Any Dane reading this blog is no doubt amazed that that I have managed to post for three months without mentioning those magic three letters; CPR. To Danish citizens and residents, it is the be-all and end-all of life; without it, you cannot exist. But perhaps I should start from the beginning…
Imagine a birth certificate. Now imagine a social insurance/security card. Add in a health care card. Then a hospital card. Throw in a library card for good measure. Mix generously and what do you get? A CPR card.
All permanent residents are required to apply for a CPR number within 5 days of arrival. Even if you fail to do so, you’re not going to get very far without it. Want to set up a bank account? You need a CPR number. Get paid? CPR number. Visit a GP? CPR card. Borrow books from the library? You gotcha, CPR.
While all of this may seem a bit “Big Brotherish” to North Americans (particularly Americans), it makes a certain amount of sense to centralize all of this information and issue only one card. Not only does it reduce the costs associated with issuing cards, it also makes it much easier to change this information.
Case in point; when I recently moved, I updated my information on a centralized website. The information was automatically disseminated to all relevant agencies including the taxation authority (SKAT) and my bank. In subsequent weeks, I received an updated CPR card and under normal circumstances, would have also been assigned a new doctor.
To understand the last part more fully, it is necessary to explain the CPR application process further. When you are issued a CPR number, you are automatically assigned a General Practitioner (GP). With the exception of emergencies, all health-related issues are to be addressed by your GP. Under normal circumstances, you will be assigned a new GP when you move. However, in my case, the geographic distance between my old and new apartment was so small that it was not necessary to change GPs. Furthermore, two doctors set up practice together so I managed to have two GPs listed on my CPR card.
If you observe the sample CPR card, you will see the Region (Hovedstaden, which includes Copenhagen) and Kommune (Københavns in my case). Underneath the Region is your assigned doctor, their address and telephone number.
Underneath this is the all-important CPR number which consists of your birth date (dd/mm/yy) followed by a random 4 digit code. This is followed by your name and address. In addition to the previous functions, the card also serves as a health insurance card when travelling within the EU.
Because of the concentration of personal information associated with CPR numbers, the country has recently adopted a security system known as Nem ID. When logging into any personal accounts (including bank accounts), you are required to enter not only a user name and password, but a 6 digit key from a code book. Once you have provided your user name and password, the software will randomly provide one of 150 four digit codes corresponding to a six digit key which must be entered before you can successfully log in. Once all 150 keys have been used, you will be provided with a new code book with new keys.
While I find the CPR system very streamlined and convenient, there are certain inherent flaws within the Nem ID system. First, unlike in Canada where it is possible to open a fully-functioning bank account and internet banking within hours, it takes 2-3 weeks to receive your Nem ID code book and be able to access internet banking. Needless to say, this is a minor inconvenience at best, a major problem at worst. A second issue is that it is not possible to log in to any accounts without the Nem ID code book. Then there is the issue of extended vacation. Not only is it necessary to bring the code book with you, there is also the possibility that you will run out of codes before you return to Denmark.
Along the same lines, the organization which runs the program is only authorized to send code books to Danish addresses or to Danish embassies abroad. While that may be fine in countries which are tiny geographically, it is a major issue in countries like Canada if they send a code book to Ottawa and you live in…oh, let’s say Vancouver. This is a major problem for Danish expats as well as people like me should I ever return to Canada but want to maintain an EU bank account. While I give them an A for effort for developing a secure system, I give the overall system a D for implementation. Although things are working fine for me now that everything is set up, my fingers are crossed that it will be significantly modified in the future…