My Vacation Frustrations

I am not very good at hiding my feelings. (Just ask Brian.) And right now, I must vent. So vent I will to you, in the hopes that my struggles will help or speak to someone else out there going through the same thing.

I am fed up with the Danish vacation system.

Whaaat?! I can hear you all exclaiming. Isn’t this the system that gives every worker 5 weeks of vacation every year?ย Yes, yes it is. But… well, just listen.

I’m used to the US vacation system. In this system, you start your new job as a bright eyed and bushy tailed new hire. You may have a probationary period of 6 months or so before you can earn or use any vacation. But once that is over, you earn vacation days with each paycheck. And those days are available for you to use at any point during the year. Most important for our discussion, they’re available immediately.

The Danish system, apparently, is not like this.*

In this system, there are two time periods that are important: the calendar year and the vacation year, which runs from May to April. You accrue vacation days according to the calendar year, starting in January. However, those days are not able to be used until the next May. So days earned in 2013 are not available to take until May 2014. You have one year, until the next April, to use your vacation days. Plus, when you start your new job there is usually a probationary period in which you cannot use your vacation.

So what’s the problem? I hear you asking. There may not really be a problem if you’re Danish. But if you’re an expat who’s only planing on being here for, say, 3 years, this turns into a big annoyance. Why? Let me give you an example.

We moved to Denmark at the end of July 2013, and Brian started his job at the beginning of August. Brian carried over 5 vacation days from his pervious job. (Technically, he works for the same company he did in the US, but since it’s a whole new country he’s not allowed to have any of the US vacation that he would have built up based on his seniority in the company. He has to start over like a brand new employee.)

Since Brian only worked August through December, he earned only 8 vacation days in 2013. Those 8 days become available to him starting May 1. He will not have any additional vacation to use until 2015.**

Let me just emphasize that a little bit more. We will have been here for 22 months with Brian working for a Danish company the whole time before he can use anything more than those 8 days of vacation. As we’re only planning on being here 3 years, that will give us 14 months, just over a year, of actual Danish vacation.

I just… I just don’t understand this.

The first time Brian and I tried to sit down and figure this out, I was stunned. I was flummoxed. I was flabbergasted. There is no possible way this is right, I thought. Why would you ever do this? How could this ever make any sense? There must be some reason for the rule that says you can’t use your vacation as you accrue it. Perhaps because there’s so much of it?? But I’m just grasping at straws, trying to understand. So you’re telling me that even a Danish citizen who starts a new job at a new company in January has to wait until the next May to take his vacation? Doesn’t that just seem… unfair? Like an unfairly long amount of time to wait? Shouldn’t there be some kind of stop gap? Like, maybe you don’t get all 5 weeks up front, I can understand that, but you do get 2 weeks that first year? Why must there be a calendar year and a vacation year? Doesn’t that just complicate things??

When I start talking about this, I just end up asking a bunch of questions that get increasingly higher and higher pitched as my incredulity shows a little more with each question.

I just don’t get it.

It’s a stupid, third world problem, I know, and I do feel a bit like I’m just whining. But it makes life as an expat more challenging. Our big trip home, the first in a year of being away, will have to be shortened and carefully planned to minimize vacation days used. The trips we were hoping to take to Europe – just one or two this year – will have to be cut back, turned into rushed weekends. It all sounds so silly as I’m typing it, but it’s seriously frustrating. All you hear before moving to Europe is how easy it will be to travel, how many exciting things you’ll see. And our ability to do all those things, take advantage of all the opportunities that come with living in Europe, has been cut back by almost 2 years.

So, I’m just sharing my frustrations. Maybe some of you have experienced the same thing. Maybe some of you think it’s a stupid thing to worry about. I know we’ll get over it and adjust. 8 days isn’t that much less than what most people get in the US, after all. But for today, it’s what I’m frustrated with. And maybe it will cause some of you who are thinking of moving to Denmark to call your HR people and ask just what your vacation situation will be once you get here so it doesn’t surprise you like it did us.

*I will put a caveat here and say that this system may not be the same across employers, so our experience may not reflect everyone’s experience with accruing and using vacation benefits in Denmark.

**Second caveat: the infamous 5 weeks of vacation is a right of any employee in Denmark, and you can always take that vacation at any time. However, it will be unpaid vacation until you get past all of these regulations.

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34 thoughts on “My Vacation Frustrations

    • Agreed! And like all expats, we’re always torn between going home to see family and saving some vacation time to actually do some traveling. Ah the troubles of being an expat ๐Ÿ˜‰

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      • Yeah, I feel guilty when I don’t go home but I can’t take that much time off and going home is always such a rush around trying to see everyone! Sometimes I just want to relax – and get some sun preferably!! ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • That’s what every expat says ๐Ÿ™‚ And I totally hear you about needing to get some sun. I’m wondering if next Christmas we should just go to Crete or something ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • Oh god, that sounds good! I was talking to my Danish friend about you last night actually ๐Ÿ˜‰ He said that if you’re on some sort of low-tax contract to be careful that you leave the country the second you’re supposed to – or else you get hit with a full tax bill for the three years. He said they’re really stringent when it comes to this sort of thing – sounds scary!!!

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      • Yeesh! I’ll definitely pass that along to my husband. It is very scary to me that our resident permits have a very firm and specific end date. I feel like if we’re not out by exactly 12.00 that date we’re going to be in serious trouble!

        And speaking of taxes, we also have to be careful how much time we spend in the US. If we spend over a certain number of days (maybe 30), then we have to start paying taxes on our Danish income. Apparently, this is pretty unusual.

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      • Sounds like a minefield! Yeah, my friend said that if you’re even a minute over, they’re waiting for you – sounds like they keep an eye out for these sort of contracts and then wait for people to hang around for a few days or weeks afterwards and hit them with a whopping bill. I’d be out a couple of hours before the contract ends, just to be on the safe side! ๐Ÿ™‚ Base yourself somewhere else, and travel around a bit from there if you have some time!

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  1. I did not see that one comming. But ofc im a native dane and as such always worked here and then the system is fine…

    Could you maybe travel during some of our many long weekends like the easter days were buisness. Is closed anyway and then maybe use a singel day or to of his vacation without pay?

    My wife and i did tjis last year as we had absolutly no money and had to use my vacationsalary to pay bills. We had i nice (cheap) easter holiday and i only had to use 3 days to get the whole week?
    Or maybe im no help at all, sorry for your situation

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    • Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate your suggestions. We’re definitely planning on doing that, trying to parcel out his vacations days so that we can combine them with the national holidays. And it will work just fine in the end. It just was a bit of a surprise. (And I just hate taking vacation without pay because then it’s like the vacation costs double. But I’m probably just thinking too much about it.)

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  2. I am so with you! I also found this out after I started – imagine my surprise when an international colleague told me I basically could not go on holiday for about a year! I also don’t get why they have the calendar year and the holiday year – I also end up with eight days of paid holiday from May 2014 until May 2015… Although there are the special holidays too (don’t ask me for details, but I am told I have 4 months x 0,42 days extra to spend until May 2015 – it doesn’t add much, but you should have that too I think). Happily it is true that you are allowed to take unpaid holiday – it is what I am doing to some extent because when you leave Denmark you will get money for the holiday days you saved up for the next year (except I think for what you should have used in the period you were still working here) so in a sense you get the money back. But it does take a chunk out of your paycheck the month you have unpaid leave. And for the new expats around – I am told that the system has changed and that those who have a contract starting from the 1st of January 2014 can take their holiday immediately (this is called concurrent holiday). It seems like they realized it is not a good system for those who intend to stay temporarily… Good luck and I hope you can still explore Europe a bit this year!

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    • Well I’m glad that this may be changing for new expats! That is really encouraging news. I think we are going to take just a few vacation days here and there to make long weekends or add them to national holidays, and it will work. But I just really think someone should tell you about this up front! I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this is a bit strange!

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  3. I hear you. My first job, my employers learned from experience that this system is hard on newbies so they made me work overtime so I could have paid holiday. I HAVE to take the weeks off because I’m a teacher. My second job here, no such luck, I’m seriously broke still nearly six months after the summer holiday. And I saved up my holiday pay from my previous employer. It’s a terrible way of running things.

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    • I just don’t understand it at all. And then I know some people who are multiple years into their new jobs and they’re still using vacation from their old jobs (which I think their old employers are still paying for?) Argh, it makes no sense to me!

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      • Oh weird. I just got a cheque from my previous employer. There are a lot of public holidays coming up in May and June, I think they’re paid no matter what. June is good.

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      • Yep, this year we’re really trying to milk those public holidays for all they’re worth.

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  4. Yeah, definitely frustrating, but especially, especially for expats. Andreas and I experienced this when he started his job. He went about a year with zero vacation (as he started in March) and it was tough. The thing is, that it generally works as long as you’re fairly consistently employed. A-kasse (what you get unemployment through) also has vacation days that you earn and use just like you would if you were employed, so it’s only when you’re freshly starting out that you really have none saved up.

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    • Yeah, that’s the impression I got because it doesn’t seem to phase the Danes at all and it seems like you really start to build up some extra vacation that would carry you through that awkward period when starting a new job.

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  5. That is so disappointing! Since my husband is semi-retired it’s not something I’ve ever had to deal with, so reading of your experience and discoveries makes me sad.

    I do know that I cherish the times I’ve gone back to the States to visit family these past seven years — but I also know it has taken money that could have gone to exploring more of Norway, Scandinavia, and Europe. But it’s a choice we make as expats, isn’t it?

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    • It really is. We haven’t really had to make that choice yet since we’ve only been here for a few months, but I hear it from every expat I talk to: home where you do the same thing every time, or somewhere new and exotic where you don’t see any family. I have to say, it’s not the worst choice to have ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  6. Well, unless you are in Denmark on a temporary basis, like Brian, then the Danish system is really much better because you pay your holiday money into a holidays account (feriekonto) and can take it with you to your next job. And if your employer goes bust, you will still get your holiday money
    I work in France where you cannot take vacation until you reach the next vacation year (which may start on 1 January or 1 June). When you resign from your current job, the employer can prolong your notice period with any vacation you may take during that period, and as you are often eager/forced to start you new job, you end up 1) getting your holidays from your previous job paid out and 2) having no vacation for the first year in your new job. If you change job every other year, you basically end up with no vacation but lots of money in the bank……
    In the meantime usse all the bank holidays you can to take long weekends. Europe is GREAT!

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    • Wow, that seems like it could be hard. I still don’t understand why everyone has to wait one year to take any vacation at all. I understand wanting to prevent new hires from taking advantage, but a year seems really extreme. I agree that the holiday account is a great idea. It’s just the timing that I don’t like.

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  7. This had surprised me as well. I just couldn’t understand it. where I come from, as soon as you have worked 1 month, you earn 2 days of holidays (with pay). If I move employer, I get the extra days I hadnรธt already taken paid out, and when I start the new job I immediately get holidays after 1 month. In actual fact, as soon as you start your employer expects you to work there for the rest of the year, so you immediately have access to the whole year’s worth of holidays (so e.g. after graduating i started working in June, but in august i could already take 2 weeks of holidays with no problems).

    In Denmark, not so much. In the first year I just took unpaid holidays (apparently your employer cannot stop you taking up to 5 weeks unpaid). I was told this was so when you go on holiday you are guaranteed pay without you having to save for it. It sounds a bit of a nanny state (or I have misunderstood :)).Or alternatively, it is to keep a couple more people employed int eh ferie konto organisations :). Who knows? I wonder who came up with such a bureaucratic system!

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    • I’m the same, Ann. Where I come from, you earn vacation as you work rather than saving it up like this. I wonder the same thing! Many of the systems in Denmark seem overly bureaucratic, but I don’t know if that’s just because I’m an outsider and don’t know how to work the system or if that’s how it really is.

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  8. I just arrived in ร…rhus from London. Trying to get my CPR number sorted, my tax card, get a bank account, trying to find a place to live and sort out my phone etc… it’s all a lot to sort. AHHHH!!!

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    • It is a LOT to do all at once. That whole thing – CPR number, bank account, tax account – went fairly easy for us. But I have run into people who have had trouble. The CPR people want an address, which you might not have right upon arrival. The bank people sometimes are less than helpful depending on your situation. And, of course, finding a place to live is ridiculous! I wrote a post about our struggle with that, if you want to read it and know that you aren’t alone. Are you using BoligPortal.dk? Good luck with everything!

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  9. Wait a sec. Isn’t it just that you have no right to paid vacation. So you can still take un-paid vacation during the probation period (you have the right to it if you wish) and then since you will have unused vacation when you do eventually leave denmark then you will get your unused holiday paid out. So if you like you can take the unpaid vacation and you can think of it as you receiving a monetary recompense at a future point in time? So I guess this is unfair if you are pressed on your finances and need the income while taking unpaid holiday but otherwise is not too bad. And given the take rate here, a reduction in your annual salary due to unpaid vacation may even have unexpected tax benefits ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Yep, you’re correct in that you can take unpaid vacation before your accrued, earned vacation kicks in. So you have a right to those 5 weeks of free time as soon as you start working, but you don’t get paid for them until you’ve worked for a certain amount of time. This is a fine system, it’s just surprising for someone who’s not from Denmark and not used to this system. Also, unlike most Danes, we foreigners can’t carry any of our unused vacations from our previous jobs because those jobs were in other countries. Getting paid for the unused vacation when you leave is nice, but it’s fairly standard even in the US. And I understand logically how you wouldn’t technically loose any money in the grand scheme of things if you take that unpaid vacation in the first year, but it just doesn’t feel right. It still feels like you’re paying double for that trip. If that makes any sense. But no big deal! We just roll with it.

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  10. Pingback: The Return | Our House in Aarhus

  11. Same thing happened to me when I moved here – kind of annoying, but I’ve been here two years now so I’m past it now. On the plus side, most people end up with a bunch of vacation time at the end of their stay in Denmark that they can either use or get paid out in cash. Some people take the unpaid vacation in the first year with the plan of getting “paid” for it at the end of their stay – I guess short-term it still feels like you’re spending a lot of money, though.

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    • Agreed, I just can’t think that way, that money we might get in three years is really covering the vacation we took way back when. By that time, that vacation is paid for and forgotten about.

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  12. I understand your frustration but as far as I know you are entitled to your vacation, but it will not be paid. so I guess the difference is between paid and unpaid vacation. When you move from one job to the other is the same, you can get unpaid vacation in the new job and you get your money from the ‘feriekontor’. But you are always entitled to the vacation days by law.

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    • Yeah, we understood that, it just makes it difficult when you’re first starting out in Denmark to take any vacation that first year because usually it’s hard to afford a long unpaid vacation. Luckily, Denmark has many public holidays, so we got creative and turned those into longer holidays with one or two days here or there. We made it work ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the tip.

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