Originally posted May 2011. Pricing may be out of date. Finland has introduced tuition fees for foreign students since, as well as tuition in the US rising.
Looking online, reading through forums, and hearing stories, Finland sounds like the most expensive country to live in. With people warning that a single year of studies can easily set you back at least 12000€. Reading messages like these surprised me, I thought to myself, I lived in Finland for a year, and do not remember even spending half of that figure. This was two years ago… Maybe I’ve exaggerated those numbers in my head? Maybe my memory is a bit shady? I set out to investigate, and was quite surprised to find that my year in Finland actually turned out to be by far my cheapest year of my undergraduate studies. Granted, with scholarships paying for both my tuition at my home university and my rent at my host university, I was left only to pay for food. But I thought, hey, what if I would have had to pay for everything myself? Without my scholarships, would it still have been the cheaper option?
Below is a comparison between two similar cities. Pori, a city in Finland with about 80,000 inhabitants where I spent a year studying at Satakunta University of Applied Sciences (SAMK), and Richmond, a college town in Kentucky with around 30,000 inhabitants where I attended Eastern Kentucky University (EKU). For all prices in dollars I have used an exchange rate of 0.7 dollars per euro to reflect the prices of my study period in 2008-2009 (8 months).
Housing: Now, typically apartments in Finland are on the expensive side, but as a student you are allowed to sign up for a student apartment. This translates to a relatively cheap apartment. Where at Eastern I was paying 220€ for a single room with heavy restrictions, bathrooms shared among 32 students and a single stove for the entire building. In Finland for the same 220€ I had my own room, easy access to a kitchen, a bathroom shared with one other student, a large personal fridge, and all in a warm and modern design. I luckily had a furnished apartment, but in the case you do not, Finland’s second hand market is great, with quality items in good condition.
Pori, Finland: 1760€
Richmond, Kentucky: 1760€
Food: Food at EKU was great, and the same can be said about my experience at SAMK. As a freshman at EKU you are obligated to purchase a meal plan that can come out to around 5 euros a meal. In Finland student meals come out to around 2.50€ a meal, with no obligation to a meal plan. This means if I want to save some money and eat at home, I can. Prices of staples are fairly on par if not cheaper to what I’ve found in the US, a kilo of sugar in Finland cost 1€, a kilo of flour 0.70€. Potatoes, broccoli, carrots, onions, and apples are all reasonably priced at around 0.80€ a kilo.
Pori, Finland: 640-1680€
Richmond, Kentucky: 2400€ (with a meal plan)
Tuition: now this is where the big savings come in. Finland for the moment still offers tuition-free studies for foreign students. This is posed to change in the future, just as has already happened throughout Sweden. Compare this with the US where, in Kentucky as a resident, a semester at Eastern Kentucky University costs about 2320€. Coming in from out of state would bring the price up to a prohibitively expensive 6350€ a semester.
Pori, Finland: Free
Kentucky Bachelor’s: 4640€ per year
Kentucky Master’s: 3350€ per year
Books: every semester at EKU books were a big deal, costing upwards to a thousand dollars a semester. You could always save quite a bit looking for used books and asking professors if old editions were allowed in class. Still, even then this was always a significant cost. I thought books would pose the same hassle at SAMK, but you know what? I did not pay for a single book. If we needed to read more on a topic, the library was always well stocked, and online resources were plentiful.
Transportation: This a bit of a hard one to calculate. In Kentucky you really need a car to get around; public transportation for all practical purposes simply does not exist. Cities are not designed with pedestrians or bicyclists in mind, and distances are not short. Now this being said, it is very easy to catch a ride with someone to wherever you might be going. I did not have a car and never spent a cent on transportation. Realistically, I believe someone with a car might spend around 40 euros a month on gas within the city on top of standard maintenance costs. Gas in Finland is around four times more costly than in the US, although I doubt any foreign student will be purchasing a car. The good news is that public transportation exists, and cities are compact. A bike will typically get you wherever you need to go, and can be found for under 50 euros used. Buses are a bit expensive at around 2.50€ a ride, but you can get a monthly bus pass for around 30 euros.
Richmond, Kentucky: 400€ (if you have a car)
Pori, Finland: 50€ (by bike)
240€ by bus
Medical costs: Also a huge savings for a US citizen. Even though you are not covered by the Finnish government, medical costs in Finland are far cheaper and accessible than anything you would find in the US. My last experience with the US medical system was being denied to see a doctor because I refused to pay a 400 dollar “registration fee” to have the pleasure to then pay for an appointment. If you decide to study in Finland for a period of two years or more you also receive access to municipal and oral health care via the student union.
Work: In this economy you will be lucky to find any work anywhere. But just to throw some figures out there, at the time of my studies minimum wage in Kentucky was about 4€ an hour. You would have to have quite a bit of luck, strong work ethic and nice contacts if you expect to make more as a college student. I am told finding work in Finland is just as difficult, I was never able to, but I’ve met many foreign students that have been able to find jobs and are making an average 10€ an hour.
(housing)+(food)+(tuition)+(Books)+(transportation) = (cost of studies)
Pori, Finland: 1760 + 640 + 0 + 0 + 50 = 2450€
Richmond, Kentucky: 1760 + 2400 + 700 + 4650 + 400 = 9910€
There we see already that necessary costs to study are already 7460€ cheaper per year. Take this over a period of two years for a Master’s or four for a Bachelor’s, and it’s easy to see how quickly the savings add up.
So what about entertainment, fun, and the rest of the luxuries that come with any free time you may have? You cannot eat out like you do in the US; even the cheapest kebab stands are going to cost you more than a sit down restaurant in the state of Kentucky. A normal ticket to a movie theater in Finland cost as much as it would to see the 3D IMAX version in the states. Ten minutes on the go-kart track will set you back a good ten euros. Shopping prices in the mall are going seem unreal. But hey, there is plenty to do for free. From ice skating in the winter to a stroll through the public part. The student union often hosts events free of charge, if not at very low prices. As mentioned before, check out second-hand options for shopping. If you absolutely need new clothing and items, look into ordering online, or ask a relative or friend to ship you what you need.
As with anywhere, there will be those that want to travel and visit their surroundings. Travel within Europe is more than possible on a tight budget and should definitely be taken advantage of. With Ryan Air in Tampere, EasyJet out of Helsinki, and Wizz Air out of Turku, you have plenty of low cost options to visit Europe. When I say low cost, I mean low cost; I have booked round trip flights for as low as 5 euros (All fees and taxes included). Just be flexible with your travel dates, as prices constantly fluctuate. Ferries are also a nice option and leave from Turku to Stockholm, and Helsinki to Tallinn. There are also many connections to Russia by land. As for accommodation, look into staying at a hostel. I’ve never tried it, but I hear couch surfing is also a nice free option for finding a place to sleep. You’ll find that many of the airports where low cost airlines fly out of will be packed from end to end with travellers spending the night. Tried this once at LaGuardia in New York City, easy to say that it was not the same experience 😉 . Do note that if you travel out of the Schengen area (e.g. Ireland, United Kingdom, Morocco, Russia) make sure you have the appropriate paperwork with you to do so.
Teaching facilities in Finland are incredible. Although my professors at EKU were great, always doing the best with what they had, one step into a Finnish learning environment and the difference is clear. Universities in Finland are focused on the students. Not only with professors creating a strong theoretical knowledge base. Above all, facilities are well funded exposing you to some of the best resources available. I worked in labs with some of the most modern equipment available; exposing me to practical knowledge that far surpassed anything that would have been made available to me at EKU.
Well, I hope this gives people better insight into what it costs to live and study in Finland. This will vary from city to city, especially if you are looking at something like Helsinki or Tampere. Your biggest cost will always be housing. Otherwise take your time to enjoy this beautiful country.
+ personal experience.