Denmark Expat Health Insurance Guide
Denmark is frequently ranked as one of the happiest nations in the world. This isn’t purely by accident. As a model welfare society Denmark offers an astonishing range of free and discounted services to its residents, all designed to make life as simple and enjoyable as possible.
Like many nations, Denmark offers free healthcare to its citizens. Education is also offered free to Danes, though in contrast to many other countries this is available right up to degree level. The Danish government also makes it easy to be a parent; a whole year of maternity pay is offered to new mothers, while significantly discounted childcare is offered right up to the age of five.
Of course, the money for all these “free” services has to come from somewhere, and here in Denmark the solution is taxation. Resident tax rates start at 40% though can top 60% for the highest earners in the country. Fortunately, Denmark makes up for this taxation with some of the highest salaries in the world. The minimum wage alone is more than twice that of the USA.
In Denmark there is a phrase that describes all this; they say it is very difficult to become wealthy in Denmark, but it’s impossible to be poor.
Officially Denmark has a temperate climate, however don’t be under any misapprehension that the Danish climate is similar to that of the UK or USA for example. In contrast Denmark experiences cool, short summers and long, cold winters.
Denmark is arguably therefore not a country for beach-lovers and outdoor sports fanatics, who may only have a few months of summer sunshine each year in which to follow their passions. Even then, maximum temperatures in summer are typically far lower than you may be used to.
For those who aren’t scared off by a little cold and snow though, Denmark has much to offer. For example, it offers three sizeable national parks and a landscape of beautiful rolling hills; either emerald green in summer or clothed in fresh snowfall in winter.
What you may not know is just how many islands make up the Kingdom of Denmark. At the time of writing, Denmark comprises over 80 islands, though admittedly only a handful are actually inhabited. This means that despite being such a small country, Denmark boasts over 7,000 km of rugged coastline to explore. As a result walkers, sailors and adventure holiday seekers can find themselves very well served indeed.
It has been said that the Danes are rather like the Brits, possessing a similar sense of humour and civic good nature. Generally speaking visitors find the Danes to be both friendly and welcoming, especially if you know a few simple words of Danish that you can pepper into conversations.
Denmark is justly proud of its long cultural heritage. Once a seafaring Viking nation, it has more recently given the world Carlsberg lager, the writing of Hans Christian Anderson and Lego. Named by Fortunate Magazine as the “toy of the century”, Lego is an understandably celebrated part of Danish culture. The original Legoland park may be visited in Billund and makes a great day out for “children” of all ages.
A rather more recent aspect of Danish culture that has helped to bring it to international attention is its enviable reputation for sound environmental policies and forethought. Over recent years it has consistently sought to minimize its use of fossil fuels while protecting its natural heritage. At present the country is consciously reducing its carbon footprint with the aim of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. This is in stark contrast to many other first world nations who, despite making bold promises, seem unlikely to hit agreed carbon emission limits any time soon.
The official language in Denmark is Danish. First-time visitors tell stories of how the Danish language is unlike anything else you’ve ever heard. It is so far removed from English that most tourists and expats in Denmark can struggle to make out any individual words at all.
That said, thanks to the centuries of “cross pollination” between the various Scandinavian countries, there are noticeable similarities between Danish and Finnish, Swedish or Norwegian. Whatever the case, it seems that even just a few words of Danish can go a long way, not only in helping to make you understood but also for impressing the locals. Taking a language course in advance, or seeking tuition on arrival, can therefore be an excellent way to integrate more swiftly into Danish culture.
For those without the time or the inclination to learn basic Danish, all is not lost. The vast majority of Danes also speak excellent English on account of its teaching being compulsory in all Danish schools. So, while a few words of Danish will go a long way to impressing the locals, it is entirely possible to speak English exclusively while in Denmark and generally to be understood perfectly well by all and sundry.
One final point that may surprise you is just how well placed German speakers may find themselves. Thanks to a shared border with Germany, a fair number of Danes also speak fluent German, though this is more prevalent around the border area. The further north one travels, the less common it is to hear German spoken.
Denmark has a varied transport system. Possibly the most noticeable aspect on arrival is just how popular cycling is in the cities. Bicycles can be bought or hired easily and are a quick and enjoyable way to both get around and also to enjoy the sites.
Dyed-in-the-wool car drivers should be aware that high levels of taxation makes driving in Denmark incredibly expensive. Not only are cars far more expensive to buy or hire than in other European countries but the cost of fuel can also be prohibitive. All this means that if you plan on driving in Denmark, do your research before you leave home to ensure you fully understand the financial implications involved.
That said, if you do opt to drive in Denmark, the process is simple enough. Anyone with a driving license from within the EU can legally drive within Denmark without needing to exchange their license for a local version or take any additional tuition. Those with a license from outside the European Union may use it for a maximum of 14 days after which point they will need to exchange it for a Danish license.
If you do opt to drive, note that it is a legal requirement to drive with dipped headlights at all times. Like all driving laws in Denmark, this is fiercely enforced and considerable on-the-spot fines may be handed out to those caught breaking them.
In terms of public transport there is a reliable rail network which criss-crosses the larger islands and if you’d rather not cycle, visitors to Copenhagen can take the timely, if somewhat overcrowded, Metro.
Lastly, let’s not forget just how many islands actually make up the country we know as Denmark. Fortunately a network of ferries makes getting from one island to the next reasonably simple, though journeys to the smaller, less populated islands can be few and far between. If you plan to visit one of these more rural areas therefore, do your research in advance and plan ahead to ensure that you are aware of ferry times.
Like most of Scandinavia, the healthcare system in Denmark should be considered world-class. Largely paid for by the high taxation rates in the country, all Danish citizens benefit from “free” healthcare. Visitors from within Europe should request a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving their home country. Thanks to reciprocal arrangements this will entitle European visitors to free medical care if needed.
That said, visitors from outside Europe are strongly advised to invest in suitable medical insurance before leaving home as medical care, if paid for, can be very expensive.
Typically the costs of visiting an emergency dentist in Denmark is not covered by reciprocal agreements and can be obscenely expensive.
If you are planning to settle in Denmark – rather than just visit temporarily – you should register at the local National Register office. They will issue a National Health Insurance Card which you should present whenever treatment is required.
Denmark may have officially joined the European Union in the early 1970’s but it has still to adopt the Euro. For now, the Danish currency is the Kroner.
While ATMs are present in all major towns and credit cards are widely accepted, visiting a bank in Denmark can become a rather more troublesome experience. This is due in part to the fact that most Danish banks do not open on weekends. That said, they also typically remain open for longer hours on a Thursday, making this the best day to visit.
Denmark is one of the most highly educated nations in the world, providing not just a high quality educational system but also funding it from the public purse right up to degree level.
Schooling for children in Denmark is compulsory between the ages of 7 and 16. That said, most pupils opt to carry on through to college and then university as this is all provided free by the state. Whilst most schools teach exclusively in Danish, many offer free Danish language classes and additional tuition to the children of expats.
Alternatively there are some private international schools who teach in English. These too are subsidized by the government so present very little additional cost for expats who would rather maintain their children’s English language skills.
Food & Drink
Danish cuisine is something of an acquired taste, hence the reason why Danish cookery has largely failed to take over the world like Chinese or Indian food has. Generally speaking, the Danish diet is rich in meats of varying forms. According to statistics from 2002, the Danes actually eat more meat than any other country in the world; an astonishing 145.9kg per person each year.
Whether this takes the form of meatballs or the popular pickled herrings, vegetarians and vegans may well struggle to eat well in Denmark.
That said, the open sandwich known as Smorrebrod is typically very popular among visitors and locals alike. The thick, earthy bread is surprisingly satisfying while the diversity of fillings ensure that there is an option for any palate.
Denmark should be considered a very safe country to visit. While some of the busier tourist areas can attract a small number of pick pockets and thieves these are few and far between. In cities therefore try to keep bags and valuables with you – especially if travelling on public transport.
Besides this slight niggle Denmark is generally very safe and one can wonder safely around the country even late at night without fear.
The only real risk posed in Denmark comes as a result of civil unrest and protests. While the Danes are largely a peace-loving nation, the subject of whaling has become a flash point. With tempers running high on both sides of the argument, it is generally best to avoid whaling festivals if possible to ensure your safety.
Places to Visit
For such a small country, Denmark has a lot to offer visitors, especially in and around the bustling, attractive city of Copenhagen. Putting aside all the obvious natural beauty for a moment though, what the specific sites that all tourists should aim to see while in Denmark?
More correctly known as Dyrehavsbakken, this fairground and amusement park is allegedly the oldest such site in the whole world. While it has been continually reinvented to stay abreast with the very latest rides, this site just outside Copenhagen now represents the perfect balance between history and adrenaline, and as a result is currently Denmark’s second most popular attraction with tourists and locals alike.
While the name suggests that Tivoli is little more than a park, nothing could be further from the truth. Denmark’s number one tourist attraction stretches to over 21 acres, covering everything from boating lakes to flower gardens, restaurants to fairground rides. It is said to be the inspiration for Disneyland and offers such a broad range of experiences that there is surely something here that will appeal to every member of the family.
One of the oldest zoos in all of Europe, Copenhagen Zoo is these days almost as famous for its architecture as it is for its animals. The elephant house and polar bear habitat were both designed by Norman Foster and draw visitors from right around the world.
The animal park itself is huge and offers a wide range of captive animals, though sadly the zoo has received some bad press recently after euthanizing some healthy animals in early 2014, before feeding them to the lions.
Just close to Langelinje Pier in Copenhagen, one will find the bronze sculpture of a mermaid resting by the water. Based on a character created by Hans Christian Anderson, every year thousands of tourists flock to see the world-famous sculpture and have their picture taken with it.