Immigrating to Denmark: Truths and tips (part I)

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A bird's eye view of Aalborg (photo courtesy of VisitAalborg.com, taken by Michael Damsgaard)
A bird’s eye view of Aalborg (photo courtesy of VisitAalborg.com, taken by Michael Damsgaard)

Immigration to Aalborg is on the rise. According to official statistics by Aalborg Kommune, the number of immigrants, foreign nationals and their children in Aalborg has steadily risen since 2008.[1] People come for myriad reasons: to work; to study at Aalborg University and University College Nordjylland; to marry; to seek asylum; to join family members already living here. While I do not have a breakdown of those who settle in the kommune of Aalborg, over half of Danish residence permits granted in 2012 came from EU/EEA countries (top 5 countries, in order: Poland, Romania, Germany, Lithuania, and Bulgaria). The largest number of people seeking residence here from outside the EU in 2012 originated from the USA, India, China, Ukraine and the Philippines (in that order).[2]

What one needs to do in order to obtain residency and permission to work in Denmark could be the entire focus of a blog. In fact, there are whole chunks of several websites dedicated to just this subject: New to Denmark, WorkinDenmark, StudyinDenmark, and the State Administration, to name four. In addition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark website has lists of where a person living outside of Denmark can go to apply for a Danish work and/or residence-permit.

But these sites focus purely on the rules and procedures Person X must follow in order to legally live, work and/or study in Denmark. And those rules and procedures are not always so easy to understand and apply quite generally to all who seek to enter Denmark. The Danish immigration system, like that of many other countries, is not built to easily accommodate individual situations; therefore, you have to do your research and ask questions when you don’t understand. In situations like my family’s – an EU citizen with a work permit married to a non-EU citizen without a work permit, who have two dual-citizen children – one has to piece together all the available information in order to figure out which documents are needed, what steps to take to apply, and how long it might take from arrival in Denmark to receipt of the ‘golden ticket’ (a yellow health card). Luckily there are organizations like the International Citizen Service (ICS) that can help you sift through the laws and figure out what applies to you. [Please note, however, that while only EU citizens can apply for residency in Denmark through the ICS, non-EU citizens may visit or call the ICS with any questions they might have.]

My husband was offered a job in Denmark while we were living in Switzerland and his employer had plentiful experience hiring non-Danes. So between accepting the job and starting to work his employer efficiently executed the necessary steps for him to obtain residency here. We also visited Aalborg before we moved here and spoke with an ICS staff member, who told us what documentation we would need when we arrived and gave us the necessary forms to fill out ahead of time. Even after exhausting the woman with all the questions we had and then submitting all the necessary paperwork, however, we forgot to ask how long it would take before we could enjoy the benefits of being a Danish resident, e.g. open a bank account, get library privileges, sign up for Danish lessons, order Internet access at home, etc. It turns out that my husband had his CPR number a couple hours after applying while my daughters and I waited over six weeks to get our yellow cards (which, as those who have moved to Denmark know, feels like an eternity in a country where you can’t get anything done without them). And herein lies the first (although seemingly obvious) ‘truth’ about immigration to Denmark: it’s much easier if you come from Scandinavia or an EU/EEA country. Citizens of other Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) do not need a residence permit – they may freely reside and work in Denmark. EU citizens do need permission to reside in Denmark (after a certain amount of time in the country) but they benefit from the free movement principle, which states that all EU member citizens may:

  • look for a job in another EU country
  • work there without needing a work permit
  • reside there for that purpose
  • stay there even after employment has finished
  • enjoy equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages. [3]

So my husband, a German, was quickly entered into the system after we arrived and presto! he had a CPR number the same day (his yellow card followed in the mail a couple of weeks later). In contrast, my daughters and I had to go through what is called the ‘family reunification’ process (even though we were already in Denmark – I think it is so named because family members often have to wait until the primary immigrant has fulfilled all requirements for residency before bringing family members to Denmark), which we initiated by submitting our paperwork on 6 September 2012. On October 22, 6.5 weeks later, we received our CPR numbers by mail. This brings me to my second ‘truth’ about immigrating to Denmark: depending on what time of year you arrive, you may have to wait longer for your relevant permit. Due to the large number of students arriving in August/September and January/February, wait times tend to be longer during those months, according to an official at the Nordjylland Administration office.

A friend of mine and her husband, both non-EU citizens and employed by the same organization, arrived in Aalborg the same day we did and also experienced a delay in the processing of their applications. Before they moved to Denmark they had to apply for work visas through a Danish consular office in their country of residence. When submitting their papers, they were informed that it would likely take three to four months to secure the visas. Three months later, however, with tickets bought and their departure looming, the work visas had not materialized. So they had to enter Denmark as tourists and wait until they could legally work, which delayed their start date by roughly four weeks (this despite daily calls by the employer to the Ministry in charge of their case). It is still not clear to them to what extent it was the timing of their arrival (early September) or the two incidents of the Ministry losing their papers that delayed their work visas. And this is a third ‘truth’ about immigrating to Denmark: things may go wrong with your application. The delays, misunderstandings, errors, etc. might be human or they could be technical but it’s always better to plan for the processing of your visa to take longer than you have been told.

So as I said at the beginning of this post, immigrating to Denmark could be the entire focus of a blog. I’ve barely touched the surface of the topic this week. Next week Part II will focus on the various options for non-EU citizens who wish to work and live in Denmark as well as a comprehensive list of advice by those who have been through the process and wish to help others navigate the system.

If you have an interesting immigration story or tips for others, please contact me at sarah_holsen (at) Hotmail.com. Thanks for reading!


[2] These listings of ‘top 5’ origin countries of people issued residence permits in Denmark are published by the Danish Immigration Service and can be found on page 2 of http://www.nyidanmark.dk/NR/rdonlyres/F7FC2906-3320-4B9B-B537-3CF5E26DBA33/0/extract_statistical_overview_migration_asylum_2012.pdf.

[3] These are taken directly from the European Commission’s web site: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=457.

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3 thoughts on “Immigrating to Denmark: Truths and tips (part I)

    extraordinaryaalborg said:
    February 11, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    Exciting reading about ones own country in this way 🙂

      sarahinjylland responded:
      February 12, 2014 at 6:05 am

      Thanks! I’m glad I found your blog, too!

    […] years ago I posted a two-part story on immigrating to Denmark (see here and here), complete with tips, advice, and links to the main websites that can be of help to […]

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