Free movement... if you can afford it

Michael McKenna
Michael McKenna - [email protected]
Free movement... if you can afford it
Photo: Michael McKenna

In his second entry documenting his transition to Copenhagen, newly-arrived Canadian journalist Michael McKenna encounters some unexpected obstacles.


Last time I updated this space, things were really quite rudimentary, living-in-Denmark-wise. I was still hung up on things like herring and jaywalking – real rookie concerns, I have come to realise. Over the past two weeks, things have progressed so far and so fast that I barely recognise my former self. Was he really still upset about his rent? But everyone knows that rent should be a crippling, anguished obligation. That’s the Copenhagen way! I was once so naïve.
The reason for my current bout of excessive confidence is the arrival of a special document in the post. Not my CPR card, of course — that is still tantalising me from a distance. But I do have my bevis for registrering, and this marks the first official recognition, by a Danish state body, that I exist. Where I once passed through the streets of Copenhagen half-visible, a wispy foreign ghost, now I am the sort of solid, doubtlessly living person who receives official correspondence from the government. And all it took was 100,000 kroner.
This was a bit of a surprise. On paper, see, it appears that British citizens such as myself (I grew up in Canada, but have dual citizenship) can declare themselves to be self-employed, and pursue residence in that fashion. From the time I knew I would be coming to Denmark, in fact, this was the plan; I am a journalist, and have been self-employed for years. Surely all they would need would be some bank statements, maybe a contract or two. I had that. Also, isn’t this just a formality? After all, EU citizens have freedom of movement. Surely a working writer can simply bring his laptop to Denmark and continue producing work (and paying taxes); it wasn’t as if I was planning to claim benefits or anything.
At the Statsforvaltnignen last week, I had only to proceed halfway through that basic line of justification before I discovered that it was painfully incorrect. The clerk, actually, looked as if she felt sorry for me; she scrunched up her face and made the internationally accepted expression for “Ooh… no. Not quite. Not for you. For other people, maybe, but not for you.” As it turns out, the ‘self-employed’ classification refers to people who have already established a business in Denmark, who have extensive tax and accounting records, who are already somehow based here. It was a bit confusing, of course — why would someone who was already so enmeshed in Danish society require a residence permit? Wouldn’t they already have one? The clerk grew more impatient, pointing a bit roughly to the ‘sufficient resources’ section of the application. “This is for you,” she said with some frustration. “This is what you need.”
So I needed 100,000 kroner. And I was very fortunate to be able to juggle my finances so that such a sum appeared, for a time, in one place. I hadn’t wanted to move to Copenhagen with no savings. But is it not a little odd that the EU’s much-vaunted freedom of movement is restricted to those who are able to assemble such sums on command? I am well aware of all of the reasons why this might be the case — benefits fraud, parasitism, the usual comportment of wealthy-country fears. But it still remains a little strange that this signature component of union is actually a very qualified thing.
On Monday, it will be time to bring my bevis for registrering to the municipality, where I will be looking to transform it into a CPR card through whatever Danish magic achieves such things. I will then transform that document yet further into language classes; the Danish system is not bad, it’s just a little opaque. There were loopholes I had not anticipated. There were extra steps.
There were 100,000 kroner needed to prove that I am not here to rip the place off. Which is fine, I guess, but which might have been explained more fully. I can only hope that the institutional goodwill furnished by this sum extends to my attempts to speak the language.
Montreal native Michael McKenna recently relocated to Copenhagen after two years in Kosovo. He has written for Vice, AskMen and Business Insider, among others. He will be chronicling his transition to Copenhagen for The Local. 


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