More impressions of Copenhagen

After a few weeks in Copenhagen, here are some more impressions:

  • When I first arrived, I could not find an equivalent of Target or Myer. Every supermarket has the same layout and the same bunch of stuff. I spent ages trying (and failing!) to find scouer and air freshener. But recently, I found one candidate that is kinda like Target: Føtex.
  • CPR is paramount. Getting it the first time around requires you to have at least a month contract on accommodation. Without it, you cannot do anything else. However, once you get it, it was easy (and possible) to do a lot of things, including lodging your change-of-address in advance.
  • Accommodation is definitely very difficult. I had a chat with several people, and they all got their first accommodation via friends of friends. I also found that even if you move 20 minutes away by train, they are still extremely expensive!
  • Water doesn’t taste good at all due to the incredibly high mineral content.
  • Contract is dependent on your past experience, so will take some time to process. More about this in my future post.
  • Science is well supported in Denmark. There are plenty of incentives for foreigners to come and do science here. For example, there is a ridiculously good tax scheme for researchers where instead of the usual 40-55% rate, you are taxed at 26% (plus 8% “labour market contribution). The caveat is, there is no possibility of a tax deduction.
  • There is also a new scheme where if you are only in Denmark for a short period of time, you can ask for your pension (superannuation) to be paid as part of your salary. If you are on the researcher tax scheme, this means the salary top-up will also be taxed at 26(+8)%. The alternative is to get the pension back when you leave the country, which will incur the full 40-55% tax.


Danish bureaucracy

I guess every country has its own idiosyncrasies. Denmark is no exception. Every long-term resident in Denmark needs to have a CPR number, without which nothing else can progress. You will need a CPR number if you want to get a bank account, mobile plan, utilities, housing, etc. In my case, I had to wait almost a week in order to get my CPR, as the people at the International Citizen Service could not register my CPR until I had a proper (i.e. non-hotel) address. I am fortunate that I have been arranged an accommodation before I arrived in Denmark. I have no idea what I would have to do had I not have anywhere to stay.

Speaking of the International Citizen Service, it is actually a very nice service where you can register your CPR, get a residence and health cards, and also meet a tax person. It’s a one-stop solution that every country should adopt, in my opinion.

Back to the CPR, it is basically a number that consists of your date of birth, plus four random digits at the end. A health card therefore can act as an ID, as it has your address and date of birth embedded in it. You will need this card to go and see a doctor, which I think is free (Danes, correct me if I’m wrong). The caveat is, you are assigned a doctor based on where you live. So you can’t just go to any doctor. You have to go to a specific one, unless if it’s an emergency, I guess.

If you are a new foreigner into Denmark like me, then the next step after getting your CPR is to get a bank account. I chose Danske Bank because they seem to have lots of branches. As it turned out, not all of those branches handle cash! I was surprised when I went to one and found a very corporate-looking office with no customers. The receptionist assured me that I was at the right place, though. I was assigned a financial consultant (I guess) who helped me set up my account. I was actually very impressed by his patience and thoroughness in going through everything and basically help me understand the deep interlink between all the centralised systems.

Now, this is where things get interesting. Remember that everything depends on your CPR? There is also a single log-in system linked to the CPR that the Danes have adopted: NemID. This system allows you access to your online banking, register a new address, and access other government services. The NemID system consists of a username (your CPR), a password, and a one-time password distributed via a printed card. So it is supposed to be very secure.

Front and back of NemID.
Front and back of NemID.

Another component that works in conjunction with CPR, NemID, and bank account is NemKonto. Basically, it is an account that you nominate to become your NemKonto. Think of it as an alias. So instead of typing the full account name and number, a company can just type in your NemKonto, which is linked to your bank account and CPR (of course!).

There is another component that is somewhat not too critical, but is also very useful. We are assigned a digital mailbox where official letters from government institutions and other institutions and companies (e.g. University, utilities companies) will be delivered to.

I do like the Danish system. Everything is centralised and linked. I know that some people don’t like that the government is collecting all these information about its people, but it does make life a bit easier. For example, if I want to move places, all I have to do is log in to the government website (e.g. the City of Copenhagen’s website) via my NemID, and the change will be propagated to all services that use my CPR. They will even send the new health card to my new address.