Denmark: Mostly As Good As You Think It is

Here is a rough checklist for folks considering moving to Denmark about my experience and some things I wish I had known.

Month 0-1

  • Moving to another country is absolutely the most tiring thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never raised children so maybe that is worse. But it is pretty much a running panic attack for the first two weeks there. The first 4 weeks are pretty much a blur.
  • In Denmark losing your security deposit is kind of a given. So when looking at apartments to rent don’t assume you’ll get your security deposit back.
  • To find apartments you need to get an account on BoligPortal. This is tricky because the site is in Danish and the agents would prefer you communicate with them via Danish. If you know a native speaker now is the time. Otherwise just muddle through.
  • Danes in general are not in a huge hurry. This is going to be hard for you to manage because you are going to be in a giant hurry. When I was flying here the second time I got so frustrated with the pace of people unloading their luggage I stood by the luggage belt and started just yanking the ones off that people were going for. Just be aware that you are going to be in a hurry in a country where people don’t usually operate at that pace.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You are going to be on your feet a lot. Download google maps, google translate, the DSB app (allows you to book train and bus travel with the app and also map out the route).
  • Nobody takes cash. Set up your card with ApplePay. It works everywhere and means you don’t have to feel uncomfortable while the poor cashier goes and tries to figure out what you need to sign.
  • IKEA delivery is pretty good but in Denmark they also have cargo bikes you can borrow for not a lot of money there. Ask them about it.
  • IKEA in general is where you are going to spend a lot of your time.
  • Apartments in Denmark don’t come with lights. People take them with them when they move. So you’ll need to buy some pretty much right away. Installing the lights isn’t too bad.
    • You’ll see weird square boxes with one little hole in the middle. That’s how you connect lights. You need to strip the insulation yourself to install it. Pop the cover off with a screwdriver.
    • Loosen the screw then connect the wires.
    • N is Neutral, with a light blue colored wire
    • L is Load, with a brown coloured wire
    • The down-arrow is PE with a Green and Yellow wire and its ground.
    • For the love of God turn off the power before you mess around with this.
  • If you have pets there are lots of vets in Denmark but they are expensive. If you can get mediciation before you leave do it.
  • Pharmacys don’t sell the same things. First you need to go talk to someone to buy anything generally. Second they don’t sell pepto or aspirin so if you love those products bring them with you.
  • You need to get your CPR card (the yellow card), your NemID (how you sign into everything) before you can set up a bank account. You should also set up your resident card while you are there. You do this at the citizens house (which google maps will show you) or in Copenhagen at the International House. Government workers are in general quite nice but show up early to get this done.
  • Dogs need insurance on them. It’s more expensive than you think it would be.
  • Expect to spend a lot of time on the phone.
  • Biking everywhere is more tiring than you think it is going to be. I promise you get stronger, but don’t feel bad if you schedule a few breaks while you go.
  • Denmark has some absolutely incredible parks and I took a huge amount of joy in going there after a day of doing chores and just reading a book.
  • Be nice to yourself. You are going to make a million mistakes. This is fine. Danes are a polite but blunt people. I found it easiest when, upon realizing I made a mistake, to just tell the person right away that I made a mistake. They’ll give you a bit of grief but its not too terrible.

Month 1-2

  • You need to sign up for language classes. You should have gotten the letter by now at the apartment telling you how. There’s a time limit on how long the commune credits are good for to help offset your cost so take advantage of it. You are going to hear a lot about “language class vouchers”. Let me break it down for you.
    • When you sign up for language classes you are getting vouchers. Every week “consumes” a week of your voucher, which is set to a different duration depending on the level you are at.
    • For instance, I’m in level 3 section 1. I have three months from the time of starting to take the test and then go to section 2. If I’m not in section 2 by the end of my voucher for section 1, time starts ticking off of my section 1 voucher.
    • The part people don’t tell you is that unless you are planning on taking college classes IN danish you don’t need to take level 3 section 6, which means the 9 months of voucher you get for level 3 section 6 can be used to finish the lower classes.
    • If you need to go back home for a few months just put your classes on pause. Otherwise you time runs down.
  • Language classes are pretty rough. Just be aware if you are anything like me it is going to suck a lot, especially after a full day of work. That’s just how it is. You do need to learn Danish.
  • Try to put together a list of things you would like to do. I started out really simple. “Today I’m going to go to the bakery and buy some bread then check out the library”. The point is to get you out there interacting with stuff and exploring. Stay out of the house. Immigrants that don’t leave during the first chunk of time end up homebound. Keep going out.
  • Cooking. You’ll need to do it. If you aren’t used to cooking meals at home you need to get used to it. Living here and buying groceries at the store is super affordable. Eating out all the time isn’t.
  • This part is a grind. The initial feeling of excitement has died down and if you are like me you are just annoyed that everything is harder than it used to be. Keep on going.
  • Try to make some Danish friends. I was lucky that my wife knew a lot of Danes so I had an in. I recommend going to gaming nights, foreign events, etc. If you can’t meet Danes then at least you can meet other foreigners.

Month 2-3

  • So some good news here. You are getting used to things that used to make you quite nervous. Like normal daily interactions aren’t so bad and you are starting to struggle through with Danish. You’ll find understanding it quite a bit easier than speaking it. It’s a difficult language to put together in your mouth but there’s some basic phrases. Danes do love to chat though in random public places so get ready for those encounters.
  • The weather in the winter is horrible. It rains all the time and when its not raining its cold, when its not raining or cold the wind is blowing. Everyone who lives here natively has gotten used to this but it is going to take you some time. Biking against the rain is extremely rough. You need all that rain gear and then you also just need to keep your head down.
  • Try to find something easy that brings you joy in the winter. The parks become less attractive when they are insanely wet so like find something you enjoy. Danes seem to like to just chill out at home and watch tv which makes sense but you really should try to avoid that. It’s just too easy to get into a bubble where you watch American tv or listen to English podcasts and effectively isolate yourself from what is going on. I do it a lot here.
  • If you have the opportunity its now time to discuss ‘switching’ your household over to Danish. This obviously isn’t an option if your partner doesn’t speak Danish but if they do it might be time to pull that band-aid off. Language class is good but the progress is very slow and frankly you need more words than they’re going to give you just to make it through a day. It sucks but that’s how it is.
  • Make a list of things you want to do. Part of what makes this experience special to me is that I get the opportunity to spend a lot of time exploring random things, but if you are like me when you have the opportunity to do this is often when you won’t remember what the stuff you planned to do was. So keep a list.
  • Find a present for yourself. At this point you’ve been spending money on painfully practical things. Treat yourself to something nice. There are a lot of great shops in Denmark and they have a lot of stuff we don’t have in the US.