Did you know that you can travel and work abroad in Denmark? Canadian-born Mats went to Europe on a whim for love and stayed for his love of Europe. He spent nine years in Copenhagen and is still living and working there now! Prior to his Working Holiday Visa in Denmark, he did two student exchange programs in Berlin, Germany and in Toulouse, France.
What’s the real story behind wanting to apply for a Working Holiday Visa in Denmark?
“I met someone in Berlin while doing a student exchange program in 2009. It was love at first sight. He was living in Sweden at the time, and I was living in Montreal.
In the beginning, we tried to visit each other, but then he decided to come live with me until his two-year scholarship and visa in Canada were up.
I was madly in love, so I chose to follow him back to Europe with a WHV. Unfortunately, we split up, but the people were so welcoming that I decided to stay. What was supposed to be only nine months turned into nine years.”
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What did your friends and family think about your decision to go to Denmark with a Working Holiday Visa?
“Everyone was surprised and they thought I was being brave. It’s hard enough moving to a big city like Toronto or Ottawa, but here I was taking on a whole new country, culture, and language.”
What steps did you take to apply for a Working Holiday Visa in Denmark?
“The application process was pretty fast, and I didn’t have any problems. This was back in 2013.
To apply, you have to be between 18 and 35 and you also need to prove to the Danish government that you have enough money to survive the first few months until you find a job. Currently, you need to have about DKK15,000, which is about C$3,000 as well as sufficient funds to buy a ticket for your return trip, approximately C$1000.
You then go on the Danish government website called Nyidanmark (New to Denmark) and fill out a form with your personal information. There you pay the processing fee of DKK1,875, so roughly C$400 and save a number for future reference.
My next step was to go to Montreal for fingerprinting and to have my picture taken at the VFS office. Finally, I handed in all my documents to the Danish embassy in Ottawa. From submission to approval, the whole process took three months.”
What were your first impressions of Denmark when you arrived?
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, what planet did I land on?’ It was 3 p.m. in mid-December and all I could see was darkness. Even if it was sunny, it was still gray. People weren’t talking to me. I felt like the only immigrant on the train.
I felt so disoriented at first, but then I discovered how fantastic Denmark was in terms of architecture and function. The people are so respectful, despite how cold they looked in the beginning.”
Do you have any tips for finding accommodation in Denmark?
“It’s quite difficult to find an apartment because rent is expensive and new construction is sparse. Finding a place to live in Denmark, like finding a job, is really about networking. Even amongst a network of strangers, people are quite open and will help you.
I strongly recommend going on Facebook groups like ‘Expats in Copenhagen’ or ‘Les Francophones à Copenhague’ and asking for suggestions. Tell the group that you’re there with a WHV, how long you’re staying, what your budget is, and where you want to live.
Just be careful about offers that seem too good to be true because they might be scams. For example, if someone says you have to pay in advance before you visit the apartment. Never, ever give money before seeing an apartment first.”
What advice would you give someone wanting to make friends and network on a Working Holiday Visa in Denmark?
“Whether you like knitting, playing chess, travelling, or talking about culture or food, you can find a group to make friends. When I came to Denmark, I took Danish classes and built a network within the school.
We were all in the same boat, strangers in a new country with no family. You can find so many groups on the internet. For example, I am now the organizer of an LGBTQ group in Copenhagen through Meetup.com.”
What are the main differences between life in Canada and life in Denmark?
“In Canada, we tend to think we’re in a society where we have to perform and prove to others that we are better than them. In Denmark, the opposite is true.
Janteloven is a Danish term that means ‘I am not better than you.’ There’s no social hierarchy in the workplace, so everyone is on equal footing. Everyone seems more relaxed and approachable here.
The Danes have a pretty naїve and serene perspective on life. In Denmark I work from 9:00 a.m. to maybe 2:00 p.m. Then I pick up the kids, cook or go out to eat, or go to the beach with colleagues.
Life revolves around the famous term hygge, the concept that life should be cozy. What’s most important is feeling in communion with yourself and others.
How did you cope with the long, dark winters in Denmark?
“Light therapy and celebrating in town with a little alcohol. From my first December to April, I was so depressed because I wasn’t used to the darkness. One of the reasons why we don’t have this kind of depression in Canada might be because of the snow.
It reflects the sunlight back to us. In Canada, when it’s -30° to -40° Celsius, the sky can be clear. In Denmark, it hovers around -1° to 5° Celsius, so it’s usually very cloudy, rainy and dull. And if there’s snow, it’s slush.”
Have you noticed any surprising traditions in Denmark that you don’t see in Canada?
“Yes, you see the Danish flag everywhere in Denmark. It’s a big tradition. The Danish flag is the oldest flag in the world, dating back to the 14th century. Their love for the flag is passed down through generations and you see it in every aspect of life.
Birthdays, graduations, a pile of dog stuff in the street… people will put Danish flags on everything. When I got off the plane, I saw people waving flags at their loved ones.”
How did you find a job with a Working Holiday Visa in Denmark?
“I am a trained translator and first tried to find a job as a freelancer. I thought about working from Denmark with contracts in Canada. Then, I saw an open position for a customer relations manager at a translation company in Copenhagen.
My biggest fear was telling the hiring manager that I could only work for six months. But he surprised me by saying, ‘Don’t worry, we like you, we’ll do whatever is necessary.’ So, the sky is the limit!
I am the proof that anything is possible. You just have to try!
Generally, people who come to Denmark are looking for jobs in the hospitality industry, where it’s much easier to get hired and stay for a short period of time.”
Can you find a job in Denmark if you don’t speak Danish?
“Yes, absolutely. Don’t be afraid to apply. Many French tourists come here from Quebec and the rest of Canada, so knowing other languages, like French, is definitely an asset.
Copenhagen is a very international city with plenty of tourists and ex-pats from all over the world. When it comes to more technical and high-paying jobs, it’s helpful to know Danish, but it’s not a dealbreaker.
Maybe learn a little German combined with Danish and Norwegian through Duolingo before you come over.”
Did you have any savings when you arrived in Denmark?
“You have to have around C$3,000 set aside when you apply for the WHV. This is the base amount. It’s ideal if you can save more because the cost of living in Denmark is high, about double what we normally pay in Canada.”
Would you say that the money you made during your Working Holiday Visa was enough to cover your living costs in Denmark?
“Absolutely. My job paid well, more than the jobs of many of my friends. But I made less than the Danes who were at a higher level.
What I made was enough to cover my expenses and still put some money into savings. If you work in the restaurant business, the salary might not be as high, but you’d still manage quite well.”
Do you have any tips on how to travel on a budget during a Working Holiday Visa in Denmark?
“Denmark is quite central to Europe and the Copenhagen airport is the biggest in Northern Europe with connections to many cities all over Europe. It’s so easy to use Copenhagen as a base camp. Why not visit other countries when flights are so cheap? I took a flight from Copenhagen to Lithuania which cost me $25 round trip with the famous Ryanair.
In Europe, we also have Wizzair out of Hungary, and Easyjet, which mostly services Western Europe, so London, Paris, Switzerland, etc. Otherwise, bus travel is super cheap. We’re talking $30 or $40 to go from Copenhagen to Oslo or Hamburg.
I’ve visited 30 countries since living in Denmark. I just came back from the Czech Republic to go hiking in Bohemian Switzerland, which cost me $120 round trip. I also went to Sarajevo in Bosnia, one of my favourite places, which cost me $60 round trip.
What do you miss most about living in Canada?
“First, I miss the cultural diversity. In Toronto, I think 51-60% of the population is born outside of Canada. Here in Denmark, only 12% of the population comes from another country. For example, at my former job, the only other immigrant like me was from Poland.
Second, I really miss speaking French. I speak Danish in everyday life, but French remains the language of my heart and is the language in which I express myself best.
Third, I miss the poutine.”
Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in going to Denmark but is still hesitant?
“I would tell them that life is very short and the opportunity is only available until age 35. Many of my Montreal friends would have liked to leap into the unknown as I did, but their life paths made them unable to travel.
There could be some regret there. So, now I strongly encourage young Canadians to use the Working Holiday Visa program. It’s such a unique experience and so worth it in the end.
You’re either going to have a super positive experience taking a leap into the unknown or you’re going to realize that it didn’t work out, but at least you tried.”
Have you ordered your happy light and Danish flags yet? Canadians can apply for a 12-month Working Holiday Visa in Denmark, and work for a six-month period while they are there.
If you are a Canadian between the ages of 18 and 35 and want to learn more about the Working Holiday Visa, be sure to visit the International Experience Canada website for more details.
For even more inspiration, listen to our #NomadTALKS series on YouTube, where we talk with other Canadians who have travelled and worked abroad.
The original interview was conducted in French by Emilie Robichaud and compiled by Britney Claveau. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.