Cost of Living in Helsinki vs Los Angeles

by Audrey

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be featured in an Ilta Sanomat article (the most read online newspaper in Finland). The article is in Finnish, so in case you’d like to read it, I’ve translated it on the LAxHEL Facebook page. The article came about because one of the journalists stumbled upon my blog through Facebook and wanted to interview me about my last blog post. It was a wonderful experience and I received a ton of positive feedback and “welcome to Finland” comments from people who read the article. I was so touched by all the kind words. I also have to mention that when I shared the story about complimenting a woman in a clothing store and she ignored me, many Finns explained to me that it was probably because she didn’t know how to take the compliment since Finns are known to be quite humble, which I totally agree with.

Almost free

Although I couldn’t quite understand all of the comments on the article since it was in Finnish (Google Translate isn’t super accurate), from what I could gather, there seemed to be quite a bit of discussion around the high taxes in Finland along with education and healthcare not really being “free” since you do incur some nominal fees. So maybe I misspoke, but compared to where I’m from, they are practically free. Our taxes in LA are also not low (I was paying 31.95%), yet it doesn’t go towards our personal healthcare or college tuition. In case you’re curious, this California tax calculator can give you an estimate of California tax rates. All of this got me thinking about what the cost of living in Helsinki vs. Los Angeles is.

It is true that Finland has one of the highest tax rates in the world, and the wages in Helsinki are not as high as in LA, but the cost of living is lower. The real question is, do you end up taking home more money, less money, or break even? In my case, my salary in Helsinki is about half of what it was in LA, yet somehow I found myself with more money left at the end of each month after all my expenses. How is that possible? Well I did some digging and I thought I would share what I discovered.

Cost of living comparison

I used this cost of living comparison website to get average salaries and expenses in Helsinki and Los Angeles. A few of the amounts were my exact personal expenses in LA (student loan, car payment, health insurance, auto insurance, and gas). Please note that everything is converted to euros to give you a better comparison and there are a few items are not an apples to apples comparison such as:

  • Student Loan – I put €0 for Helsinki because if I was a Finn and went to college in Finland, I wouldn’t have needed to pay for tuition. I spoke to a few Finns, and none of them needed to take out a student loan but mentioned that some people may take out a small bank loan for books and living expenses, but definitely not an $80,000 loan for tuition alone like I needed.
  • Transportation Costs – In LA, you pretty much need to have a car, while in Helsinki you can get away without having one, so I included my monthly car payment in LA vs. my monthly Helsinki metro pass cost. Since I don’t need to have a car in Helsinki, I also no longer have auto insurance and gas expenses.

So upon further inspection, even though I only make half of what I was making in LA, I actually have more money leftover after expenses. I also didn’t include expenses like food, but I find food costs to be pretty similar. Again, I can only speak for myself and my own situation, and I understand that this is not an exact comparison, since there are people who do own cars in Helsinki and incur those costs.

And now I’m feeling nostalgic, so here’s a few pics of my old apartment in Downtown LA and my old car, which I’ve given to my parents.

Cost of having a baby in LA vs Helsinki

Although you don’t need to pay for health insurance in Finland, several people commented in the article that they do incur some medical expenses (for things like medicine, hospital stays, etc). This got me curious about the out of pocket medical costs in LA even with health insurance. Kimmo’s big brother recently had a baby and he asked me what it cost to have a baby in Los Angeles. He shared with me that his final hospital bill came out to €440 total for the entire delivery plus 3 nights stay in their own room at the hospital for 2 adults with food.

Since I’m just a dog mom, I asked one of my best friends from LA what it cost her. She had one of the most premium insurance plans available, so other health insurance plans would not necessarily cover this much and the out of pocket costs can be much higher. In any case, with an excellent health insurance plan, this is what she had to pay out of pocket versus what the actual costs were.

Note: These costs are from 4 years ago, so they might have changed since then.

Even though you can easily look up cost of living comparisons between cities, it was really interesting to sit down and do the actual math for my own situation. It was actually very eye-opening and before moving to Helsinki, I had no concept of what it cost to live outside of LA. I always knew I could move somewhere cheaper, but I was never sure if anywhere else could live up to LA…

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Ella November 25, 2019 - 2:49 pm

Many Finns do take a student loan, not because they necesserily need it but because it’s free money. If you graduate on time you only need to pay back 60% of the loan and you get to keep the rest 40%.

Audrey November 25, 2019 - 3:55 pm

Oh wow I didn’t know that. Even better then! We have to pay ours all back plus about 4-8% interest, unless you’re a teacher then you can get part of your loan forgiven.

Virpi December 6, 2019 - 3:50 pm

So nice to read your writings! 🙂 To student loan, the interest is also lower than in normal loan. I must say, that we should be more grateful of what we have here in Finland and how well things are <3 Have a good Finlands Independenceday today, you can put two candles on your window if you want to respect the grate DAY if you want.

Audrey December 6, 2019 - 7:12 pm

That makes it even better! The comment before yours also said that if you graduate on time you only have to pay 60% pack and keep the other 40%. So to me, that’s some free money! Happy Independence Day to you too! I didn’t know about the 2 candles but we just put up the Christmas candelabrum 🙂


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