Things you need to know as an expat parent in Finland

After seven years in Finland, I feel I learned a things or two about facilities and opportunities for families in the Helsinki area, and I am more than happy to share what I know with all newcomers. Setting up a new life in a new country is stressful per se, so I’m hoping to make it easier for expat parents.

Public transportation: you can travel for free

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The capital area public transportation is free for kids under 7. Also, if you travel with a stroller or pram, the ride is free for the adult carrying it as well. You can enter the bus from the central door, while on trams and trains you can access from door with the symbol of people with restricted mobility. For more info, check out the official website of HSL.

Public & private health service

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If you have a Kela card, you can access public health services. Otherwise you are kinda forced to go to a private doctor when your kids are sick. Let’s list here what the exact services are:

  • Neuvola: a maternity clinic or “Neuvola” follows and records the physical and mental development of kids under school age, and offers parenting and health advice to parents and parents-to-be. Neuvola is free of charge and if your child has a Kela card, they can access their services. If you live in the capital area, find the closest clinic here: Espoo, Vantaa, Helsinki. This is a national service, not only in the Helsinki area.
  • Public health centre: if your kid is sick and has a Kela card, this is where you can go. Rules about how to get an appointment vary from place to place. In some you need to call as soon as they open, in some you just have to walk in. Almost every neighbourhood has one. Again, basic services are free. If your kid is sick on weekends or during the night, contact the nearest hospital. Useful links: Espoo, Vantaa, Helsinki.
  • Private clinic: many providers offer health services in the capital area (Pikkujätti, Mehiläinen, and so on). If you are a parent or are about to become one in Finland, I strongly recommend to get an health insurance for your kids. They are not expensive and can give you peace of mind. So far, the only insurance providers who offer services in English are OP and Lähitapiola. If you have private insurance, you will get reimbursed for most or all visits to private clinics.

Facilities for stay-at-home parents

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If you are an expat stay-at-home parent, it can be really hard to adapt to the new life. One thing I love about Finland is the incredible amount of services for families. I don’t even know where to start telling you. Here’s a short list to get you going:

  • Open daycares and common houses: they have all the facilities of a daycare, but they’re open to the public. Many have free-of-charge activities for kids on working days. You can explore your city’s website by looking for the following keywords: asukaspuisto (= “neighbourhood house”), avoin päiväkoti (= “open daycare”), leikkipuisto (= “playground”. Some are simply open air playgrounds, some are the same as asukaspuisto). It’s a great way to get to know other parents, too!
  • Family coffee meetings: the great association MLL organises regular meetings open to all parents all around the capital area (and maybe elsewhere as well?). The keyword to search for is perhekahvila. Here’s the official page of the events; if you don’t find which is the closest gathering, do not hesitate to contact MLL! They are really happy to help parents building support networks.
  • Mental health support: oh how I wish I knew about this when my daughter was a baby! I am not sure if this is a service offered only by some municipalities, but if you need it, it’s worth asking your local clinic. In my area, Neuvola offers a free-of-charge service for exhausted parents. Basically if you are desperately sleep-deprived and need support, a nurse comes to your house, and babysits your kids while you sleep or have some needed me-time.

The kingdom of second-hand everything

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Bless the practical spirit of Nordic countries! Finnish people are crazy about second-hand shops. There are so many, some are even dedicated to particular items. This is great news with kids’ stuff. Children grow so fast that buying new clothes all the time can be really expensive. And how about toys and accessories! There are endless resources to find second-hand markets. The keywords you need in Finnish are kirppis or kirpputori. The main websites are Tori and Huuto, but you need to start exploring the shops you find around, like the Red Cross ones or the Recycling Centres. There are also many local Facebook groups your can start searching! You can also check out this Finnish-English vocabulary I published earlier.

Babysitting

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Longing for a date night? You have options. There are few private providers of babysitting services, like Stella. They are extremely service-oriented and professional, but also very expensive. If you are looking for a one-time cheaper alternative, MLL offers childcare services. If you instead need a long-term solution, you can hire anyone and pay them through free-of-charge online services, like Palkka. Unfortunately I don’t know of any similar portal in English, but only the registration of a new employee is the tricky part. You can easily learn by heart the payment process. Don’t forget babysitting services are part of household expenses and can be deducted from your yearly taxes.

Lucky place for bookworms

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The library network of the Helsinki region is simply amazing. First of all, you will find children books in several languages. Try using the advanced search options on the Helmet website, for instance. Libraries have also videogames, movies, and boardgames. My favourite service is the free delivery to the library of your choice, meaning that any item can be booked and you can choose to have it delivered to the library closest to you. There are more than 70 libraries in the capital area! Libraries are also meeting points. Many have playing areas reserved to kids, sometime even spaces to heat up a meal and serve it to your child. There are many free activities ongoing all year long, including reading sessions for kids in many languages (including sign language!). I regularly bring my kids to the Italian language read&play meetings.

Finland wants your kid to be bilingual

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Finland has great policies in place to help preserve your kid’s second language, as well as making sure they don’t struggle with learning Finnish. I can share my personal experience with R.. She’s been in a Finnish daycare since she was one and I know she – as well as other bilingual kids – was involved into dedicated activities to learn Finnish. One of her teacher used to take some time to play with her and test her Finnish vocabulary or pronunciation. During the regular teacher-parent meetings, we were updated on her progress, as well as on the techniques they used. I was very impressed about the extra care they took about the issue and I know they were following the city guidelines, so it’s a common policy of our municipality. Kids in school-age are encouraged to cultivate their second language and many municipalities offer free-of-charge after school courses to keep learning the language (for instance see City of Helsinki or Espoo).

Dear expat parent, I hope it all looks less scary now. Do you feel there are other suggestions I missed sharing? Do you have questions? Feel free to comment, and don’t forget to follow the blog.

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