Who are you?
My name is Laura, and I’m a German expat currently living in Copenhagen. I’m 27 years old and work in an investment bank as a risk manager. In my free time, I also write a blog, The Copenhagen Tales, about my life and experiences as an expat in Denmark.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, in September 2012, from Germany. I moved to Denmark to live with my boyfriend, who’s a Dane. During my many visits to Copenhagen, I’d fallen in love with the city, which made the decision to move much easier!What challenges did you face during the move?
Luckily, Frankfurt, where I lived before the move, is only about a 9 hour drive away from Copenhagen, which made the move manageable by simply renting a big transporter. The hardest part about the move was all the administrative work – registration, health insurances, and all the paperwork that had to be in place before I left Germany.
How did you find somewhere to live?
Again, I was quite lucky that my boyfriend already lived in Copenhagen and therefore could comfortably look at apartments. He also knew the city and what areas would be suitable for us. Without his first-hand knowledge, it would have been much more difficult. Copenhagen is not a renter’s market, most apartments and houses are condominiums. Unfortunately, there are also some scams going on, especially targeted at expats, so I would highly recommend looking for a short-term accommodation first and expanding the search once you have arrived.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Yes, Copenhagen has a big expat community. There are many international companies here, and specialists are hired from all over the world, e.g. in the fields of IT or offshore engineering. There are also multiple universities and colleges in the area, which attract international students, researchers, and PhD scholars.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
The Danes are generally very welcoming and friendly people, but it can be difficult to make close friends with the locals. The vast majority speaks excellent English, but I would recommend that expats acquire a working knowledge of Danish as well – it will make life much easier, and enable you to connect much better with the Danes.
What do you like about life where you are?
Copenhagen is a beautiful city – I’ve always wanted to live by the sea and I love it now!
What do you dislike about your expat life?
What I struggle with most is being so far away from my family, and only being able to see them every couple of months. I also always get a bit annoyed when I hear people talk about expats and foreigners being “guests” and expecting us to behave accordingly – this is my home, too
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Denmark and Germany are relatively similar in terms of cultures – at least it’s not a huge clash! One thing that Copenhagen is famous for is the bike culture: everyone rides their bikes, everywhere and in every weather! In Germany, you only ever see a couple of hardcore bike fans that would actually cycle to work – in Copenhagen, that’s completely standard. Pictures of people transporting their shopping, kids, or pets in their cargo bikes have gone viral as a symbol for the city. I’m personally not a fan of cycling, and I don’t own a bike, which makes me a bit of an oddball in Copenhagen!
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
Shopping doesn’t really differ significantly from what I experience. I did notice that there’s a huge focus on organic, local, and seasonal food, and you’ll be able to get high-quality produce in nearly all the supermarkets. Otherwise, there are shopping malls and pedestrian areas. The only thing I miss sometimes are German-style drug stores; there is an equivalent here, but it’s more of a mix between a perfume store and a pharmacy.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
Denmark has a vibrant food scene, and there are new restaurants, bars, and bistros popping up in Copenhagen every other day. Traditional Danish food is often very heavy on the meat and potatoes, but the “New Nordic” cuisine movement, with local and seasonal ingredients and high quality cooking, is the latest trend. I’m a fan of the typical Danish “smørrebrød” (open faced sandwiches), but there’s a Danish dish I absolutely don’t understand or like: “stegt flæsk” – thick, fat strips of pork belly, fried and served with parsley sauce. During Christmas time, I also really enjoy “æbleskiver”, a sort of donut served with powdered sugar and jam.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
I would advise any expat to go into the experience with an open mind, and to stay positive. I think many expats tend to focus on the negative sides of the lifestyle, and tend to forget why they love being an expat in the first place. It’s worth pushing through the hard times! I also recommend learning the language and get to know customs and traditions; this will bring you much closer to the locals and help you make friends. If you’re considering an expat life, the key piece of advice I have is to actively try and make the most out of the experience – it’s a great adventure!
What are your plans for the future?
I don’t have any immediate plans of leaving Denmark anytime soon – while I can’t say that I’m going to stay forever, I really enjoy the high quality of living in Copenhagen. I’m sure I want to stay for at least another two and a half years, to get a permanent residence permit. What happens afterwards – no idea yet! I’ve always wanted to live in the United States for a longer period of time, who knows?
Read Laura's blog The Copenhagen Tales for more news and views about expat life in Copenhagen!