“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”
George Bernard Shaw
He had something there, I think.
As a family who, 2 years ago, made a huge step towards moving to a completely different country and way of life, you can be assured that we (well, I!) spent much time researching everything from schools to healthcare, beaches and supermarkets to cars and satellite TV!
There are a million (well, ok, maybe not quite a million!) different information websites, forums and groups out there for people who are considering moving abroad. Thousands have people have gone through something akin to what you’re about to do and so everything should be discoverable, right? Every question you need to ask, every hurdle you have to jump over, every bridge you have to cross will have been asked, jumped over and crossed before by countless different people, all happy and willing to impart their great knowledge on those who seek it?
You’d think so.
K is for Knowledge
As soon as we had decided that it was Portugal we wanted to emigrate to, I was there, scouring websites and forums for every little piece of information I could find. What was schooling like in Portugal? What documentation would we need? How do we get signed up at the Health Centre? What about driving licenses? I had a million and one questions which I was sure someone had already asked and was certain I’d find answers somewhere, if I looked hard enough.
As it happens, I was kinda wrong about that.
Sure, there are quite a few forums for Portugal expats but no-one seemed to be in a similar situation to us. What info would the schools want? Well, that depends on what area you happen to live in and, seemingly, who you happen to talk to at the time! Get Mrs Grumpy before her coffee break and you could find yourself trying to communicate, in pidgin Portuguese, as she asks for 20 documents all to be stamped by the UK schools and officially translated as well as proof of this, that and the other, all of which you probably won’t have!
Failing that, arrive on a good day and you might be luckier, getting someone willing to communicate in their very efficient English, letting you know exactly what they need and how (and, more importantly, when!) they need it.
Oh, and don’t expect consistency across the country either. I’ve heard tales of people being asked to produce almost impossible documentation to enrol their children in schools before the “deadline” (which is supposedly before the end of summer term) and I’ve heard stories of people practically just turning up with a child one day and being asked to supply documents “as and when” they are obtained (which is pretty much what we did with a number of our documents although our basic enrolments were done rather earlier)
Schooling is just a crude example, of course. The point I’m trying to make is that one person’s (or even many people’s!) knowledge is not always useful and, while not necessarily deliberately “false”, can do more harm than good.
Trust me, no red-tape bureaucrat will thank you if you go in there and tell THEM what information they need!
Whether you’re dealing with health care, schools, driving licenses, cars or whatever, the best pursuit of knowledge will be to go direct to the source. I’m certainly not advocating diving blindly into emigration without any sort of investigations first. That would just be silly! Sure, research online if that’s your thing (despite this post, it’s still mine!) but go in open-minded and ready to have all your well-researched knowledge completely debunked!
This isn’t exclusive to any country, of course. I’m fairly sure that wherever you go, the same could happen. Even in a country like the UK where rules and regulations seemingly guide every day life from the minute you get up to the minute you go to bed, there are certainly times when you encounter a department where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing! I have to say though that, as red tape goes, you sure have to bring a much sturdier pair of scissors to Portugal then we ever needed in the UK!
I do believe in the power of the internet and all it has to share with us. There are many, many websites that I still check regularly for news and experiences of those who may be in a similar situation. There are definitely times when I raise an eyebrow at some of the “advice” given on those forums though and there are probably times when someone asks for advice and I stay quiet, rather than offer assistance. Why is that? Well, sometimes I have nothing helpful to add, obviously. Our work and home situations appears to be somewhat unusual. Not many people seem to live here but draw a salary from a UK company. Not many people move here with children. Or, if they do, they are often much younger, pre-school age. Our experiences don’t apply to the vast majority of people. Sure, I have knowledge and experience to share and I am only to happy to share it (else what would be the point of this blog?) but there are times when I would rather not advise at all than advise wrongly.
Maybe that, in itself, is wrong?
Or maybe that’s the approach everyone should take?
Or, perhaps the internet would be a very lonely place if they did!