Help in understanding customs duties

Many of us have been stung with a bill for VAT and customs charges for gifts or purchases from outside the EU. It is frustrating (and costly) if you are not expecting this and also there is a carrier charge applied in addition to the costs from SKAT (the tax office) which can exceed the cost of the VAT and duty charges. You need to pay the entire bill to get your parcel released from customs.I don’t want to repeat the information from SKAT as I want it to be as accurate as possible for you so this is the link to look at so you understand the implications of buying from outside the EU and also receiving gifts. Here is the link to the SKAT webpage in English.

It is important to note that if you buy from a website based inside the EU these charges do not apply and you will be subject to appropriate VAT when you make your purchase – whether that is with Amazon or any other business in the EU which will deliver here.

When you receive the notice from the mail carrier i.e. PostNord or DHL, you can pay via a website and then the parcel will be released for collection at a local post office drop off for you to collect.

It is important to take these costs in to considering, especially around Christmas when people do a lot of online shopping. One particular place to be aware of these charges is Etsy, as many of the small producers on this website are based outside the EU so make sure you check where the item will be sent from before you order.

You may also find this post about using postal services useful.

How to clean your floors

Moving from a house with carpets to a rental with wooden floors is a daunting prospect. You want to keep it clean, make sure you don’t damage the floors. There are a number of floor cleaning products you need to know about and honestly its not as stressful as it seems at first.

Universal Rengøring (universal cleaner) is exactly what it says however there are special ones for different uses i.e. bathroom, kitchen, windows etc but the picture on the front helps with this. Some need to be diluted and others can be used straight from the spray bottle.

Floor cleaners are something that can cause some angst especially if you have no experience of looking after a wood floor and like many people renting apartments here will be all you will have.

Brun Sæbe – literally this means brown soap. It can be used on tiles, slate, marble, untreated and lacquered wood.

Probat Hvid – this is a brand name white soap but you can find other makes. It can be used on tiles and wood. It creates a protective soap layer which repells dirt.

Træsæbe and Træsæbe hvid – there are a basic soap and a white soap to be used on wood floors.

Natursæbe – this can be used on tiles, bricks, marble and lino floors.

All the above should be used regularly to clean your floor with a mop and bucket after you have hoovered or swept the floor.

From DIY shops such as Silvan, Bauhaus and Harald Nyborg you can buy special fast drying oils to treat your floors to keep them protected. It might be worth checking with your landlord about what they prefer you use.

Gulvolie (below) is an oil treatment for wooden floors and is fast drying. It comes in white, clear, matt and gloss.

Oliefrisker is an alternative to the natursæbe mentioned above, and adds a protective coat on the floor and into the wood. It is to be used on oiled and wax treated floors.

All the above is general guidance to cleaning products but do check with your landlord if you are still concerned about the correct ones to use.

Buying a home in Denmark

Many expats find the price of renting a home here too expensive and look at the possibility of buying their own place as the mortgage repayments are less than renting.We first bought an apartment in Østerbro back in 2014. We had returned from Germany at the beginning of 2013 and took a beautiful rental apartment in Frederiksberg. The rent was more than we could afford in the long-term and the rental contract was only for 18 months. As we knew we’d like to live in Denmark for good, the obvious thing was to buy somewhere. Moving from a rental to your own apartment is much simpler than both buying and selling as we found out in 2016 when we decided to move from Østerbro to Amager.

I have gathered some online resources here to help first time expat buyers. Robinhus, a Danish estate agent, has a really useful guide to buying property here as an expat. International House also has a useful page. 

Unless you have lived in Denmark for a period of at least 5 years, you must obtain permission from the Danish Ministry of Justice (Justitsministeriet) to buy property. However, this restriction does not apply if you are an EU-citizen, and if the property is to be used as a permanent residence.

In regard to getting a mortgage, the larger the deposit you have the more appealing you will be to lenders. First try your own bank and see what they think about the amount you would like to borrow and the deposit you have. If they don’t offer you what you would like then try other banks. We moved all our banking from Nordea to Nykredit to secure the mortgage we needed. The process, like more bureaucracy in Denmark, is pretty straightforward once you have found a bank to lend you the money. Don’t feel downhearted if the first bank can’t help you.

If you already own a property here and you plan to sell it and buy another place, we found that unless we had sold our place or took out a bridging loan, most sellers were not interested in taking an offer from us. We found an amazing house but as we were yet to sell our place they didn’t even entertain our offer.

It is normal for there to be open houses at properties for sale and these usually take place on a Sunday. If you plan your day well you can see a number of places in one day. You can, of course make a private viewing appointment. We found boliga.dk was the best portal for looking for a new place.

It is normal for your never to see the owner of the properties for sale. You will be shown around by an estate agent. I think this is because Danes are very proud of their homes and would not want to see someone have a negative reaction to their lovely hyggeligt home.

When you are buying property you need to be aware of extra taxes you may need to pay. Sales materials put together by estate agents will have tables explaining these costs etc and it is a good idea to ask the estate agent to go over one of these with you so you understand how it all work. The tables are the same on all documents so once you understand one you can understand them all. This guide can help understand property tax and other tax issues.

I hope this helps out.

DOKK1 in Århus

I have been over to Århus a few times this year as I am supporting Copenhagen Housing‘s Århus arm in offering packages to people relocating to this city. One morning there I stopped by the public library/space DOKK1.

It is hard to define this fabulous places as just a library as it offers so much more. It is a library in the traditional sense with books etc to loan and it also houses a borgerservice section, but the rest of the library is dedicated to places for people to meet and have fun. All the spaces connect so the children’s section is not hidden away from the rest of the space. There is a feeling of flow and connection within the building and this makes it a very flexible space. One day a section could be a play area, another day an auditorium.The part that really blew me away was the children’s section, with games, places to play, dressing up boxes, a puppet theatre and a section where they can play with things we forty somethings remember from our childhood like a typewriter, something completely alien to our kids in the smartphone generation. There are also sections for study, relax, enjoy a coffee and also places where events take place. DOKK1 has an extensive list of monthly events.

A lovely little quirk is that this huge gong sounds every time a baby is born in Århus Hospital.And the best thing is all this is free as it is a publicly funded place, through taxes and business support. If you are in Århus, I would definitely recommend a visit to here. The architecture inside and out is amazing and if you are with kids of any ages it is a wonderful to spend an hour or two.

Whilst we have great library facilities in Copenhagen, I think the city could really benefit from a place like this, aimed at the community and used by them.

Moving out etiquette

There has been something of an unintentional break here due to sickness (mine and my son’s) and then moving into our new house on Amager. I like to get the boxes unpacked as soon as I can and this time we are lucky enough to have a carport to store the empties in rather than simply moving them from one space to another. We are seeing the end of boxes now and I had a lovely surprise of opening one to find that it was only half full of things and the rest was packing paper.

When we moved in we discovered a lot of stuff left behind by the previous owners, some of which is useful and other stuff not so much. It made me think about the etiquette of moving out of somewhere. I may be a bit too nice to people who move in after me but here goes.

One – do a general clean and tidy For example wipe out all your cupboards. You don’t need to go mad but a quick swipe with a damp cloth is enough. Give the bathroom a clean. Mow the grass. If you have a pet make sure there are now hairy mats for people to discover.

Two – clean your white goods  A lot like above it doesn’t need to be a deep clean but people appreciate a clean washing machine drawer, if nothing else. It is amazing how many people think that something that cleans other things cleans itself – they do not and there is often a lot of scum left around dishwasher doors and in the washing machine. In our last place the washing machine had such a build up of dirty soap and goodness knows what else throughout the whole machine that it, and all clothes washed in it, stank of ponds (needless to say we needed to replace it).

Three – leaving stuff behind Now in fairness some of the things the previous owners of our place left were great and we were delighted. Some we could make use of but wouldn’t necessarily chose and other stuff should simply have been taken to the dump, which is less than ten minutes away. It is polite to give the buyers of your place the choice to take things but lazy and cheeky to simply leave it. The toilet brush full of brown water was not something I was not pleased to discover.

Four – empty your wheelie bins I think this speaks for itself as no one want to move in to find all their bins full and no clue as it when bin day is.

Five – refuse info  Now this is one where people have to be really nice but when we moved in to discover the aforementioned full bins it would have been super to know the bins days. A quick note on a piece of paper on the fridge would have enough. Interestingly you can find your bins days on the kommune website (I have a post about waste and refuse coming up soon – should be useful to many people) but I missed one before I had time to find it and then had nowhere to put our rubbish.

Six – stuff you should leave Paint pots so people can touch up any marks with the same colour. All manuals for appliances. Takeaway menus for local places.

Seven – a bottle of wine I’ve never done this one but wouldn’t it be nice to have a bottle of fizz waiting there for you to toast your new home with?

Thankfully I didn’t have the experience my parents had when we moved into a new place when I was about three. There were brown smears on the walls, which my mum was convinced were poo, fleas in the carpets (which promptly were ripped up and thrown out of the windows) and the power disconnected and all the wires for the cooker ripped out. All on one of the coldest days of the winter.

What do you think? Any horror stories or things to do to add to the list?

 

Guide to using the post in Denmark

How to use a post office varies from country to country so I thought I’d write a quick guide to using the post office here in Denmark. This is also useful to people who have been living here a while as when PostNord took over the postal service here there were some changes to how it works. There are also very few (if any) separate post offices and they tend to be in supermarkets etc, which gives longer open hours. For that reason I have referred to them as post houses rather than post offices.Sending a letter 

You can send a letter up to 50g within Denmark for 8dkk but it can take up to five working days.

There is something called Quickbreve which is 27dkk for up to 100g within Denmark and they go everyday but you need to go to the post office i.e. in the supermarket etc to do post this.  There is more about the mobile apps below but if you want to use this on the app you need to swipe up to select it. Don’t post in a normal letter box though!

Sending parcels

It is very expensive to post parcels here. One way you can save a little is to print your own label using your home printer or to use the system at one of the Pakkeboksen (Parcel Boxes). These are red box systems located in various places such as stations and smaller supermarkets. You can sent parcels up to 20kg outside Denmark and 35kg inside the country. Link here

Other option for posting parcels are pakke.dk (you again need to print out your label) or DHL.dk

PostNord App and website

Once you have downloaded the PostNord App (Mobilporto) you can do a lot of things without having to go to the post office.

  • You can buy postage for letter up to 2kg (so this covers smaller parcels), you get a code to write on your letter in the place of a postage stamp.
  • You can buy package labels

By clicking through to Postnord (at the top righthand side of the app)

  • You can follow your package
  • Arrange Modtagerflex, which allows you to register with the post an agreed place where they can leave your parcel. It is in English.
  • You can sign up to Pakkeboksen (more later)

On the Postnord website you can

  • Find postcodes, post houses, Pakkeboksen and post boxes.
  • You can register a change of address
  • You can register Nej tak to having junk mail in your letter box i.e. brochures from the supermarkets etc.
  • And buy postage.

Pakkeboksen

I have mentioned these above. They are red boxes where parcels can be securely sent and received once you have registered in the website or app. You select the location best for you (this can be changed). There is a search section to help you with this. You then use a unique number and the address of the pakkeboksen when you are shopping online. You then receive a text or email telling you when it is ready to collect.

Collecting parcels at the post house

When you have a parcel to collect you need the slip of paper from the postman or your text/email with the parcel details. Take care to check which post house it has been taken to as sometimes they can send to a different one (there have been time when I have assumed it is the usual location and it is somewhere else). You will need some ID to collect it – usually your CPR card is enough but its a good idea to take some photo ID just in case.

You can have someone else collect it on your behalf but you must complete and sign to Engangsfuldmagt on the back of the slip. Usually I write that I have given my husband (and name him) to collect my parcel.

Tips to make your post house experience better

You will need to pay by cash or Dankort. They do not accept foreign cards.

You can pay bills at the post office if you don’t want to do it online.

Taking the correct ticket to queue can be tricky and usually they are kind if you have made a mistake and are clearly not Danish. If there is an option that says afhentning this is for collecting parcels etc, the other option (which seems to vary) is for other services. Like most places here you take you number and wait for it to come up.

Getting hold of ‘food from home’ in Copenhagen

It is important to accept that food in a new country will be different to your own and that adaptation is essential to really settle in however it would be silly to deny that we all sometimes miss food from our home countries. When I was pregnant I suddenly really wanted certain British food that were impossible to get here so my lovely husband slaved away in the kitchen and produce things such as Cornish Pasties for me. You may also have loads of cook books which require ingredients that are impossible to find easily, for example self-raising flour. I can tell you that the version here produced by Amo is really not up to much!

As time goes on you miss things less but in the early days the comfort of finding your favourite food can really help in adjustment. I thought today I would pull together a list of places where you can find ‘food from home’.english foodFor the Brits and Americans it is a little easier. Meny has a reasonable selection of produce although some of the choices they make baffle me but I guess they know their customers. There is also online places such as Abigails (which used to have a bricks and mortar shop but is now online) and The British Corner Shop (which I personally use).

If you happen to be heading over the Bridge, The English Shop in Malmo stocks English, Australian and South African food and they also offer mail order.

If you are looking for Kosher food then Copenhagen Kosher in Østerbro is the place for you.polish foodPolish food can be found in a couple of places I know of. Den Polske Købmand in Christianshavn and Delikatesy Polskie at  Aboulevarden 32. For online shopping there is also Polski Koszyk which I think delivers here. Eurodeli  also has food from Bulgaria. Russia, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Hungary, Ukraine and Poland.

Indian groceries can be found in a few places but I hear the best are Golden Foods (also known as Double Diamond) in Valby (although from their website it is a little confusing as to the location) and Spice Mart on Vesterbrogade.

Asian fresh food can be found in the small selection of grocers behind the main station, mainly on Colbjørnsensgade, as well as in other shops on Istedgade. There is a small Asian supermarket in Østerbro called Asien Supermarket.italianFor Italian food then the huge supermarket, Supermarco is the place to go. And for French food with a price tag then Ma Poule in Torvehallerne is a great place to go.

I think I have covered all the place I know but do leave a comment if you can recommend another international grocers you would like me to add.

Feeling unsettled in temporary housing

I was reminded of the chapter in my book about living in temporary accommodation as I realised that I had not followed all my own advice. We have been living in a temporary apartment since the beginning of December and will probably be here until March. It is a lovely apartment and we are very lucky to be able to stay here whilst the owners are in Asia backpacking. However it takes time to find your groove in someone else’s home. Simple routine things such as where you leave your handbag and keys when you come in, without your usual spot, means that brain power is needed to remember in the morning as you rush out the door. Usually routine activities don’t use a lot of brain power but living in a strange place they do.img_7418We also have to use the communal tumble dryer, which has been a great way to meet people, but also adds an element of extra planning to the day especially as the washing machine in the apartment uses the shower water taps so needs to be put on by the last person out and if forgotten adds even more rush to the day.

Also finding that you didn’t bring all the things you actually needed. We tried not to bring too much stuff here but there were little things we forgot as we didn’t really think too far ahead. I travelled to the UK last weekend and we have another trip planned in the school break but I forgot to pack our adapter plugs. I hate to use the world’s resources to buy things I already own so I was lucky that a Facebook appeal to the parents in my son’s class meant I had some to borrow. I also didn’t think that I would need any smart ‘work’ clothes in the few months we are here and a work trip plus a variety of meetings coming up means that was a mistake and a trip to H&M and wearing the same smart outfit – perhaps it will become my signature look.

But we do have most of my crafting supplies, Christmas decorations, winter boots (but no smart shoes), a ton of Lego and my one cup cafetière and milk frother. All useful but not essentials things.

Whilst my husband is more situational, both my son and I are ready to resume normal life as neither of us enjoys too much change, and by that we mean one with all the Lego, more than three cookbooks, a wider selection than just a very basic wardrobe, pretty books like this and this and cheese knives! I am certainly not a minimalist!

On a serious note, whilst all these things seem a little trivial and we are in a familiar place so there is a lot less stress living in a temporary place in a new city, it is obvious to see how living in a transitional home whilst house hunting in a new city can be stressful. Yes, you have all the things you need but not your own.

There was a great piece of advice in my book from another Brit who moved here last year and spent some months in an AirBNB whilst they searched for permanent home.

Make sure you take a few small boxes of things that make you feel like this new home is your home. Not just the clothes and the essentials, but a couple of items which connect your present to your past, and make you feel like you’re not standing still in somebody else’s house. My husband and I packed our adored bed linen, a few choice books, and the hearty casserole dish we use every Sunday which was a wedding present. When everything is overwhelming, foreign and confusing, it can make a world of difference to slip into your own sheets at the end of the day.

Scientists often talk about two types of thinking. There is the type in which we very actively think and this uses up a ton of energy and then there is the automatic thinking we do, which is about 90 percent of all our thinking, and take very little energy. Usually activities such as food shopping, driving and repetitious everyday activities fall into the latter category. But when we move to a new place, everyday things can start to fall into active thinking and drain our energy reserves. Which explains how stressful life can become when you move to a new place full of the unknown.

Valby – the new alternative to city living

Increasingly people looking for rental apartments in the more central areas of Copenhagen are finding the market is getting tougher and tougher. Families are competing against groups of young people looking to share larger apartments and the number of properties of a suitable size for families are thin on the ground.Valby-StationMany people are looking at moving to areas further out of the city in a bid to find affordable but decent accommodation. Valby is certainly a district of the city that offers a great alternative to living in Frederiksberg or Vesterbro (both competitive and increasingly expensive areas). So what are the plus points of Valby?

Firstly public transport there are regular buses from the centre of Valby into Frederikberg and beyond and out towards Fields. The trains from Valby station take just 11 minutes into Nørreport and it is located in Zone 2 so no extra fares if you have a normal two zone travel pass.

Valby is well served for shopping with a number of supermarkets (Irma, Kvickly, Netto, Meny and Fakta) to choose from and the small shopping centre, Spinderiet, with all the usual suspects you would come to expect from BR, Tiger, Søstrene Grene, H&M etc. There is also a great, thriving high street with a number of individual shops including bakeries, butchers and fishmongers. Valby is not the place for hipsters or trendsetters but it certainly offers everything you need.CIMG3071There are lots of lovely little coffee shops and cafes, mainly centred on and around Valby Langgade. For entertainment there is a small cinema, Valby Kino, a number of restaurants both local and smaller chains such as Halifax Burger and Sticks and Sushi. There is a Big Bowl bowling centre close to the station.

There is a small library with a borgerservice (kommune advice centre) and for children there are a few small playgrounds. If you are English-speaking and looking for private daycare for your under six year old there are two options in the area (both possibly with waiting lists), The International Montessori Preschool and Kids r Os.

The huge park Sondermarken is an easy walk from Valby and offers a large children’s playground and lots of space to run around, exercise or just have a picnic. Through the park it is just a short walk to the Zoo and Frederiksberg Have. At the end of Valby furthest from the city is the vast Valbyparken which offers the largest nature playground in Denmark. The park also has a beautifully laid out rose garden and other themed gardens. You can easily reach this park by bus or bike from the centre of Valby.

Valby Hallen is a large multi purpose leisure complex and next to this is Valby Vandkulturhus (water culture centre). This is a swimming stadium for the whole family, which also offers a large wellness area. It is also renowned as a low-energy pool which uses 25% less energy than other similar places in the country.

Cisternerne is also located in Sondermarken and offers interesting exhibitions.  The film company Nordisk Film is located in Valby and offers guided tours of their studios. Carlsberg  Visitors Centre and TAP1 are also very close.

A downside of Valby is that is feels a little tattier and older than its trendier or posher neighbours of Vesterbro and Frederiksberg. There is more mindless graffiti here than in the neighbouring districts.  As an expat you may feel that it is a little too old school Danish for you – there is certainly a genuine mix of older Danes, working class people as well as newer immigrants and young families. It is not a slick and trendy part of town but it feels as if it has a heart. Here’s what Visit Copenhagen has to say about it.

In the next few years the area around Carlsberg will undergo massive redevelopment under the name of Carlsberg Byen. This will result in more commercial, residential and academic locations opening up and will change the face of this area. There will be a new metro station at the bottom of the hill on Frederiksberg Alle and Enghave Station is in the process of being moved closer to Carlsberg.  I believe this will impact on Valby and will perhaps bring it more to people’s minds as a destination or a place to live, perhaps it may yet become a hipster haven, in the meantime it is a great option if you are looking to rent a larger family apartment but still enjoy the benefits of the city.

Photo 1 credit plus interesting facts about Valby.

Things to do with children under three in Copenhagen

Living in Copenhagen with under school age children can pose a problem if you decide not to send them to daycare or if you are waiting for a place in one. I wrote about things to do with preschool age children here but I notice that there are a lot of parents with under three year olds looking of ideas to keep them entertained, especially when the weather isn’t very playground friendly. So here are my ideas of places to go (all of these are things I did with my son when he was this age).Blegdamsremisen, 681x426px

Blegdamsremisen at Trianglen, Østerbro

If you are looking for a soft play place then this is the place for you. It is housed in a huge, old tram garage and run by the Kommune. There is a large room with climbing structures suitable for babies and toddlers plus open space to run about in. Outside the main room there is a cosy area to eat snacks, warm up food and refresh yourselves (no food is provided) plus a large Lego room (which is separated so littles can’t get in), a room with a few pets such as fish and gerbils and other toys such as Brio train sets and dolls’ houses. It is open throughout the week and manned by specialist staff. Tuesdays and Thursdays between 8.30 and 12 noon it is open for only 0-3 year olds. It is always free entry. For more information visit their webpage here (in Danish).

Capella Play, Fields Shopping Centre

This is another soft play centre but this one you need to pay entry for. It is located on the top floor of the large Fields Shopping Centre and has areas for younger children. It can get busy. For more information visit their Facebook page.

Libraries

All libraries in Copenhagen and Frederiksberg offer children’s play areas, some are larger than others. The best ones are in the main Copenhagen library on Kristalgade, Frederiksberg Main Library located close to Frederiksberg Centre and the one in Ørestad Library. You can expect to find toys such as wooden forts, galleons, dolls’ houses, soft bean bags and of course access to books and other toys for loan. The libraries offer a programme for children of all ages (usually in Danish) so it’s worth looking at their websites for this and getting on mailing lists. Østerbro Main Library has a programme specifically through Copenhagen Cultural Network for English speaking children (and adults).

Music classes in churches

Many churches offer music classes for under threes where they can sing, bash instruments and socialise with other babies and toddlers. If you have a church nearby check out their notice boards for forthcoming classes. You usually need to book a place quickly and you need to commit to a block of sessions. These classes are usually relatively inexpensive and even if you don’t speak Danish they can be stimulating for babies and toddlers.

LINK playgroup

LINK ( Ladies International Network København) run a weekly English playgroup in Hellerup which is open to anyone not just LINK members and you pay for each session. It is on every Wednesday morning 9.45-11.30. They also have a Music and Movement class also open to non members every Friday 10am – 10.45am. There is no need to book, just turn up. Latest information on both these can be found here.

Rygårds Playgroup

Rygårds International School in Hellerup also run a playgroup in their canteen every Monday from 9.15 until 11.15. For more information email rygaardsplaygroup@gmail.com

Sweet Surrender, Vesterbro and Laundromat, various locations

This is probably the only cafe specifically set up to directly welcome young families. It is cosy with nice food and run by volunteers. There is a lovely little play area for babies and toddlers and the perfect place to meet up with other mums.  The Laundromat Cafe (three locations in the city) is also very gear up for younger children with a dedicated play area with big chunky toys and a child-friendly menu.

Museums

Don’t avoid museums with babies and toddlers. Many of the museums here have specific sections dedicated to small children and it is a great way to stimulate babies and toddler plus helping them get used to how to behave in different environments. You can read my thoughts on museums and kids here.

Swimming Pools

Most swimming pools have baby pools here – some you need to book slots in specific baby session and others you can just turn up. Although one of the more expensive pools in the city, DGI has a huge, shallow pool for babies and toddlers and excellent changing rooms. Here is the programme of classes to book. Full list of the city’s pools here and the one in Frederiksberg.

Cinemas

Cinemas in Copenhagen offer what is called Baby Bio where you can take your baby into the cinema with you whilst you watch a movie. The cinema is kept a little lighter and the film less loud so you can bring your baby into the theatre with you. But if your baby needs to sleep you can leave them outside in the lobby in their pram and the cinema staff will keep an eye on them and alert you if your baby starts to cry. Check your local cinema for listings.

Photo credit