Denmark — The Unhappiest Expats in the Happiest Country in the World

An Expat Dilemma

In the expats’ eyes Denmark is one of the best countries in the world to have a family with great options for childcare. It is very safe, highly-digitized and it provides an amazing balance between work and leisure — but on an absolutely different extreme, it is the worst country when it comes to personal happiness, feeling at home, friendliness and finding friends. Denmark is overall the hardest place in the world to settle in, with a score of 63 out of 64 countries in 2019. It is precisely the category of “easy of settling in” that has been dragging Denmark’s place down. In fact, the yearly Expat Insider Survey Reports of 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014 show the same: Denmark is top most difficult place in the world to settle in!

The Expat Insider Survey Reports are come out of InterNations, the largest expat organization in the world with over 4 mil. registered members. The extensive surveys are about living and working abroad with over 20,000 respondents worldwide. It is important though to look at it critically and notice that there are approximately 75–200 respondents per country and in some cases as low as 40 if it concerns families. However, it is the sixth year in a row that Denmark does not really deviate much from its position. This year it scores the 48th out 64th best country to work and live in for expats. I obviously wonder why Denmark scores so poorly.

One could endlessly discuss e.g. what is personal happiness or own experience as an expat in Denmark. However, if we are to take the survey seriously, I think it is intriguing that Denmark, according to the 2019 World Happiness Report, has world’s second-happiest citizens, right after Finland. While we know that Denmark has been a champion in scoring top of the list when it comes to being the happiest country in the world, that in itself is a contradiction and it begs the question:

Why are the expats the unhappiest in the happiest country in the world?!

The survey continues with some further explanation: “For example, 70% of expats find it hard to make local friends (vs. 39% globally). Maybe this is the reason why expats in Denmark are more likely to be friends with other expats (56% vs. 34% globally), while only 10% say they are mainly friends with local people (vs. 19% globally). “The locals are not friendly towards foreigners,” a Portuguese expat thinks. “It is less easy to have a social life in Denmark than in other countries.” Maybe it is due to their lack of a social life that many expats (46%) do not feel at home in the local culture (vs. 23% globally), ranking the country 62nd in the Feeling at Home subcategory.

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Associate Professor, Globetrotter, Speaker & Facilitator

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