Hendrik is a South African expat who moved to England at a relatively young age and later lived in New York before finally making the move to Denver, Colorado a few years ago. He describes to Expat Arrivals what expat life is like in Denver, shares his favourite spots and things to do in the city, and gives his verdict on the city's transport, healthcare and more.
For more about the city, see our Moving to Denver guide.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Johannesburg, South Africa
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Denver, Colorado, USA.
Q: When did you move here?
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No. I’ve previously lived in England and New York.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: With my better half.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved to Denver for work. I’m working in finance at an entrepreneurial energy company.
Living in Denver
Q: What do you enjoy most about Denver? How would you rate the quality of life compared to Johannesburg?
A: Denver is a fantastic city and Colorado is a fun state. Denver is large enough for professional development with good companies and jobs, and it’s blessed with a vibrant social scene including numerous restaurants, bars and breweries. I frequently compare it to Johannesburg, which was also originally a mining town. Due to the similar altitude, it also has a dry temperate climate with a few cold (snowy) winter days and some summer afternoon thunderstorms. Much higher in the mountains, skiing in the winter and camping or hiking in the summer are great activities.
Q: Any negative experiences?
A: Too few South Africans.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here?
A: No rugby or cricket. Few backyards with swimming pools.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home?
A: The US is expensive overall, so it helps it to get paid in dollars. Minimum wage is $15/hour (R210/hour).
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Denver?
A: Average. There is a bus and tram system. Lyft and Uber provide numerous options like rental scooters, rental bicycles, and taxi services. There is a train from the airport. The airport is very well connected and serves as a hub for United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines, so there are usually several daily flights to other cities across the US and some international destinations. Ideally, one should have a car to enjoy the various benefits across Colorado though.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Denver? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Good. The UC (University of Colorado) health system, with the main hospital ‘campus’ in Aurora and numerous smaller practices and hospitals, is excellent. From experience, their orthopaedic care and Covid testing and prevention services are excellent. I have also heard positive things about St. Josephs and St Luke’s downtown (very short or negligible ER waiting times, and good gynaecological and natal care).
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Denver?
A: Denver is a safe city on the whole. There’s quite a lot of homelessness downtown, though not aggressive. I have heard anecdotal stories about theft though. So, it’s still important to lock cars and homes.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Denver?
A: Good and varied. House prices have risen vastly over the last 10 years, so it can be expensive to buy. Given that the city’s growing, one can find more affordable options further out of town.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Close to the centre of town, Highlands, City Park, Congress Park, Wash Park, Sloan’s Lake and LoDo are popular. To the South, Parker and Highlands Ranch provide good options with good views of the mountains. To the north, Longmont and Lafayette (near the university town of Boulder) are growing.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Denver?
A: Colorado’s experienced a considerable influx of people over the last 10 years. The ‘native’ Coloradans rue the fact that there’s more traffic on the roads and in the natural parks, but appreciate the growing job market and social scene. So, even though I’m from quite a bit further afield than NY or California, everyone’s eager to make new friends and to enjoy Denver and Colorado together.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: We’ve made several friends through work, running clubs (we congregate at a brewery, run 5km and enjoy a beer afterwards) and through mutual acquaintances. Some friends have built good networks through their churches. We’ve also joined professional organisations’ mentorship, development and board programmes (e.g. Denver Petroleum Club, Denver Downtown Partnership, Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce).
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Mostly Americans who moved to Denver from other states.
Working in Denver
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process?
A: H1B visas are based on a lottery system. If you’re struggling to get one, hire a good lawyer or consultant.
Q: What is the economic climate in Denver like?
A: Denver’s been one of the fastest growing cities in the past decade (in addition to cities like Austin and Nashville). The economy is quite varied. Several large national companies are either headquartered in Denver, or at least have a local footprint (e.g. Slack, Davita, Salesforce, Deloitte, J.P. Morgan, Newmont, BP). Additionally, there are numerous small growing companies. The University of Colorado, which is 20km away in the town of Boulder, also generates lots of research or entrepreneurial activity.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Americans take work seriously on the whole. Fortunately, it’s not uncommon for Denverites to take Fridays off to head to the mountains.
Family and children
Q: How has your partner adjusted to your new home?
A: She’s slotted into a company where she’s met lots of new colleagues and friends.
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in Denver?
A: Parks (City Park, Congress Park, Wash Park, Sloan’s Lake), the zoo, skiing, camping and Union Station.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: There are several universities in the state. The University of Colorado in Boulder is the most renowned and has produced several Nobel Prize Winners. Colorado State University is 100km north in Fort Collins and is surrounded by breweries, while Denver University is more urban. The Airforce Academy is situated 100km to the south near the town of Colorado Springs.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Denver?
A: Come and enjoy!
►Interviewed in September 2021