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Is life in Denmark impossible without a personal registration number?

Ten digits printed on the front of a yellow card: your birthdate plus four other numbers. The CPR number is your pass to many services in Denmark, but how far can you get without it?

Is life in Denmark impossible without a personal registration number?
A Danish yellow health insurance card - the ID that carries the CPR number. Photo: Jonas Skovbjerg Fogh/Ritzau Scanpix

The CPR card, typically referred to as the yellow health insurance card, is a form of personal identification using individual personal registration (CPR) numbers, and residents of Denmark are legally required to have one.

Also a form of civil registration (the ‘CPR’ abbreviation comes from the Danish term Det Centrale Personregister), the card functions primarily as a healthcare card, providing access to the state funded public healthcare system.

But the CPR number is needed for a lot more than just healthcare.

Most state and municipal services require the yellow card as a form of personal identification and it is also a requirement for things like banks, telephone companies and even gyms.

Newcomers to Denmark are issued with cards after applying to their local municipalities with residency permit information. A residency permit is the official document needed to stay in the country for more than three months, or more than six months from your entry date if you are seeking a job. The process of obtaining the yellow card might take up to three weeks.

The common wisdom is that it’s virtually impossible to get by in the Scandinavian country without the sacred 10-digit code.

But is that really true? Would a newcomer to the country without one be left stranded?

The Local put the theory to the test.

Banking and MobilePay

Using a foreign bank account in Denmark is not always the best option, some internationals would argue.

Dóra Lipka, a Hungarian student doing an internship in Aarhus, moved to Denmark in early February 2018. She spent three weeks waiting to get her residency permit and subsequently, a CPR number.

“It is not easy because before I moved here I asked my [Hungarian] bank and they said a fee will be deducted every time I withdraw cash, but luckily in Denmark, everything works with credit cards, so it is fine,” she says.

But if you would rather have an account at a Danish bank to avoid the fee for transactions, you might also be able to do so without a CPR number.

File photo: Uffe Weng/Ritzau Scanpix

Some banks ask for a CPR number as a requirement to initiate an account.

Pretending to be a newcomer to Denmark, we reached out to Danske Bank, inquiring about the necessity of having a CPR number. The customer service response was that it was an essential requirement to open a bank account.

However, other banks accept alternative forms of personal identification. For instance, Nordea accepts a Tax Identification Number (TIN) instead, according to press consultant at Nordea Bank Mads Sixhøj.

“Foreign citizens need, just like Danish citizens, to show ID, a CPR/TIN-number and have an acceptable purpose to open an account,” Sixhøj told The Local.

We also spoke to the communications manager at Syd Bank, Dan Prangsgaard, who told us that the main requirement to initiate an account is a valid proof of identity.

“[CPR] is not an absolute requirement, the only absolute requirement is presenting a valid identity,” Prangsgaard said.

READ ALSO: Foreign employees entitled to Danish bank accounts: Finance Denmark

But although it might be possible to open a bank account without a personal ID number, you still wouldn’t be able to use MobilePay.

First introduced in 2013 by Danske Bank, MobilePay is a mobile banking app that requires a Danish bank account, Danish mobile phone number and CPR number to log in.

The app is widespread for financial transactions around Denmark, and used by both big and small businesses. It is commonly used to pay at supermarkets and coffee shops, and to send and receive money with other MobilePay users.

More than 3.7 million Danes and 75,000 businesses use the app, which functions through the Danish banking system, according to MobilePay’s official website.

We contacted the app’s customer service, who said that to be a MobilePay user, you need to have a Danish bank account, a Danish cell phone number and a CPR number.

So whether you choose to use your foreign bank card in Denmark or open an account a Danish bank, if you do so without a CPR number you cannot use MobilePay.

In Lipka’s case, the CPR number was not the only thing hindering her from using MobilePay – she also did not have a Danish cell phone number.

Mobile Pay in 2013. Photo: Erik Refner/Ritzau Scanpix

Get online

If you want to get online, either through cellular data on your mobile phone or through a broadband connection, you will most likely need a CPR number for long-term subscriptions.

Prepaid, refill-able sim cards can be bought at many retailers and supermarkets without showing identification.

Sim cards can also be ordered online for free, but you will need a Danish address, which you will also need to present for other services if you do not have a CPR number.  

In most cases, though, it is not possible to subscribe to a broadband connection without a CPR number.

Pretending to be potential customers, we inquired about mobile subscription with telecommunication company and carrier Telia, whose customer service department told us that a CPR number is required, whether for mobile services or landline broadband connection.

Last year, Telia announced that the company was no longer providing the service of prepaid sim cards, stating that most prepaid sim cards holders were anonymous and this prevented optimal customer service.

Another Danish telecommunications company, TDC, also lists the CPR number as a main requirement for mobile subscriptions. But TDC communications officer Nis Peder Kolby told The Local that the exception to the CPR requirement was that foreigners can get a prepaid sim card.

“Yes, CPR is in principal necessary to set up a mobile phone contract, though you can as a foreigner go into a YouSee [TDC’s retailer, ed.] store and open an account against a deposit.

 “Our post-paid accounts are generally available for foreigners if you as a customer at the time of the agreement can give YouSee information about the customer’s name and registered address as well as any e-mail address. YouSee may also require the CPR number for credit assessment and for ongoing validation of customer information,” Kolby explained.

Get in shape

“The first month [in Denmark] was okay without CPR, but the biggest issue for me was that I could not join a gym without the CPR number,” Lipka says, adding that she eventually managed to get a membership with the Fitness World chain by supplying an alternative form of personal identification until she receives her CPR card.

Typically, gyms in Denmark ask for a CPR number as a form of identification for membership applications.

We asked the Fitness DK gym if it was possible to obtain membership without a CPR number. The response was yes, with the caveat that you cannot have an auto-pay membership.

We also asked Urban Gym, who said that it is possible to become a member without a CPR number, but you must provide a picture of your passport and your Danish address, as well as your Danish phone number – which, as we have seen, is not straightforward to obtain without the yellow personal ID card.

File photo: Malene Anthony Nielsen/Ritzau Scanpix

Speak the language

In order to register at a Danish language school, you will need a CPR number.

Refugees and family reunified residents must attend Danish language courses as part of an integration programme.

For those who come to the country for work or study reasons, entry to the language school system also requires the correct paperwork.

We tried to register as students at Lærdansk Aarhus, one of the biggest Danish language schools in Denmark, without a CPR number.

A member of staff told us that the CPR number was required, “or else you can apply through the municipality,” explaining that if you still don’t have a CPR number, municipalities can enrol you on Danish language course until you get one.

We also contacted the development manager at Lærdansk Aarhus, Kirstine Alexandersen, who said that the school has a special agreement with Aarhus University and the municipality to accept the registration of international students without a CPR number, adding that exceptions differ in each municipality.

Alexandersen also said that if an applicant wished to register as a student at Lærdansk without a CPR number, he or she could be enrolled if they are EU citizens and have an employment contract in Denmark.

Other private schools could have different requirements for enrolment, and in Copenhagen there are increasing numbers of private schools, she added.

READ ALSO: Danish: Is it really so hard to learn?

Copenhagen Language Center is one of the language schools in Copenhagen included in an agreement to offer free language lessons on behalf of Copenhagen Municipality. The school’s website states the CPR number at the top of the list of requirements to be enrolled.

Contacting the school as potential applicants, we were informed that, although enrolment is not possible without a CPR number, the school accepts emails with personal information, including a Danish address, to reserve a place in one of the classes until a CPR number has been received.   

A Danish language school in 2006. File photo: Richard Sylvestersen/Ritzau Scanpix

Once you have the yellow card in your pocket, the CPR number entitles you to free classes at Danish language schools – for now. The government recently announced that charges for the classes will be introduced from June.

READ ALSO: Tax plan means uncertainty for students and teachers at Denmark’s language schools

The results of our inquiries suggest that, although the CPR number is undoubtedly a necessity for long-term stays in Denmark, alternative forms of personal identification can be used in some cases to navigate the requirement of the CPR number as a shorter-term measure.

But the starting point of Danish bureaucracy is a Danish address, as the main alternative for the yellow card for most of the services that we tried was a permanent address in Denmark.

Another finding that stood out was that, across most of the areas we probed, answers tended to vary from one company or individual to another, emphasising that it’s worth asking for a second opinion if given a negative answer.

Did you find this article helpful? Have you had different experiences to us? What other practical aspects of life in Denmark would you like us to look into? Send us your feedback – we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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For members


What are the hardest things about moving to provincial Denmark as a foreigner?

Foreign residents who have moved to lesser-known regions of the country share their experiences of life in provincial Denmark. 

Provincial regions of Denmark want to attract skilled foreign workers, but what are the biggest challenges faced by relocators?
Provincial regions of Denmark want to attract skilled foreign workers, but what are the biggest challenges faced by relocators? Photo: Signe Goldmann/Ritzau Scanpix

Editor’s note: there are of course also many positives about living in provincial Denmark, and people based in those areas were happy to share those too. Read what they said in this article.

When Lea Cesar moved from Slovenia to the town of Ringkøbing in 2011, she didn’t know much about the region of western Jutland. 

“In the beginning, I didn’t like how difficult it was to find a job as a foreigner in a smaller city,” Cesar told The Local. Back then she didn’t speak Danish, and that made it hard to find a job that matched her skills and qualifications. 

“I later took it as a challenge and started my own company,” Cesar said, opening a cafe and bakery called Baking Sins in central Ringkøbing. Once she’d taken things into her own hands, she thrived and came to love her town. 

“I love the small shops with handcrafted products,” she said, drawing a comparison to the big shops and chain stores of larger cities. “The culture here is totally different. Ringkøbing is a smaller town, but feels big enough for me.”

Considering the pros and cons of a life in lesser-known parts of Denmark has never been more relevant, as the Danish government amps up efforts to decentralise Denmark and municipalities look to internationals to balance out declining populations. 

READ ALSO: Is it easier for foreigners to find a job outside Denmark’s major cities?

There may be fewer job opportunities, depending on your industry and Danish language skills

Fewer job opportunities, Cesar said, is one of the primary differences between living in a town like Ringkøbing versus a larger city. 

“There aren’t as many companies here searching for employees that only speak English,” she said. “I think it’s important to speak at least basic Danish; otherwise it would be hard to come here.”

Antoniya Petkov, originally from Bulgaria, faced similar challenges finding work when she moved to Ringkøbing several years ago after her husband accepted a job at a wind energy company in the area. 

“Most of the job opportunities in my field in the area require a high level of Danish language, which I am still working toward,” Petkov told The Local. 

In the meantime, she continues to commute to Aarhus, where she works as a technical recruiter in systematics at a large Danish software firm. “However, there are a lot more opportunities for developers, engineers and people with a technical job profile where Danish isn’t required,” Petkov said.

Even in technical roles, Danish proficiency helps. 

Victor Balaban, originally from Moldova, moved to Vejle while working at Siemens Gamesa. Although he said there are plenty of job opportunities in the region, Balaban said his options would be significantly more limited if he didn’t speak Danish.

Candice Progler-Thomsen, an American living in Lolland, said Danish proficiency is “almost essential” to find a job in the municipality. “There will be greater job opportunities here for individuals who learn Danish,” she told The Local. 

And, because it’s a smaller area with fewer employers, Progler-Thomsen said people may need to be willing to commute or otherwise expand their job search.

READ ALSO: Why (and how) Danish provincial areas want to hire skilled foreign workers

On the other hand, there may also be less competition for jobs in lesser-known parts of Denmark, said Mariola Kajkowska. 

Originally from Poland, Kajkowska moved to Vejle in 2019, where she works as an employee retention consultant. “There are often fewer applicants for each job, which increases your chance to be selected for the position,” she said.

Speaking Danish is important, professionally and socially

When Petkov first moved to Ringkøbing, it was challenging that she didn’t speak Danish. It was hard to do daily tasks, like communicate with workers at her children’s daycare or chat with her neighbours.

“People were distant at first when we bought our house in a typical Danish neighbourhood,” she said. 

It was very different from Aarhus, where they had lived before moving to Ringkøbing. “Aarhus has a huge international community,” she said. “We were always able to find friends and it was easy to get by speaking English.”

Petkov also missed the variety of English events and activities available in Aarhus. “But, we compensate by going to international events in the municipality,” she said.

Balaban, who established baseball clubs in both Herning and Vejle, said being a part of the community and getting involved is integral to building a social network and making friends in Vejle. “You have to be an active part of society,” he said.

Although learning Danish was a challenge, Petkov also saw it as an opportunity. “I’m not sure I would have learned Danish if we were living in Copenhagen or Aarhus,” she said. “You just don’t need it much there.”

Now, she’s learned enough Danish to engage in small talk with her neighbours. “Once people got used to us, we felt very welcome,” Petkov said, “though I don’t think we will ever blend completely.”

Chris Wantia, also a resident of Ringkøbing-Skjern Municipality, has found Danish to be integral to life in rural Denmark. 

He lives in the village of Bork Havn, population 300. “When I walk out of my house, I don’t expect my 65-year-old Danish neighbour to speak to me in English,” Wantia told The Local.

“English may be fine in the big cities, but speaking Danish here is important,” he said, adding that it would have been very challenging to purchase and renovate the two homes he and his wife, Janine, own in the municipality if he didn’t speak Danish. 

A second silver lining Petkov has identified is that living in Ringkøbing has also enabled her family to engage more deeply with Danes and Danish culture, adding that most of her friends are Danish. 

“If you really want to dive into Danish culture, a place like Ringkøbing is amazing,” she said.

There’s less to do, depending on your interests (and you might need to drive)

“You can count on one hand the number of good restaurants within 50 kilometres of Bork Havn,” Wantia told The Local. Although that wasn’t a dealbreaker for him and his wife, Janine, it might be worth some consideration before moving to a village like Bork Havn. 

“If you want many restaurants, parties, or meeting new people all the time, this isn’t the place for you,” he said. “It’s quiet here. Some people might not like that, but it’s perfect for us.”

Vejle, though much larger than Bork Havn with a population of 113,000, also isn’t a very lively city in terms of nightlife, according to Balaban.

“I’d say it’s a mature city,” he said. “It’s a quiet city that attracts a lot of families and people who are more settled down.”

Ultimately, having ‘things to do’ nearby depends on which activities you prefer. 

In Lolland, Progler-Thomsen said it’s “a bit of a sacrifice” to not have easy access to the cultural activities the family had in Copenhagen. 

READ ALSO: Are provincial parts of Denmark a good option for international families?

In exchange, her family has access to activities it enjoys that weren’t available in Copenhagen, including many outdoor activities and sports. “We love the Safari Park that’s only a 7-minute drive from our house,” Progler-Thomsen said. 

That’s something else to consider, though: driving. 

Kajkowska, in Vejle, said driving will play more of a role in one’s life, living in these parts of Denmark. “I was at a party the other night and two cars had driven one and a half hours from Sønderborg to come to the party,” she said.

READ ALSO: What benefits does life in provincial Denmark offer foreign residents?

For the most part, Petkov said she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out by living in Ringkøbing.

She enjoys several favorite cafes in town, an Italian restaurant where they are regulars and enjoy chatting with the owners, exploring the beaches and woods, and escaping to the wellness hotel near their house for mini-breaks. “In the summer, it feels like living at a resort,” Petkov said. 

“Ringkøbing is a great place for our family,” she said. “The benefits outweigh the drawbacks for us.”