I Moved From Denmark to the US; Pros, Cons, and Why I Prefer the States

Estimated read time 5 min read

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Nick Olsen, x365 Fitness owner and CEO living near Salt Lake City. It has been edited for length and clarity. 

I was born and raised in Denmark and didn’t visit the United States until I was a teenager on study abroad. I stayed in LA with a host family. The culture shock was so great that I swore to my mom I’d never return to the States.

My outlook had changed by my mid-twenties. I met a woman while traveling in Thailand from Utah. We dated long-distance and then eventually married. I moved to Utah for her. For the last 15 years, I have lived full-time in the Salt Lake City area and run a successful fitness company, though my ex and I are now divorced.

I love Denmark, but there are more pros to living in the United States, which stopped me from returning to my home country after we separated.

My two children, whom I co-parent with my ex, live in Utah. But I also stay for the American culture and the entrepreneurial spirit fostered here. I value freedom over any other value, and the American business sector allows people to take risks in starting their businesses.

I’ve discovered some differences between the two countries over the years.

It’s easier to start a new business in the US than Denmark

The Danish system is not set up for establishing small businesses, and there’s a lot of red tape. First, you must get a CVR: your tax identification number. You can wait two to three weeks for this.

You can only go to a bank to open a business account once you’ve got your CVR. It’s then up to the Danish bank to do the next line of research and get you approved. So, if you are an ideas person who likes to act fast, Denmark is not the country for you. The process is simpler and cheaper in the US.

The Danish equivalent of the IRS is very intense. Denmark is not a socialist country, but it has strong welfare safety nets, like a free healthcare system that people must pay into. Depending on your income bracket, people pay up to 52% of their income in taxes. Denmark also has very high VAT.

The Danish tax system uses “foreskuds opgoerelse,” meaning Danish companies pay taxes on the projected revenue for the year at the start of the year.

Denmark also has strict legislation about employee benefits, such as extended sick leave guarantees, maternity and paternity leave with pay, and five weeks of vacation. Although this is great for employees, most start-ups don’t have the cash flow to achieve this. Danish entrepreneurs often work for free or as solo operators because they can’t afford to hire staff and guarantee the necessary benefits and security.

While it can be harder to start businesses in other parts of the United States, like New York and California, than in Utah, it is still much easier than starting a business in Denmark.

Denmark has ‘free’ healthcare, but it isn’t efficient

Danish people pay high taxes to support a healthcare system that is becoming less effective. In Denmark, If I got injured badly and had to go to a public hospital, where healthcare is free, I could wait nine or even 18 months to get the muscle tear fixed.

If you have private health insurance, a non-life-threatening injury can be treated in a few weeks. In Denmark, I had private insurance attached to my job, and the company that hired me paid for it. This way, I could afford to attend private hospitals.

The social aspect of the Danish system doesn’t work efficiently anymore, so patients are choosing private hospitals instead. If you have private health insurance and go to a private hospital, it will only take weeks to get surgery to fix an injury considered non-life-threatening, just like in the US, but without the higher taxes attached.

The Danish government encourages people to take more ownership of their health

In Denmark, there’s a sugar tax on candy. Cigarettes are also taxed more. The idea is to discourage people from consuming these products and then relying on the free healthcare system for treatment. Danish people understand that basic things can be done to fix up to 60 to 70% of health problems. These include exercising, drinking more water, and reducing sugar intake.

I prefer the Danish model of taxing unhealthy products. It encourages people to take responsibility for their choices and the resulting impact on their health. This approach works. Danish people live longer and are healthier than people in the US.

US citizens overwork themselves

While I love many Americans’ entrepreneurial spirit, I think people in the US could learn a bit from the Danish about taking a break.

When I got my first job in the US, my contract had only two weeks of paid vacation time. I laughed and said, “This is a mistake, right?” In Denmark, I had 10 weeks of paid vacation.

The Danish work less and take more time away to reinvigorate their creativity. Danes have a much better work-life balance because we learn from a young age that happiness comes from experiences, family, and nature. Not things you work yourself to death to maintain.

I was a manager in the Danish corporate world before moving to the US. As managers, we were trained as life and business coaches to encourage and help our employees maintain healthy habits like learning to take breaks from work.

On the other hand, there’s an expectation in corporate America that you must be this workhorse to succeed. Taking a break from work stress can help unlock your creativity again. It’s all about stress management. Americans could learn from Denmark on this topic.