- review: Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III knit – next generational? - February 1, 2023
- DIY Arc’Teryx repairs – how to fix your Arc’Teryx gear! - January 22, 2023
- When will Vivobarefoot restock? The 4 REAL answers - January 12, 2023
In this guide to living in Denmark as a Canadian I’ll go over my general experience, some tips & tricks, and how you can make moving to Denmark on a Working Holiday Visa a breeze!
If you ended up on this page, then I reckon you’re fairly interested in living in this supposed ‘holy land’. I say holy land because it seems that all over the internet you see articles saying that ‘Denmark is the best place to live’ or that ‘Denmark has the happiest people’.
I would disagree wholeheartedly. Before I break your heart and spread my very strong opinion on this country, I’ll go over some very important details.
Table of Contents
Why you should move to Denmark
- Excellent salaries
- Great healthcare
- Healthy work/life balance
- Safe, comfortable society
- Equality, simplicity, good administration
Okay lets be real; Denmark has an incredibly high quality of life. The education, social welfare system, work hours, prison system, and health care is top notch. Even as a Canadian, I was pretty awe-struck at how everything was setup.
Wages are very high, as the average McDonalds employee nets ~100dkr/hr. This translates to ~$15USD, €13, or $20 CAD (as of Nov 2020). Of course taxes exist and a big chunk will be taken out – but you do get x amount tax-free.
I picked up a job at teaching field hockey to 4-9 years olds after school and was literally blown away when I checked my first pay stub: 255dkk/hr. This translated to an insane $55 CAD per hour, or something like $40 USD hourly.
Your average bar, cleaning job, or restaurant work will likely yield around 125-150 dkk/hr. Though consider taxes and the cost of living in Denmark – we’ll get into that later.
Anyways, healthcare is excellent and I had a lightning quick MRI and bloodwork session done at the hospital the night I had a seizure. Clinical, clean, professional, and swift.
Coming from Canada which has pretty good healthcare to begin with – Denmark was insane! Once you’re registered in the system and get your CPR-number (equivalent to a social insurance card), you’ll be all ready to go.
This CPR-number is used for everything from banking to health care to taxes and so forth and is the most important piece of document to have.
The education in Denmark is also terrific and I was very impressed by the system as a whole – the quality is good, students seemed content, and the universities know what they’re doing.
You should likely move to Denmark if you want to further your education or career in a very safe, comfortable, and simple place with a high general quality of life.
When I first landed and CouchSurfed in Copenhagen I was enamoured! It was clean, seemingly vibrant, bike-friendly, and has the ever groovy Christianshavn.
I hated living in Denmark though – we’ll get into that now.
Why you should not move to Denmark
- Very poor climate
- Incredibly expensive
- Difficult to socialize
- Lack of intense nature
- No sunlight in winter
- Difficult to socialize
If I can compare the country to a food, I would say that Denmark is plain yogurt (or Skyr). Nothing wrong with plain yogurt – it’s healthy, fine, good for you, and better than 90% of foods out there.
But it’s flavorless, devoid of life, and really – would you want to eat plain yogurt? That’s how Denmark felt. Like plain yogurt.
For reference I lived in Aarhus and Randers – two polar opposites in terms of Danish public perception, and came to the same conclusion.
Denmark is very unwelcoming
If any of ya’ll thought Germans were closed in and reserved, oh boy do I have some news for you.
Denmark is boring as sh*t. There’s definitely some cool stuff going on in Copenhagen (Christania for one) but my god does it feel like a shallow society with a bleak daily life and monochrome culture.
The cost of living in prohibitive. Yes, salaries are insane – but you’re locked in. Good luck dicking around while getting by if you don’t have a job lined up. Remember how I was getting $55/hr for teaching? What if I told you I only had a handful of hours per week doing that and transit round trip, 45 minutes each way, cost $30. Yes. Public transport is very expensive.
Cost of living
Rent too. A literal storage room with a window – my janky little room cost Dkk 2550, or $550 CAD. Then utilities, food, transit, and everything else stacks up fast. I don’t drink often but couldn’t help but hold my jaw shut when I found out that at my local bar a drink cost 100dkr – or $20 CAD. HAH. Thankfully I prefer herb which cost the same for a gram.
Okay some of the fault is on me – I didn’t have a proper job with full hours and hardly made anything by freelancing, but I left Canada with a few thousand in the bank and that vanished extraordinarily fast. The Netherlands by comparison was leaps and bounds cheaper.
If you already have a proper job and such lined up them you’ll be much happier. My savings disappeared in a heartbeat, though this is also my fault for not preparing for this.
Danish & EU students who work and study are entitled to 6,000dkr monthly from the government. While the youth around me were able to afford 100dkr drinks at the bars and pubs, I was surviving off 1kg of rice for a week. Don’t make the same mistake I did!
Also, you should not move to Denmark if you like sunlight and warmth. Okay, during the summer the light hours are extremely long if the sun’s out. In the region I was in (near Aarhus), I remember a stint of 2 weeks where it was nothing but cloudy overcast. why does the sun not exist in Denmark? That was a very lonely Christmas.
In the summer it gets a little warm and it’s pleasant for a few months, but come to October all the way to April you’re going to end up hating the climate. You thought London, Berlin, or Amsterdam was grey, windy, and rainy? HAH.
Credit to the Danes, they deal with rain like it’s nothing. It comes from every direction and is it ever bitter. They handle the climate with the heart and stoic mind that Vikings would!
Quality of food
The food is alright but on the expensive side. Quality is moderate by Europe standards though there is an excellent selection of bio/organic foods at almost every supermarket for marginally more than regular foods. Eating out costs BIG bucks though.
Things like cheese, dairy, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables are reasonably priced while luxuries are definitely more expensive. I often shopped at Rema and found great deals on soon to ‘expire’ meats which were similar in price to other parts of Europe.
If you’re fond of ‘containering’ or dumpster diving, Denmark is an absolute goldmine. You can easily survive off the heaps of high-quality and still fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and baked goods. I’m very glad to see that Denmark has an active dumpster diving culture and it’s an example that the world should follow. There’s often ‘competition’ at the bins but still plenty to go around. If you’re looking to save a big chunk of cash, start at the bins!
How hard is moving to Denmark?
Moving to Denmark is extremely easy. At least moving to Denmark as a Canadian is easy as can be, I’m not sure how it is for Visas if you’re moving to Denmark from the US. Moving to Copenhagen may be slighly more complex as there’s more immigration there, but at least in Midtjylland it was so smooth.
Almost the entire process is done online. Like – I don’t think I had to fill out any papers for my application. I did that all online. After a short chunk of time I got an e-mail saying to visit the local offices (Borgerservice) to pick up my cards and finalize my paperwork.
Went in, picked up my CPR-card, my identity card, and away I was. I thought moving to the Netherlands was painless but Denmark, wow, you guys have excellent bureaucracy!
Dealing with Visas
No interview, no prodding and prying, and the people were very kind to deal with. Moving to Denmark is extremely easy provided you have a legal apartment lined up. You could easily stay at a hostel or friends/strangers house for a while to find housing.
Moving to Denmark as a Canadian – I stared on my 3 month Schengen Visa, and then on month 2/3 I applied for my YMV/WHV. The Youth Mobility Visa/Working Holiday Visa is a real lifehack. Priviledged as heck to be a Canadian.
Leaning Danish as a foreigner
Actually do – please do! It’s only right and respectful to learn the local dialect a little bit, considering you’re trying to immigrate there.
But oooowwiee is it tough. Everyone speaks English at a very high level so learning Danish as a foreigner felt redundant. For context – I love languages. I enjoy learning them, speaking Dutch, German, etc. Danish was beyond my brain power.
If you’re planning to stay long term then you should learn conversational things. No one expects you to become an expert though and will be very glad you’ve learnt a little. You won’t feel like a dunce everytime you ask if they can speak in English – not like in my Living in Berlin as a Canadian post.
Best places for living in Denmark as a foreigner
Living in Copenhagen is the most common for foreigners. Rightfully so – it’s big, has lots of life, and cool stuff in places. Christianshavn, as touristy as it is, is a wonderful place.
With that in mind, living in Copenhagen is extremely expensive so you should better have a well paying job sorted if you’d like to have a social life or go out for food once in a while.
If not Copenhagen, then choose..
Odense and Aarhus are two other great cities I recommend. Aarhus being second biggest after CPH – there’s plenty of young life, a handful of decent bars and a pair of good clubs/venues. If you like jazz, modern art, and architecture, it’s a good place. The modern art museum is astonishing and was my favorite place to visit on a frequent basis.
Odense is a place where I didn’t spend much time but many people I talked to seemed to enjoy. The small towns are rather similar across the boards though nothing special after the fifth one. Silkeborg, Randers, Aalborg, etc have some nice things but nothing great. Kolding is cute but not much going on.
I would then recommend Copenhagen, Aarhus, and Odense as places to setup. Copenhagen being far more expensive than the latter two, which are already quite expensive (compared to Canada).
Finding work in Denmark as a foreigner
Knowing Danish is of course an advantage but not at all a necessity. Almost everyone speaks English at a very good level – even old ladies and young students. Still, it’s respectful and wise to pick up a little bit of the local dialect.
You won’t have too hard finding an entry level job if it’s not public facing – cleaning jobs, hostels, bars, etc will hire you. Be polite, be well put together, and don’t be too friendly – Danes in general don’t like making small talk. Living in Denmark as an American would be quite the experience I can imagine – the people are very different.
If you want a ‘real’, normal, regular ol’ office job or something though you might struggle without being fluent. After all, why would they hire a foreigner who only speaks English when they can hire a Dane who speaks both? Either you must be invaluable or different.
Social life in Denmark as a foreigner
It sucks. No way around it – Danes are generally very cold and unwelcoming. I would absolutely say they’re polite and kind, but not friendly at all. Getting to know someone and develop a connection is very difficult as most people are reserved to their tight friend groups.
Consequently the majority of my friends were international students and workers. I did befriend a set of Danes who to this day are good friends to me, however it was very difficult to find them. I searched quite hard as well.
The cost of going out
Going out costs a ton and striking up conversation with someone at the bar is tough. I recall a time where I would just approach a giant selection of people and just try to get to know them. Cold shoulders.
It feels as though there’s an overlying cloud of anxiety and depression among the people, especially within the youths. From one drunken and newly divorced teacher I befriended at a bar, he explained it to me something like this while we cruised along the Randers canal upon his little boat.
“Life is too easy here. The people here are spoiled and don’t know real hardship. They make problems out of nothing and become sad as a result.”– Drunken Danish teacher
While these are absolutely not the exact words he used, this was the message I remember from him. We spent many hours meandering about the canals while we discussed life over a few drinks and some herb. He was over-whelmingly friendly, likely due to being freshly single, but was one of the deepest connections I had in the ~1 year of living there. I never saw him again.
Back to the bars and clubs, I went to a handful. The people were just as vain and self-concerned as I feared and while the women are beautiful and open for fun, it’s unfulfilling. It seems social media has deeply plagued the ambient mentality.
Other aspects of living in Denmark and more opinions
Moving to Denmark with the WHV/YMV (Working Holiday Visa/Youth Mobility Visa) was easy and while the people at the citizens center welcomed me with open arms, I didn’t feel very welcome in Denmark as a foreigner.
Neither did my at-the-time Slovakian girlfriend, or other international peers. It’s not like any insults or even passive-aggressive acts were directed towards us, it just felt as though we shouldn’t be there. Maybe that’s because I sometimes dress ‘odd’ by Danish standards.
What is good though
I implore you to instead dive into history, visit art museums, and entertain the ‘sophisticated’ parts of life – if you can afford it. If you have the money, then Denmark is a safe and comfy playground.
With that in mind, even the coolest place in all of Aarhus, Godsbanen, is set for destruction and gentrification. A shame indeed.
Danes are very smart, they’re very organized, and well-meaning people. They follow the rules, obey the laws, and conform to norms. The women are pretty, the men are handsome, and their lifestyles are opulent. I did not fit in.
Sorry to say, but I didn’t like it so much. It felt a bit devoid of life and hollow. The streets felt clinically clean (clean is fine but I like a bit of grit), and the people perfectly groomed. Hell, innocently saying ‘hej’ to an old lady on the streets often yielded avoidance of eye contact and a harkening of pace.
If you wear anything which isn’t plain black or white, people won’t hesitate to look at you strangely out of the corner of their eye. Really, it was comical to my friend and I how the unspoken full-black dress code is. Literally felt like everyone at the park was part of either a white or black clothes gang.
Danish society feels like conformity. Fit in, don’t be different, and be attractive. If you can do that, then you’re golden!
I moved from Denmark to Croatia with great excitement and wow, what a lovely place. Check out my Moving to Croatia from Canada post for more info on that venture!
I’m deeply sorry to any Danes out there reading this who this may offend. Yes, I understand hygge, I have Danish friends, and we all came to the same conclusions.
USEFUL RESOURCES IF MOVING TO DENMARK.
Here are a list of useful links to help you with moving to Denmark. Some of these feature referral codes which help me out if you sign up. Feel free to sign up without the referral of course.
Dba.dk – Essentially the Craigslist of Denmark. A very useful place
Workaway.info – Live and integrate with locals- a phenomenal way to live somewhere for free in exchange for some labor.
CouchSurfing.com – Excellent free way to travel and stay with locals.
Facebook groups – Join a Facebook group for housing specific to the place you want to live. You’ll have the best success there.
Dsb.dk – To buy transport tickets. Search a week in advance to get an ‘Orange Billetter’ (Orange Ticket) – it’s a fraction of the cost compared to regular transport. Turn a $60 train ride from the airport to $15.
Transferwise.com – My favorite traveler banking/card. Low conversion rates, accepted everywhere. Saved my *ss. Link is a referral link.
Nordea – A quality bank which accepted me quickly and has good English application & support.
BlaBlaCar.dk – Ride sharing/car pooling.
Flixbus – Self explanatory affordable medium-long distance bus rides.