As the author of a long-running blog about living in Denmark, I often hear from people considering a move here. They want to know what they should bring with them, particularly if they have limited space in their luggage.
First of all, the good news is there are many things you don’t need to bring. Housewares, for example – Denmark has some of the best in the world, available in every price class. Small appliances like hairdryers and electric toothbrushes are more trouble than they’re worth if they don’t have the same current or plugs used in Denmark – just buy new ones once you arrive.
And unless you already have a winter wardrobe of coats, boots, and gloves, I recommend buying them in Denmark instead of doing last minute shopping where you live now. That way you can match the constantly changing Danish climate a little bit better (it’s chilly here, but rarely Arctic), and “look local” as well.
Some things are easy to have shipped to Denmark, too, like English-language books (or books in whatever language you prefer.) If you’re a dedicated reader you can bring a few books about Denmark to get you started, but you’ll be able to order more from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.de (a Danish version of Amazon is scheduled to launch soon). Just remember to always order from countries within the EU to avoid punishing customs fees.
But there are a few things you’re better off bringing with you because they’re difficult to find in Denmark and can be difficult or expensive to ship from abroad.
Here are my tips on things to bring from home.
Socks, underwear, bras, and workout gear
Denmark’s 25 percent value added tax and high minimum wages mean these small items will probably be much more expensive in Denmark than they would be in your home country – and it can just be more comfortable to have the stuff you’re used to.
Danes aren’t fancy dressers; their taste generally leans towards simple tops and trousers in muted colors. Even if you’re going to be working in Denmark, you’ll probably only need a business suit in the financial industry. Bringing along one semi-formal outfit will cover you for any fancy galas you might be invited to, and you don’t need more than one pair of high heels, which can be murder to walk in on Denmark’s cobblestone streets.
Bicycling is a big part of Danish life, particularly if you’ll be living in Copenhagen or Aarhus, so bring clothes you can bike in. Loose skirts, for example, work better for biking than tight pencil skirts. Length is important too: flowing ankle-length skirts can end up caught in a greasy bike chain.
Also think of biking when you choose shoes to bring along. Slides and flip-flops can be hard to pedal in. In general, bring shoes that are practical and comfortable – you’ll be doing a lot of walking – and if possible waterproof. A rainy country like Denmark is no place for fragile shoes.
Buy designer labels if it’s important to you, but it’s generally not important to the Danes. Once they’re past their teenage years, they see obvious designer labels as tacky.
Spices and other special recipe ingredients
The online expat forums in Denmark are full of people desperately searching for one elusive ingredient to make a favorite dish. So if you love spicy Caribbean chicken, enchiladas with a special type of hot chilies, or pumpkin pie, bring the key ingredients with you.
While most big towns do have an Indian or Asian marketplace, they don’t always have the ingredients for African, Eastern European, or Latin American recipes, and if you’re living in a medium to small city in Denmark you may be out of luck.
Sharing your local cuisine is a great way to make friends in Denmark, so if you’ve got skills in the kitchen, bring the ingredients to make your specialty with you, in particular if they’re dried or canned (you can’t bring meat, milk, or egg into Denmark without a special license.)
If your recipes are in imperial measurements (teaspoons, cups, etc.) make sure to bring measuring devices. Denmark uses the metric system.
Medicine, both prescription and over-the-counter
The Danes are firmly opposed to overmedicating themselves: from a C-section to heart surgery, it’s quite likely the only painkiller recommended will be a combination of paracetamol and ibuprofen (Tylenol and Advil for you Americans).
For colds and minor flu, Danes generally take nothing at all, relying on hot tea and the generous sick leave policies in Denmark. So if you’re the type of person who likes to dull your misery with over-the-counter medicines when you’re sick, bring those products with you.
The stuff mom used to give you for colds, sinus headaches, or an achy tummy may bring you comfort when you are feeling lousy, and it will probably not be available in Denmark. This is particularly true for children’s medications. And melatonin is available only by prescription in Denmark.
Of course, it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with the customs rules before you bring any type of medicine into Denmark, although in practice travelers bringing in small amounts of over-the-counter items for personal use probably won’t run into trouble.
If you take prescription drugs, you may discover that the exact same drug is not available in Denmark, so research it before you go. Bring along a copy your prescription if you’re importing prescription drugs and check ahead to see how much you are allowed to bring in.
Another important thing to know is that you should never buy prescription medicine online to be sent to Denmark. If it’s on the prohibited list, as many pain relievers and sleep medications are, it will be seized by customs and you could find yourself with a police record.
Beauty products, simple jewelry, and extra eyeglasses
The Danish “look” is simple, subtle, and clean. If you have an elaborate hairstyle or make-up routine, it may appear over the top in Denmark – and the same is true for big jewelry or powerful cologne. Go subtle or skip it entirely.
Maybe there’s a beauty brand you just love. In that case, bring a few bottles or tubes along, but don’t be surprised if you end up ditching it after a month or two for a local product. Most international brands are available in Denmark with the usual 25% VAT (or more) added to the price you’re used to paying.
If you wear eyeglasses, it’s a good idea to bring along an extra pair. Opticians and eyeglasses (or contact lenses) aren’t covered under the Danish health system, and they can be very expensive.
Besides, interesting or colorful eyeglass frames are considered an acceptable way to individualize your look in Denmark, a place where almost everybody wears dark sweaters and dark trousers 365 days a year.
A few more things you might want to consider bringing along:
- Board games with English rules. Games are a great way to spend time with family and friends during the long Danish winters, but the local versions come with Danish rules. In the case of Matador, the Danish version of Monopoly, they also come with Danish place names.
- Personal documents you might need in Denmark, from vaccination records to eyeglass prescriptions to an international drivers’ license to a baptismal certificate (I recently needed to dig out one of these for my daughter when it was time for her to get confirmed.)
- An external hard drive for your laptop to back up your data on a regular basis. There is a lot of laptop and mobile phone theft in Denmark – mostly in trains, buses and restaurants, but sometimes laptops are also stolen during home break-ins. Better to be prepared.
- Plugs and converters for the Danish electrical system for your larger electrical devices.
- Stick deodorant if you use it; for some reason, Denmark offers mostly roll-ons.
- If you need dental care, get it before you leave your home country. Adult dentistry is not covered under the Danish public health system, and it’s often very expensive.
Denmark is a great place to live, but its high wages and generous social benefits for all means prices are for many things can seem shockingly high, although alcohol in supermarkets is a curious exception.
The general rule is to bring what you can with you, and spend your money in Denmark on food, rent, and events where you can have fun with friends and family.
Kay Xander Mellish is an American who has lived in Denmark for more than a decade. She is the author of the book How to Live in Denmark, which is available online and at the gift shop at the Danish National Museum, the Danish Parliament at Christiansborg, and the gift shop at Kronborg (Hamlet’s) castle. Book Kay for a keynote speech on Danish culture.