How not to write an expat brochure. (And how to write one instead.)

I’ve been living abroad in Finland for about three months now but with all the administration and bureaucracy involved with emigrating, it feels like so much longer. But I’m still not done yet. I’m still waiting to hear if I’m eligible for health insurance plus I have to apply for a tax card, open a bank account, register my freelance business and apply for a language course. And that’s without the tax office back home hounding me about forms they never sent me.

When I visited the police station to arrange my residency permit, I picked up a brochure that I hoped would provide me with answers for my many questions. It did help in a lot of ways and provided some useful information such as what to do if you’re a victim of abuse, the emergency services number, and national holidays (Speaking of, happy Independence Day, Finland!) but there was a lot it was lacking. As well as being very poorly edited, the language was incredibly dumbed down and didn’t provide some of the most necessary information that expats need. Here are some of the things it did say:

  • You can borrow books for free at the library. Because in other countries you have to pay to borrow books from a library?

    What is this mysterious 'library' you speak of?

    What is this mysterious ‘library’ you speak of?

  • Send letters and parcels from a post office. Leaving them out with milk and cookies for the post fairies doesn’t work anymore.
  • Parents are responsible for raising their children. You mean I can’t let the internet do it for me? Then what’s the point of even having children?!
  • People use public health services when they’re sick. I usually just go to my voodoo priestess.
  • Babies and children visit the doctor with their parents. Do it yourself, you lazy brats! If you can lift your own head up then you can book your own doctor’s appointment.
  • You should brush your teeth for good oral health. Thanks for warning me, Finland.
  • Finnish officials don’t take bribes. The fact they had to point that out disturbs me…
  • Finnish people like free time. They also like to breathe air and wear shoes.
  • Men do their equal share of household chores. Well I should hope so!

Here’s what I think an expat brochure should be saying instead, based on my own experiences and questions I’ve seen on forums:

  • Sauna etiquette. It may be obvious to Finns, but foreigners who aren’t used to it might be confused. For instance, towels or no towels? Gender segregated or not? It could potentially save a lot of embarrassing moments.
  • How to deal with seasonal affective disorder. Trust me, it is not fun.
  • Where to find books in English. As I work in publishing this is especially important to me, but many other people like finding books to read in their native language as well.
  • What proof of freelance income I need to get my residency permit. This wasn’t made clear at all. I showed up at the police station with three years worth of tax forms I didn’t need.
  • International moving companies that ship to Finland and finding a removal company within Finland.
  • Can you get time off work for non-Christian holidays? I work from home so it’s not an issue for me, but it probably is for some people.
  • Dealing with wild animals such as bears and wolves. We don’t have them in the UK so it’s good to know how to stay safe and not get mauled.

    It's ok to pet them, right?

    It’s ok to pet them, right?

  • If your residence permit is based on family ties, does it become invalid if you divorce or split up?

Fellow expats, have you ever come across any similar information packs when you moved abroad? What information do you wish was included in expat brochures?