantee
      • 2. Pay the the Visa processing (MRV) fee
      • 3. Pay the SEVIS fee
      • 4. Fill out the appropriate form + optionally Social Security Number application (recommended if you have a US address)
      • 5. Schedule your interview (you'll get a code in the previous step)
    • Interview happens in central Helsinki. There are twenty or so interview times for each day. Take the requested documents (DS-2019, MRV receipt if requested, SEVIS receipt, application printout, return envelope, invitation letter and insurance certificate) and line up at the embassy gate at the requested time. You will go through security and allowed only your documents. After waiting to present your document and fingerprints you will be briefly interviewed. Then you'll just wait to get to the VISA through mail. Most of the missing information and documents can be provided later on by mail/email/fax, including the return envelope.
Renewing Visa

Extending visa in the same type of exchange visitor (e.g. J-1) category is somewhat complicated. The US host organization can quite easily create another DS-2019 certificate for you, but there is one issue. Your Visa will expire according to the original date. Receiving a new DS-2019 doesn't automatically extend the visa, so if you wish to exit and return to US while you are abroad (except for visits of less than 30 days to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean), you must re-apply for the visa. For a Finnish citizen, this means that you must return to Finland and apply for the visa like you did before.

Re-applying the Visa is slightly less difficult than the first time. The digital application system for inputting DS-160 form allows you to re-use your old DS-160 application, identified by the previous confirmation number. The form might require some additional input but will be much faster to fill. Other documents needed:

  • New photo (assuming the previous is already over 6m old)
  • MRV fee payment

SEVIS fee is waived for renewals, so the process is bit cheaper. The tricky part is that currently (early Aug 2011) the waiting times for an interview at Helsinki Embassy are over 5 weeks so this process requires some planning ahead. Application and reservation can luckily be made online.

See Fulbright foundation's info: http://foreign.fulbrightonline.org/current_j1_status_and_travel_information.html

About DS-2019 and I-94

These documents are important to keep safe during the whole time you spend in US. Make physical and digital copies should anything happen to the original. I-94 is the nondescript piece of paper that gets stamped when you enter the country and is stapled in your passport next to the Visa.

If you exit and re-enter US during the term of your visit:
Make sure you ask flight check-in (flying) or Customs and Border Protection (ground) should you surrender your I-94 or not Failing to do that will cause trouble when you try re-enter. It appears that going abroad for less than a week or a month might sometimes not be considered long enough leave for surrendering I-94.

Finding an apartment

You should try beforehand:

4. Being there

Finding an apartment and settling in before you can start working normally will take from 2-3 weeks.

4.1 US Specific

Required and suggested actions

  • Validating your J1 status to SEVIS authorities
  • Open bank account
    • Bank should have a SWIFT status
    • See a separate page on Money transfers from EU to US
    • VISA debit card is accepted as widely as a VISA credit card
    • Obtaining a US credit card from a bank with reasonable terms is not simple operation when you don't still have a history with the bank. In US, the credit history works in an almost opposite way to Finland, and 'absence of evidence is evidence of absence' when comes to credibility. Over time you can gain positive credit history, which allows the companies to trust you.
  • Possibly getting a phone
    • Phone plans are relatively expensive and most bundled phones deals are 2-years, prepaid services are probably your choice. T-Mobile is commonly used operator which still uses SIM cards, but you should confirm receptivity (network coverage) at your address before dealing with any of these.
  • Getting a social security number (SSN)
    • Although not absolutely necessary, a SSN facilitates your life on so my many occasions (starting from banking) that it is worth getting ASAP after arrival
  • Applying for a driver's license
    • A European or an international license is valid for 3 months after arrival, a but local driver's license can be useful for proofing your identity when using checks or getting discount on vehicle insurance
    • Licensing is not very expensive, but the application process can be troublesome. For instance, Californian DMV is very crowded all the time and you need to squeeze in twice to first complete a law test and then a behind-the-wheel test.
    • SSN is preferred but not required, passport, visa, DS 2019 and any existing license must be presented when applying

Travel claims

During your stay, your monthly costs previously budgeted for the trip need to be reimbursed monthly. Use the standard travel claim model and fax or email scanned and signed claim forms to the person in charge.

Paying taxes

According to early 2010 information, J-1 visa (non-immigrant aliens) holders do not pay federal taxes but may be subject to state taxes possibly in California, not in Boston or NY.

California specific information

Documentation of your stay

  • For some grants, an official statement of your exchange might be required, e.g. Suomen Akatemia:
    • Tutkijankoulutukseen ja tutkijoiden työskentelyyn ulkomailla myönnetyn apurahan saajan tulee edellä mainitun raportin yhteydessä toimittaa myös ulkomaisen suorituspaikan antama todistus työskentelystä ulkomailla. Todistuslomake on sivulla Tutkijalle > Rahoituksen käyttö > Lomakkeet.

Finding a car in US and importing it

If you stay at least 1 year, you can import a tax credited car, basically making it cheaper to acquire a car that is usually expensive in Finland. However, there are costs associated with shipping the car, so importing a cheap car is not usually worth while.

You should be aware that there almost no diesel powered cars available, the engine sizes are generally larger and the model selection of US and Japanese cars is quite distinct from Europe. The more uncommon the car is, the more difficult it will be in Finland to maintain it.

If looking for a used car, please make sure you understand the local taxation and registration requirements. For instance, in California, a sales tax of almost 10% applies to also used cars regardless of the seller (see e.g. wikianswers to understand the local policy). Purchase of a used vehicle is always more difficult than getting a new one. Excluding cars that have extended and extensive manufacturer's warranty (usually a highly valued and priced option), you need to budget yourself to be able to afford any service required during your stay.

If you start looking for a used car, I'd recommend buying a 'reconnaissance' vehicle. A cheap, old, small car which you can drive around with minimal costs and then sell away when you have found the car you really want. Old Hondas and Toyotas are plenty and want set you back for more than one or two thousand, including tax and registration. This will facilitate your everyday life and decrease stress about finding the right pre-owned vehicle in a hurry.

Check availability of models and the price range from

Other helpful information

Price comparisons to Finland:

Information about importing to Finland:

Considering a Mustang? Finnish references

Shipping the car to Finland is a big deal in itself. Costs for a single vehicle range from 1500-2000 eur and up. If you have other goods required for living, Aalto may reimburse your costs if you rent a container for the good and share it with the car. Insurance for shipping is highly recommended, some companies provide that as well. Finnish banks and insurance companies usually provide this only to existing, valued customers. The prices are around 1-2% of the total value.

  • In Southern and Western US, several people have use Halmari Logistics

Toll and taxation for cars and personal effects

In Finland, car toll and taxation are handled by Tulli. Tulli releases customer information releases, which describe the procedure

Importing a vehicle which has not previously been registered to EC (even if European made), will create some extra work to get it accepted to traffic. Import registration requires the car to match local regulations, which can call for modifications to the vehicle. Typically turning indicator lights must be added to the sides, rear fog light must be installed, and some extra park lights may have to be disabled - unless these options exist and work as required by Finnish law. The import registration (maahantuontikatsastus) is more expensive than yearly car check, with very variable prices across locations (see http://www.katsastushinnat.fi).

Another possible issue is the CO2 emission information required for taxation. Unlike with cars registered originally in EC, other vehicles do not have an emission record to satisfy taxation needs. The options are to get a certificate for few hundred euros from a private test company (in Finland, TÜV NORD Finland Oy, Liesikuja 4, 01600 Vantaa; tuev-nord.de) provides COC certificates accepted by Tulli. The other option is taxation according to weight. It depends on the vehicle which option is more favorable.

5. And back again

When you return, the operation needs to be reversed.

  • Inform Väestörekisterikeskus (Maistraatti) about your new address.
  • Inform University about your new address
  • Request a new verokortti immediately if you have had foreign income during your post and your gross income estimate is wrong
  • Inform KELA about your return so that you can reclaim your rights
  • Check necessary adjustments to your personal arrangements, personal insurances, phone plans, billing addresses etc.
  • Adjust your living again to accommodate local income/outcome balance

6. References

TEK lehden Expatrium näytenumero
http://fireus.wikispaces.com/HIITin+ohje+suomeksi Herkko Hietasen ameriikan opas
Aalto INSIDE instructions see also attachments

Related content:
Selection of freeware questionnaire building tools, 2010/01/18

Comparison of professor job titles and tenure track in Finland and America, 2010/01/15

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Keywords: [university] Document's status: Ok (Document dates explained)

This document created: 2012/04/11
Modified: 2012/04/11
Published: 2012/04/11


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