Moving to Denmark from the US
Like its Scandinavian neighbors Sweden, Norway and Finland, Denmark offers high standards of living, exceptional outdoor scenery and a friendly, open society for expats. Moving to Denmark takes a little perseverance for US citizens, but if you do it, chances are you won’t want to leave.
The population of Denmark comes it at just 5.6 million people. The whole country would fit into the state of Minnesota both in terms of population and landmass. Despite its small size, visitors are often surprised by the amount of open space. Danish people love to spend time in the outdoors particularly along their coastline. The country is made up of 400 islands, and most of the population live on islands.
The largest island, Zealand, is where the capital, Copenhagen, is located. If you do decide to live here, there are some big advantages compared to the USA. You’ll get five weeks’ guaranteed vacation a year, a whole year of paid parental leave on the birth of a child and an exceptionally well funded free health system. The other side of this coin is the high levels of taxation and lower disposable income as a result.
Popular Danish cities vs US cities
Cosmopolitan capital Copenhagen often comes top of quality of life surveys. It’s a wonderfully cultural place packed with museums and historic palaces. It’s small and compact. With a population of under a million it compares to say, Austin, TX. Other cities where expats might live include Aarhus and Odense. Both are less than half the size of Copenhagen and feel much more provincial.
All three cities offer a real contrast to any city in the USA. Whilst they all have sleek, business districts they also have historic centers that are many centuries old. Outside these historic zones there’s good quality modern living accommodation and efficient public transport networks. They’re very people-friendly places too. Many Danish people cycle or walk to work.
Becoming a citizen of Denmark
US citizens can visit Denmark and stay for up to 90 days without a visa. If you’re looking to stay longer, you need to apply for temporary residency before you arrive in the country. This allows you to stay up to 5 years. It also gives the right to work in Denmark, contribute taxes and make use of the social system, such as healthcare and education. The Danish Government International Citizen Service website is packed with useful information and explains the processes in detail.
Unless you have a parent who is a Danish citizen, gaining permanent citizenship has to be obtained through naturalisation. This is another process that follows five years of living in Denmark as a permanent resident.
A good halfway option is a student visa. You can get hold of a student visa relatively easily if you want to study in Denmark. Living for a couple of semesters here will let you see how you like the lifestyle. Spending time here studying is also a great way to build up the network you’ll need for job-hunting. You do have to pay tuition fees, but a student visa also gives you the right to work a certain number of hours to help support yourself.
Despite a slight dip during the global crisis, the Danish economy is currently in a good position. With an unemployment rate of just 6.0% the job market is thriving. There are plenty of opportunities for expats with the right skills and qualifications. Highly qualified specialists are in demand, especially in IT, life science, medical and health services and engineering.
Finding work in Denmark before you arrive is the best way to go. If your current employer has offices there, an inter-company transfer is ideal. Despite the majority of people having a good grasp of English in business, going up against locals without knowing the language could set you back. You’d be well advised to spend time getting to grips with Danish too. There are plenty of free language courses available. You can also take advantage of the services from Job Seeker or Work in Denmark.
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House prices and renting
The cost of living in Denmark is low compared to the USA if you’re comparing major cities. You’ll pay typically up to 20% less for basic groceries and eating out. When it comes to renting, costs compare well too. Whilst a typical one bed apartment in a city centre in say, New York might cost $3000 a month to rent, the same apartment in central Copenhagen is half that, at $1500.
The price differential is similar outside town centers as well. But salary levels in Denmark are also significantly lower, particularly when you factor in the famously high levels of taxation which are close to 40%. When it comes to owning property in Denmark, you need to have been a resident and have lived in the country for at least five years before you can purchase. Property is in relatively short supply, but still not expensive compared to major US city centers. Expect to pay about half as much per square meter as you’d pay in say New York or Chicago.
Excellent quality education is provided free by the state for all children between six and 16. There are no admission requirements. You can enrol your child at any municipal school that has places. Even if your children don’t speak Danish, this is still a very viable option. Schools offer Danish language and culture courses to new arrivals. You’ll probably be surprised how quickly they pick up Danish and start to assimilate. Secondary level school continues from 16 to 19 with a range of options, some more academic, others vocational.
The vast majority of parents send their children to their local municipal school, but there are private schools too. There is also a growing number of international schools in Denmark, mainly in and around Copenhagen. Many use English as their teaching language. Private schooling in Denmark is relatively cheap too, as the Danish state provides a significant degree of the funding. The two main curricula followed by English language schools in Denmark are the International Baccalaureate and the Cambridge International Curriculum.
Denmark offers excellent public healthcare facilities for nationals. It’s state funded and includes free access to doctors, pharmacists, dentists and other special medical care. Once you’ve relocated to Denmark, you need to register with the National Register in your municipality to receive a health insurance card. Your health insurance card is your access to healthcare services. The vast majority of medical treatment is free, but you may be required to pay for certain services, such as prescription costs.
Whether you are looking for museums, galleries fine architecture, blissful café squares or waterfront walks you’ll find it all in wonderful Copenhagen. Take a stroll around the Tivoli gardens or visit the National Museum which offers insights into Danish culture and history with a remarkable array of Viking artefacts. Exploring further afield you can take in the sandy beaches of North Zealand, visit the birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson, see huge Viking ships exhumed from bogs at Roskilde and wander quaint cobbled streets in pretty Ribe.
Food and drink
Danish food used to be associated with potatoes and bacon and little else. But over the last decade, there’s been a bit of a revolution.
Dubbed the New Nordic Cuisine, classic Danish dishes using seasonal local ingredients have been given innovative modern twists. Noma has been at the forefront and is known the world over for its cutting edge cuisine. Even so, Danes still love to eat very traditional foods like porridge, open sandwiches and the classic roast pork with parsley sauce. Danish beer is probably the best in the world and the drink of choice for many.
Danes love to party, and Copenhagen’s nightlife in particular is really buzzing. Nightclubs playing all genres of music are easy to find. The long summer nights are traditionally time to stay out and socialise with friends and family. People come alive again after the long dark nights of winter. Denmark is also a really tolerant society and there’s a friendly LGBT scene in most cities. In Copenhagen check out places like Oscar Bar in aptly named Rainbow Square. There’s even a free app to Gay Copenhagen.