Copenhagen, Denmark Report of what it's like to live there - 07/22/11

Personal Experiences from Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark 07/22/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Lived in Frankfurt, Germany and Brasilia, Brazil

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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?

Home base is Washington D.C. The trip is approximately 8 hours non-stop from Dulles.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years, left in 2010

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government - U.S. Embassy

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Embassy housing is within 15 miles of the Embassy in either apartments, townhomes or houses. Housing is furnished by the Embassy for most employees. Many employees can walk to work in less than 10 minutes, while others took as much as half an hour to drive, depending on traffic. The public transportation system is very good, so many people use buses or the train system to commute. Bicycles are also a very popular mode of transportation and have designated lanes on most roads.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

You can find almost anything you need in Copenhagen, it will just be more expensive. We tended to go to one grocery store for the staple foods because everything was cheaper there, but they didn't have much of a selection. Then we would go to the larger, more expensive store(s) for everything else. Fruits & vegetables are generally offered in season rather than year round, as Denmark takes pride in not importing a lot of food from other countries. They also spoil quicker, as they don't use preservatives that are used in the U.S., so buy what you plan on using in the next 2 days, or you will be throwing it away. Baby food is almost all natural/organic and moderately priced, however diapers & wipes are costly. You can find imported U.S. goods in the stores, but at a high cost. There is a store called Metro (very much like Costco or Sam's Club) where you can have a more "American" shopping experience, in that there is a larger selection of everything, you can buy in bulk, the carts are not tiny and the aisles can fit more than one cart down them. But the normal grocery stores have pretty much everything you need. And I highly recommend going to a bakery for your bread/pastries, etc... as you just can't beat their fresh baked goods.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

We shipped extra toiletries, some packaged food, baby items and our mattress. We were glad we shipped all these items and would do so again.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

McD's, Burger King, KFC, Domino's and Subway are all available. It's hard to get out of them without spending at least $20 for two people. There is a Hard Rock Cafe downtown, and a TGIFriday's is over in Malmo, Sweden (about 45 minute train ride from Copenhagen) and is nice for a sudden craving of American food. There are more pizzeria/burger places than you can count, and most will deliver. There are plenty of good restaurants with delicious food, but most are really expensive. Brewpubs are a nice alternative as they are generally moderately priced and provide a quieter atmosphere to eat. I would get recommendations from the CLO and other people at post, as many will have already found the cheaper places with quality food.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Finding organic and/or natural food is so easy. It is in abundance! Sometimes it is difficult to find a non-organic alternative. Vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are easy to find as well. Reading the labels can sometimes be a challenge even if you speak some Danish, and asking for help in stores won't always benefit you as customer service is not a priority in Denmark. That said, you may stumble across a friendly store-clerk who can assist you in finding what you need, or look up what you're looking for in a translator before you go shopping (and write it down to take with you!)

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None that I experienced.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Prohibitively expensive. Bringin help with you is a long, difficult and expensive process. Local help is expensive.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are a number of nice gyms in the area, and there is also one in the Embassy for Embassy personnel. All have membership fees.

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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 need a PIN to use your credit card in many smaller stores or restaurants, if they take credit cards. More and more places are taking credit cards, though. ATMs are abound, though many have fees. I would highly recommend joining a bank (Danske Bank was great to us), and getting a Dankort (Danish ATM/Debit card), which will make your life much easier.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, available. Not sure of all the denominations, but I believe anyone can find what they are looking for. It is a very well-rounded and tolerant city.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes. Satellite TV is moderately priced. English language newspapers are also available, some are free, others are affordable.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Practically none. Most Danes speak English, and even if you try to speak Danish to them, if they can tell you are a foreigner they will switch to English.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

The sidewalks are not often even, so getting around on a wheelchair or crutches can be difficult. And while there are stroller ramps for the large buggies, I did not see a wealth of wheelchair ramps in the city. Many apartment buildings do not have elevators, either.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes! Very safe, and generally reliable. Buses run at pretty much all hours (though there may be an hour in between pick-ups sometimes) and will go into the suburbs even late at night. Trains are not 24 hours, but do run into the night. Taxis are safe though somewhat expensive.

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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?

Most Danes use 4-door sedans or smaller vehicles, although SUVs and station wagons are becoming more popular. Service on all vehicles is exceptionally expensive, and parts for American vehicles are often hard to come by and also very expensive. I recommend bringing oil, spare parts and an extra set of tires for your vehicle in your HHE. There are a few import restrictions, so if you are coming with the Embassy, check with them before sending your car.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is available at a moderate price, and multiple packages are offered, depending on the speed that you prefer.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

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Pets:

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?

No quarantine is necessary, generally. A health certificate is required showing that they are fully vaccinated, as is a European/International microchip. Check regulations prior to shipping. Also, airlines will often not allow pets to fly in the summer month, so check with airlines prior to booking your flights.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Kennels are expensive, as are vets. Quality is good, though. If you can have a friend or neighbor watch your pet while you are gone, it will save you a lot of money.

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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?

Not really. There are some opportunities, but unless you speak a fair amount of Danish or have a highly sought after skill, your chances of getting a decent job locally is slim.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Danish dress is generally very fashionable but casual. At work, it is also quite casual, though at the Embassy, business casual is the standard.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Not really, just use common sense. Denmark is exceptionally safe. There was the occasional pick-pocket purse-snatcher, and I heard of nieghbors getting their homes broken into, but overall my family & I felt very safe.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The hospitals and medical care available are very good. You can get doctors/nurses to come to your home in a pinch, and appointments can often be made same-day. U.S. health insurance is obviously not accepted, so you will have to pay and then file your claims through your insurance.

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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?

Good

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Moderate in the summers - mostly 70's though it got into the low 80's while I was there, and that was considered hot. Cool in the 50's-60's during the short Spring. Fall & Winter is cold and dark (lows around 15 - 20 degrees F). Snow patterns variable by year. One year we got a couple inches, the next we got half a foot in one storm and then ice & snow storms daily for 2-3 weeks. We got snow all the way into April.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I did not have any experience with the International Schools, but have heard good things about both Copenhagen International school and Rygaards.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

Daycare is expensive and generally not available until children are at least 6 months old since Danish parents can get 6 months paid parental leave.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Through CIS, I know there are after-school and intramural sports available, but I don't have much information beyond that.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Good. Joining a Diplomatic club or being active in the International School community (if you have children in school) will help you meet more people outside of the U.S. expat community.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good, though it varies year to year depending on how active the expat community is, the management at post and what time of year it is. Things get gloomy in the winter, so you sometimes have to actively try to keep yourself upbeat and interested.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Again, everything is expensive, so a lot of entertaining is done at home. If the community is active, it can be a great time with lots of events. Breaking into a Danish circle of friends is difficult, as they tend to very close & private. Friendly, for sure, but not open to creating additional close friendships.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Good for all. Plenty of activities for families, singles & couples, though most everything is expensive. Sometimes just going to a park or playground was the best way to entertain the kids since it was free. Restaurants, bars & nightclubs are aplenty, but all are really expensive.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes, it is an EXCELLENT city for gay & lesbians. Beyond being considered equal in the society (pretty much without a second thought), there is a large GLBT event in Copenhagen each year (in the fall, I beliieve).

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

I didn't experience any. It is a very tolerant society and everyone seems equal.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The chalk cliffs (Mons Klint), Egeskov castle, Legoland & Lalandia, Tivoli & Bakken, the random festival/event you stumble across at any given moment while wandering the city, driving through the countryside and exploring outside of the city

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

There are a lot, but many are expensive. The cheaper activities: going to one of the many expansive parks and having a picnic, going to the beach (though the water is COLD, but that doesn't stop many Danes in the summer!), Bakken is one of the amusement parks, and offers free entrance, but the rides all cost money. That said, you can catch free performances/events in the park that make it worth going to, and the rides aren't horribly expensive. Legoland is a fun trip for kids, and Lalandia is an indoor amusement park/water park across the street from Legoland that is a LOT of fun. You can hit both in a long weekend. Walking along the Stroget (the pedestrian shopping street) can be inexpensive if you don't go in the stores -- there are plenty of street musicians and performers to entertain. Tivoli is an amusement park in the middle of the city, and if you plan on going more than twice during the season, buy a season pass for entrance. There are rides, and they cost money even after paying for admittance. There are also plenty of free performances, concerts, etc... in the park that make the season pass completely worth the cost. They open again for Halloween and for Christmas, and I would recommend going for both, as they go all out for both holidays.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Royal Copenhagen China, Christmas market items (the Christmas ornaments are especially beautiful)

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It is convenient to both Scandinavia and mainland Europe. Crossing over to Sweden is easy via train, car or ferry, and a trip to Oslo via overnight ferry can be accomplished in a weekend. It's approximately 4 hours to Germany (driving, then ferry boat) which gives you access to the rest of mainland Europe. Inexpensive flights out of Copenhagen to the rest of Europe can be found as well. There is a lot of cultural activities in and around Copenhagen, and plenty of historical sites all over the country to keep you busy!

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11. Can you save money?

Not really. With the high cost of living and the travel opportunities, money goes quickly in Denmark. Especially if you have a family.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, but with different expectations. The way of life is much slower, which has pros and cons. Customer service is much worse in Denmark, and things are just done much slower. Most shops are closed after 6 p.m. on weekdays, and closed completely on Sundays. Saturdays have limited hours as well, normally closing between noon and 2 p.m. Living on an American schedule in Denmark is challenging, as we generally do not get as much vacation time and work more hours in a day/week -- sometimes difficult to do when you see Danish counterparts taking 4-6 weeks of vacation at a time. But because leisure is a way of life, there really is a lot to do. You just have to take advantage of it when you do have the time.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

frugality.

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3. But don't forget your:

umbrella, sun lamp, good attitude and passport!

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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