Moving to Denmark: Please Read First
This document is designed to provide a living record of the steps I took to move to Denmark. Immigration is always a hot topic in Denmark though and at any point the rules might change. Hopefully this will all be useful and I will try to keep it updated, but be aware that verifying this information is going to be a required step. I’m also not going to try and document every possible route to immigration as I lack the experience to speak competently about them. If you know a route I don’t and have gone through it yourself, email me the steps and I would be glad to add them here.
Denmark is a delightful place to live, work and raise a family. An extremely safe country with excellent public benefits, you enjoy a quality of life very unlike the experience of most Americans. A 37 hour work week is the law, even for employees on a salary. July summer vacations where offices completely close are very common and provide a nice guilt-free way to go to the beach. Every employee is entitled to five weeks paid vacation a year and, unlike the US, there is no guilt about using it. As you work at a job longer, the amount of notice they have to provide to terminate you grows, a nice way to keep from sudden surprise firings.
For those interested in starting a family or raising an existing family, Denmark offers a lot of benefits that exceed almost anything found in the United States. Maternity and paternity leave is a law and is a year which the parents can split amongst themselves however they would like. It’s common here for both parents to take a few weeks off in the middle to go on a trip, but it’s a flexible system that guarantees you a job when you get back. The public schools are very good, with classrom sizes capped legally at 28 students and an average of 19. A lot of the resources of Denmark go into raising children and it has created a culture where having children is not a financially taxing option, with daycare that is around 4,000 dkk per month for a child under 3 and drops to 3,000 for a child over 3 years old.
Outside of work and family, Denmark is also a great place to pursue your hobbies. There is a rich culture of physical fitness here along with a ton of interest in sports. Thousands of sports clubs exist around the country and it is not uncommon to find one even in smaller towns that cater to almost every possible desire. The libraries in Denmark are world-class, with some of the nicest facilities I’ve ever seen offering a bewildering number of services and opportunities. The number of parks, beaches, biking trails and walking paths dotted around the country are almost overwhelming and you could really spend months just trying new ones.
Daily life is also pretty easy here. Food is the same price as major cities in the US and while it can be hard to get some ingredients we consider common, daily staples are very affordable. The weather is fair, with rainy winters and 80 degree summers. Cars are not required, with extensive train/bus systems and a network of the nicest, safest bike paths I’ve ever used in my life. I don’t own a car here and running errands, going to the grocery store or just meeting up with friends is not a problem with just a bike. In fact its so common it doesn’t even attract any attention.
Crime from an American perspective is laughably low, with very few incidents we would consider serious. The country ranks very well on corruption charts and the government is both reasonably effective, transparent and frankly not terrible to deal with at all. Healthcare is provided by the state and is good, with some important addendums I’ll touch on later. Drug addiction and mental illness have robust treatment systems here and its very rare to encounter the kind of shocking poverty or homelessness which is all too common in some American cities.
Why Not Denmark?
There are a lot of perks to living in Denmark and in general the stories are true, it is one of the nicest countries to live in. However, like all places, there are some elements which are less positive. I don’t present these as dealbreakers, but simply things to keep in mind before you come. Moving to a new country is extremely difficult and I would hate if someone put forth the amount of effort required only to find out that nobody had mentioned one of the downsides that ended up being a dealbreaker.
Discrimination against specific groups of immigrants is still a problem Denmark grapples with. You can’t live here long without hearing about the “ghettos”, neighborhoods of mostly immigrants from Africa or the Middle East where locals will caution you not to travel to. Many of these non-white immigrants live a pretty invisible life and the ones I spoke to acknowledge it as a reality of life here that they get passed over for jobs. Regardless of your background, immigrants here are largely second-class citizens in general. Jobs will regularly prefer to hire Danes over non-Danes regardless of their immigrantion status or qualifications and you will need to often be about twice as qualified as a Danish applicant to have a chance.
The language barrier is a real thing that is hard to overcome. At work, in social life and at clubs you will regularly be excluded from conversations if you don’t speak Danish. This isn’t a problem per se, however Danish as a language is extremely difficult to learn. You will regularly find people in Danish classes who have lived here for 5-10 years who cannot speak Danish at even an elementary school level. Many books and articles will tell you that Danes all speak English so this is not a problem. I disagree with this strongly and caution you about relying on this. Danes, like everyone in the world, have very different language skills and while there might be someone there who speaks understandable English, it might not be the person you are speaking to.
In addition to struggles with daily life as you learn Danish, government communication is almost exclusively in Danish with most non-immigrantion websites not translated. This can make getting critical information a real struggle as you learn. A great example now is during the COVID-19 crisis here, with Danish health information getting updated regularly while the English versions of the websites lag behind, often not representing the most recent recommendations. These two points are presented only to say that if you intend to live in Denmark without learning Danish, you are often going to be excluded from critical information and a lot of enjoyable social interactions. However learning Danish is extremely hard and takes months to get even pretty basic conversations to a place where normal people can understand you.
Danish reserved nature can be a problem for immigrants. Go to any language school in the country and ask the class “do any of you have native, Danish friends”. Normally when I’ve asked, almost nobody in the room raises their hands. Many books and articles attibute this to Danish people being cold, which I don’t agree with at all. I don’t think Danes are cold, I actually think they are some of the warmest people I’ve ever met. However Danes develop deep and meaningful friendships throughout school, then the optional after-school year, then university and finally at their jobs. It can be hard to convince people with such deep and long-term ties to people that they need to add another member to the group, especially if it isn’t clear how long you will stay. If you are worried that Danes will be cruel to you, don’t be, but it might take a long time before you get invited to a party.
- If you are going to come over under a work visa, the first step is to get a job. Different careers have different rules for immigrant, but generally speaking jobs open to hiring immigrants have some concept of what jobs they are allowed to hire from abroad. First I recommend getting some concept of what companies even exist in Denmark. Here is a list of the biggest companies in the country, by size. This can provide a great place to start sending out CVs along with a good overview of what businesses exist here.
- One of the better job websites for immigrants is here.
- Danish CVs are different from American resumes. They often include a photo of the person and information we don’t include in ours, like age and gender. Here are some tips on how to write one.
- Here is a list of job websites including jobs at universities and jobs geared towards younger people.
- The job process + getting a visa will take you about 8-12 months. Danish companies take forever to respond to applications, they like to schedule a lot of interviews and the rate of getting a response at all is pretty low. Part of this is that unemployed people in Denmark basically “spam” job openings to meet a requirement that they apply for a certain number of jobs a month to keep their benefits. So be patient and just keep firing off that CV.
- Interviews. Once you finally get a response, you’ll move onto interviews. These can be a bit different from American interviews with different things that Danes like to hear vs Americans.
- Teamwork is a big deal here. You want to emphasis that you have worked on a team, you like working on a team, if you have managed a team talk about how you helped them reach their professional goals, etc.
- If you intend to start a family, don’t tell them that. In Denmark once a woman tells their employer they are pregnant they are extremely hard to fire and if an employer is moving you across the ocean, they probably won’t be thrilled if you take off right away for months. Don’t mention any plans to have children.
- Salary negotiations are a bit different in that it is easiest to be honest. Just say what you expect to make and they’ll usually make a good faith effort to meet you there, or tell you it isn’t going to happen and you can move on with your life.
- A lot of Danes you speak with will be worried about how difficult it will be to move you and whether you will hate it and just leave. If you can, come visit Denmark before you apply for the jobs, so you can try to reassure these fears by saying you have been here before, really enjoyed it, etc.
- Make sure you ask for some money to move. Between the movers and the move-in fee and the other fees, you are going to be spending between $5000 and $10000, so see if you can get some of that back.
- Starting the visa process.
- The website you will be spending a lot of time at is here. This is the portal by which you apply for your visa, check its status and basically do everything. You need to wait until you have a signed contract for employment, then you basically go through the work page flow found here.
- The timing for this process is critical. The contract must not be more than 30 days old when you submit a copy.
- You are asked to make a payment for the visa process and you are then given an alphanumberic code when you complete the payment. KEEP TRACK OF THIS CODE AND THE RECEIPT. A lot of documents ask for it.
- If the employer is handling it for you on a Fast Track visa.
- You need to sign a power of attorney for your employer to basically fill out legal documents on your behalf. It is critical that the employer tell you when they submitted the application. While they are handling the visa process, you only have 14 days from the time that they submit the application to when you can get your biometrics recorded. We’ll cover the biometrics later, but the time period is critical.
- The form they need is the AR6.
- If you are doing it for yourself on the Fast-Track or the Salary option
- Some employers don’t hire foreigners and aren’t comfortable handling the process or you might not be comfortable signing a Power of Attorney over to an employer. If either of those cases are true for you, there is another option.
- The application you’ll fill out is the AR1 Online located here.
- When using the AR1 online the employer (or third party) must instead choose the Pay Limit Scheme. In the box for supplementary comments you must state that the application is for a permit under the Fast-track Scheme, as well as state after which of the 4 tracks you want the application processed. You then follow the standard procedure for submitting the application form AR1 online.
- Biometrics. Once you have submitted the application you only have 14 days to get your Biometrics recorded. However there aren’t that many places in the United States that can even handle the process, so you might want to book the ticket and take the time off if you don’t live by one of these before you hit submit. See below for all the locations:
- VFS New York: 145 West 45th Street, Floor 4 New York, NY 10036 Tel: 347-329-2738. Schedule the appointment here.
- VFS Washington DC: 1025 Vermont Avenue NW, Suite 200 Washington, DC 20005 Tel: 347-329-2738 Schedule the appointment here.
- VFS Chicago: 142 E. Ontario Street, Suite 1700 Chicago, IL 60611 Tel: 347-329-2738 Schedule the appointment here.
- VFS Houston: 2425 West Loop S, Suite 330 Houston, TX 77027 Tel: 347-329-2738 Schedule the appointment here.
- VFS San Francisco: 110 Sutter Street, 5th Floor San Francisco, CA 94104 Tel: 347-329-2738 Schedule the appointment here.
- You need to bring: your contract, the AR1 or AR6 document printed off, your passport, a color copy of your passport, the receipt of you paying for the visa application fee.
- WARNING: They do not allow phone usage inside of the VFS center and the wait to see someone can be 4-6 hours. I sat there for 5 hours after my appointment. Bring a book.
- Denmark does not want you to contact them about the status of your visa. If all the forms are submitted online you just need to wait. If they have questions, they will email you. Otherwise sit tight and you’ll eventually get a series of emails from them with the attachments that you need. It’s a lot of work to get a PDF but hey that’s life I guess. Print off the PDF and pop some champagne. You unfortunately are only about 1/3rd done.
Finding Somewhere to Live
As someone in Denmark under a work visa, you are not allowed to purchase property, only to rent. This stinks because housing prices in Denmark are pretty low with very generous interest rates. Instead you’ll need to rent and there is a bit of a premium for doing so.
- Find somewhere to live. The website everyone uses to do that can be found here.
- I know the apartment information isn’t in English. Chrome should offer to translate the page. For Firefox users I use this add-on: Google Translate for Firefox
- A lot of listings skimp on details, but the important stuff is when is it available and the “Move in price”. That’s the total amount you need to move into the unit and is usually a combination of: Prepaid rent + Deposit + x. Your contract will spell out what exactly it covers, but make sure you aren’t losing a ton of money.
- I flew to Denmark for this part because I wanted to see the apartment before I got it. However it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to do it remotely.
- To wire money to them I used TransferWise which worked well.
- It is extremely common to lose your deposit in Denmark when renting, so just assume that money is all gone regardless of how well you treat the place.
- Almost all of the official documents you get will be in Danish. Google translate on your phone can do a pretty good job with the camera of translating it, but some larger rental companies will also provide an English version of the contract if you ask. However you will probably need to ask.
Getting a Moving Company
Now that you have somewhere to send your stuff to, you need to get a moving company. This process is surprisingly expensive so get ready.
- Go through your house and throw away everything you possibly can. We donated many trunks full of items to local charities and threw away several dumpsters worth. You want the total amount of items moved to be as small as possible.
- Contact a moving company. We used International Movers Network for us. They did a pretty bad job, to be honest with you. They lost a few of our boxes in transit and the dropoff in Denmark was just a Dutch guy smoking cigarettes watching us unload stuff. We had paid for movers and ended up having to unload the truck by ourselves. If someone has an international moving company they actually liked, please let me know.
- Moving a car? Don’t! While the cost to move a car on a boat actually isn’t terrible, the registration tax when you got it into Denmark is almost as much as the car would be new in the US. Please calculate the registration tax for your vehicle before you bring it.
Obviously this section doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you are thinking of moving your pets, I would love to help you out. This was, by far, the most complicated part of the entire move. If you are thinking of moving a pet to Europe, here is what you need. I strongly recommend working with a pet relocation company to handle the actual booking of flights and pick-up. I used Global Pet Alliance and had a very positive experience.
- Implantation and certification of a microchip. They are required in Denmark and must be ISO 11784/11785 compliant 15 digit versions.
- Rabies vaccination. The primary vaccination must have been administered at least 21 days before entering Denmark. These need to have an original vet signature.
- A non-commercial health certificate for your pet. IMPORTANT: You MUST be sending your pet within 5 days either way of you flying. If you are sending your pet more than 5 days before or after your flight, you need to do a commercial health certificate.
- THE PET MUST ARRIVE IN THE EU WITHIN 10 DAYS FROM THE DATE THAT THE VET SIGNS THE FORM
- If you are gonna be on the same plane as the pet, you want this form.
- If a designated person is going to be travelling on the plane with the pet but not the owner, you want this form.
- If a Pet Transport Company or Airline Cargo is going to be shipping the pet you want this form.
- You also need the APHIS 7001 signed by your vet within 10 days of the flight. You can find that form here.
- The EU non-commercial health certificate needs to be signed by a vet at the USDA. It feels like nuclear weapons have fewer safety checks than a dog, but whatever we’re gonna get through this.
- Make an appointment with the APHIS Veterinary Services Endorsement Offices which can be found here.
- Not every kennel can be shipped on a plane. I purchased this kennel. along with replacement bolts. The bolts are here.. You also need to zip-tie the door closed, which I used easy-release zip-ties for that you can get here. All of these modifications were required by the airline.
- You need a water dish that can be accessed via a funnel by airline staff. However DO NOT RELY on them to fill your pets water. I strongly recommend putting something like this in there and freezing it. My dog was pretty dehydrated when I got him even with this due to weather delays.
- Pick-up is handled by the company that does shipping. They’ll take the dog for a bathroom break before he gets on the plane.
Retrieving Pets in Denmark
This process was a straight-up nightmare, so hopefully it goes better for you than it did for me.
- There is a very good chance you aren’t going to be picking up the pet at the airport, but rather a warehouse near the airport that the plane unloads to. There are a few near the airport and a bus will take you by them. If you are picking up the pets yourself RENT A CAR. You do not want to do this on a bus, trust me, it was a disaster.
- You can drive in Denmark with a valid driving licence from any EU country or Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands or Liechtenstein. Holders of non-EU driving licences can drive in Denmark for up to 90 days.
- In order to rent a car in Denmark you need to be at least 21 years old and to have held your licence for at least a year. If your foreign license is written in non-Roman characters (eg Japanese or Arabic) you should consider getting an International Driving Permit.
- You’ll get the address of the pick-up location from the shipping documents. Mine was just a warehouse, so I went in, told them I was there and then waited. They need to give you a document that you will then take to the customs office.
- This part is a bit complicated. This is where Lufthansa sent my pets: This warehouse.
- It isn’t really marked as such but the office where I had to take the documents from the warehouse to customs was here.
- There was a fee here of a few hundred dkk, but they do accept credit cards. IMPORTANT: Their hours are very limited on Saturday, so if you are planning on flying in early on Saturday and picking up the pets, you will need to get there very early.
- Getting the pets, they were dehydrated so bring water.
First 30 Days
Congrats and welcome to Denmark! You are likely feeling terrified and excited all at once. That feeling pretty much stays the same for the first few months.
There is a vending machine that sells SIM cards by the baggage claim. Grab one for your phone so you can use the internet.
- There are 4 ways out of the airport. First stop by the DSB labeled terminals on your way out of the airport and buy a Rejsekort. There are two kinds, one with your photo that they mail to you and a generic one that you just fill up. You can find out more here about how they work. The buses, trains and metro will all work with the Rejsekort.
- Taxis in Denmark are insanely expensive and nobody uses them.
- There is a bus outside of the airport, bus 5A that will take you directly to the central train station, City Hall Square and Nørreport. These can get you pretty much anywhere in the country you would want to go.
- Metro: If you are trying to get into Copenhagen proper you probably want the metro. The M2 Yellow line runs downtown every twenty minutes 24 hours a day and is driverless, so they’re fun to sit in and look out of.
- There is also the train at the airport that can take you to the Central Station with connecting trains anywhere in the country. Google Maps has their full schedule.
- Now that you have a functional phone, here are the essential apps you need to get around the country in no particular order.
- Rejseplanen - think Google Maps but Denmark. Gives you essential information about trains, buses, etc. iOS app and the Android App
- Google Translate. Download Danish locally. You will need the camera functionality a lot at first to translate printed text.
- DSB app for buying tickets. Denmark requires that you show a barcode of your ticket when asked, which the app takes care of for you. iOS and Android
- When booking a train on DSB you NEED TO RESERVE A SEAT. This is a COVID-19 requirement. You also need a mask when riding the bus, train or metro.
- Taking your first train. Alright this process makes no sense so I’ll walk you through it.
- In Copenhagen you will see tall red M signs that lead underground. As you go down you’ll see these chest-high check-ins with blue circles. Tapping your Rejsekort that you bought at the airport here checks you in. You then tap it again on the way out to check out. If you need to add multiple people on the same card, you need to find a version of this with + and - buttons on the top. These are usually at the bottom level by the metro trains. Tap once to activate, tap the number of people you need and then tap again.
- If you forget to check out, don’t panic. There is yet another app that you can use to check out remotely. Find that here.
- You need to go and register for your CPR card and basically your immigration card, along with the vouncher for signing up for Danish classes.
- The Danish vouncher system might already be changed by the time you read this. However you’ll still need to go down for everything else. Bring your employment contract, your lease for the apartment, the visa letter and your passport.
- This is also the meeting where you pick your doctor. I let them pick the doctor, I got a dud. However it’s not too difficult to change.
- In Copenhagen you register here
- In Odense there is an International Citizen Service Center here however I didn’t end up needing their help. You can just go to the Citizen Service and take care of it. Hours and location can be found here.
- Signing up for foreign language classes. You’ll want to do that within the first 30 days, since the vounchers they issue have a lot of rules around how they work. Ask when you get the CPR number where the vouncher is good for.
- I have a very bad time with my Danish classes and ended up going with a private tutor instead. Know its an option.
- Danish is also just extremely hard. You’ll start to be able to read it after not too long (there aren’t a lot of words and they tend to make new words by combining the old ones) but speaking and understanding it can be a real struggle.