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'I felt like I was not enough': The trailing spouses who leave Denmark

Emma Firth
Emma Firth - [email protected]
'I felt like I was not enough': The trailing spouses who leave Denmark
Some companies now offer support packages for international employees' accompanying spouses. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

Over a quarter of internationals who leave Denmark earlier than planned do so because their spouse is unhappy, according to one recent expat study. It's something companies are now trying to help with.


Razvan Lar and his partner moved from Romania to Denmark in August 2022, after Razvan's partner was offered a job as a doctor at a Danish hospital. Seven months later, they were packing up their lives to return home, after the lack of support Razvan felt both in settling into Denmark and finding a job as a land surveyor.

"I started applying for jobs eight months before we moved and continued once we lived in Denmark. So many times, I just heard nothing back. Even recruiters who approached me, then didn't reply," Razvan explained to The Local.

In one instance, Razvan was under the impression he had a job offer, after a telephone interview ended with details about working hours, salary and signing a contract.

"I heard nothing back. I called the HR department and they had no idea what I was talking about. Then HR promised to get back to me but didn't. I eventually found out they hired someone else without informing me." 
Denmark jobs Razvan Lar moved to Denmark in August 2022 and left in March 2023
The relentless job-search started to impact Razvan and his partner.
"It's really hard being a foreigner and finding a job in Denmark. I felt like I was not enough and that my skills were not enough and that's not true, but I felt like that and I felt useless. I went to Danish language school but in the end all it felt like I was doing was sitting at home and cleaning," Razvan said.


As many as 27 percent of internationals who leave Denmark earlier than planned, do so because their partner or spouse is unhappy, according to a 2020 expat study from Oxford Research. An even greater 33 percent of the internationals surveyed said that better career opportunities for their partner or spouse would have made them stay in Denmark.
According to another survey carried out this year for the non-profit organisation Digital Hub Denmark with HBS Economics, two out of five foreign IT professionals who come to Denmark from abroad, leave within a year because their partner cannot find work.
According to the report, almost half of the international IT professionals who come to Denmark, arrive with their partner with them but of those, only 60 percent are still in the country after a year if their partner has been unable to find employment.
"When you have applied for a job from outside of Denmark and got it, you're often meeting a niche in that company and there’s no expectation you know how the Danish system works," Leslea Petersen, CEO of English Job Denmark, told The Local.
"But once you are here and have got a Danish address, a Danish phone number, there is an expectation you understand the Danish work culture. This is what happens with accompanying spouses, who often expect to get their job in Denmark as quickly as their partner."
She said that trailing spouses are often disappointed not to be able to find work as easily as they would in their home countries.

"Once in Denmark, they then apply for a job in the same way they would in their home country and it doesn't work," she explained. "People can spend from six months to a year trying that because they don’t know how it works, they don't understand the unwritten rules."


This process can have a negative effect on spouses' or partners' mental wellbeing.
"They lose all their confidence and have sometimes even burnt bridges because they've applied 20 times to the same company," she said. "So a lot then get fed up while the partner goes off to work all day and they can get depressed."
Petersen helps accompanying spouses gain insights into the Danish workplace and culture, helping them build a network, write a Danish style CV and cover letter. She also works with companies so that a spouse support package is part of their international recruitment process.

"Companies have started to think this way because it's so expensive to recruit and if you’re losing people, it will cost you more.  So if you're applying for a job here, ask your company for a supporting package for your spouse," she told The Local.


After more than a year of job applications, Razman was still unemployed and feeling increasingly isolated. In March 2023, seven months after moving, he and his partner were both offered good jobs back in Romania and decided to leave Denmark.
"Rationally this was the best option and for us to survive as a couple because me being at home all the time was a little depressing," Razman said. "But the decision was confusing I would say. On the one hand we knew it was the right thing but on a sentimental level, we felt a part of us was left in Denmark.
"I really loved Denmark but small things, small gestures, they really matter. We had to find out how to manage a lot of things, it wasn't easy. Denmark is beautiful and has a lot of advantages but it always came with feeling alone."

He appreciates the help organisations are doing for accompanying spouses but thinks there should be a government initiative to provide a more comprehensive support system.

"There has to be more programmes for spouses. We are not the ones who are lucky to be there, we are professionals," he said.


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