Copenhagen, Denmark Report of what it's like to live there - 06/20/21
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?
No. Lived in several cities before in several different areas of the world.
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. Flights with the USG all go through London, Frankfurt, or Amsterdam/Paris depending on who has the city pair. If you're paying, there are several direct flights (pre-covid) to the US as well as Icelandair.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
It can be anything from a house in the suburbs to an apartment in the city. Our apartment in the city is 3 bedroom. While it's not large, it's also not small by any means. Most people choose apartments because they tend to be walking distance to the Embassy whereas commutes to the houses are increasingly becoming over an hour on public transit. If you drive, they are about 30 minutes, but you also have to pay to park. It seems most homes have maintenance issues because Danish landlords do not believe in wear and tear and contracts do not seem to be enforced.
The people I know in single family houses don't seem to like it. There are complaints that they are stuck with living with the issues or fixing them on their own dime, which is very expensive due to local labor. This is not something strictly against diplomats as a local staff have told me they're expected to paint, repair and essentially make an apartment look brand new when they move out. If you're not here with an organization and you're paying your own way, remember that Danes require a substantial security deposit (three months' rent I believe) that you shouldn't expect to get back. Also at the time of this writing, school bus service is not guaranteed, so if your house is outside of the zone that CIS provides service, you'll be on your own for getting your kids to and from school.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available it's just expensive. Groceries stores are on almost every corner, but some are bigger than others. If you're looking for speciality goods you'll have to travel to more than one store to find everything on your list. There's 25% VAT on everything that as a diplomat you only get back if you spend 1500 DKK (~ $250 USD as of this writing) so most people don't spend enough to submit the receipt. Also, refrigerators are small so shouldn't expect to shop for a week or two like you do in the US.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
If you have a specific brand or item that you can't live without then ship it. Otherwise, I was able to find everything I needed with the caveat that you sometimes had to ask around to find it.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Copenhagen is a very international city in this respect. There is everything from a kebab to Michelin star restaurants, but you are going to pay dearly for everything. McDonalds will cost you almost double what it does in the US for instance. The minimum amount for a going out to a fast food lunch range from $12-$20. Sit down restaurants are significantly more.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch. You can sometimes (pre-covid) receive a package on Monday for something you ordered on Friday, but most of the time it takes a week to ten days. If you're not with the US Embassy the local post is reliable, but expensive.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I don't know anybody who hires household help due to the cost. Any time you hire a Dane for any job, it's going to cost a lot of money.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are everywhere and they cost around $50/month.
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?
Yes and yes. Danish society is getting away from cash and some places only accept a local debit/credit card. They are few and far between but they exist and they normally have a sign when you're paying that warns you. Most medical offices only accept local Danish cards.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
No experience with this but you'll be hard to find a church in Denmark that isn't a museum. Most Danes don't attend church.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. I can count on one hand the amount of people I've come across that don't speak fluent English. If you find one of them, just ask the person next to them and you'll be fine.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It depends on the severity of your disability. Elevators are not common in apartment buildings and there are uneven sidewalks in many places.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They're all safe, but taxis are not affordable. Uber is banned in Denmark. Trains and metros are cheaper, but if you're going one stop it's going to cost you more than it's worth in my opinion.
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 wouldn't bring anything bigger than a small SUV. Parking is not as tight as I thought it would be, but you can leave the suburban in the US. If you can live without a car, I wouldn't bring one. Oil changes are $300 at a dealership and an independent mechanic will still want over $100. The Danish government has very punitive tickets for parking violations ($100) and speeding ($300) and are actively discouraging driving by high taxes on anything related to cars. They want to ban diesel vehicles in the next 5 years and for the rich that can still afford them are pushing electric cars.
Unfortunately, having a car is a necessity if you live anywhere outside of the downtown area in my opinion because the train system is just like the DC metro area. Everything flows into downtown but doesn't cross. If you want to see anything outside of Copenhagen, you'll need a car to do it because while you can ride a train, it's going to take you two to three times as long to do it with many connections.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, you can get gigabit internet to the house within a few days of arrival.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The easiest SIM cards to get are prepaid because as a diplomat your Danish CPR number (SSN) is administrative only and won't allow you to sign up for services. If you have high speed internet with YouSee, they will allow you to get a sim chip with a substantial deposit.
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?
The only EFM jobs in the Embassy that I know of are in the Community Liaison Office (CLO) and security escorts. Most spouses telework back home because unless you're in a specialized field that accepts foreigners and conducts business in English, you'll need to speak fluent Danish.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It ranges from business casual to suit and tie depending on the position. Formal dress is only needed at specific functions.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It's a city so you shouldn't be flashing things around, but I feel safe enough to walk around with an iPhone in public. I wouldn't have done this at previous posts.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The "winter blues" are a real thing and happy lamps are not supplied here. Check your vitamin D level and be prepared to take supplements. Overall the medical care ranges from good to mediocre. If you're in an emergency situation I'd much rather be here than some of the other places where I have lived. However, routine care is just not good and there can be difficulty with finding and vetting doctors that can accommodate our needs. I have found that the ones recommended routinely misdiagnose, won't prescribe, and charge $100 for every visit no matter how short.
Private children's dentists do not exist here because there is no market. You will not be able to use the public dentists if you are not a part of the Danish health care system. The adult dentists are quasi-private because all of them take Danish state money. They always seem to be thinking about the costs to the state. In my experience, you will need to insist on two cleanings a year and X-rays (even though you tell them your insurance will pay for it). I would get all your routine checkups done in the US before, during, and after you finish a posting here.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
It's about the cleanest capital city you can live in. From late April until late June some people have bad pollen and grass allergies, but that's about it.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Pollen and grass allergies are common from late April to late June.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winters are dark, cold and long. The sun barely comes up and when there is light, it's covered by clouds. There is about 6-9 weeks in the summer where you can't believe you live in such a nice place but it is short-lived when you go back to dark, cold, and grey.
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 is a British school and a French school as well. Everybody raved about the school before coming but honestly it's like most things in Denmark, average. My kids haven't experienced it fortunately but there seems to be a growing bullying problem and the school doesn't want to expel kids for physical violence. I have heard stories of a group of kids following home another one to physically assault them and another kid in the second grade knock out the front teeth of another child. It's my understanding the school didn't address either issue adequately. I have heard of parents refusing to extend at post due to such school issues.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not many from what I hear, but I don't have experience with this.
3. 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?
Danish preschools are around $300 a month and are everywhere. A few parents have signed their kids up for forest schools where the kids literally spend all day outside rain or shine. Those preschools usually have waiting lists so you should sign your kids up early if you are interested in that experience. International preschools in English are much more expensive.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but there are not busing options so you'll be responsible for picking them up.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are a ton of expats everywhere in the city. Most seem to like it, but most seem to know that they are going to live in Copenhagen for 3-7 years and then move on.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
There is something for everybody.
3. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Not really. Danes are pretty homogenous and have normally grown up with all their friends. It's hard if not impossible to break into that inner circle unless you're coming here to marry a Dane. They are often regarded as cold but I would describe them as blunt. They will tell you to your face, "why would I make friends with you when you're just going to leave in X years". If you're middle eastern or look it, I wouldn't come here.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. They were the first country in the world to perform same sex unions and they have huge pride celebrations (pre-covid).
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Recently I have heard there has been a big push towards sending asylum seekers back to Syria by revoking their residency permit. They can't legally send them back since they don't have an Embassy in Damascus, so their plan is to detain people in camps until they voluntarily deport themselves.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Danish summer houses are very nice to relax in for a week. Take a trip out to Jutland and you shouldn't miss Bornholm.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Bornholm and Legoland are always fun with the kids.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not unless you want to pay through the nose for something.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's clean and everybody speaks fluent English so it's easy to get around.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How bad the medical care can be here.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Not if I had options in another European capital. It's too expensive here for what you get and the weather wears on your most of the year.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Winter coat and rain gear.
5. Do you have any other comments?
The Embassy runs on the fact that this is a nice post so they don't support you in as many ways as I feel would be appropriate. In my opinion, things that should be standard aren't, and I feel there doesn't seem to be a willingness to advocate on one's behalf.