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New study: Foreigners in Denmark have a hard time settling in

Highly skilled foreigners with jobs in Denmark have a harder time settling in than those who find work in countries such as Costa Rica and Portugal. The Danish language is a significant factor, which is why companies such as Haldor Topsøe offer language classes to foreign employees during or outside working hours.
Denmark ranks 63 out of 65 when it comes to settling in during the initial period as a foreigner in the country.

Publiceret: 08.11.2017
Af Sara Krog P. Knudsen mail

Moving to Denmark is not always easy. Not even if you’ve moved here because an employer has recruited you for your talent.
This was among the findings of a 2017 survey conducted by InterNations, an online community for expats across the globe.

Denmark is the world’s 30th best country to be a foreigner in if you have come here as a highly qualified worker. In the study, expat respondents highlight that one advantage to Denmark is that it is a safe country to live in.

Nevertheless, Denmark ranks 63 out of 65 when it comes to settling in during the initial period as a foreigner in the country. Among other things, respondents say that it is difficult to build social relations with Danes.

About half of the expat respondents in Denmark find that the language is a barrier to making friends with Danes, the same study shows. Meanwhile, the study also suggests that it is easier for companies to retain employees if they speak the language.

Haldor Topsøe teaches employees Danish

The offer of Danish lessons in order to retain foreign employees is something that Haldor Topsøe has had success with. All new employees from non-Scandinavian countries are offered 100 hours of Danish lessons during working hours.

“Many of our employees are highly educated, and they all speak English. One could therefore ask whether teaching them Danish is at all necessary. But we find that we have had success in retaining good foreign employees when they speak the language,” says Jesper Nerlov, CTO at Haldor Topsøe.

Out of the engineering firm’s 1,800 employees in Denmark, 110 come from non-Scandinavian countries, and many of them are employed in the company’s research department. Currently, 12 employees take part in the Danish language programme, which typically consists of one-on-one lessons.

For 35-year-old Thi Minh Nguyen, who is a chemical engineer and project manager in Haldor Topsøe’s research department, it was important to learn Danish if she was to feel at home in Denmark. 

“It has certainly had an effect on my desire to stay here. I definitely feel more comfortable after having learned the language. There are many situations where it is an advantage to be able to communicate with people in Danish - for example, at my children’s kindergarten. There, I have to speak Danish in order to talk to the other children,” says Thoa Thi Minh Nguyen.

She is originally from Vietnam but has studied and worked in England and Australia. Today, she has lived in Denmark for nine years and is glad that Haldor Topsøe gave her the opportunity to learn Danish. 

Danish lessons pay off

Studieskolen Business, which offers corporate language training, reports that they currently have about 100 companies participating in their programmes, where a company pays for employees to learn Danish - both during and outside working hours.

“Companies know that it pays off to offer language training if you wish to retain a foreign key employee,” says Katja Larsen-Davis, Business Manager at Studieskolen Business.

Katja Larsen-Davis explains that their clients are companies from all sectors, and they teach at both companies where employees speak Danish and English at the workplace.

She assesses that it takes three to four lessons a week if one wishes to work seriously with learning Danish.

See also: Denmark ranks low in the fight for the world’s best minds

DI’s message to companies: Offer Danish lessons


According to Linda Duncan Wendelboe, Head of Global Talent at the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI), the fact that expats have difficulty settling in may have an impact on Denmark’s ability to attract highly qualified workers in the long run.

“We often hear from international employees that it can be difficult to settle in in Denmark, and it can be a particular challenge to build social relations with Danes outside working hours. This can have an effect on how long international employees wish to stay in Denmark,” says Linda Duncan Wendelboe.

DI works to ensure that foreign employees have the best possible start in Denmark when they come to the country, among other things by working for quick integration of expats in local communities, but also by promoting Danish language training for expats.

“Many companies already prioritise making time for Danish lessons in the everyday, and they also realise how difficult it can be to learn Danish when you start a highly specialised job while also spending a lot of energy getting to know a new country and culture. Danish language training is a good investment, because it can help ensure that the international employee settles in and wishes to stay in Denmark,” says Linda Duncan Wendelboe.

We find that we have had success in retaining good foreign employees when they speak the language.
JESPER NERLOV, CTO AT HALDOR TOPSØE
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PUBLISHED: 11/8/2017 LAST MODIFIED: 11/8/2017