I’m in the midst of renewing my visa. When I moved here, I committed to at least 3 years. That was a comfortable timeframe because I could have the experience of traveling and working abroad, and still be back in the US before I turned 40. You know… old enough for the adventure, young enough to recover ;-)
Visa renewal time feels like a natural crossroads and a good time to reflect on where I am and where I want to be. I haven’t felt a strong urge to leave, but looking back through my blog over these past years, I can see the ebb and flow of my life here, and it’s really been a mixed bag.
I filed for a visa extension two months ago but my application has not been processed, which means that in order to go to Paris, I had to apply in person for a “re-entry permit,” which is absurd because I am in fact living here legally while they review my application. I’m also working, paying taxes, and own property here. To add to this hassle, I have to drive to an immigration office 40 minutes away before next Tuesday so they can affix this “permit” to my passport. In addition to the several hours of my time this is going to take, gas is about $9/gallon.
Then there’s the language classes. All new residents have the opportunity to take language classes free for three years. I promptly signed up for classes when I moved here, had a horrible time, quit, then went back this past September and made it a priority. I felt I was making good progress, then I got a letter telling me that I’d been in Denmark for nearly three years and that I will soon be ineligible for the language classes. If I continue at my own cost, it will be about $3200 per level, which given the quality of the instruction is most definitely not worth it. Not only am I barely conversational after almost a year of classes, but my level one teacher used to smirk at my pronunciation. When I confronted her, she folded like a cheap suit.
I get why the government would prefer that people stay in classes continuously for the three years. However, I’m here on a visa for highly skilled workers with a minimum salary requirement, if I lose my job or fall below the salary requirement, my visa will be revoked. I’m not a foreign spouse or a refugee without a job who has nothing to do but sit in class for 20 hours a week. I don’t have a Dane at home to practice with. I’m a cash cow who came here to work, I didn’t come here to settle. Denmark wanted me to come because it needs foreigners to pay into the tax system at a high rate, without being eligible for the same benefits as its citizens who pay the same tax rate. It’s a business. I’m a customer, so maybe a little flexibility would be in order here. How about 3 years of classes, cumulatively? After all, these language classes are pretty much the only “benefit” I get in exchange for my 50% income tax contribution.
That, and free healthcare. Right. Free healthcare. About a month ago, I noticed a big, black floater in my left eye. It’s horrible. It’s like I’m being haunted by a mosquito in my peripheral vision during every waking moment. I read that sudden onset of floaters can be an indication of something serious… if not a detached retina, then high blood pressure, stress, a Lasik complication, etc. According to online booking, the soonest I could see my doctor was in six weeks. So, I emailed her my symptoms, telling her that I’d had the floater for over two weeks, and would like to see her sooner, or have a referral to a specialist. She wrote back, “are you sure it isn’t just dirt in your eye.” I guess you get what you pay for. Aside from my initial good experience with socialized healthcare, it has in fact lived up to every expectation I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post.
These are three major examples from my life right now that make me question my investment here. My income tax contribution over these past three years has entered the six figure range.That’s a hefty membership fee.
But none of these things alone are enough to make me pack up and go. I have a great job, a fabulous apartment, I’m seeing so much of Europe, I’ve met people who have made my life better, and I’m still glad I came. My perspective on many things has changed dramatically, and I would not have this world view if I’d stayed home. Still, I think it’s important to take advantage of life’s natural pauses to reevaluate my options.
So, almost three years in and that’s where I am. One foot in, one foot out, thinking a lot, and dreaming of living in an old farmhouse in the Danish countryside… or giving it all up again to buy a falafel truck and live in a converted church in Vermont :)
I don’t know if you have these where you live but I’ve had much better luck learning danish with the FVU danish classes and they’re free for everyone even if you’ve been over here for more than 3 years.
Oh gosh, now you have me hanging on what you are going to do! Don’t forget to tell us please!
You really got me thinking. Clearly, you can put a price on the experience and adventure. Since you don’t envision yourself as a permanent ex-pat (there anyway), you must continue to save and invest for retirement and life expenses in the U.S. while feeding the beast of a meter in Denmark. One can pursue some great travel from the U.S. with that kind of money.
As for quality of life, the work/life balance, benefits and vacation time are probably far better where you are. In the U.S., what good is making money if you work all the time and top out at 3 weeks of vacation per year. And what about children, which seemed more doable there than in the U.S.
If you’re still enamored with living outside of the U.S., are there other countries where you could be transferred via your current company, or other employers that would pave the way in another country? …A place about which you’re more passionate, with a more simpatico language curve (and more moderate taxation)? Where it wouldn’t take years of bureaucracy and money to get settled? Is it inconceivable to think about another transition?
Anonymous: Thanks for the tip. If I decide to give it another shot, I’ll check out FVU.
Debbie: Don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted :) But the big announcement is probably long way off, there’s so much to think about!
The work/life balance here cannot be beat, add that to the fact that I love my work and it’s a tough call. But, I’m paying into a system that has made very clear that it will not take care of me later on. My net pay here is less than it was in the US after taxes, insurance, and the max. 401K contribution. While I love my 6 weeks off, and the 37.5 hour work week, neither of those things are going to support me in my retirement years. I have to be smart. This is a great system for people who will spend their whole lives here, but for the rest of us, it’s just too expensive and exclusive.
I’m turning 38 next week, so kids probably aren’t in the cards, but if they were, this would be the place to have them. This is a great country for families!
I don’t think I have another move like this in me. Maybe if it were something easy like the UK where I knew the language and the culture was similar to the US, and the parts that weren’t similar appealed to me, but another foreign move alone is probably more hassle than it’s worth. Looking back, it was sheer naïveté that got me through those early days here.
I have so many thoughts about my experience with living here, I hope I can share more of it someday. I love many things about Denmark, but there are big things that I know I will never come to accept in time. It really is complex.