I went out shopping last weekend and thought I would use the experience as motivation to post on the cost of living here in Denmark. The most appropriate word to describe first-time visitors to Scandinavia is “shell-shocked”. This is precisely because the goods and services required by tourists are some of the most expensive in Scandinavia. Although my knowledge is based primarily in Denmark, my observations largely hold true in the rest of Scandinavia, with Sweden being somewhat cheaper and Norway more expensive. But before I progress further, I should start at the beginning…
Minimum Wage: Denmark’s collectivist approach holds that everyone should enjoy a reasonable income, regardless of position or tenure. Although the country does not have a legally-binding “minimum wage”, the average salary for entry-level jobs is 103.15DKK/hour, or $18.69CAD/USD. Combine this with the 25% value added tax (VAT) mentioned in a previous post on taxation and you will realise that this has a knock-on effect on the cost of other goods and services.
Taxis: For those arriving at the airport and deciding to take a cab into the city, boy, are you in for a suprise. A trip from the airport to Østerbro (18K/11 miles) cost me 385DKK ($70) while a 5 minute trip earlier this week cost me 117DKK ($21). By far the most I have ever paid was the equivalent of $25 for a 2.5K/1.5 mile trip from Rådhuspladsen (Town Hall Square) to the Rigshospitalet. I walked the return trip along “The Lakes” in 25 minutes. The up-side of such high prices is that most taxis are late-edition Mercedes so at least you get a nice ride for the price!
Public transport: A cheaper alternative to taxis is public transit, especially for those with a monthly pass or klippkort (more on these to come). However, even this is expensive if you purchase tickets individually or stray much outside of the city center. Trips into the distant suburbs can cost as much as 216DKK ($40) round trip depending on the distance travelled.
Cafés: Scandinavia is the largest per capita coffee-consuming region in the world with averages ranging from 7.8 kg/annum in Sweden to 10.7kg in Norway. From this, you might conclude that coffee is one of the few relatively cheap items in Denmark. If so, think again. A trip to a local café will set you back between 35-40DKK ($6-7) for a cup of java or “varm chokolade”. A trip to the upscale Royal Copenhagen Café a couple of weeks ago set me back 50DKK ($9). Scandinavia has got to be about the only place in the world where people think nothing of spending that amount of money on coffee. Thankfully, I don’t like coffee so the temptation is not so great!
Restaurants: By North American standards, it is impossible to eat out cheaply in Copenhagen. Fast-food chains will cost 60 DKK ($11) for a “value meal” and expect to pay extra if you want condiments such as mayonnaise or ketchup (that is true for most of Europe). For a regular run-of-the-mill restaurant, expect to pay between 150-200DKK ($27-$36) while for more formal occasions, expect to pay 400DKK ($73) and up for a three course meal.
Hotels: If there is one thing that has come down in price in recent years, it is the cost of hotels. This is due to a devaluation of the DKK/EUR as well as a significant correction in the lodging market following the 2008 Financial Crisis. While a nice hotel will still set you back 1000DKK a night ($180), it is possible to find adequate lodging at a well-situated 3 star hotel for much less (ie, 700DKK or $125) depending on the season.
Housing: Unless you are from New York, North American’s will be blown away by the cost of housing. A standard 1-2 bedroom apartment in central Copenhagen will vary between 8,000-12,000DKK per month ($1450-$2175). Purchase of the same will cost roughly between 1.5-2.5 million DKK ($270,000-450,000). Obviously these figures depend on the quality, location and size of the apartment and it is possible to spend much more (or less) depending on the interaction between these variable.
Televisions: As I had to leave all electronics behind in North America, I have begun to look at purchasing these items here in Denmark. Over the course of my search, I have found a wide variability in pricing with some items being marginally cheaper than North America while others are much more expensive. Thankfully, televisions are one of the major purchases which are only marginally more expensive. My current search suggests that I should be able to pick up a 42 inch brand name LCD TV for between 4,000-6,000DKK ($725-1085) depending on quality and whether you find one on sale.
Cameras: In contrast to TVs, cameras seem to be much more expensive. I recently espied a Nikon S8000/8100 for 2200DKK ($400). My parents bought the identical camera in November for $220 + taxes. Needless to say, I will likely buy my Nikon SLR in Canada!
Home Appliances: I went shopping for small appliances this past weekend and must say I was pleasantly surprised by the prices. I purchased a reasonably high quality blender and electric kettle (OBH Nordica brand) for 450 ($82) and 270 DKK ($49), respectively. Granted, both items were heavily discounted and I benefited from an additional 10% discount which I wasn’t aware of until after the purchase. I also picked up a dozen glass tumblers by Danish design firm Rosendahl Copenhagen for 180DKK ($32). I left all of my glasses behind and figure that this is a good opportunity to buy some quality Scandinavian design house-wares for my apartment.
General: If there has been one thing that I have been surprised by, it is the cost of food. Although there are many exceptions, I find the majority of items to be no more expensive and in some cases, cheaper than North America (certainly Canada). Milk is very cheap at 5DKK/L ($0.90) (and no, I am not buying it in 3 gallon quantities). These reasonable prices hold true for most dairy products, including yoghurt and crème fraiche. Cheese is quite expensive by European standards although about the same as Canada (albeit much higher quality). Other items which I find reasonably cheap are staples such as rice, pasta, certain fruits and vegetables (ie, cucumbers, mushrooms, bananas), canned goods and chocolate. Alcohol is also extremely cheap by North American standards with a 24 pack of beer for 85DKK ($15) while quaffable wine can be had for 30-40DKK ($5.40-7.25). However, don’t be suprised if you hear French and Italian expats grumbling as that is expensive by European standards.
There are several items which I find shockingly expensive. Ice cream is one of those with a regular price of around 30DKK/L. That is $5.50/L or $20/gallon! Meat is another item which is extremely expensive. Expect to pay anywhere from 50-100DKK ($9-18) per kg (2.2lbs) of steak depending on the cut although pork is somewhat cheaper. Other items which are extremely expensive are candies such as gumdrops and other gummy candies. Expect to pay up to 50DKK ($9 per) kg.
Hairdresser: At times, the price of certain products or services overwhelm you in spite of your psychological preparedness. This is particularly true for goods which require service. For example, a haircut at what I understand is a low-cost hairdresser cost me 180DKK ($33) last weekend. I shudder to think how much it costs for women. Actually, I did hear one colleague mention that his girlfriend had spent 1,200DKK ($220; or was it 1,600DKK?) at the hairdresser.
Sneakers: Another product which amazes me is sneakers/running shoes. A pair will set you back between 1,000-1,200DKK ($180-$220). Although you might think that there would be an indirect correlation between the cost of running shoes and the number of runners, I am utterly convinced that the whole of Copenhagen is out running around “The Lakes” over the weekend.
I am moving to my permanent apartment over the next several days so it may be some time before my next post.