To thrive or survive in Denmark as a non-EU resident?

After a rougher than normal week living in Denmark recently, being reminded once again that I am a Non-EU citizen living in Denmark, a new question came to mind about my foreigner status. 

Is it possible to thrive in Denmark as a non-EU citizen as part of an international family? Or should I just be happy with surviving?


Thanks to a continual and heated debate on immigration in Denmark, I’ve known I was a foreigner pretty much from the day I arrived in Denmark. However, what I hadn’t realised until very recently was that as a non-EU citizen living in Denmark on a Family Reunification Visa, I fall into an even more challenging category in which to thrive.

If you are a non-EU citizen in Denmark who has recently moved to Denmark maybe you have also felt the same struggle?

The exception to this is if you are a non-EU citizen living in Denmark as a result of receiving a work permit from a Danish employer (for specialised jobs such as IT, Engineering and so on). I don’t expect this group to be grappling with the survive or thrive question too much having likely been lured to Denmark for a good time not a long time, and with their employer looking after their paperwork. But perhaps I’m wrong?  Let me know if I am. I’d love to hear your story.

I recently told one of my colleagues that I thought it was hard living in Denmark. She laughed at me.  That was the first time I realised that the Expat experience of someone with an EU passport in Denmark is quite different to the experience of an Expat in Denmark without an EU passport.

My colleague is from Hungary.  I am from New Zealand.  Our base reference points on which to define ‘hard’ are for a start, different.  She also has the luxury of being able to fly home for a long weekend.  Whereas when you come from New Zealand, a long weekend is what it takes for you to just get there. These are things I cannot change. It is what it is. But nevertheless, the reality of this does also play a part in me being able to answer my ‘survive or thrive’ question. 

 I didn’t mean it was hard living in Denmark because I have to fight for my food, find shelter every night or beg for money on the street.  I didn’t move to Denmark for a better or easier life. Nor did I move to Denmark as many others have, for the free University education.  I was not in need of an easier or better life, nor a University degree.

I moved to Denmark because I met a Dane in my home country of New Zealand. 

The Danish government let him out of Denmark and openly gave him the opportunity of meeting a foreigner and creating an international family.  Which is exactly what happened to Prince Frederick and Princess Mary of Denmark.   So I at least consider us in good company. 

But I didn’t choose Denmark.  Denmark, or more precisely, a Dane chose me. 

The rules

After meeting the Dane I then had to open the rule book.  The rule book of how to live with a foreigner in Denmark.  We also had to study the ‘how to live with a foreigner in New Zealand’ rule book, but that was somewhat shorter and easier to follow.

But for us to live together in Denmark we had to spend much more time studying the Danish rule book to understand what rules apply when a Dane gets lucky and meets a Non-EU resident to spend the rest of his living days with. Lucky him!


Firstly, and most obviously, as a non-EU citizen (that is, someone who does not hold a passport from one of the 28 member states of Europe) we have to follow a very different and difficult immigration process if we wish to live in Denmark. And as I have recently discovered by conversations with others in a similar situations, we also appear to be at a higher risk of an increasingly a hidden set of prejudices.

Prejudices from employers who have unfortunately become a little nervous about the possible risk or perceived complexity of employing a Non-EU citizen. Regardless of the legitimacy of us being in the country.

Nervousness due to the increasing complexity that has arisen as a result of the rules regarding non-EU citizens constantly changing since what seems like forever. But in particular with increased intensity since 2015.  Leaving us non-EU citizens feeling insecure about our long-term futures in a country that one half of our family comes from.

Because as a non-EU Citizen I fall into in a group of people currently living in Denmark, that are feeling a little vulnerable.  Living in a constant state of insecurity unsure of what the next changes to the rules will be and how they will affect us.  In fact since 2015 there has been 112 immigration restrictions implemented, resulting in no one ever being too sure what the next round of changes will mean for them. 

A lot of these rule changes have targeted the Family Reunification Visa (the Visa I have).  Making it increasingly difficult for non-EU citizens to live in Denmark, and definitely leaves very little room to thrive. Even if we were lured by a Dane (who the Danish Government let out of their country) to Denmark to raise an international family.

So over the last week or so, this question has continually been going through my head, I began to connect and have conversations with others in similar positions and they shared with me some additional facts I wasn’t previously aware of about Denmark.  One of which I was quite surprised by was that whilst Denmark is a member country of the European Union, it does not adhere to several EU Laws.  In particular:

-        Metock EU Law

-        EU military law

-        Police EU laws

-        Denmark is also non compliant with EU child separation laws.

Denmark has chosen it’s own rules in these cases which means if you have an International family with a Danish citizen (or thinking about starting one with a Danish citizen), its worth doing a bit more of your own research so you are fully aware of what this might mean for you. 

Peter Stanners, host of The Danish highlights in his new podcast that “of the 5,806,081 people living in Denmark, there are 434,424 adults without Danish citizenship who cannot vote in the national election. That’s 7.4% of the adult population without a say.

Even without a vote, laws still apply to them. But they are all but ignored by Danish media who only consider residents with a passport as proper stakeholders in the Danish state.”

So as you might be beginning to understand, Denmark can be a complicated environment in which to thrive as a non-EU resident.

Last week it was one of my own friends, Abigail, who felt the brunt of these increasingly strict rules and given less than 3 weeks to pack up and leave the country.  Her husband (a Danish citizen) and daughter could though, stay.  But of course they didn’t.  Because families are a bit like ‘Peas and Carrots’ don’t you think?  They go together.

Being so close to one of the many tough decisions being made, had me wondering if Denmark is a country that understands the dynamics of being an international family? Or even the reality of what it’s like to live in a country as a foreigner.  

Many wrongly think because I have a Danish partner, that I have full rights to live in Denmark.  I don’t.  Just because I have a 100% legitimate Danish partner (we’re not married, but it wouldn’t make a difference if we were) and child, it does not give me any special rights to live in Denmark. Rather it feels on some days, that it puts me somewhere near the back of the pack in terms of priority to be able to live in Denmark.

Whereas EU citizens from any of the 28 member countries of the EU, have the right to move and reside freely within the EU.  That is, any EU citizen can live freely in Denmark so long as they are working in another EU country, as an employee, self-employed or on a posting.  But of most interest to me as a non-EU citizen in a relationship with a Danish citizen (one could argue the most genuine of the genuine situations) is that any EU citizen from outside of Denmark, can bring their non-EU spouse, dependent children and grandchildren to stay in Denmark with them, without having to meet any other conditions. They can also all get permanent residency after 5 years of living in Denmark. That means they can then stay in the country for as long as they want and this is not affected by:

·        temporary absences (less than 6 months per year)

·        longer absences for compulsory military service

·        one absence of 12 consecutive months, for important reasons such as pregnancy and childbirth, serious illness, work, vocational training or a posting to another country

They can however lose their right to permanent residence in Denmark if you live outside the country for more than 2 consecutive years.

To fly high or to fly not so high?

To fly high or to fly not so high?

Compare this to a non-EU citizen living in Denmark who has been granted a Family Reunification Visa because they are in a genuine relationship with a Danish citizen.  Someone who has a first-hand and lifetime connection to Denmark. They have to comply with a lengthy list of requirements (which are constantly changing).  The full list you can find here, but most notably it includes:

·        A financial guarantee of DKK 102,000 (plus application fee of DK6380)

·        A wait time of 10 months to be processed

·        Foreign spouse needs to pass 2 Danish language tests after arriving in Denmark

·        You must have an independent reasonably sized residence and the total number of people living in the residence may not be more than double the number of rooms, or the total residential area must be at least 20 sq. meters per person.

Plus many more….you can find the current list here.


In my own situation (arriving in 2016) the rules were slightly different, and I was first given a 2 year Residence Permit, but had to re-apply last year.  Next year I re-apply again and I need to do some more research on what the next steps are for me.  But I know for sure it is not just a case of simply living here for 5 years and getting permanent residency, as it is for my fellow Non-EU citizens who are lucky enough to be in a relationship with an EU citizen from another EU country, other than Denmark.

More than one Dane has told me that the constant rule changes and rule tightening affecting non-EU citizens has been predominately designed, to stop Muslims and refugees from entering Denmark.  Danish friends have themselves said to me, people that ‘look like me’ are okay to stay.  Even with the knowledge that some Danes can be quite direct and to the point, it is still a statement which jars. And irrespective of the rightness or wrongness of these peoples blunt assessment of the situation, the current immigration policies do not make any differentiation for non-EU citizens who might ‘look like me’. We all have to comply to the same rules. Because we are all the same. Regardless of what we look like.

I’ve been told that if my partner was to (lets hope not) die, I would most likely have to leave Denmark.  My 3 year old (half Danish) daughter is though, welcome to stay. 

Similarly, I’ve also heard that if my partner and I separated, or even if he abused me and I had to leave because I feared for my safety, I would also have limited rights to stay in Denmark as a non-EU citizen.  I would be forced to leave Denmark unless I could meet an income threshold.  An income threshold which ironically is difficult for me to obtain due to employers reluctance to employ non-EU citizens.  Reluctance because we’re seen as a vulnerable group, whose true future in Denmark is never guaranteed.  And a group of people they fear employing, just in case the rules change again, and they can longer reside in Denmark. Essentially it seems from the people I have connected with over the last few weeks that the current immigration rules have created uncertainty and prejudices against non-EU passport holders in the minds of employers.  Unless of course you’re coming to Denmark for a specialised job and therefore fulfill the requirements for a totally different Visa. 

A reality I also grapple with is if I had to walk away from an abusive relationship in Denmark as a non EU citizen, I would likely have to walk away from my daughter. As in this case the Danish father holds primary ‘ownership’ rights if you like, of our daughter, over a non-EU resident.  Which I’ve also recently learnt is in contrast to what happens if two Danes separate, then the Danish mother is the one who holds the primary ‘ownership’ rights over the Danish father.  Although, I insert a very big disclaimer right here, that I am not an expert on child custody in Denmark, but I welcome your story.


As for my own situation, the realities for me in Denmark are:

-        I will likely never have the right to vote in Denmark, due to a 9-year requirement of living in Denmark (without living elsewhere for more than three months) before I am granted citizenship.  As an international family it is difficult to simply turn your back on your other country for that amount of time.  We have equal commitment and equal love for both countries.  But in reality, the needs of our international family will take us away from Denmark before we can ever complete 9 years. 

-        I will never have the right to claim a State pension in Denmark (nor in my home country of New Zealand if we continue to live in Denmark for the rest of our lives). But perhaps this is just the ‘cost’ of having an International family and in particular when you match a Non EU Resident with an EU Resident.

-        I have no access to the government unemployment fund.  And while I have never asked for this assistance from my home country either, it still takes away a massive safety net which the majority of Danish Citizens have and which forms a strong influence on the employment market in Denmark

So in case you missed the point of these comparisons between the two situations, it means that a non-EU wife/husband/partner of an EU citizen from outside of Denmark has an easier ride into Denmark than a non-EU citizen in a relationship with a Dane.  Someone like me who has a Danish husband/partner and possibly half Danish children.  It also means that a non-EU wife/husband/partner to an EU citizen from outside of Denmark can get residency before a non-EU wife/husband/partner to Danish citizen (if indeed they ever do). 

So even with all the commitment, will and determination in the world to integrate and to be not just a good citizen, but a great one, of Denmark. The question I still have in my head after connecting with others in similar situation is:

“Is it possible to thrive in Denmark as a non-EU citizen? Or should I simply be happy with surviving?”

As a Non-EU citizen, and in particular if you are also married to a Dane with children (who has moved to Denmark after 2015) on a Family Reunification Visa, do you feel that Denmark is a country you can truly thrive in given the current immigration rules and unintended restrictions for non-EU citizens?

And I guess it’s not necessarily a case of comparing who gets what (although granted I have just done that), but it is more simply a question of can the Non-EU partners of Danish citizens thrive in Denmark with the increasingly volatile visa conditions and reluctance from some employers to employ Non-EU citizens.

Even the Danish Prime Minister’s son is not immune to these rules, with his Non-EU girlfriend recently being told to leave the country by the immigration department.  But who knows.  Maybe they’ll move to Sweden like most other Danes with non-EU huband/wives and partners.

But if nothing else this week, it was at least nice to read of my own countries Prime Ministers views on immigration in New Zealand, after the deeply sad terror attack in New Zealand:

“Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand. They may even be refugees here (in New Zealand). They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.” – Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand

I thought it was not only a nice statement of comfort but also of trust.

You can watch the full video here

We can all make the best of situations.  But sometimes systems can unintentionally be designed to make you fail and I just can’t help but feeling over the last few weeks, that we’re slipping somewhere closer to that scenario in Denmark. Or am I just imagining it? What’s your story? I’d love to hear it and connect with you.

Have you found it difficult finding work as a non-EU citizen in Denmark?

Do you think you can thrive in Denmark as a Non-EU citizen on a Family Reunification Visa or can you only survive?

What has your experience as a non-EU citizen been in Denmark?

Comment below, or reach out to me on LinkedIn or via Instagram or Facebook.

Additional reading:

Right to move and reside freely within the EU

Directive on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States

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