Ask Kay: Do I need to speak Danish to work?

Got a question about moving to Denmark or life in Denmark? Ask Kay, an expat who has lived here for more than a decade. In this instalment, Kay gives advice on finding a job before learning the language.

Ask Kay: Do I need to speak Danish to work?
Illustration: Kay Xander Mellish
Kay Xander MellishKay Xander Mellish is an American who has lived in Denmark for 14 years and answered many questions from new arrivals and people thinking of moving to Denmark. She is the author of the new book How To Live in Denmark, available on, and iTunes, and offers How To Live in Denmark events for schools, unions and corporations, as well as a free podcast.
I'm a 24-year-old student and I'm about to study in Denmark for six months or so. I would love to find work in Copenhagen, and I have years of experience tutoring and nannying and waiting tables/bartending in New York. What kind of work is easiest to find as a young American woman? I'm thinking I might have the best luck being a charismatic bike taxi person, because maybe if I'm hilarious then people will forget about the fact that I can't speak very much Danish. 
Danish is not required if you work in a place frequented by young people; young people in Denmark speak excellent English. A bar, nightclub or university café would probably be perfect for you, particularly since you have so much experience. I have met other servers in bars and nightclubs who do not speak Danish, and it's usually only a problem when an elderly customer wanders in.
I also think many parents would be interested in an English-speaking babysitter or nanny, either because they speak English themselves or because they want their children to learn English. There are Facebook groups for foreigners like ‘Americans in Denmark’, ‘Copenhagen Expats’ or ‘Expats in Copenhagen.’  I would recommend against posting on all of them on the same day, since many people are members of more than one group.
The bike taxis are mostly seasonal, so they may not be an option during the winter. 
Two things to keep in mind. Whatever job you end up taking, it’s usually better to pay the relevant taxes, since enforcement of tax collection is stronger here than it is in many other countries.  Secondly, people in Denmark tend to think long-term, so getting hired may take longer than you’re used to in the US, and you may have trouble making very short-term employment deals. 
Hi Kay!
 My name is Ignacio and I'm a mathematician who lives in Uruguay. I've read most of your posts and I find them very interesting and amusing. I want to do a Master or PhD and checking the options I found that Denmark would be a great place to do it.  I'd also like to establish myself there there. Do you think it's possible? Can help me find information? 

Hi Ignacio! If you can stand the climate and the low quality of the local sirloin  – really, you South Americans should show the Danes how to grill a steak  –  you might like Denmark very much. There are several universities in Denmark that might be right for your PhD.  I suggest you check out the website 'Study in Denmark,' where there is a special section on PhD positions.
Hope that's helpful!
Do you have a question for Kay? Send it to her at kay (at) and we might feature the answer here. 

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