The Expat’s Guide to Living in Edinburgh

Guide to living in Edinburgh Scotland

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So you’re thinking of moving to Edinburgh?

I’ve been living in Edinburgh since the beginning of 2018. I moved here on a Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa, and I can honestly say Edinburgh is one of the best cities in the world.

But good things don’t come easy, and moving to Edinburgh (especially if you’re moving from abroad) can be challenging. However, you’ll have a much easier experience setting yourself up in Edinburgh once you’ve read this guide. This guide to living in Edinburgh includes is all the stuff I wish I knew before I moved here.

If you’re moving to Edinburgh alone like I did, don’t fear- Edinburgh is a great city for a solo traveller. It’s easy to meet people as Edinburgh is a cultural hub made up of expats and tourists from all over the world.

In this guide, I’ll explain the how to move to Edinburgh, the process of finding a job and accommodation, public transport, buying a car and swapping your license for a UK one so you’re fully prepared for your move to Scotland! I’ll also share my monthly personal living costs.

Right, let’s get into it!

This article may contain links to products/services I love that I may earn a small commission from. 

Dean Village in Edinburgh during spring

Guide to Living in Edinburgh: pros and cons

Before we get into it, let me list a few pros and cons about living in Edinburgh so you’re more prepared for the big move:

Pros of living in Edinburgh

  • You get to live in a city with a medieval castle as its centerpiece. Edinburgh Castle is a sight you will never take for granted, and because it sits high up on castle rock, it can be viewed from far across the city.
  • Despite being the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh isn’t rammed with people (except during August when it’s the festival season!). It’s perfectly acceptable to walk around the city in casual attire; it has a very laid back vibe which I love.
  • Free healthcare. It can be a little hard to get an appointment, but who can complain about free healthcare? The NHS is amazing.
  • The public transport is great. The bus system here is reliable and cheap, and you can jump on a train and you’ll be in Glasgow in less than 1 hour.
  • There’s a lot of green space. You won’t have to wander far to find parks and nature walks. You can hike up Arthur’s Seat, which begins close to the city centre, or stroll along the canal tow paths in Dean Village.
  • Love to travel? Perfect. Europe is on your doorstep with the options of both the Edinburgh and Glasgow international airports.

Cons of living in Edinburgh

  • Edinburgh is the most expensive city in the UK for students to live and work in, according to a survey by the Royal Bank of Scotland.
  • The weather. I was spoiled growing up in New Zealand, where the temperature is on average 5 degrees warmer than Scotland. The Scots love to complain about the weather in Scotland, and when it rains…it really rains. However, Edinburgh does get more sunlight hours than the majority of Scotland.
  • The lack of daylight hours during winter. It’s dark at 4pm, and the sun rises after 8am. I’m pretty sure this is how the pub culture in Scotland originated because there really isn’t much else to do when the sun goes down.
  • While buying a car is cheap, insurance is a real killer, especially if you don’t have a UK licence. I forked out £500 on third-party only insurance for 10 months! You also need to pay to tax your vehicle, and fuel is a lot more expensive compared to the USA, Canada and New Zealand.

So you’ve worked through the above and you’ve decided you’re still moving to Edinburgh? Great choice! Let me make the transition to Edinburgh as smooth as possible for you…

Read: The most romantic places to visit in Scotland

 

Read: How to spend 2 days in the Isle of Skye

 

Living and working in Edinburgh guide

St. Giles Cathedral

Things to do before you arrive in Edinburgh

It pays to be organised before moving to Edinburgh. Here are a few things you need to do before you arrive.

Set up a bank account

The UK doesn’t make it easy to open a bank account for anyone moving from abroad. To set up a bank account you need proof of your address in the UK, such as a utility bill with your name on it. This is a chicken and egg situation- what if you haven’t found accommodation yet? Luckily, there is a very easy solution.

Recently banks such as Monzo and Revolut have made it easier to set up a bank account online without having to be in the UK.

How? Well they are online banks. They don’t have a physical branch (this is the only downside- you cannot deposit cash into these banks). You can even use these bank accounts to receive money (yes, even from your job!).

After doing a bit of research I decided to go with Monzo. Their app is easy to use and I love that the card is fluro orange (it’s very hard to lose).

All you need to get a bank account with Monzo or Revolut is a UK address. I had a friend already living in Scotland, so I used her address when I applied (you don’t need to prove you live there, you just need a UK address for the card to be sent to).

Read: The Best Things to do in Edinburgh

 

Read: The Ultimate 10 Day Scotland Road Trip

 

You will also need to have a confirmation code sent to a UK number when you sign up for your account. I asked my friend who was living in the UK if I could put her number down, and she sent me the code (you’ll need to do this at the same time or the code expires). My brand new Monzo card arrived at her house a couple of weeks later.

As I mentioned before, the Monzo app is easy to use and one of my favorite things about this bank. You receive a notification on your phone after every purchase, so if your card were to be stolen you’d know straight away. You can also block your card using the app.

Monzo is also amazing for travelling around Europe- they don’t charge you any fees and offer you the standard rate you’ll find on XE. It was cheaper for me to use my card than it was to withdraw cash from an ATM (my usual practice when travelling).

You can now also set up an overdraft or apply for a personal loan with Monzo.

Once you arrive in the UK and get set up with a job and an address, you can then go to a general bank and sign up for an account. I still use my Monzo account to get paid from my job, but I have recently set up a bank account with Barclays that I use mostly as a savings account.

Join these groups on Facebook

If you’re an living in Edinburgh as a foreigner, try and find a group on Facebook that has people from your home country, or join a group you share a common interest with. There are a few groups worth joining before you move to Edinburgh. They are:

Kiwis in Edinburgh

Aussies in Edinburgh…Scotland

Canadians in the UK

Edinburgh Expat Americans

EU Citizens and Expats Edinburgh

Edinburgh Expats

If you have any questions, need help finding accommodation or a job, it’s useful to ask here. If you fancy a meet up with a familiar accent, these groups sometimes organise meet ups. 

Admiring the viw of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

Bonnie views from Calton Hill

When you arrive

Moving to Edinburgh on a visa? Picking up your BRP

If you’re moving to Edinburgh from overseas on a visa such as the Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa or ancestry visa, you need to pick up your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) within 10 days of arriving in the UK. This is VERY important.

Your BRP is basically an identification card that proves you can live and work in the UK. You will need to take it with you when travelling in and out of the UK (this is very important- on a trip to Europe I almost forgot to bring my BRP with me- I would have been denied access back into the country otherwise!)

When you apply for your UK visa you need to put down an address/post code where you can pick up your BRP.

It’s very important you will be in this area when you go to pick up your BRP as they will send it to the closest post office to the post code you give.

Read: An Edinburgh Day Trip to Avengers Film Location in St. Abbs

 

Read: My tips for travelling Scotland on a budget

Getting a UK mobile number

I use Vodafone as the coverage is fantastic in the Scottish highlands (I go hiking a lot).

You have two options. You can buy a Pay As You Go sim (same idea as a PrePay sim) or you can sign up for a contract.

Pay As You Go is essentially that- you’ll top up £20 each month (or however much depending on which bundle you buy) and you’ll get a certain amount of texts, minutes and data.

Phone companies generally won’t let you sign up for a contract (which are a lot cheaper than Pay As You Go) until you build up a credit rating, which can take up to 6 months.

However, I was approved for a 24 month contract after 5 months (and they even gave me the latest Samsung Galaxy!) so sometimes it does pay to ask.

If you use this link you’ll get £25 worth of Amazon vouchers after joining for 2 months on a Pay Monthly or SIM only plan, and I’ll get a voucher too. Win-win!

Snapping a pic of Victoria Street in Edinburgh

Picture perfect Victoria Street

Finding a job in Edinburgh

Finding a job in Edinburgh typically isn’t that hard. Businesses advertising for restaurant and bar workers are pretty common, especially in August during festival time.

I recommend signing up with a recruitment agency when you arrive, as well as looking for jobs advertised on LinkedIn and Indeed.

The minimum wage varies in Scotland depending on your age:

  • £8.21 if you’re 25 or older
  • £7.70 if you’re aged 21 to 24
  • £6.15 if you’re aged 18-20
  • £4.35 if you’re under 18
  • £3.90 if you’re an apprentice

This guide on employment law in Scotland, England and Wales contains lots of useful information about contracts, sick leave and annual leave.

It is common to be paid monthly in Edinburgh, so ensure you have good savings to last you until you receive your first pay check!

Royal Mile in Edinburgh

The top of the Royal Mile 

Finding Accommodation in Edinburgh

I’m not going to sugarcoat it- finding somewhere to live in Edinburgh is challenging. It took me approximately 4 weeks to find a flat, and a further 4 weeks to move in.

Note: For the sake of ease I’m just going to refer to finding a house to live in as a ‘flat’. The majority of housing in Edinburgh will be a flat share, and in New Zealand we use the term ‘flat’ to mean small house, apartment and shared house/apartment because we are lazy and like to have less words for things.

Usually you have to have proof of income in order to move into a flat in Edinburgh, which can be tricky if you haven’t yet found a job and/or want to find somewhere to live before starting the job hunt. The average rent in Edinburgh for a private room in a flat can range between £350-£650 per month depending on the area. You also need to take something called council tax into consideration.

Council tax is a tax everyone living in Britain has to pay based on the value of the property they reside in. It is divided equally between the tenants, so if you live alone you will end up paying a lot more. The more people that live in your flat, the less council tax you’ll pay. Council tax ranges from between £1147-£4018 per year, and it can be paid monthly. 

You can check how much council tax you’ll pay by clicking here. First you will need to know the Council tax band the property falls into; you can find that out on the Scottish Assessors website.

When finding out your council tax charges, you’ll want to look at the total, as this includes water and sewerage charges too. It’s best to check this before you go and look at a flat, in case the council tax pushes you out of your price range. The price of council tax is usually listed in the flat advertisement, however.

A word of caution: During the Fringe Festival in August it is nearly impossible to find accommodation in Edinburgh. The city’s population quadruples and greedy landlords hike their prices up. I highly advise either staying in another area of Scotland during this time, or finding somewhere temporary to stay on Airbnb.

Here’s my advice on where to look for accommodation:

Facebook

There are several Facebook groups you can join to find accommodation in Edinburgh. Beware, however as there are many scammers lurking on these pages and I had several scammers respond to my messages when I was looking for somewhere to live. You can still find genuine accommodation however, just use common sense. Here are a few of the popular Facebook groups:

Gumtree

Gumtree is a great way to look for a somewhere to live, and arguably the safest and easiest way how. I looked at many flats on Gumtree and the process is free and simple.

Spareroom

Spareroom is a website where you can find rooms to let, house shares and flatmates in the UK. There is a fee to join however. If you’re prepared to pay the fee, it’s the best way to find a room in a flat share. You’ll also have less competition here than on Gumtree.

Letting Agent

It is worth browsing letting agents websites for furnished or unfurnished flats. In Scotland, it is illegal for letting agents to charge fees, which is great news for anyone looking! This is a highly competitive way of looking for somewhere to live, and they tend to have a first-in, first-served policy, so you need to apply quick!

WHAT’S AN HMO?

If three or more (unrelated) people are looking to rent a flat, the flat needs to have an HMO. This can be annoying- I was turned down for a flat that didn’t have an HMO when I was looking at a flat with two of my friends. This makes looking for 2-bedroom flats all the more difficult because everyone wants them! If you are looking for a flat with more than 1 other person, always ask if the property has an HMO before looking to save yourself the time.

Short-term accommodation

If you need somewhere to stay short-term while you look for a flat, I recommend one of the following options:

Living in a hostel

I highly recommend this option to begin with, because it’s the easiest way to set yourself up in Edinburgh and this is what I did when I first arrived. Many hostels will take on workers in exchange for free accommodation. You’ll work a couple of hours a day either cleaning or working reception shifts, and have the rest of the day to explore the city and check out accommodation.

Working in a hostel is also a great way to make friends. Everyone is in the same boat as you, and everyone is interested in exploring the city. I’ve made some lifelong friends by living in hostels.

I lived and worked at Castle Rock Hostel, which is next to Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile. I spent 6 months living there before I found a fulltime job and moved into a flat. They take on regular long-termers and they are one of the biggest hostels in Edinburgh, nestled in the perfect location.

HelpX is another helpful website for finding accommodation at hostels and B&B’s in exchange for work.

Airbnb

If sharing a room in a hostel isn’t your thing, there are many properties on Airbnb that will allow you to stay for longer periods of time. You can rent out an entire apartment, or a room in a house. This works out to be far cheaper than staying in a hotel or a hostel most of the time (especially if you’re travelling with two or more people!).

I’ve known a few friends to bounce from Airbnb to Airbnb while they look for somewhere to live long term. It’s also a great way to get to know the area.

If you haven’t joined Airbnb yet, use this link to get a £25 voucher toward your first stay. You’re welcome!

View from Calton Hill in Edinburgh at night

The view of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

A guide to Scottish Weather

As I’m sure you’ve heard, the weather can be unpredictable in Scotland. As a general rule, the east coast is warmer and sunnier, however it’s not uncommon for Edinburgh to have four seasons in one day!

It can also snow in Edinburgh (usually between January-April) and you may hear someone refer to the ‘Beast from the East’- a severe snowstorm that hit the UK in 2018.

While the snow isn’t always that severe, bear in mind that it most likely will snow at some point during winter. The temperature during winter can get as cold as -8 degrees.

From my experience I feel the British just love to complain about the weather, so no, the weather is not as bad as it’s made out to be. If you’ve even been to Wellington in New Zealand during winter, just throw some snow into the mix and you’ll get the jist of what bad weather in Edinburgh looks like.

Some basics you should invest in before you arrive are an umbrella, rain jacket and waterproof shoes. Heels will not serve you well in Edinburgh!

Summer in Edinburgh is lovely; the daylight hours are incredibly long (be prepared for up to 20 hours of light at the peak of summer!). The temperature in summer tends to average at around 15-20 degrees.

In saying that, there can be heatwave days that will touch the early 30’s! These days are fairly rare, however.

Spring is my favourite season in Scotland; Cherry blossoms are in bloom for a few weeks during May, the daylight hours are extending, and there is (usually) less rain.

There’s a rule in Edinburgh, if it’s sunny- get outside and make the most of it! I recommend heading to Princes St Gardens or the Meadows.

Princes Street Gardens on a sunny day in Edinburgh

Princes Street Gardens on a warm day in Edinburgh

Average cost of living in Edinburgh

This is what I pay per month for my living costs in Edinburgh in 2019. Please note this is a guide and costs may fluctuate depending on where you live. I was living in Juniper Green at the time of writing this article.

Rent: £365 

Council tax: £58

TV and internet: £30

Grocery shop: £150 (per month)

Power and gas: £30

Gas/petrol: £60

Car insurance: £50 (third party only)

Total: £743.00

Read: You can walk to this Edinburgh Island

 

Read: The other castle in Edinburgh you need to visit

 

Average cost of public transport in Edinburgh

Lothian Buses

£1.70 per journey

£4 day pass

1 week pass  £18/£19 (direct debit a bit cheaper)

1 month pass £57

Train (Scotrail)

Edinburgh – Glasgow return £13 (travel anytime, fixed price so no need to book in advance)

Edinburgh – Livingston return £9.30 (travel anytime)

Edinburgh – Inverness return £25 (average cost if pre-booked online)

A sunrise over Edinburgh

Living and working in Edinburgh has its perks!

Applying for a UK drivers license

If you want to buy a car in Scotland and you don’t have a UK drivers license, you will eventually need to apply for one. 

Exchanging your NZ, Australian or international licence for a UK one is easy but a little time consuming (they really do NOT make things easy for us over here).

You can exchange your licence once you have been living in the UK for at least 6 months. You can drive on your NZ/Australian/international licence for 1 year and then you will need to swap your licence for a UK one.

Car insurance is also compulsory in the UK, and very costly if you have an overseas licence!

You need to send off your licence with the application, and you will not get this back.

I’m going to discuss the steps I took when I swapped my New Zealand license for a British one. If you’re from a different country the process will be the same but you may have some different rules, so do some research on the rules for your particular license when swapping it for a British one. 

Step 1: Get the correct DVLA form. You can order it online here or pick one up from a post office.

Step 2: While you’re waiting for your forms to arrive, you’ll need to get in contact with the NZ Transport Agency. New Zealand is a ‘designated country’ which basically means you have to prove that you sat your licence in a manual car. You need to contact the NZ Transport Agency for a Letter of Entitlement.

I simply emailed them and they replied with a document stating I had sat my full licence in a manual vehicle. It took them around 5 days to email the form to me.

Step 3: Once you’ve filled out the form (use black pen only- they won’t accept a pen of any other colour), you’ll need to pay for your new license by cheque (yep, seriously, cheques still exist in this country) or postal order. You cannot send cash or pay online for your UK licence.

Read: Guide to Driving Scotland’s North Coast 500

 

I went with the postal order option. You get these at the post office, and they are essentially a safe way of sending money through the mail. The post office does charge a fee (around £5) so I ended up paying around £48 in total (the licence costs £43 at the time of June 2019).

Step 4: Make sure you’ve included the following in the envelope: your BRP, photo, NZ drivers licence (remember to snap a photo of it before you send it away!) and your postal order of £43. You’ll also need a stamp for your envelope, which you can grab at the post office when you buy your postal order.

It takes up to 3 weeks for you to receive your UK driving licence.

So where is the best place to buy a car? Again, Gumtree is a great place to start, or you can go to a car dealer like Arnold Clark (they’re Europe’s #1 independently owned family-run car dealer). You can buy a cheap runabout for less than £1000 (my first car, a Nissan Micra, cost me £850), however you’ll pay more buying from a car dealer. You will have at least a 6 month warranty with a car dealer however.

Scottish bagpiper on the Royal Mile

Pipers frequent the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Summary

Moving to Edinburgh may be challenging, but it’s so worth it. I love living and working in Edinburgh so much that I’m planning on making it my permanent home! As long as you follow the advice in this guide, you’ll find making the transition far easier, and remember the more prepared you are, the easier the transition to moving to Edinburgh will be.

Do you have a question about moving to Edinburgh, or advice for anyone? Leave a comment below!

*****

PIN FOR LATER

PLANNING A TRIP TO SCOTLAND?

Hostelworld is the best place to book hostels

Airbnb is another affordable alternative to accommodation in Scotland (psst- get $33USD credit for your first booking here)

For booking hotels, I recommend comparing prices with Booking.com and Expedia

Going on a road trip? I recommend booking car hire with Auto Europe

Check the Scotrail website for train times and to buy tickets in advance

I recommend buying these Scotland maps: Northern Scotland, Western Scotland + Southern Scotland.

Shop my favourite travel guides on Scotland

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8 thoughts on “The Expat’s Guide to Living in Edinburgh”

  1. Very nice guide! Just to clarify, it is indeed possible to deposit cash into a Monzo account – it just needs to be done at any store which uses the Paypoint service. Fee is £1 per transaction.

    Also BRPs aren’t as much as a big deal for re-entry at border crossings for Kiwis as we can use the E-gates and aren’t required to surrender them. Probably would pay to still carry it though!

    1. Yvette Morrissey

      That’s great to know re Monzo! I have heard a few nightmares about people not being let back in without their BRP- so better to be safe than sorry 🙂

    2. You still need your BRP for re-entry. Sometimes the e-gates are down or there’s a problem and you are redirected to a manned desk (where you will need to show BRP).

  2. Riana Ang-Canning

    So much awesome information here! My partner and I were thinking of moving to the UK on a Youth Mobility Visa (we’re from Canada) but ended up deciding on Prague instead. But the idea of moving to the UK, especially Edinburgh, is definitely still very attractive to us. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yvette Morrissey

      You’re welcome! Living in Prague sounds like a dream- I’m yet to visit but I will get there one day. If you ever want a new adventure I can assure you Edinburgh is fantastic 🙂

    2. solifugo

      Nice Post!

      We didn’t have revolut / monzo
      when we moved 9 years ago, but we had HSBC passport account which allowed us to don’t have UK address and still get the account set. Maybe can be an alternative for some people.

      Really good info, what I’m missing though is the Bus to Glasgow too cheap and convenient to don’t be included 😉

      I cried a little

      1. solifugo

        …. Damn.. I pressed sent too soon..

        I cried a little thinking about all missing opportunities and people not coming just for brexit caos.

        Anyway, great list, thanks for sharing!

      2. Yvette Morrissey

        Thanks for the tip! I haven’t yet caught the bus from Edinburgh to Glasgow as I love catching the train, but Megabus are great and have used them before.

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ABOUT YVETTE

Hello, I’m Yvette! Originally from New Zealand, I now call Scotland home. I left New Zealand three years ago to go on an adventure around the world. I help people to go on their own adventures, whether it’s travelling to a new country, hiking or outdoor activities.

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