Copenhagen, Denmark Report of what it's like to live there - 07/09/16
Personal Experiences from Copenhagen, Denmark
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Previous tours in Africa and Asia.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington, DC area. Flights are typically 13 hours with a layover in Frankfurt, London or Amsterdam. If you're flying with a pet, choose Frankfurt.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
DOS employee at embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing can be anything from an apartment to a single-family home. Apartments are typically within walking distance of the embassy, while housing is farther out with travel times of about 30 minutes. Most homes have issues with flooding in the basements during heavy rains. Housing assignments are hit or miss, and at times, questionable. There have been many complaints regarding the housing questionnaires not being considered when assignments are made. And then there's the issue with the landlords' lack of upkeep on the properties.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expensive! Everything has a 25% VAT, which makes buying groceries a huge expense. However, you can get almost anything you could want. And what you can't find, you order from Walmart. You may have to shop at a few different stores to get everything you need. Grocery stores tend to be on the small side, and not every chain carries the same choices. If you're in a pinch, you may find what you need at the small commissary in the embassy, but the prices are quite high, and a lot of items are past their expiration dates.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Most can be found on the local market, or you can order from Walmart. If you like peanut butter, order it from Walmart! You will only find a very small jar of Skippy on the local market, and you will pay almost $10 for it. If you have a favorite toilet paper, you may want to order it as well. The local paper is very thin and like sandpaper.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You will never starve in DK. They have everything here! One of the nice things about Copenhagen is walking the streets downtown and finding great cafes, bakeries, and coffees shops. There are lots of great restaurants on the waterfront, including Copenhagen Street Food. If you want high end, there are plenty of Michelin star restaurants like Noma. Another popular places is Geist and Mash. If you enjoy sushi, the popular place is Sticks n Sushi or Letz Sushi. They have great burger places: Cocks and Cows, Hacha, and Halifax.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Local mail service seems to be reliable. Post has DPO and pouch. It takes about a week to receive packages through DPO. There have been some issues with damaged packages, but mostly things are good.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Rarely does anyone hire household help due to the great expense. Minimum wage is over $20/hr which makes it difficult for most. Expect to pay the same for a babysitter. You may find a teenager at the embassy willing to take less, but eventually they seem to ask for more the longer they're at post.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is an abundance of workout facilities. They're a little pricier, but they are great. The embassy has a small gym in the basement for a cost. Not sure how much.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
You can use a credit card in most places. Most places require a chip in the card and have no problems running an American card. There are ATMs outside of banks where you can use your American debit card.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much. Most Danes speak English fluently. Some elderly Danes do not speak English, but they do speak German.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
That depends on the severity of the disability. Sidewalks are uneven, and some streets are made of cobblestones. Most restaurants and stores have stairs going up or down to enter. Ramps and elevators are scarce, the same as in the rest of Europe.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
DK has one of the world's best transportation systems. There are three train systems: s-tog, metro, and regional; and also buses. You can travel almost anywhere in DK using public transportation. It's safe for the most part, but there is a huge issue with people having their wallets stolen. Late at night there is more activity.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
I suggest bringing nothing bigger than a small SUV. There is a lot of street parking, but finding a place becomes more difficult for a larger the vehicle. Parking spaces are small, and most parking garages have low ceilings and narrow spaces.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed internet is available. The company choice depends on your housing location. I believe the embassy will try to have it set up and ready for when you arrive.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can bring your unlocked phone from the States and get a SIM card locally.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Danes love dogs! They have amazing vet care for your fur baby. There are boarding facilities all over, so it is not difficult to find somewhere for your pet to stay during a holiday. There are no quarantine restrictions upon entry as long as you have the required docs.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
There is a handful of EFM positions at the embassy. They are slowly declining as positions are turned into local-hire employment. This has made some hardship for families that need the second income due to the extreme expense of living in DK. Some spouses telework for companies back in the States. Most spouses want part-time work so they can meet the needs of their young children at school. Unless you speak Danish, finding a job on the local market is extremely difficult. Summertime is more difficult for those with young children. There are no programs for your child for the summer, so if the spouse works, it's either pay a babysitter $20+/hr to care for the kids, or arrange a mix of a 3-week day camp and babysitters the rest of the time. All of which is extremely costly.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual. Formal attire is only needed at specific functions.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are some home burglaries, so use your house alarms and make sure to lock your doors. Keep your wallet secure, or someone will help themselves to it. There have been some issues with Americans being sought out and attacked. Use common sense and follow what you are told in the security briefing.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
You can find almost any type of doctor for your needs. This is socialized healthcare, so the quality can be less than US standards. They do have private hospitals, and they seem to have better quality of care.
3. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
There are been some people who suffer from depression during the dark winter season. I believe you can buy "happy lights" or something to assist with that.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winter is dark, cold and long, and the sun barely is seen during a few hours each day. Summer is typically sunny and warm with highs around 76 degrees. There are some rainy days, but after winter you'll take it! The sun will be out until 11 p.m., which makes it hard to sleep during the work week. But on weekends it's the best!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most families attend CIS (Copenhagen International School). There are a couple of others, but I don't have any info on them. CIS is opening a new school building in late 2016 closer to the embassy. It will contain pre-K through 12th grade. For the most part, it's a good school. Communication is not their strong point. There is an expectation of high parent involvement, which is difficult for those working full time. They run after school activities that you can sign your child up for on your own dime, and they have many choices.
2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There is a pre-kK program at CIS at your own expense. Daycare is available until kids reach school age. Some daycares are similar to those in the US, and most are forest daycares. Google it- they're amazing, and it is great for kids to be free and explore instead of being confined to a small room all day.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It is a moderate-sized community. Morale is pretty low for such a great location. Between housing assignments and living expenses, it can take a toll on everyone. LES (local employees) seem to run the embassy and make all of the decisions. There have been many incidents of questionable behavior in which the front office has taken action. The building was constructed in the 50's and has many issues which make your work day difficult. Facilities personnel seem to band-aid all problems instead of fixing them.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This city is great for all. You will find amazing night life for singles and plenty of things for families and couple to do.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
This is the first country to recognize same-sex unions back in 1989. In 2012 it was changed to same-sex marriage. There is a huge LGBT community. The embassy has participated in Pride Week for the past couple of years. I'd say it's a pretty good city for an LGBT expat.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling! Either within DK or through Europe, traveling is inexpensive and easy.
5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Mons Klint, castles, beaches, driving north through small towns, animal Safari, Legoland, Tivoli, Bakken, straget, Lalandia. If you can, travel to Barnholm and Faroe Islands.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lots of shopping in the area, but you may need to take a loan to afford it.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The COLA does not come close to the true expense of living.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I would definitely move back if an opportunity should arise that is not with the embassy.
3. But don't forget your:
Bikes, peanut butter :) and good rain gear.