Stories about life in Denmark

Moving to Denmark, a Guide for Americans fleeing President Trump

Moving to Denmark as an American has become a hot topic since Donald Trump began his run for President. Now that he is in office, I expect to hear even more from Americans interested in immigration to Denmark.

Since I’m selling a book called How to Live in Denmark, you’d think I would encourage as many Americans as possible to look into Denmark immigration.

But moving to Denmark with a U.S. passport isn’t as easy as just buying a plane ticket and a lot of sweaters.

No visa-free resettlement
While being an American citizen offers a remarkable right to visa-free travel, it doesn’t provide for visa-free resettlement. As citizens of a non-EU country, Americans are legally on the same footing as someone from China, India, or the Ivory Coast when it comes to moving to Denmark.

(If you do have an EU passport, or can get one through a job or a relative, much of what I’m about to say does not apply to you.)

There are basically three ways for Americans to move to Denmark: as a student, as a worker, or as the partner of a Dane. Seeking asylum as a refugee, the other way non-EU citizens resettle in Denmark, is not available to Americans – no matter what you think of Mr. Trump.

Moving to Denmark as a student
Moving to Denmark as a student is my usual recommendation for Americans of any age. Student visas are easier to get than any other kind of visa, and living for a semester or two in Denmark gives you the opportunity to see if you like the lifestyle and can handle the ugly winter weather and long hours of darkness.

It’s also a good way to build up the kind of network you’ll need for jobhunting, and provides time to wrestle with the challenges of the Danish language.

That said, the ‘free’ college promised in Bernie Sanders speeches is not ‘free’ for you as a non-EU citizen – you’ll have to pay tuition of around USD2000 per course, plus your living expenses, which are substantial in Denmark.

Actually, university in Denmark is not ‘free’ for anyone – it’s financed by punishing taxes, and not just taxes on rich people. A person making $30,000 a year has an income tax rate of about 32% in Denmark, compared to about 15% in the US. There is also a 25% sales tax on almost everything you buy, plus an extra 150% tax on new cars.

The good news is that with a student visa, you’ll have the right to work a certain number of hours to help support yourself in Denmark – and start paying Danish taxes right away.

(Heads up: you’ll also have to file American taxes as long as you retain your American citizenship.)

Moving to Denmark as a worker
Moving to Denmark with the plan of getting a job is a little trickier.

Any company that hires a non-EU citizen has to go through a long song and dance with Denmark’s notoriously Byzantine Udlændingstyrelsen, or “Foreigners Directorate.”

Companies are sometimes willing to do this for people who have skills that are in high demand in Denmark, usually in the technology, engineering, or medical fields. And very large companies like Maersk and Novo have HR departments that can handle visa applications with ease.

Smaller companies, however, will probably flinch at hiring someone who needs help getting a working visa, particularly since the rules for doing so seem to change constantly.

In fact, they’re getting tighter all the time, largely because Denmark has its own version of Donald Trump, the Danske Folkeparti, or Danish People’s Party. It’s the second largest party in Denmark and hostility to most forms of immigration is a cornerstone of their platform.

(Recently the DF has been in trouble because of a corruption scandal, but an even more right wing party, the New Conservatives, has risen up to take its place. Interestingly, both the DF in its prime and the New Conservatives now are lead by women.)

Not speaking Danish limits your job possiblities
Not speaking Danish is a major handicap to employment in Denmark. It pretty much counts you out for any kind of government job, which account 40% of all full-time jobs in Denmark.

The government supplies free Danish courses to anyone with an approved residence visa, but even with full-time study it will take you at least a couple of years to feel comfortable speaking Danish.

Although English is Denmark’s de facto second language, just speaking English is not enough to get you a job. Danes speak excellent English.

Perhaps if you are an expert in linguistics there might be a role for you at a Danish university, or a job for you in advertising if you can demonstrate a long career as a copywriter. Even then, you’ll have to face competition from EU residents who don’t have visa hassles.

Bottom line: Moving to Denmark by finding a job in Denmark will be tricky, although it helps if you have special skills that EU passport holders don’t.

Engineers and IT wizards have the best chance for Danish working visas.

Moving to Denmark by marrying a Dane
“Did you move to Denmark because you fell in love with a Dane?” I still get asked that question.

It seems many foreigners are in Denmark because they met an attractive Dane on vacation somewhere in the world and decided to start a family and raise children in Denmark. Denmark is a child-friendly society that is a great place for kids to grow up.

The good news is that when it comes to bringing a partner to Denmark, Danish rules are color-blind and gender-blind. No matter what type of person you fall in love with, the rules are the same.

The bad news is, the rules are strict and getting stricter. At the moment, both you and your partner must be at least 24 years old. Your partner must have his or her own home large enough for both of you to live in. He or she must also be able to put down a deposit of about US$8000 with the government to prove that she or he is able to support you.

You’ll also need to pass a Danish language test within 6 months of arriving in Denmark.

Custody laws in Denmark are tough
If you are considering moving to Denmark to start a family, keep in mind that local custody laws make it virtually impossible to take your children out of Denmark without your spouse’s permission.

(I meet a lot of broken-hearted divorced Dads sentenced to 18 or more years of career-on-ice in Denmark because their kids are here.)

Plus, simply having Danish children doesn’t guarantee you the right to live and work here – so could quite possibly find yourself thrown out of Denmark while your children remain with their other parent.

Moving to Denmark can be a difficult transition
Even when the official permissions fall into place, moving to Denmark as an American is not always an easy transition.

Your dollar-based savings will not go as far as they might other places in the world, and while you’ll be eligible for tax-financed Danish government services such as ‘free’ health care and ‘free’ university, you may have to accept a slightly less fancy standard of living.

People generally have less space here than in a spread-out country like the USA. Depending on where you settle in Denmark, you may have to downsize from a house to an apartment, or from an apartment to a room in an apartment.

A family that might have 2 or 3 cars in the U.S. will probably have one or none in Denmark. In Copenhagen, many families rely on bicycles and buses. Many locals don’t bother to get drivers’ licenses.

Fewer restaurant meals
Stay-at-home parents are unusual in Denmark, where the idea is that everyone who can work outside the home should do so, and children usually begin government-run day care when they are about a year old. Besides, the high income tax rates (up to 57% for earned income over US$65,000) make it difficult for one person to support a family.

Family meals at restaurants are unusual and are mostly saved for special occasions like birthdays, particularly outside of Copenhagen. Single people and couples do hit the dining scene more often, but usually no more than once a week, since high Danish wages make eating out expensive. In general, people cook for themselves at home, particularly in the winter.

(A personal note: I live in Denmark and make what would be considered a high-end income in the USA, but I share a one-bedroom apartment with my daughter, we have no car, and we rarely dine out or eat takeout food. My tax burden is around 45% of my income, not counting the 25% sales taxes on most things that I purchase.)

Good things about moving to Denmark
Still, Denmark has a lot to recommend it.

The pace of life is slower and less intense here, and people in general have a better work-life balance. Work begins at 8 and ends at 4 sharp, with no long lunches – Danes are focused.

Most jobs provide for six weeks of vacation per year, and you are not expected to be on call or answer emails during that time off.

And the Danish social safety net provides some relief when you are pregnant, sick, or unemployed.

The idea behind the safety net, however, is that people should pay into it before they begin taking out of it. The sense among Danes that some immigrants were not doing so is the reason Denmark immigration laws have become so harsh.

John F. Kennedy, generally a hero to the kind of Americans who detest Donald Trump, said it this way: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

If you’re thinking of making Denmark your country, what can you do for Denmark?


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Moving to Denmark

Want to read more? Try the How to Live in Denmark book, available in paperback or eBook editions, and in English, Chinese, and Arabic. If you represent a company or organization, you can also book Kay Xander Mellish to stage a How to Live in Denmark event tailored for you, including the popular How to Live in Denmark Game Show. Kay stages occasional free public events too. Follow our How to Live in Denmark Facebook page to keep informed.

Photo credit: Creative Commons

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  • Reply Lars Kjaergaard November 9, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    But do not forget: we have a big ethnocentric right wing party and our gowerment is based on their mandates. So if you want to leave Trump you will come to a whole party of Trumps. Nothing to burst about. Maybe also Sanders forgot that..

  • Reply Christa November 10, 2016 at 5:08 am

    Thank you for this wonderful post, it was just what I needed. As an American I’m making plans to move out of the country to find a better place to raise our daughter. I have a question: when you mention “government-run daycare” is this a free service or paid by the parents? The reason I chose to be a stay-at-home mother in the US was because paying $800 per month in daycare was just not worth it for us

    • Reply Kay Xander Mellish November 10, 2016 at 5:43 am

      The cost of under-3 daycare in Denmark depends on the municipality – in Copenhagen, it is DK3483 per month with hot lunch and DK2868 without lunch. It might be cheaper in some of the countryside municipalities – look up the name of the town and then “vuggestue pris.” Reduced prices are available based on family income.

      • Reply Leif Arildsen November 10, 2016 at 3:46 pm

        Outside Copenhagen you do not necessarily have to send you child to “vuggestue”.
        There are several options to have your child in daycare in a private home, cheaper than “vuggestue” but still controlled by the government.

        • Reply Kay Xander Mellish November 11, 2016 at 6:19 am

          Leif is right, and actually this “dagpleje” system is also available within Copenhagen. But in many countries, it is common for one parent (not always the woman) to stay home with the children until they are school age. This is difficult in Denmark due to the tax system. Full-time nannies are also uncommon, although wealthy families sometimes hire an au pair.

    • Reply Magnus Ø Heinesen November 10, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      If you need help finding the price, I’d gladly help you out.

  • Reply Stefano Borini November 10, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    I lived there 5 years. I’m glad I left. Oppressive State, asocial people with no empathy, low salaries, insane prices. The worst mistake of my career.

    • Reply Anders Wenzel Kyhl November 11, 2016 at 9:22 am

      I guess you hooked up with the wrong crowd! What you are decribing, does not sound like the Denmark I know and love!

    • Reply Autum Bredmose November 30, 2016 at 11:16 pm

      You are absolutely correct. If you come to Denmark as an outsider and don’t have an “in” with someone, you will be scrutinized and shunned. Danes do NOT like new people coming into their midst unless you are introduced by someone they know. I am married to a Dane, I have been to Denmark at least 6 times for extended periods of time. Danes in their homes are wonderful and warm people. Danes in public however, are rude and VERY judging. As an overweight female American, I was looked at like a I was a monster. If you don’t dress in clothes that are stylish (in Denmark) for the moment, don’t go out, for real. You will get looks like you wouldn’t believe, and people blatantly talking about you. Danes in stores don’t say excuse me (undskyld mig) and will cut in front of you in the store. They will forcibly push you out of the way. My husband is the ONLY person in Denmark I witnessed holding a door for someone. You hear about Denmark being this wonderful place, and it is, if you live there and were born there. Danish society as a whole are like sheep, and one out of the flock is not welcome. The Danish person is nice, but Danish people, in groups, left a very very bad taste in my mouth.

  • Reply Kasper Hermansen November 11, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    An advice i would give is to live in a smaller city or area. Areas like Copenhagen are extremely expensive, for danish standards that is. If you choose to move to a less central and populated area, you can get fairly cheap housing and as Denmark is really small it is easy to drive to the locations you want. It is common for students to get an apartment in the big cities (Again, danish standards). However it is really common for parents to move to a suburb of either Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense or Aalborg. Housing pricing are reasonable and the options for daycare are excellent, many excellent schools also exist in these small cities and it’s easy to take the bus to the city. Nearly every suburb has fairly decent day to day shopping options, while you normally have to go to the bigger cities to find a butcher or a decent restaurant. It’s kind of hard to find good and cheap restaurant in Denmark, however there are many excellent finds in the cities, most of them aren’t that expensive either, A good advice for a cheap but decent meal is to go to the outer parts of the central cities and find restaurant with a nice ambiance. The danish cuisine isn’t that excellent i Denmark (for foreigners), however we have a lot of options for Italian, Chinese, American etc. It’s all about knowing where to go. If you are an american wanting to go to Denmark, if you will find a severe lack of fast food chains, in Denmark we mostly eat McDonald’s and they are everywhere in the cities. However, we really lack diversity, there are a few dominoes, and burger kings. But, they are really scarce, instead we have something like sunset boulevard which makes fantastic sandwiches and burgers =D.

    And remember as long as you can speak english, most Danes will show great hospitality to you. Although, most will get offended if haven’t even tried to learn the language when you’ve lived here a few years.

    Sincerely, Kasper

    I apologise for any grammar mistakes.

    • Reply Helle Jonssen January 27, 2017 at 10:35 am

      I agree. As a Dane, have moved from the mainland to Copenhagen I feel it’s harder to meet new people here compared to Northern Jutland/Aalborg, and most things, especially rent is much more expensive. SO if you want to make friends and have an affordable life here then settle down away from Copenhagen. It’s not far by car or train to go there now and then.

  • Reply Mike November 13, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    What about people born in Canada who are of Danish descent? My parents are from Denmark and I live close to the US. A nuclear fallout would take longer to reach Denmark than Canada 🙂

    • Reply Kevin November 17, 2016 at 8:24 am

      Mike, what exactly do you mean with the nuclear fallout? – Canada is met with the same immigration rules as the US of A.

      Only citizens of EU countries have benefits in our immigration system. 🙂

      • Reply Kay Xander Mellish November 17, 2016 at 8:27 am

        He seems to believe there will be a nuclear attack on the US and that he would be safer in Denmark. Clearly he doesn’t know how close Barsebäcksverket is to Denmark.

  • Reply Michelle Lassen November 21, 2016 at 12:27 am

    I hope someone can help enlighten me a little more since I’m having some trouble finding information. I’m looking into living abroad and Denmark really interests me. Is it difficult to find a job in the medical field over there? I’m a x-ray tech here in the states, but I have no clue what the job market is like and if I would be able to support myself. Thank you!

    P.S. While I strongly dislike Trump, he’s not the motivator for me wanting to move. I would like to see more of the world and experience life outside of the US. Any suggestions/tips you have for me would be great!

    • Reply Erling Lorentsen November 22, 2016 at 9:11 am

      Well – I do know that there is a shortage of doctors in the more scarcely populated parts of the country. It’s been discussed in the media. On the other hand the city hospitals have been laying off support staff as a result of budget cuts. Mainly on the low education jobs such as cleaning. I don’t have any personal knowledge though.
      Greenland is always short on well educated medical staff so that might be an option. BUT – you’ll have to learn the local lingo. Danish – that is. Adding a lot of medical/technical terms won’t make it any easier.
      Best of luck.

    • Reply Helle Jonssen January 27, 2017 at 10:41 am

      Yes, you would have to learn Danish. How about coming over to study part time and work part time? Many unskilled jobs can be done with no or little Danish, also some customer service jobs, jobs with international companies.
      Working in a hospital is different. You can’t expect all the patients to speak English, some are children or older people, as well the work language is mainly Danish.
      Look for some international companies here. Also try and look for medical companies maybe.

  • Reply Susie December 11, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    My husband and young son are Danish citizens and I am an American. We three live in the US but we would like to try a year in Denmark to see how we all like it. Would I need to apply for a residence visa before we go, even if our intention is just to try living in Denmark, not the intention of definitely moving to Denmark. Or, would I go on a tourist visa, then apply for residency once we are in Denmark. My son is 10 and though we spend every summer in Denmark, and he speaks fluent Danish, we want to try enrolling him in school in Denmark for one year, with my husband working, and me studying Danish. Thanks in advance for the help…

    • Reply Kay Xander Mellish December 12, 2016 at 6:41 am

      I’m not an official source – check the official government site – but keep in mind that the Danish government has some onerous requirements for spouses of Danes if they hope to live in Denmark legally. The rules were originally designed to reduce forced marriages among “nydansker” – Turkish, Arabic and Somali immigrants whose Danish-raised daughters and sons were under severe family pressure to marry a cousin imported from the old country – but in practice, it means that just being married to a Dane (or having a child with a Danish passport) does not allow you to reside in Denmark. You will have to “earn” it with language classes and a long list of other requirements. Also, keep in mind that if your husband and child decide they want to stay in Denmark and you cannot, you will be powerless in custody terms when it comes to the Danish legal system.

  • Reply Jim Garner January 29, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Can you address what the opportunities would be for high net wealth individuals over age 60, those not needing or looking for employment and would be willing to significantly invest in DK.

    • Reply Kay Xander Mellish January 30, 2017 at 12:17 pm

      Hi Jim. You can find information at this address about the “entrepreneur visa.” Keep in mind when you make your business plan that both salaries and costs are high in Denmark, although there is an excellent pool of skilled labor.

      • Reply Rain February 8, 2017 at 4:56 pm

        Hi Kay,

        Like Mr. Garner, I am wondering what hoops a retired American HNWI might find if they should consider immigrating to Denmark please? Not interested in starting a business, but simply retiring, becoming a part of the community and self-supporting.

        Thanks so much.

        • Reply Kay Xander Mellish February 23, 2017 at 8:09 am

          Rain, I wouldn’t recommend moving to Denmark as a retiree if you don’t already have a circle of friends here. It can be tough to make Danish friends even as younger person or someone with a team of colleagues; as an old person, surrounded by people who already have lifelong friends and are unlikely to be comfortable speaking anything but Danish, it would be even more difficult.

  • Reply Jeff Doll February 6, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    Hi Kay,

    Thank you for your blog. I’ve been reading it off and on for the last couple of months and have found it informative and insightful. While I detest Trump, I have been actually researching a move to Scandinavia (Denmark in particular appeals to me) for a couple of years already. The reason is because I want to give my children a better future and I don’t see that happening here. College costs in the US are skyrocketing, government assistance for college has become anemic, requirements for grants and scholarships are tightening, and California’s ScholarShare Program is projecting that, by the time my kids are college age, it will cost me over half a million USD to send them to college (and that’s probably assuming they only go for four years instead of the more realistic five years). This on top of the fact that violence in this country is escalating, and the already loose gun control laws will be slashed even further under the Trump regime and I am deeply concerned about my daughter being exposed to sexual violence (1 in 4 women in this country have experienced it at least once). All of this makes me think that, despite the challenges you’ve outlined, Denmark (or at least Europe) is a better option for my kids (even with the growing right-wing parties).

    I do think that I won’t have as large a challenge as most Americans finding a job in Denmark because I am a Mechanical Engineer and I’ve seen that profession listed on the Danish list of professions with favorable immigration status (correct me if I’m wrong though). Also, since my kids are relatively young, they ought to be able to pick up Danish pretty quickly even if my wife and I struggle learning it.

    So, given what I’ve outlined above, would you say it’s worth the risks or should I look elsewhere?


    • Reply Kay Xander Mellish February 7, 2017 at 10:20 am

      Hi Jeff! I think if you’re coming from California, you’ll need to do some serious thinking about weather. Scandinavia doesn’t just have cold winters; it also frequently has cold and rainy summers. Some summers have as few as a week or two of swimming-quality sunny weather. (Denmark also doesn’t have the hiking or skiing opportunities California does, although Norway is close by.) Is everyone in your family able to handle months on end of grey, chilly weather punctuated by occasional weak sunlight? I would suggest visiting Denmark during some of the less exciting times of year, like February-March. A sunny day in May or September is the exception, not the rule.

      • Reply Jeff Doll February 7, 2017 at 8:59 pm

        Hi Kay,

        Thanks for the quick reply! I don’t mean any offense by what I’m about to say, but I often find it amusing that folks outside of California have this image of a warm, sunny, palm tree infused environment. California actually has a large number of climates. In the northern half of the state, which is part of the Pacific Northwest, there are many temperate rain forests (this is where many of the oldest trees in the world live, one of my favorite spots in California), the north cost is frequently cold and rainy, even in summer (my Dad and I got rained on once while camping in August). Then you have the Sierra Nevada mountains, which has mild and somewhat humid summers (with occasional T-storms) and cold and snowy winters (for now – see comment on climate below). Then you have where I live, in Sacramento, in the northern part of what we refer to as “The Central Valley” (which consists of two main valleys, the Sacramento Valley in the north and the San Joaquin Valley from just south of Sacramento all the way down between Bakersfield and LA). We are close to another area known as “The Delta” which has an extensive wetland system connecting to the San Francisco Bay (I’ll explain why I’m mentioning this in a moment).

        Sacramento’s weather tends to be hot and dry in summer and cold and wet in winter. We do often have “months on end” of nothing but “grey” (particularly this year where we’ve had rainstorm after rainstorm since around November). We can also have cold and sunny winters (cold to us being between -2 to 0 degrees C). Our hot and dry summers are usually on the order of about 40 degrees C during the day but we do often get cooling breezes from the The Delta (the connection I referred to above).

        In short, both my wife and I like cooler weather (she once opened our apartment up on a 0 degree C morning) and are not opposed to living in a cooler location, especially as climate warming will likely make our summers even more brutal than they already are (another option we’ve considered is Canada). My wife loves skiing but I’ve never been a big fan (Swiss alps an option?). I’ll miss being able to do hiking, but I also love gardens and from what I’ve seen and read, it seems like there are quite a few of those over there.

        I’m also of predominately Swedish and German heritage as you might have gathered from my last name. I’m one of the few people I know wearing shorts and a t-shirt (and sometimes flip-flops/sandals) when it’s between 14 to 18 degrees C out (even on cloudy days).

        Well, apologies for being long winded. 🙂

      • Reply Jeff Doll February 7, 2017 at 9:01 pm


        Switching topics away from weather and climate…

        I’m a licensed professional engineer here in California. Do you know if Denmark has professional licensing for engineers and, if so, if my license is transferable? If not, can you point me somewhere that might?


        • Reply Kay Xander Mellish February 23, 2017 at 8:10 am

          Check with IDA, the engineers’ union, for information about the engineering field.

  • Reply Zenon B. Diaz February 21, 2017 at 11:21 pm

    Your article has really opened my eyes about moving to Denmark. But as outsider I hear how it’s the most happiest place in the world and I want to be happy. I’m not happy over here in the US, I have a family of three kids. Two of them being twin toddlers, and one teenager. I feel that I work just to pay the bills and I have no real family time with them. With all that you have said in article I still want to part of the Danish life and be happy with my family. So what should I do first, travel over to Denmark and see what’s out there or should I just forget about Denmark and be unhappy. Please guide the way

    • Reply Kay Xander Mellish February 23, 2017 at 8:07 am

      Hi Zenon! Travelling to Denmark before moving here is always a good idea, but I’m not quite clear on what would make a move to Denmark possible for you. Do you and your children have EU passports, or do you work in a highly in-demand job category?

  • Reply Jeff Doll March 10, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    Hi Kay,

    One other wrinkle just occurred to me. I have a metabolic condition known as PKU. It’s a rather expensive condition also. When I was unemployed, my parents willingly paid the $400/month payments that maintained my health insurance (effectively) because it was less expensive than paying for my dietary supplements out of pocket. With the impending Republican proposal for “healthcare accounts” (apparently I’m one of those people who should give up my iPhone for healthcare, even though that would get me by for two weeks), which I would blow through in a matter of months, moving somewhere with a better healthcare system is an attractive option.

    However, I don’t know how the Danes might feel about someone with a rather expensive condition coming into their country and utilizing their healthcare system. Particularly since many of them (the Danish People’s Party comes to mind) already feel immigrants are a drain on the system. Any thoughts on this?

    • Reply Kay Xander Mellish March 12, 2017 at 9:18 am

      Hi Jeff. While there is a state-financed healthcare system in Denmark, there is a strictly limited access to expensive drugs. In general, the system tries to avoid giving out pharmaceuticals at all if possible (there are strict limits on antibiotics and sleeping pills, for example), and importing those drugs from abroad will get you a hefty fine or worse. I can’t give you specific information regarding PKU, so I suggest you find an expats in Denmark forum (there are several on Facebook) and see if you can locate someone else living with PKU for his or her input.

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