How to move to Denmark with a family

After my partner landed a fellowship in Aarhus, we had one month to pack up our entire apartment in Melbourne, rent it out, cancel our daughter’s childcare, find someone to look after our beautiful cat for six months, apply for the right visas, and find a place to live in Denmark.

It was a warm Sunday night in December when my partner, a science journalist for a major newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, received a rather exciting email from the Constructive Institute in Aarhus. 

“We would like to offer you a position as a climate journalist fellow, starting January 21,” it read, stating the offer came with a generous stipend, access to amazing university courses and the opportunity to mingle with some world-renowned climate reporters. We looked at each other and then at our two-year-old toddler and thought, why not? 

The timeline was tight, but the opportunity was too good to miss. Having lived through one of the longest, strictest COVID lockdowns in the world, we were itching to explore. 

Europe, until that point, seemed an impossibility with a toddler. But if someone was willing to pay for our tickets and help us integrate into one of the more advanced countries in the world, who were we to say no? 

After the initial excitement of moving to a whole new country subsided, the real work began. 

In one month, we had to pack up our entire apartment, rent it out, cancel our daughter’s childcare; find someone to look after our beautiful cat for six months; apply for the right visas (more on that below); and find a place to live in Denmark.

After a hectic month, which also included a pre-booked family holiday, it was finally January 19 – the day of the flight – and my partner’s visa had literally just arrived, stamped with approval. 

As for me and our little girl, we were told we could only apply for a partner visa once physically in Aarhus, so we were initially riding on the tourist visa. 

So there we were, on the plane, covered in blankets and new toys, thinking the worst was behind us. We were wrong. 

Get the right advice about visas
Moving countries is never easy. Not only are you entering a whole new system and set of rules, but you don’t even know where to look for these rules. This is where it pays to be super informed. 

We arrived on a Sunday, and on Monday, I was to go off to the immigration office to get my biometrics test done, a requirement of the partner visa. So my baby and I turn up, jet lagged, and are told that we do not have a receipt of the time and therefore it is invalid. 

I panicked: without biometrics I couldn’t get a visa, without a visa I couldn’t get a CPR number (unique to the person, and used widely in Denmark as an ID number) and without a CPR number you literally cannot. Do. Anything. No healthcare, no childcare, no glasses, no bank account.

So I cried, made “the right” appointment for later that week, during which we were told the visa would take up to two months to process. 

We were advised – wrongly, we know now – that we had to apply for the partner and family visa in-country, when in fact this could have been lodged along with my partner’s working visa application more than two months ago. 

So, we wait, we hope and we pray. But, as the lady on the other end of the line said when we called to ask if there was anything we could do to speed up the process: “everyone wants to come to Denmark – you must wait your turn.”

If travelling with kids, find out what is required for childcare or schooling
One of our biggest and ongoing issues is that we are unable to enrol our two-year-old daughter in childcare in Denmark. Have we found a spot? Yes. Were the educators helpful? Extremely. Could they enrol her? No. 

So what went wrong? Our toddler does not have her very own CPR number, which, in Denmark, is God. 

Without it, you cannot do anything. As a temporary measure, we have been forced to hire a babysitter for four hours a day at double the cost, who, while wonderful, still leaves most of the day of parenting to me – as well as working.

You won’t get paid until you have a local bank account – and that’s not easy to set up 
In Australia, opening a bank account is easy. You apply online or walk into a branch, provide two forms of ID, have a chat about the type of account you want and bam, it’s done. 

In Denmark, it requires 12 different appointments (not literally, but it does require you to know which appointment to ask for when booking) a healthcare card, and a weeks’ waiting time. 

Without a bank account it is impossible to get work, as the nation insists everyone pay the large income tax of nearly 50 percent (in our case). As it stands, we are a month in and my partner has just been approved for a bank account. 

The paycheck, we hope, is imminent. 

Housing: check what you’re actually getting 
Like everything in Denmark, rent is expensive, made more so by very steep up-front costs, which can include up to two months rent in advance as well as a hefty deposit.

While the living arrangements are one of the only things that have worked out for us, some of the other program fellows were surprised to find out that their “furnished” apartments did not include actual furniture, despite being advertised as such.

They arrived, many from hot countries like India, Africa and Argentina, to empty houses. 

And one final piece of housing advice: when searching for an apartment, always confirm how many bedrooms – not rooms – are available.

We found this out the hard way when first looking, having found a gorgeous, reasonably-priced two-room apartment only to realise during our chat with the owner that the Danes count “living room” as a room. 

Denmark is undoubtedly a beautiful country. It is clean, solutions-based, the people are polite, the pastries and food sublime. It’s just difficult to enjoy it all while waiting to find out if, indeed, your visa will come back before you’re forced to leave the country.