How to survive Copenhagen as an exchange student

Studying in a different country is a luxurious opportunity, and Copenhagen is a popular destination. Upon arrival, the realization kicks in that adapting to this new environment may be easier said than done.

Internationals at Floss bar playing pool. Photo: Lea Mattei

How do you make (Danish) friends? How to deal with the weather? What about the language, and what’s up with these Danish Kroner?

Students from all over the world come to study in Copenhagen. They come from different cultures, speak different languages and have different mindsets. Though these individuals are diverse, many face the same challenges in adapting to Danish life.

Here, six international exchange students share the main issues they grappled with when they moved to Copenhagen.

Spanning weather, drinking culture, housing and more, The Copenhagen Post has collated their top responses, and offers a list of concrete resources to address them.

A 2023 survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit ranks Copenhagen as the world’s 8th most expensive city in which to live. Denmark has its own currency – the Danish krone – and for most visitors, the exchange rate is unkind.

“When I got here, I definitely struggled with calibrating to a currency with such a radical exchange rate to the dollar.”
– Alex, 22, American

When staying for a longer time, it is useful to open a Danish bank account. It takes away the struggle of the exchange rate and gives you the convenience to use MobilePay. However, doing so can pose an administrative challenge.

“I asked around in my program where and how people opened their Danish bank accounts and started from there. Perhaps not the most financially smart choice, but definitely the easiest.”
– Maria, 22, Spanish

Finding accommodation
Finding a place to live is one of the most oft-repeated struggles amongst visiting students. Not only are most places incredibly expensive, but the demand is also very high.

Housing scarcity is a city-wide problem that a lot of students in Copenhagen are familiar with and, even though there are a great deal of rooms and apartments to rent advertised in dedicated Facebook groups, the demand is so high that they are often claimed in a matter of minutes.

The Facebook groups are also frequently exploited by scammers who swindle newcomers for thousands, without delivering on housing.

“It’s like you need to know someone, who knows someone, who might have heard of a place.”
– Anette, 24, Norwegian

Gloomy weather
While the summer in Copenhagen is fine with temperatures over 20°C, a lot of exchange students struggle with the Danish winter climate.

Daylight hours are short during the winter with the sun rising as late as 0830 and setting as early as 1530. Exposure to sunlight releases serotonin in the brain – many find that moving to a country with such limited exposure has a noticeable negative effect on their mood.

“The weather was a big shock to me, and the fact that we don’t get light at all during winter was a huge mood destroyer.”
– Maria

“I would’ve liked an emphasis on keeping up personal health to combat the effects of the consistently gloomy weather. I make sure to get plenty of fruits in my diet, take vitamin supplements, and try to keep a good sleep schedule.”
– Alex

Danish drinking culture
While it depends on an individual’s background, to numerous expats, the Danish drinking culture presents a profound cultural shock.

“Going out isn’t reserved for the weekends and nights, but occurs throughout the week and any time of day. From someone who does not drink, that was an odd adjustment to make.”
– Gabrielle, 23, American

While most clubs only open at the weekends, plenty of bars are packed until past midnight every night of the week. Trying to adjust to an unfamiliar culture in a new country is already a huge challenge. For introverted individuals or non-drinkers, it can feel like an ordeal to fit in.

“I had a hard time getting used to and partaking in Danish drinking culture until I found friends with the same mindset as me. I then realized that I don’t have to conform or fit in with the stereotypical Danes.”
– Cecilia

Meeting others and making friends
Exchange students in many countries – not just in Denmark – return home with friends from all around the world, but very few from the country they lived in.

Internationals find each other more easily because they are living the same experience and, unlike most locals, they most often do not have an existing social network in their new city.

Added to that, Danes are notoriously private people, and many internationals express that they have struggled to befriend them.

“Something I have found helpful to meet Danes is to attend events I see advertised on signs throughout the city.”
– Gabrielle

Not everyone is comfortable going to social events alone, but there are events organized precisely for that. The easiest way to find these is with the help of the internet.

“Before coming to Copenhagen, I joined plenty of Facebook groups and sent friend requests.”
– Madalina, 22, Romanian

“I find most social events on posters around the city or on Instagram, where I get a lot of Copenhagen-related content.”
– Alex

If you have a little more time on your hands, another interesting way to meet people is by volunteering.

There are many venues or bars or vintage stores where internationals can volunteer. Working at events allows you to befriend other volunteers, as well as attendees.

“I started volunteering at Beboerhuset in Christianshavn a couple of weeks ago, and I wish I had started earlier. As a DIS student, I am surrounded by other Americans, so making friends wasn’t necessarily difficult, but through volunteering, I’ve made Danish friends too which is very exciting.”
– Sara, 22, American

Helpful resources
There are plenty of resources to facilitate adjusting to Copenhagen’s culture and environment.

Christianshavns Beboerhus
A cosy café that organizes lots of different events. Volunteering is possible at concerts, but also a variety of other activities. Applying is as easy as sending an e-mail.

This local culture centre hosts concerts, a slew of various arts events, and accepts volunteers.

Events listings and Facebook groups
There are many social Facebook groups set up for internationals in Copenhagen and it’s an easy way to find new friends. The Copenhagen Post has a dedicated calendar for events taking place in the city.

The Copenhagen Post events calendar
Group: Expats in Copenhagen
Group: Copenhagen Exchange & International Students 

Bastard Café
A great café in the city centre where you can play hundreds of board games. The place is very popular, so when going with friends you should probably book a table, but they organize certain game nights where you are out into groups with strangers to play with.

Volleyball club: KSV
If you’re a volleyball player or you just like the sport, join the KSV volleyball club in the heart of Copenhagen, for expats from all around the world.

Running clubs
There are lots of running clubs in Copenhagen. It’s a good way to get outside and meet people.

Join The Copenhagen Post Running Club for internationals of all running levels and discover regular scenic routes around the city with likeminded people.

Studying abroad is an experience unique to every individual who undertakes it.

There may be challenges, but with the right resources, it can be the time of your life.