All costs are approximated in US dollars at the current exchange rate of 6.94 Danish kroner to 1 USD.
Let me start by saying this: I absolutely love living in Copenhagen, but it is not cheap. Coming from Canada, the high cost of living here shocked me, but it is an incredible experience worth paying the high prices for (even though you may grumble internally every time you drop $7 on a coffee). The reason Copenhagen is so very expensive can be summed up in one word: taxes. Sales tax is 25% and income tax starts at 36%. But health care is free, university is free, parental leave is generous, wages are high – the unofficial minimum is about $16-18 per hour – and the quality of life is too. Copenhagen is a beautiful city, with an incredible range of places to explore and things to see and do. Not to mention the amazing food! As a tour guide, I often encounter starry-eyed tourists dreaming of making a life in this wonderful city – but what’s the reality?
Housing in Copenhagen
The biggest challenge with finding housing in Copenhagen isn’t so much the cost, but the availability – the rental market here is brutal, and often it’s who you know that can land you a place over the hundreds of other hopefuls. The cost of a rental depends heavily on the location, both in proximity to the city centre and the neighbourhood it’s in – living in posh Frederiksberg will cost you far more than a place in student-friendly Nørrebro, for example. Many people here live in shared accommodation, which is of course cheaper but also easier to come by. In Copenhagen proper, you can expect to pay from around 4000 Danish kroner (close to $600 US) per month for a room in an apartment and from about 7000 kroner ($1000 US) per month for an apartment of your own. The other cost to be prepared for when renting in Copenhagen is that a deposit of three months rent is the norm, and many landlords also require three months of prepaid rent, which covers the last three months of your rental, and then of course the first month’s rent. So, you can be looking at paying seven months rent in advance, which means that $1000 a month rental can cost you $7000 up front! Of course, the good news is you get almost all of that back later on if you look after your place and don’t break your lease.
If you are renting short term from a private citizen, the rent and deposit are often much lower, and prepaid rent is not required. We got very lucky with our first ‘real’ apartment here (after several short-term rentals and even a hostel) in that the owner charged a very reasonable rent (just under $1000 per month including heat, hot water, and internet) for a 55m2 (592 sq. ft.) one-bedroom apartment in one of the nicest neighbourhoods and did not request prepaid rent. After our son was born and our lease had ended (most leases in central Copenhagen are limited to two years), we moved to the suburbs to a 82m (883 sq. ft.) two-bedroom apartment which costs around $1200 in rent and heat/hot water, plus electricity (about $35/month) and internet ($30/month). Because our apartment is owned by a housing company, we had to dig deep for the seven months of rent to secure it. The most irritating expense is the TV license – anyone with a TV, computer, or even smart phone must pay about $360 per year for DR (the national channel) whether you watch it or not.
A quirk of Copenhagen living you need to be prepared for is the bathrooms: they are tiny! Sometimes just a wet room with the shower over the toilet, and I’ve only ever seen one apartment with a bathtub. The toilet in our first apartment was in a former storage closet and the shower was in the kitchen! Also, you can’t assume that an apartment will have its own shower or even toilet – some older buildings still have shared facilities. The bathroom situation is due to the age of the buildings and the fact that toilets and showers had to be crammed into limited space after en suite facilities became the norm.
Only 14% of Copenhageners travel to work or school by car. Cars are expensive, and they’re inefficient. It’s a city designed for bikes, and cycling is by far the cheapest and most efficient way to get around. If you’re not a cyclist (and I’m definitely not), the public transportation system is great, and surprisingly affordable for residents, if not for tourists. Most people use the Rejsekort, akin to London’s Oyster card, that you top up and scan every time you get on and off of your bus or train. It’s a very tricky system in that you’re never really sure exactly what you’re paying, as it varies by zone, distance, time of day, and how much you travel. It is far cheaper than single tickets, costing $1.75-2.15 per zone rather than $3.45. If you’re traveling in the same area daily, the best choice is an old-fashioned paper pass. This of course also depends on the distance you’re covering. When we lived in the city center, my husband and I each paid about $54 per month to travel two zones. Now that we live a 20-minute journey from the center, he is now paying $118 per month for five zones. So if you want to save money, get on that bike!
When grocery shopping in Copenhagen, the basics are surprisingly cheap: a liter of milk, a loaf of bread, and a bag of pasta each cost about a dollar. A stick of store brand butter is about $1.50 and a dozen eggs $2.85. Fifty store brand diapers cost just $7. Of course, it depends where you shop: the low cost supermarkets of Netto and Aldi are much cheaper than the fancier Irma, and the produce shops of the outer neighbourhoods are cheaper than the Torvehallerne Market in the city centre. Some things are consistently expensive, like meat, fish, vegetables and fruits (which are bafflingly sold by the piece – about 35 cents for an apple or banana – and not by weight). Toiletries like shampoo, body wash, and toothpaste are also very pricey, as are feminine hygiene products. They do have some great sales though, so whenever I see discounted toiletries, I’m sure to stock up.
Furnishing your home and buying clothes can also be a costly endeavor, as designer brands are everywhere, and even basics can be expensive. There are some options though – our apartment is filled with Ikea furniture and housewares, and my wardrobe pretty much consists of affordable H&M pieces. To get around the high cost of baby needs like stroller, change table, and high chair, we bought online from Amazon Germany. There are lots of secondhand shops, some of which specialize in baby things, that have really nice items in great condition for very cheap.
Luxuries in Copenhagen
This is where the real high prices come into play – all the fun stuff, like dining out, going for coffee or drinks, or a trip to the movies. As I mentioned, Copenhagen is a food city, and won’t have a shortage of places you’ll want to try – but your wallet will pay the price (literally). Let’s start at the bottom, with a caffeine fix: a regular coffee will set you back about $4.15, whereas a latte or a frappucino can range from $5-7.50 (!!), add a slice of cake for $5 and you pay $12.50 for your little coffee break. A quick McDonalds fix will run you about $9 for a combo, while a ‘cheap’café lunch hovers around $20 per person. A restaurant dinner starts from about $40 each, but head to a high-end spot to try some New Nordic cuisine and you’ll be paying up to $300 per person for the experience. If you want to go out for drinks, a cheap beer at a bar is about $5, and a fancy one can be over $7. Cocktails range from about $11-18 each. While the bars and restaurants of Nyhavn are filled with tourists paying through the nose for drinks, many locals will buy cheap beers in the grocery store ($5 for a six-pack) and drink them by the water’s edge or in the local park. There are also cheap eats to be found at Copenhagen Street Food and other markets and food trucks, with a delicious range of dishes starting from about $5. The last time we treated ourselves to the movies, including a popcorn and a drink each, it cost about $60. The good news is that there are tons of free or inexpensive events, concerts, festivals, and markets to experience without breaking the bank.
Is it worth Living in Copenhagen?
Yes!! We’ve established that Copenhagen is an expensive place to live. But the wages are high, the city is beautiful, and there is so much to see, do, and eat. Life is good! The most difficult part is finding a place to call home – once you’ve done that, it’s smooth sailing from there. If you’re like me, you will fall in love with Copenhagen – a love that can’t even be tempered by a $7 cup of coffee.
This post is by Caroline Hadamitzky, a freelance writer, tour guide, and blogger with a passion for all things travel. Originally from Canada, she traveled the globe working on cruise ships before settling in Copenhagen, where she loves helping travel lovers from all over the world discover her adopted city. Caroline’s blog LoveLiveTravel shares her expat adventures in Denmark as well as travels around Europe and the world, while her travel writing and photography includes work for Lonely Planet.