Happy New Year from all of us at Mastering Finland! While many of us are looking forward to a chance to begin again in 2021, UK citizens living abroad may be looking to the start of the new year - and the expiration of the Brexit transition period - with some trepidation. For guidance on navigating the transition, we sat down for a chat with a UK citizen living in Finland named Mark.
Mark is originally from London, where he worked as an economic analyst. Looking for a change of pace and scenery, Mark began planning a trip to one of the Nordic countries. Although he had his sights set on Norway, an unexpected job opportunity in Finland landed him in Kuusamo. Although Finland wasn’t his first choice, Mark does not regret the move a bit.
“Certainly I’d never considered Finland when I thought about the Nordic countries,” he admitted. “But I’ve loved every minute of it.”
He particularly enjoys Finnish sauna culture, the abundance of land, and taking long walks in the forest with nobody around. Despite what you might have heard about Finnish winter, Mark says that the cold weather is one of his favorite parts about living here. Even temperatures of -30℃ couldn’t spoil the joy of mystical Finnish wilderness and the beauty of the Northern Lights.
After spending a few winters in northern Finland, Mark had the opportunity to set up his own business taking tourist groups into the wilderness. He had fallen in love with the Finnish culture, and he decided to settle year-round. He saw the move as a good investment, as Finland’s tourism industry was growing as the country repeatedly topped the World Happiness Report and other indicators of societal well-being.
Unfortunately, Mark’s peaceful life in Finland was disrupted by coinciding challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic and the expiration of the Brexit transition period. Because his income was based in the now-defunct tourism industry, Mark had to take stock of his options.
With a preference for the Finnish way of life, Mark hoped to find a way to remain in the country. Although Finland has made generous allowances for UK citizens living abroad, including tuition forgiveness and application period extensions, the country will require UK citizens to meet basic income requirements beginning in 2021. His love of Finnish culture, as well as the relationships he developed in the country, made staying in Finland the obvious choice.
“I made the mistake of getting a Finnish girlfriend,” he joked. “Now, I think I am really trying to make sure I can stay.”
He decided to apply for admission to a master’s program at a Finnish university to learn Finnish and expand his professional network. He plans to return to the UK for 8 months to work and build a financial cushion before returning to complete his master’s degree.
In order for his plan to work, Mark still needed to reapply for residence right under the exit agreement. For Mark, the process was as simple as collecting some paperwork and taking a trip to Migri. Although he did experience some anxiety during the waiting period, he was grateful for the ease of Finnish institutions. His application took only two weeks to process; however, Mark submitted his application before the coronavirus pandemic, so later applicants may expect a longer wait.
UK citizens should also take into consideration other options, including the possibility of dual citizenship or permanent residency if they have been in the country for an extended period of time.
In addition to the bureaucratic requirements of adjusting to Brexit, Mark found there was some personal adjusting to do as well. For one thing, he feels sad about not being able to continue moving freely about the EU. He also acknowledges that the timing hasn’t been ideal: coronavirus has wiped out his tourism based income, making his situation all the more precarious.
Despite admitting to quite a bit of stress and anxiety, Mark is confident in the ability of Finnish institutions to adapt to the changing situation. He advises that others not worry about the red tape of the application process, declaring that all of Finland’s institutions have been generally very helpful to him. Nevertheless, he does encourage any UK citizens who have not done so already to contact Migri immediately, and to renew or apply for a right of residence immediately.
We asked Mark about his personal response to the Brexit situation, and he expressed some disappointment at the decision to leave the EU.
“I’m certainly disappointed with some of the decisions that the UK has taken towards Europe,” he admitted. “But if the country votes and decides that’s what they want to do, that is their decision. I still love my country.”
If you are a UK citizen residing in Finland, be sure to take a look at the links below for resources regarding the Brexit situation in Finland.