Living Costs, Best Places, and What You Need to Know When Planning to Retire to Finland
So, you’re pondering both retirement and a serious change of scenery – here’s a thought…why not retire to Finland?
Finland is a Nordic northern European country that borders Sweden, Russia, Norway, and Estonia and has a heartwarming claim to fame – it’s been rated as “the world’s happiest country” several years in a row.
And it’s ranked 2nd highest in the world on the Social Progress Index.
The nation has approximately 5.5 million inhabitants – 1.2 million of whom reside in its capital city Helsinki and its surrounding metropolitan area. And as for languages? There are two official tongues – Finnish and Swedish.
Our consultancy’s team wrote this article after reading similar pieces about other hot retirement destinations, such as:
Want to know more about why you should retire to Finland? Read on!
Is Finland a Good Place to Retire?
There’s a whole heap of things to consider when picking a place to spend your golden years. But a stable country with a robust economic backbone is a must if you’re looking for peace of mind as part of a long and happy retirement.
Here, you’ll discover all the boxes that Finland checks in these areas.
Living in Finland: Pros and Cons
Pros of Retirement in Finland
English is widely spoken in Finland
If you’re migrating to Finland from the U.S., this could be a dealbreaker because Finnish is a complicated language to learn if you are used to speak English.
Luckily, English is spoken by around 70% of the population – and when you consider that there’s even been talk of declaring Helsinki an English-speaking city, you shouldn’t have much trouble making yourself understood in this foreigner-friendly country.
Still, we recommend that anyone willing to live in Finland for a longer period should try to learn Finnish. It is a difficult language, that is true, but also a good brain exercise.
The Finnish Healthcare system is Really Good
This is a huge one for anyone relocating to a new country. The high-quality, publicly funded Finnish healthcare system is available to all permanent residents.
After four months in Finland, you must sign up for national health insurance to use the public Finnish healthcare benefits and medical services. After registering, a Kela card is given. As an ex-pat, it’s important to have private health insurance because public health care can sometimes be slow. The healthcare system in Finland is one of the best in Europe. It helps people get medical care and builds long-term relationships between doctors and their patients.
Although it doesn’t kick in until after you’ve been living in the country for over 4 months, it’ll pay dividends for the vast majority of your retirement.
Private healthcare is also available in urban areas for prices way cheaper than in the US.
Excellent Public Transport
Due to the excellent publicly-funded transportation system, only 60% of Finnish families own a car. You’ll find that the buses and trains are highly efficient – They show up on time, run well in all weather types, and are clean and pleasant to travel on (does that sound better than your local bus service?). Most suburbs are well-connected to the city center in any major urban area.
High Safety Levels
Not only has Finland been rated as planet earth’s happiest country, but it’s also one of the world’s safest places to live.
The income gap is lower than in many other European countries, contributing to its low crime rates. In fact, crime is virtually non-existent in some rural Finnish communities.
The homicide rate in Finland is only 1.63 murders per 100,000 residents per year. That is extremely low. To put it into perspective, the entire country has fewer than 100 murders per year. That is a number similar to the homicides in only 3 months in a single city in the US (Baltimore).
Finns are famous for their extreme honesty. In a Readers Digest experiment, reporters purposely “lose” their wallets in different countries around the world. And Finland won hands down, with 11 out of 12 wallets being handed into local police stations.
So if your cash goes missing, you have a good chance of getting it back!
Also, in Finland, police corruption and abuse from authority figures aren’t anywhere near the issue they are in some other countries – Finnish society emphasizes equality over hierarchy.
Cost of Living
Finland’s cost of living situation is a big plus point – it’s 33% lower than the United States average cost of living, coming in at $1423 per month on average compared to $2112 in the USA. This means more money to spend on “nice to have” luxuries after all your essentials are taken care of.
Lower costs of living, however, are not really true for Helsinki, which is a relatively expensive city (although also one of the happiest cities in the World).
Poverty, unfortunately, is still rife in some areas around the U.S. Finland, on the other hand, has one of the world’s lowest poverty rates, which was around half of the U.S. poverty rate in 2018, according to the OECD.
Cons of Retirement and Living in Finland
If you’re already accustomed to freezing cold East coast winters, this may not be a total con for you! But Finland does get pretty cold in the winter months. Even in Helsinki, which is in the country’s south, the temperature remains below freezing from mid-November until late March.
And in the North? The average temperature is a chilly 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit (-13 degrees Celsius) in January and February. The harsh winters are not ideal if you dreamed of spending your retirement sipping mojitos on a deck chair!
Finland isn’t exactly what you would call a tax haven – you’ll pay high taxes here to fund the many government benefits the country offers. A typical middle-class wage pays around 30% of their income to the taxman, compared to approximately 24% in the States.
But, the country’s highest earners can end up paying up to 60% (yikes!). That is what happens when you pay progressive tax rates.
Russia is a direct neighbor
At this time of writing, the war between Russia and Ukraine rages on. Uncertainty as to whether the conflict will spill over into other neighboring countries is still widespread throughout Europe and the world at large. This political uncertainty has caused Finland (and its neighbor, Sweden) to apply for NATO membership.
It remains to be seen whether or not Finland, or any other country, will engage in armed conflict with Russia in the near future. But the proximity between the two countries is something to keep in mind as one of the cons of retirement and living in Finland.
Living Costs to consider when planning to retire to Finland
We touched on Finland’s living costs earlier in this article, but now we’ll dive deeper into some of the costs you’ll need to consider if you plan on retiring here.
So, get ready for some numbers!
Housing costs in Finland
A 1 bedroom apartment in a city far from major centers comes in at an average of $722 per month – pretty reasonable compared to the $1410 average in the States. Closer to the capital Helsinki, prices go up (check below our analysis of Espoo).
Rental prices as sky-high as you’d find in some American cities like New York, L.A., or San Francisco (which can all be upwards of $2,500 per month for a 1 bedroom apartment), for instance, are pretty much unheard of in Finland unless very close to Helsinki’s financial center.
However, if you’re looking to retire to Finland, then you may wish to purchase your own home. Finnish interest rates have been steadily declining for years and there are plenty of affordable real estate in smaller cities.
Groceries and Food Prices in Finland
Groceries, on average, are a little cheaper in Finland than you’d find back home if you are from the US.
Most grocery stores are, on the whole, low-cost compared to American stores. For example, staple products like potatoes, cheese, bread, tomatoes, eggs, rice, onions, bottled water, etc., are all lower priced on average than you’d find in the States, as are beer and wine.
On the other hand, soda and cigarettes are a little pricier on average.
For 1 person, the average utility bill (water, electricity, gas, etc.) will set you back around $100 per month, with huge variations from summer to winter (when it is more expensive). For comparison, the average U.S. utility bill is priced above that even in warm locations. An unlimited internet plan is about a third of the average U.S. plan’s price, so you should have a tidy sum of money left each month to spend on entertainment and evenings out.
This brings us to our next point…
If you and your wife or husband are looking to retire to Finland, you may not wish to spend your whole retirement cooking every night!
And with Finland’s reasonably-priced restaurants and bars, you won’t have to penny-pinch any more than you would back home in the States.
Eating out is roughly the same price on average in both countries – with a few minor differences…
The average dinner at a restaurant for two comes in at about $73 compared to $61 in the States. Beer at a bar or pub generally costs around $6.20, to America’s $5.30, and a Coke or Pepsi is only around 25c more expensive than you may be used to.
Coffee tends to be priced about 70c lower than the average American coffee. In addition, lunchtime menus are often cheaper than in the U.S., and fast food meals, like McDonald’s, are roughly the same price.
Transport (This is a really good PLUS)
Finland’s super-efficient public transport system makes it easy to get around. Monthly local transport tickets are cheaper on average than in the U.S., coming in at about $57 to $64 in the States. Taxis are usually a couple of dollars more expensive than you’re likely used to.
Finnish gas prices aren’t cheap. Americans are lucky to have some of the most affordable gas prices of any economically advanced country. At this time of writing, Finland’s average gas prices, at about $7.7 per gallon, are almost double what you’ll typically spend in the States, which are only $3.9 per gallon.
Cost of Living in Espoo (Finland) vs Valência (Spain) and Tampa (the USA)
It’s time for a comparison of the cost of living in Finland. I will not compare the living costs of Finland with those of New York or London, because nearly anywhere in the world is cheaper than those two cities.
Let’s compare the cost of living in a mid-sized Finnish city (Espoo, a city very close to Helsinki) with the best city for retirement in Europe (Valencia, Spain) and one of the favorite cities for pensioners in the USA (Tampa, Florida).
Remember that there are multiple cities in Finland that are cheaper than Espoo, especially farther from Helsinki.
All prices are from Numbeo and Expatistan (in the few situations where there is no data from Espoo, we used numbers from nearby Helsinki), two websites that crowdsource prices and living costs from thousands of users and contributors.
|Values in USD||Espoo||Valencia||Tampa|
|Meal, Inexpensive Restaurant||15.68||11.59||21|
|Domestic Beer (0.5 liter draught) in a Supermarket||3.32||2.9||1.57|
|Eggs (regular) (12)||3.14||1.98||3.29|
|Chicken Fillets (1kg)||12.39||6.4||11.24|
|Gasoline (1 liter)||2.3||1.56||1.2|
|Utilities (Electricity, Water, Garbage, etc.) for 85m2 Apartment, monthly||102.6||128.6||156.61|
|Internet (60 Mbps or More)||17.21||31.88||63.85|
|Cinema, International Release, 1 Seat||15||7||14|
|Short visit to private doctor (15 minutes)||98||73||98|
|Standard men’s haircut in an expat area of the city||22||20||28|
|Rent of an apartment (1 bedroom) in the City Centre||1102.94||720.77||2,035.75|
|Price per Square Meter to Buy an Apartment in City Centre||4,090.91||2,999.91||4,635.63|
Retiring to Finland from the USA
Ok, so you’ve decided to pack your bags, jump on a plane, and retire to Finland to live the good life – Nordic style! What exactly will you need to make your dream a reality?
There are two types of residency permits (temporary and permanent residence permit). Most foreigners arriving in Finland apply first for temporary residence permits and later change their residence status.
After residing in the country for 4-5 years, you’ll be able to apply for a permanent residence permit. The process is straightforward compared to many other countries – all you need to do is apply through the Finnish embassy in the U.S. or any Schengen country.
Best Place to Retire in Finland
Espoo – Close to Helsinki, but much cheaper
Espoo, Finland is a wonderful place to retire for many reasons. The city is well-maintained, has excellent medical facilities, and is home to a sizable international population. Because of its proximity to both Helsinki’s airport and port, it’s also a fantastic base from which to explore the rest of Europe by ferry or plane.
Espoo is not far from Helsinki, Finland’s capital and largest city, yet it also boasts beautiful scenery of its own. In the Nuuksio nature reserve region, you may find dozens, if not hundreds, of lakes.
Certain neighborhoods, such as Central Espoo, Kirstinmaki, and Karakallio, have a reputation for not meeting Finnish standards (since they are used to very safe surroundings). In reality, the worst that can happen is having your wallet taken if you’re drunk and wandering through them at midnight.
There are some great walking routes located close to the Matinkyla and Olari areas.
If you like the idea of being close to Helsinki at a fraction of the price, then Espoo is the solution for you.
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Levi Borba is the founder of The Expatriate Consultancy, creator of the channel The Expat, and best-selling author. Some of the links of this article may be affiliate links, meaning that the author will have a commission for any transaction.