Whether you are already here or planning to visit Finland, there are some things about expat life in Finland that you must know.
Many expats believe that it is going to be like the rest of Scandinavia – Sweden, Norway or Denmark. The picture that was drown to them by travel websites or government-funded agency’s promo news headlines like “the best living space on earth”. For this, they are quickly hit by a dose of rational and cultural confusion when they are in Finland.
As an Aussie, and holding Master’s degree, I believe I have some tricks to deal with issues but these 10 things as an expat in Finland will prepare you for a reality-check. Don’t forget that no one told these to us before we embarked our journey here ;)
10. Banking in Finland is not easy for an expat as it may be in Hong Kong
In Finland, if you are an expat, you must be legally resided for longer than 3 months to open a bank account that has an online feature enabled. Otherwise, you will be given a simple bank account which leaves you to complete forms not just in banks but anywhere else taking you longer than 10 minutes each time. Knowing that you will have to do this occasionally, time-wise, this adds up quite much!
9. It is OK to public urinate, spit or fart
The first time I saw a man urinating in a public area in Helsinki was a huge shock to me. He did not cover himself or try to hide in bushes. It was like “his right to urinate anywhere he wanted” :) Your expat life in Finland will involve seeing Finnish people spitting on the street, farting or urinating in public in Finland. Its ok. Its’ all good :)
8. Dreaming about having a career in Finland may not be your best available option
Government runs the show in Finland as they have all the money available under their hands to execute any type of proposal they wish to make. If you are not on their side, unless you team up with a Finnish person or a company, your entrepreneurship boat may not sail as easily as you would wish. Finns usually prefer to make business with other Finns as opposed to foreigners.
7. Cost of living in Finland is high. Surprised?
Expat life in Finland is expensive. Everything from drinking water to settling down is expensive. If you are on a dol (government’s KELA support, then you are likely to get around 1000-1400 Euros in a month). If you live in Helsinki, at least 700 Euros of it will be spent on rent.
6. You don’t need to speak Finnish to enjoy your expat life in Finland. You only need English.
One of the things that will make the life easy for expats living in Finland is to be able to speak in English in most of the places. Apart from the hidden corner towns, you will be just fine with speaking in English anywhere else in Finland. I would even go further to advice not to learn Finnish. Otherwise, the power of social statue in communication will be on your side.
5. Finnish food culture is amazing.
You may not believe but Finnish cuisine is very delicious. You will love all sorts of fish, mousse and potato mixtures.
4. Do not expect Finns to open up a conversation with you (a stranger) or initiate chit-chats randomly.
In Finland, it is not common to see people starting up conversation with each other outside of their homes unless they know each other. Silence dominates the life here. It will not be like in Spain where you can sit in a cafe and strike a conversation / friendship with a Spaniard you just met. As an expat in Finland, you will get used to the strangeness but half of you may always find lost in translation :)
3. Most expats in Finland are families not students or investors.
According to the government stats, most expats living in Finland are committed. Most of the expats are married to another Finn living in Finland. In 2002, there were 65,000 foreign families in Finland where the number was doubled in ten years in 2012 to almost 120,000.
2. Children of expats in Finland are marginalized at Finnish schools.
If you have a kid, then your expat life in Finland will revolve around fighting against the system for your children to be treated equally. In Finland, officially, expats’ children are labelled as “maahanmuuttajien lapset” meaning that “a migrant’s kid”. Your kid will be labelled like that by teachers as that’s how the teachers will call your kids openly and other pupils in all Finnish schools throughout all of his/her study in Finland.
1. Finland is not Scandinavian or Nordic. It is Arctic!
As Edward Dutton who completed his PHD on Finland’s culture says that the Finnish “language is related to the Siberian languages; it was (disputably) a Soviet client- state until 1991; and the Finns’ intense quietness is very different from the more confident Norse.” Considering the culture of silence (if you talk a lot in Finland, then you are considered as the one who breaks peace therefore an outsider), more similarities with other Nordic nations like Greenland, having low-self-esteem, and alcoholism show that Finland is more of an Arctic nation than a Scandinavian or a Nordic one.
* Above scares you? Don’t be! We are fine and you will be just fine. Good luck.