Copenhagen, Denmark, Expat life, Personal, Travel, Uncategorized

My (very emotional) experience flying from the UK and into Denmark during Covid-19 restrictions

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been trying to fly to Copenhagen both because of my new job offer there and because my visa in the UK is about to expire. After several canceled flights with British Airways, I managed to book a route with Lufthansa which would take me from LHR (Heathrow) to FRA (Frankfurt) and finally to CPH (Copenhagen). I got up real early the morning of the 20th May – around 4.00 am – to catch my flight at London Heathrow.

As I was getting ready and gathering all my luggage I had a moment of dizziness – like of an existential kind. It suddenly hit me that I’m doing this all alone and that nobody was about to hold my hand and tell me everything will be ok. I’m about to self deport from a country I’ve lived in for almost 10 years and fly straight into a country I’ve never lived in before (and one with ongoing border closures no less). I’m leaving all my friends in the UK behind, and they wouldn’t even be able to visit me (for a good while anyway). My family are on the other side of the world and it will be a while until we reunite too. All this in the middle of a global pandemic. What if something goes wrong? What if I get stranded? It’s a lot of uncertainty. Obviously these were thoughts I had all along, but I guess in the lockdown state coronavirus has a way of making everything seem as if its on hold indefinitely, suspended in time, and really far away somehow. So I hadn’t quite grasped that what I was about to do, and had been meticulously planning for months to do (that is, to leave the UK and open a completely new chapter in life in Denmark), would actually happen. Like right now.

I’ve probably had two comparable moments of existential dizziness in my life – the first time was when I moved to Vienna as a child, with absolutely no knowledge of German or English. I was enrolled in an international school, and on the first day of school I begged my mom not to leave me in that strange environment – full of people speaking a strange language I didn’t understand (English, haha). I felt completely vulnerable, completely helpless, completely alone, and unable to communicate with either my peers or my teachers. Of course, after the terror of being dropped off on my first day of school in Vienna I never looked back. I made friends from every corner of the planet. I also didn’t just get good at English. I practically became a native English speaker within the same year. The person I became as a result of all those experiences led then to the second dizziness – the day I moved to the UK to study by myself at the age of 18 with nothing but a suitcase and a head full of dreams. I wasn’t sure what would actually come out of it in the end – only that I was going ahead with with the move regardless.

And here I am now, three degrees later and a lifetime’s worth of ups and downs to remember the years by. Needless to say, a lot really has happened in my life in the UK. Hell, I was set on getting permanent residency in the UK for the longest time, a ‘dream’ that I only recently gave up. The decision to go to Denmark only entered the picture, well, around the time I got the job in Copenhagen – right as coronavirus started rapidly spreading around Europe. It’s surreal to be uprooted and thrust back into the nebulosity of potentials.

Anyway – I sat quietly for a few minutes to compose my thoughts and emotions. Then I was off to the airport. A generous friend of mine drove me there, which was a lovely send off. I can’t imagine how people who need to do essential international travel actually get around these days without help – coach services to the airport are still not running and trains are a nightmare, not to mention expensive!

[The most beautiful sunrise ever keeps me awake for the journey.]

When I arrive at Heathrow airport, it’s very quiet. Everything seems a bit muffled. Facemasks are handed out at the entrance and there are signs everywhere reminding people to keep a minimum 2m distance from each other. Check-in was easy. I got asked if I live in Copenhagen. I said I “will” live there. I mean, my will to live there after all has been the one the thing that has dominated my life for the past couple of months.

[Quiet morning at Heathrow airport.]

I’m somehow surprised that my flight is still running and on time. Like, I’m so shocked about it that I feel like I’m in a dream or movie. Could it really all be going ahead this smoothly?

[Um…]

I can’t say I felt particularly comfortable on the flight leg from LHR to FRA. It was a fully booked flight and we were packed in like sardines. No social distancing measures whatsoever. I was surrounded by passengers on all sides. It felt more or less like a “normal” flight, except for the requirement that everybody wear a facemask for the duration of the journey.

We land in FRA even earlier than anticipated. I pass German border control (again dealing with the awkward “So do you or do you not live in Denmark?” questions) and even manage to do an hour or so of work.

[Waiting in Frankfurt – limited seating due to social distancing protocols.]

Then, finally, boarding for the FRA to CPH leg of the trip is announced. I still can’t quite believe it’s not cancelled or delayed.

[Pretty sure that’s the bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö.]

The pilot announces our imminent arrival in CPH. I look out the window. Sunny and blue. I think I start crying uncontrollably at this point – actual tears of joy. I didn’t dare to look at the passenger sat next to me and their reaction to my apparently random burst of tears.

I really bent over backwards to make this happen, after many sleepless nights wondering if my job offer was at risk due to Covid-19, what would happen to me if I overstayed my UK visa, ad infinitum. And in the end, I made it!

[It was a particularly sunny day :)]

The rest of my journey went really smoothly – no delays picking up my luggage. I had a folder full of official documents to show the immigration officers, but passing border control barely took a minute. They asked me why I’m entering Denmark. They then quickly checked over my work permit, work contract, and housing contract before waving me through. All in all, everything went as well as it possibly could!

[Copenhagen Central Station]

The train from the airport to the central station barely took 20 minutes and there was plenty of space in the carriages. When I arrived at the station I was greeted by fresh air, sunlight, and happy vibes all around – it was only a couple of days ago that Denmark opened up shops and started coming out of lockdown. Of course I had to try my best to avoid people and hurry straight to my new apartment, but even that short walk to my place was lovely!

And so begins my life in Copenhagen 🙂

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Denmark, Expat life, Personal, Travel

Why I’m moving to Denmark from the UK in the middle of a worldwide pandemic

Days before Denmark became one of the first countries in Europe to close its borders and go on coronavirus lockdown back in March 2020, I received a job offer from Copenhagen for June 2020. I was delighted, of course – I accepted the job offer. My hope originally was to visit Copenhagen during Easter, scope out a place to live, move in the beginning of May, and be settled and ready to start by June.

But then, chaos.

Since the lockdown, questions from others that would otherwise be easy to answer (like if I’m going to travel by land or air) have, in this pandemic time, implicated sheer panic-inducing uncertainty for me. My most frequently used phrase in the past couple of months must have been ‘I don’t know’.

Last week I would have told you I’d be in Denmark by now, but my flight got cancelled last minute. I spent a small fortune booking another flight to Denmark (I’m supposed to fly in a couple of days, heavens willing) but who knows if this one will fly. So – I still don’t know. All I can do is wait and see.

Ok, back up. Can I not start my new job contract remotely? Why not just wait until travel restrictions are relaxed further before traveling/moving?

Believe you me, it’s no fun making travel plans during a global pandemic, let alone plans to up and move my entire life to a country I’ve never lived before under these exceptional conditions. I’m about a grand short due to travel and moving related expenditures at this point and don’t think I would have been able to sort everything out without savings. I’m also still juggling my current job (my contract in the UK expires the day before my new job in Denmark is set to start).

Here’s the reason it is imperative that I travel and move now (aside from the fact that I would like to start my job on time): my visa in the UK is about to expire. The UK Home Office is still only offering to extend people’s imminently expiring visas due to coronavirus (to those who are self-isolating due to illness or cannot book flights back home) until the 31st May 2020 – as if normal flight routes will be back up and running by then (?!)

Given the Home Office’s position I must make haste. 31st May 2020 is the absolute limit; after this date I would become an overstayer. It is on us ‘foreigners’ to travel out of the country, if we are able to so, by the end of this month, if we don’t want to risk repercussions related to our immigration status. There is no luxury of sitting back and waiting out the virus. It’s surreal to think about – despite getting my PhD in the UK, and having lived, studied and worked here for 9.5 years continuously, I am effectively forced out in the middle of a pandemic despite ongoing travel restrictions/disruptions because of my visa expiry.

Many people have incredulously indicated to me that, surely, the Home Office could not be that draconian – they wouldn’t actually punish overstayers and so on, given the pandemic. Hopefully not. But who actually knows? As a ‘foreigner’ with a precarious immigration status in the UK I find this kind of incredulity naive and frustrating. It’s easy for people to sit back and speculate about what they think human decency amounts to at the policy-level when they aren’t the targets of exclusion. I would love to believe that everyone gets treated in a reasonable way in the end, in whatever country they reside – but I’m wise enough to worry! Mind you, I’m speaking from a position of relative privilege. I’ve never made trouble in the UK, I can afford to live on my own abroad, my passport gives me international mobility, I don’t have dependants to worry about, I’m not stranded, I’m not fleeing a terrible situation in my home country, and so forth. Even so, I’ve had my fair share of Kafkaesque nightmares regarding immigration matters in the UK, and the psychological centrality of my insecure immigration status as a ‘foreigner’ is largely what makes me so eager to leave to a place where my permission to be there is not under threat.

But hey – I’ve made peace with the injustice of my relationship with the UK. I certainly don’t want to stick around to find out what happens to me if I stay here. My one beacon of hope throughout the uncertainty of lockdown has been the great competence and clarity I’ve received from Denmark. My experience applying for my work permit, enrolling my biometrics, and receiving the documents necessary to pass border restrictions in Denmark, has been unbelievably smooth, relatively unbureaucratic, and incredibly fast (I got my visa in 7 days). This has made a hugely positive impact on me during such an uncertain time. I will never forget it.

See you soon, Denmark, and thank you.

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