*This post was updated July 2020
So, you’re moving to Edinburgh? Or maybe you’re just toying with the idea of living in Scotland’s bonnie capital.
I lived in Edinburgh on a Youth Mobility Scheme Visa for two years and absolutely loved it. I had the time of my life, and I was completely devastated when
I was deported it came time to leave. (Which you can read about here and here, should you feel inclined.)
Read More: Applying For a Youth Mobility Scheme Visa
But before I arrived, I worried about a million things: finding a job, adjusting to the weather, making friends — the list is never-ending.
Moving abroad is a nerve-racking experience, so I’ve put together tips and information to help alleviate some of the stress — including all the things I wish I knew before moving to Edinburgh.
If you’re looking for information about what to do when you first arrive (i.e. opening a bank account, registering with a doctor, etc.) check out this post: Moving to Edinburgh: Finding a Job and Getting Settled.
Ready to get stuck in? Scroll down for practical information, helpful tips, and a few (dozen) good reasons to live in Edinburgh!
Table of Contents
Day-to-day life in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is an incredibly livable city; it has all the fundamental elements of a major city, including world-class events, international restaurants, and lively nightlife, all within a compact, walkable space.
There’s always something going on here: the Scottish capital is host to an ever-changing rota of renowned festivals, including the largest arts festival in the world (AKA the Fringe Festival) and Hogmanay — one of the biggest New Year’s Eve parties in Europe.
There’s plenty of parks and green spaces, and you can find walking and hiking trails throughout the city. Public transportation is convenient and relatively painless. It’s busy and dynamic, but not overly crowded or overwhelming. Travel is cheap and easy: you can fly to a number of famous European cities in less than three hours.
In short, it’s a really easy city to live in.
For a snapshot of my day-to-life in Edinburgh, check out my Expat in Edinburgh Monthly Roundups
The cost of living in Edinburgh
Now that I’ve waxed poetic about Edinburgh, here’s a bit of bad news: the city’s fantastic quality of life comes with a hefty price tag.
Depending on the type of accommodation, number of bedrooms, and the location, rent prices can range anywhere between £400 and £800+ ($691 – $1,382+ CAD) per month (plus utilities and council tax); an average restaurant meal will set you back around £10 to £15 ($17 – $25 CAD); a pint of beer costs £4 ($7 CAD); a nice cocktail costs £8 ($13 CAD); and a monthly transportation pass costs £57 ($98 CAD).
And, for a rough reference, I would generally spend £25 to £35 ($43 to $60 CAD) per week on groceries. (Fellow Canadians, I feel your pain on the horrendous exchange rate.)
The average minimum wage in Scotland is £8.21 per hour for all workers aged 25 and over. This rate depends on your age and changes every April. You can find the current wage rates here.
Graduate/entry-level job salaries generally start around £1,000 – £1,200 per month, while skilled/experienced employees can earn upwards of £2,000 per month.
*Information and exchange rates accurate as of December 2019.
Finding a job
I often receive questions from readers who are worried about finding work in Edinburgh, and I always give the same advice: don’t be stressed about finding a job!
Edinburgh has one of the strongest economies in the UK. But, like anywhere, how quickly you’re able to find a job will depend on your work experience, how selective you are, and how much time and effort you allot to the application process.
A few of the largest sectors in Edinburgh are hospitality and tourism, health and social work, tech, finance, education, and administration. Two of the city’s biggest employers are the NHS Lothian (local healthcare agency) and the University of Edinburgh.
Restaurant and bar work is also widely available, especially during the Fringe Festival in August.
I mentioned the value of recruitment agencies in this post, and I’m going to reiterate the same advice: sign up with recruitment agencies as soon as you get to Edinburgh. With the help of recruitment agencies, I started working literally within a week of arriving. The work was temporary, but it eventually led to a full-time position.
Unless you’re trying to apply for a permanent position within a few months of the expiry date of your work visa, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty finding a job as a temporary citizen. I was even offered a permanent position nearly a year into my stay. (Bear in mind: I lived in Edinburgh pre-covid.)
When you find a job, remember that you’ll only be paid once a month (typically around the last Friday of the month), so be sure to have a solid cushion of funds to last while you’re job hunting and until you receive your first paycheck. However, if you find work through a recruitment agency, you’ll be paid weekly.
British CVs are, for the most part, similar to North American resumes. Just be sure to use British spelling when you’re writing one.
Finding a place to live
I had a friend in Edinburgh who kindly offered to let me rent her spare room, so I was lucky enough to avoid the hassle that is flat hunting. I’m no expert on this subject by any means, but friends have recommended Spareroom, Gumtree, and S1Rental for flat listings.
If you can’t find a place to live before you arrive, try Airbnb or Homestay for temporary accommodations for your first few days/weeks.
For more detailed and comprehensive information on flat hunting in Edinburgh, check out this Reddit thread.
In terms of neighbourhoods, here’s a brief run-down of some of the best areas to live in Edinburgh (summarized in ten words or less):
Leith – Up-and-coming. Gentrified. Some areas are a bit rough.
Stockbridge – Posh. Pricey. Charming.
Bruntsfield & Morningside – Plenty of green spaces. Favoured by families and students.
West End & Murrayfield – Quiet. Residential. Laid-back.
Old Town – Heart of the city. Medieval, atmospheric, and lively.
New Town – Beautiful Georgian architecture. Central business district.
Edinburgh is well-connected with extensive bus routes providing easy access to virtually anywhere in the city.
Day buses run frequently (every 10 minutes or so) between 4:00am and midnight. A single ticket costs £1.80 and a day pass costs £4.50, and you’ll need exact change when paying the driver. Click here for bus timetables and maps.
If you plan to use the buses frequently, I’d recommend purchasing a Ridacard, which provides unlimited travel (on day buses, night buses, trams, and the airport bus) for £60 per month.
After midnight, you can catch a night bus, but they run less frequently and they’re a bit more expensive.
The Airlink bus is an easy and cost-effective way to travel between the city centre and Edinburgh Airport any time of the day or night. (You don’t need exact change for this bus.)
Trams are the only alternative to buses, and they cover a limited route between New Town and the Edinburgh Airport. Click here for timetables and payment options.
Download the Transport for Edinburgh app for real-time bus and tram departure information, route maps and timetables, and to purchase tickets on your smartphone. Some of the older buses don’t announce the stops, so you can also use the app to track your location and figure out when to hop off.
The weather in Edinburgh can be pretty brutal. Summer is non-existent for the most part, it rains quite frequently, it’s almost always windy, and winters are notoriously long and dark.
As someone who hates the cold and worships the sun, I have a few pieces of advice:
Invest in an umbrella and a good waterproof jacket. This is an obvious one, but you’ll definitely need these in Edinburgh – especially if you want to, you know, do something outside once in a while.
Take advantage of every second of sunshine. Seriously, if it’s sunny, get your ass outside. While the weather can be dismal, Edinburgh is glorious in the sunshine. The city comes alive and every park, garden, and green space will be packed. You don’t realize how many people actually live in Edinburgh until the sun comes out.
Take a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is crucial for your overall health; it plays a role in everything from mood regulation to immune function and bone strength. This website (amusingly titled ‘Scots Need Vitamin D’) states:
“Sufficient sunshine to produce good Vitamin D levels is estimated to be around half an hour a day, in midday summer, arms, legs and face exposed without sunscreen.”
Umm, LOL, summer? Legs exposed? I wore shorts outside once in the two years I lived in Edinburgh. Basically, you’re going to need to take Vitamin D if you live in Scotland. The best form is Vitamin D3 – the same type that your body creates naturally.
Try a SAD light. Even as a Canadian, I found it difficult to adjust to the long hours of darkness during the winter months (the sun starts to set as early as 3:30pm between November and January). I used a SAD light (which mimics natural light) first thing in the morning and when I got home from work. I just bought one of the cheaper options from Amazon, but noticed it made me feel more alert and less blah throughout those months.
Get a sleep mask. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the daylight seems to be almost never-ending during the summer. The sun rises as early as 4am and, in some months, it doesn’t get fully dark until after 11pm. So if you’re anything like me (a grandma who goes to bed at 10pm every night), you’ll definitely need to buy a sleep mask or invest in some blackout curtains.
How to make friends
Making friends and finding a sense of community is arguably one of the most daunting aspects when moving to a new city.
Meeting people isn’t necessarily difficult, but trying to build a genuine, lasting connection with someone? It’s not easy. Especially as you get older, am I right?
Outside of work and school, here are few ways to meet new people and build your social circle in Edinburgh:
• Attend an InstaMeet. If you love photography (or even if you don’t), this is a fantastic way to meet new people. Incounters and IgersEdinburgh both arrange InstaMeets in Edinburgh, so definitely check out their profiles.
• Join expat Facebook groups. Just search something like “Canadians or [your nationality] in Edinburgh.”
• Download Citysocializer – an app that makes it easy for young professionals, locals, and people who’ve relocated to new cities to make new friends through social events.
• Check Meetup to connect with people through outings, events, and classes.
• Join a sports team. Gumtree has a list of teams looking for players.
• Volunteer. The Rotaract Club is geared toward young people looking to give back to the community and develop professionally, and Volunteer Edinburgh offers an extensive selection of volunteer opportunities.
• For women, I’d highly recommend joining the Edinburgh Girl Gone International group – a community of like-minded females who live abroad and love travel. They organize monthly meetups, and I met some lovely and inspiring people through this group. You could also try Bumble’s BFF feature.
If you’re living in Edinburgh with a Youth Mobility Scheme Visa, you’ll be covered by the National Health Service (which is fantastic, by the way). But if you travel abroad, finding insurance can be tricky.
As a temporary UK citizen, you won’t be covered by a UK travel insurance company. And since you’re living outside your country of residence, you can’t get coverage through a company back home, either. (At least I couldn’t.)
World Nomads is the only company I found offering coverage for my situation. They provide flexible coverage for nomads and travellers, and you can even purchase insurance while you’re already travelling.
Learn to speak the language
Technically Scots speak English, but between the sheer amount of slang and the odd Scots word thrown in for good measure, it sometimes seems like a completely different language.
Even after living in Edinburgh for two years, I still hear my Scottish friends utter words and phrases I’ve never heard before. Seriously, just look at this appendix of slang. Oh, Scotland.
Here are a few useful words and expressions to know:
Ken – to know
Braw – good/attractive
Dreich – miserable, cold, wet weather
Mingin – gross/horrible
Cannae – cannot
I dinnae ken – I don’t know
Steamin’/pissed/pished – drunk
Baltic – cold/freezing
Giving me the boak – making me sick
Daft – foolish/stupid
Fanny – vagina/also used an insult: “she’s such a fanny”
Raging – very angry
Roasting – hot (you’ll hear this a lot whenever the temperature rises above 17 degrees Celsius)
Weegie – a person from Glasgow
Much like Scottish accents, certain terms tend to be unique to specific cities or regions. Just because a term is used in Edinburgh, it doesn’t mean you’ll hear it in cities located further north – or even Glasgow for that matter.
Not only does the local lingo sound quite foreign at times, but Scots also pronounce things a bit differently:
Dog – dug
Out & about – oot & aboot (Canadians aren’t the only ones who pronounce it like this, apparently)
Down – doon
Cow – coo
Plus, there are a number of words that have a completely different meaning in Scotland:
Pants = underwear (try to avoid talking about your pants in public)
Trousers = pants
Chips = fries
Crisps = potato chips
Aubergine = eggplant
Bumbag = fanny pack
Fringe = bangs
Jumper = sweater
Vest = tank top
Waistcoat = vest
Remember not to pronounce every word phonetically in the UK. Cockburn Street, for example, is pronounced co-burn.
And, for the love of god, please learn to pronounce Edinburgh properly before you arrive. It’s Edin-burra, not Edin-borough or Edin-burg.
How to save money as an expat in Edinburgh
I’ll say it one more time: Edinburgh is a fantastic city — but living in Scotland’s capital doesn’t come cheap. Lucky for you, I’ve managed to suss out a handful of money-saving tips over the years.
Here are few ways to make your dollar go further and get the most bang for your buck while living in Edinburgh:
Buy your groceries from Aldi or Lidl. These are, by far, the cheapest grocery stores in the city.
Take advantage of stellar food and drink offers. A night out in Edinburgh will drain your wallet shockingly fast, but that’s not to say you can’t enjoy the city’s pub and restaurant scene. Here are some of my go-to food and drink deals for cheap eats and drinks:
- The Outsider lunch menu – This is one of my favourite restaurants — if not my absolute favourite restaurant — in Edinburgh, and their lunch menu is astonishingly inexpensive (we’re talking less than £10 for delicious, beautifully presented food).
- Oyster happy hour – White Horse Oyster Bar offers £1 oysters between 4pm and 6pm Monday – Thursday.
- Have a multi-course meal for less – Featuring an inventive menu that changes every six weeks, you can enjoy a six-course tasting menu for £29 at Six by Nico.
- Two drinks for the price of one – Ask for the £5 beer and bourbon special at Lucky Liquor, an awesome and cozy little bar in New Town.
Treat yo’ self for less. Moving to a new country is stressful, and you’ll probably find yourself pining for a spa day to get rid of that expat-induced anxiety at some point. If you want to de-stress but can’t justify shelling out hundreds of pounds, I’ve got a hack for you: head to the Turkish Baths in Portobello. You can float between the steam room, heated chambers, and plunge pool all day long for only £7.20.
Avoid taxis. Yes, this one is obvious, but it bears repeating: Edinburgh taxis are seriously expensive — so, get yourself a comfy pair of walking shoes and learn to love Lothian Buses.
Sign up with Taylor McKenzie. Want to make a bit of extra cash every once in a while? Taylor McKenzie is always looking for volunteers to participate in paid market research surveys and focus groups. You can’t rely on them for steady income by any means, but it’s a great (and easy) way to boost your income here and there. I was once paid £50 to participate in an hour-long focus group about TSB — not a bad way to make fifty bucks!
Do you have any tips for living in Edinburgh? Any other questions about moving to Scotland? Let me know in the comments!
*This post contains affiliate links to products I use, love, and recommend.
Looking for more Edinburgh posts? I’ve got you covered:
- Expat in Edinburgh: Monthly Roundups
- 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Edinburgh
- Millennial Money: Edinburgh Expat Edition
- 25 Telltale Signs You’re an Expat in Edinburgh
- 61 (Awesome) Things to Do in Edinburgh
- How to Survive the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
- Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh? Read This First