This small and peaceful country offers a laidback way of life and a high standard of living for those who dare to dream
When people talk about their dreams of moving to a foreign country, the image that most often springs to mind usually involves some sun-drenched setting where drinks are served with little plates of olives, lunch takes three hours and the coffee is served in cups the size of thimbles.
But shift your gaze further to the north and you’ll find that Scandinavia is currently the coolest place to be, in more than one sense of the word. Denmark, in particular, has attracted people from all over the world, lured by its easy-going way of life, its generous welfare system and its enviable position as the supposed happiest country in the world.
Denmark and Danishness have been very much on our cultural radar in recent years, with the popularity of Scandi-noir productions such as The Killing invading our TV screens, and the lifestyle concept of ‘hygge’ shifting more books than Jamie Oliver and the Hairy Bikers combined. ‘Hygge’ (pronounce hoo-gah) is a particularly Danish phenomenon that loosely translates as ‘cosiness’. Basically put, it tends to involve getting together with some friends and closing the curtains, lighting some tea candles, sipping hot chocolate and chit-chatting.
Danes love a bit of hygge, so perhaps that’s why they enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. Indeed, any Dane will tell you their small, peaceful and mostly flat country ranks highly for quality of life and overall happiness. They’ll go on to tell you that this is down to social cohesion, an unshakable belief that the state will look after you from the cradle to the grave, and the fact that they are not (arch rivals) Sweden. They do, however, pay for this, with some of the most eye watering tax rates in the world (180% sales tax on a new car anyone?).
According to government figures there are up to 20,000 Brits living in Denmark, so what are they all doing there? Well, figures reveal around a third are married to a Dane, which is perfectly understandable, with the remaining two thirds either employed by large companies or running their own small ones. The rest are studying at Denmark’s prestigious universities, or else just kicking around and hyggeing.
Danish companies are some of the largest in the world, and people working for them come from all over it. Lego, for example, has around 13,000 employees at their impressive international headquarters on the Jutland peninsula, with many resident British and American managers helping to put little plastic bricks into the hands of children worldwide. Similarly, mega-brewer Carlsberg, has an immense and historic factory near the centre of Copenhagen that’s reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and hosts a workforce from just about everywhere. English is usually the official language at large companies in Denmark, so you’re not likely to face any problem with language barriers if you apply for a job with one of them.
But isn’t life in Denmark expensive? Well, that depends on what you’re looking at. Generally speaking, anything considered a ‘luxury’ or bad for the environment costs a lot there, and that includes meals out in restaurants, hotel rooms and even cars. In most other regards, prices for basic goods are around 20% more expensive than in the UK. That said, due to relatively high wages, life in Denmark is actually 7% cheaper than the UK in terms of affordability for people living and working there.
Speaking of affordability, there are some surprises which might shatter your idea that Denmark is an expensive place to live. True, if you plan on eating out in restaurants every evening, driving a gas guzzling car and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day (at £9 a packet), you’ll find your money as hard to hold onto as a little mermaid’s tail greased in (Danish) bacon fat.
But scratch below the surface a little and you’ll find a country that makes it easy to live a good life in relative comfort, and where special emphasis is placed on making the raising of a family affordable. Comprehensive child care, for instance, is free for early years, and if you’re thinking of sending your kids to an international school the cost is 40% of what it is in the UK. Average salaries are 23% higher there, and mortgages cost roughly half of what they do here. In addition, a cultural emphasis on a healthy work/life balance means that overtime is practically taboo, with most office workers jumping on their bicycles and heading home soon after 4pm.
British-born Lyndsay Jensen, editor of Denmark-based expat newspaper The International, made the move ten years ago and explains why she doesn’t have any regrets.
‘Denmark is a great place to move if you have a family because it’s discovered the secret of the work/life balance. They’re proud to be a nation that maintains the ideal split between giving your 100% at work, but being able to switch off afterwards and focus on your family – or what they are best known for – “hygge” time.’
What’s more – and this is something of a secret – property prices are very low in Denmark compared to Britain. Okay, so an apartment in the middle of a large city such as Copenhagen or Aarhus will cost you a pretty penny, but if you don’t mind living outside these urban centres you can snap up a true bargain in the countryside. And with said countryside being reminiscent of the rolling hills of southern England, dotted with quaint orderly villages of thatched cottages and cobbled pavements, you’ll be left wondering what the catch is.
But the truth is you can pick up a four bedroom character house with a large garden for not much more than £55,000 on the idyllic island of Møn, about an hour’s drive south of Copenhagen. Similar properties are available throughout the country, especially on some of the 10,000 or so islands – ideal if you love a bit of peace and quiet. And given that Denmark is a small country, you’re never too far away from anywhere.
A high standard of living, inflated wages, cheap property and policies that prioritise family life and discourage over-working – why don’t we all move there immediately? Well, hold your horses a moment. To automatically qualify to live there you’ll need to be an EU citizen with a firm offer of employment, or prove that you have sufficient funds to cover your expenses.
Once you arrive you’ll be encouraged to undergo a cultural immersion course (and be warned, Danish culture differs in many ways from British), and you’ll quickly learn that despite what you’ve been told, no, not everyone speaks English there. The winters are long and cold, the language sounds like someone gurgling salt water and the national dish is raw herrings and rye bread. But if you think you can overcome these adversities and reap the rewards … well, what are you waiting for?
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