Edinburgh Expat Life Scotland Tips

Living in Edinburgh: The Expat Survival Guide

Oct 18

Edinburgh Princes Street Gardens Fountain

*This post was updated January 2024

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.

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!

Day-to-day life

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.

Edinburgh Calton Hill

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. Here’s a rough breakdown of what you might expect to pay in terms of rent and other expenses:

Rent: Depending on the type of accommodation, number of bedrooms, and the location, anywhere between £400 and £700+ per month in a shared flat (not including utilities like gas and energy).

Council tax: Roughly £120 or more per month for the whole household. Rates vary depending on the value of the property and discounts/exemptions are available for students.

Internet: £30 per month

Cell phone plan: £10 per month (I used giffgaff)

Groceries: £150 per month (this is roughly what I paid for one person)

Ridacard unlimited transportation pass: £62 per month

Single bus ticket: £2

Average restaurant meal: £15 – £20

Latte: £3

Pint of beer: £5

Nice cocktail: £9 – £10

The national minimum wage is £10.42 per hour for all workers aged 23 and over. This rate depends on your age and changes every April. You can find the current wage rates here.

Entry-level job salaries can fall in the range of £1,400 per month (after tax), while skilled/experienced employees can earn upwards of £2,000 per month.

Edinburgh Royal Mile

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 my Moving to Edinburgh: Finding a Job and Getting Settled post. And I’m going to reiterate the same advice from that post: 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.

Hays and Robert Half are two well-known agencies, and I’d personally recommend Blue Arrow and Time Recruitment.

Indeed, S1jobs, and Gumtree are a few helpful sites when job hunting.

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.

Edinburgh View from Scott Monument

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.

You can also join Facebook groups like Edinburgh Flat Share to find available rooms and potential housemates. Just be aware of letting scams, and never pay any money before viewing a property in person.

If you can’t find a place to live before you arrive, try staying at a hostel, 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 Grassmarket

Public transport

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 £2.00 and a day pass costs £5.00, and you’ll need exact change when paying the driver.

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 £62 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.

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.

Edinburgh New College

The weather in Edinburgh

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.

Edinburgh Royal Mile

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.

Edinburgh Royal Mile

Travel insurance

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.

Edinburgh Castle Winter

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-bruh, not Edin-borough or Edin-berg.

Edinburgh Castle

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.

Check out 5pm.co.uk and itison.comThis is where you can find loads of deals on everything from restaurants to spas, activities, weekend getaways and more.

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 £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 a fixed price 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 50 bucks.

Do you have any tips for living in Edinburgh? Any other questions about moving to Scotland? Let me know in the comments!

Read more posts about living in Edinburgh:


  • Reply Zhanna Oct 18 at 2:46 pm

    I am sure it was such a hustle to move to a different place. But Edinburgh looks so beautiful with all these building looking like they just came out of the fairytale movies. It looks like it was totally worth it.

    • Reply ashleywanders Nov 01 at 8:07 pm

      Edinburgh is incredibly beautiful, and the move was definitely worth all the stress and hassle 🙂

  • Reply Alex - My Life Long Holiday Dec 31 at 11:12 pm

    Lol – this made me laugh! Found you on a pinterest FB thread and saved it for a good read! My hubby is from Edin-burra and I love all the different words he has for everything. Great read! I’m assuming very informative but for me it was more about hearing what you had to say about the Scotts 😉

    • Reply ashleywanders Jan 04 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks so much, Alex! Glad it gave you a little chuckle 🙂 I looove all the Scottish slang as well – although it boggles my mind how many different words they use!

  • Reply Darby Apr 25 at 5:57 pm

    As difficult it is to constantly be relocating abroad, I wouldn’t mind at all to settle for a while in such a beautiful city. Great post!

    • Reply ashleywanders Apr 28 at 12:39 am

      Thanks, Darby! It is definitely a beautiful city to settle in 🙂

  • Reply Aaron Smith Jul 13 at 7:26 pm

    Wow! Great pics. That place looks amazing. I am definitely planning a trip to go visit.

    • Reply ashleywanders Jul 14 at 10:17 am

      Thanks, Aaron! It is an amazing city – hopefully you make it for a visit soon.

  • Reply Liz Nov 24 at 10:27 am

    Thank and you for this awesome guide! I’m looking forward to moving next June and this really helped!

    • Reply ashleywanders Nov 24 at 4:55 pm

      You’re welcome, Liz! So glad you found it helpful, and best of luck with your move next year 🙂

  • Reply sam Nov 27 at 5:26 pm

    Hi Ashley, Thank you for the lovely article. Can i ask your opinion please. I have two job offers. One in Berlin, one in Edinburgh. Currently I live in south of England, two hours south of London. I get the same amount salary for both offers. Since you are well travelled, would you choose to live in Berlin, or Edinburgh? My concern with Edinburgh is that it has a bad weather, and maybe its similar to where I currently live. I am originally from Canada, so cold doesn’t scare me. It’s the darkness and lack of summer that i’m more worried about. Thank you!

    • Reply ashleywanders Nov 28 at 2:27 am

      Hey Sam, well personally, I would choose Edinburgh because it’s my favourite city in the world, I have a great group of friends there, and it feels like my second home. However, Berlin is an incredible city, and if weather is one of your biggest concerns, perhaps Berlin would be a better choice for you. As much I love Edinburgh, the dark winters and lack of proper summer weather can be difficult! Best of luck with your move!

  • Reply ErinAttal Jan 13 at 11:33 pm

    Im planning on going to university there next September and this was super helpful, thanks for the tips. 🙂 My years of watching UK tv is finally gonna pay off with all the slang

    • Reply ashleywanders Jan 16 at 1:52 pm

      You’re welcome, Erin! 🙂 Haha you’re lucky you have a head start when it comes to the slang! Enjoy your time in Edinburgh!

  • Reply sam Jan 13 at 11:35 pm

    great pics!

    • Reply ashleywanders Jan 16 at 1:52 pm

      Thank you 🙂

  • Reply Alsie Jan 18 at 7:29 pm

    Hey there!
    Do you know if Edinburgh has available short-term sublets? Looking to go there this summer for a couple of months while on break from graduate school!

    • Reply ashleywanders Jan 23 at 10:24 pm

      Hey Alsie, I’m not too sure about short-term sublets to be honest! I’d maybe try searching on Gumtree or see if any Airbnb hosts might be willing to do a deal for an extended stay. Hope that helps!

  • Reply Tina Harris Jun 26 at 2:42 pm

    I’m looking to make an overseas move and I’m in need to make contact with some American Expats that could help me with making connections in Edinburgh, job, apartment, so on. Any help would be much appreciated.

    • Reply ashleywanders Jul 01 at 12:55 am

      Hi Tina, unfortunately I only had one American expat friend in Edinburgh, but she’s just recently moved backed to the US. Maybe there are some Facebook groups with American expats in Scotland, perhaps?

  • Reply Jenni Jul 03 at 8:31 am

    Absolutely amazing blog! So glad you felt at home in my home city. I’m also concerned I didn’t take Vit D supplements haha. Now I live abroad, I can’t handle the heat!

    • Reply ashleywanders Jul 07 at 7:15 pm

      Thanks so much, Jenni 🙂 You’re so lucky to call Edinburgh home! Vitamin D is definitely a necessity there haha.

  • Reply Caitlin Mar 14 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks for this Ashley, I’m moving to Edinburgh in a few weeks. I’m on the youth mobility visa and I tried London but I couldn’t find my feet, it’s too big of a city!
    I’m looking forward to using all the tips from your article to apply to my new life in Edinburgh and couldn’t be more excited x

    • Reply ashleywanders Mar 14 at 6:16 pm

      You’re welcome, Caitlin 🙂 I feel you on London – as much I love it, I could never live there. Best of luck with your move to Edinburgh – I’m sure you’ll love it!

  • Reply Shanna Constance Rittberg Apr 11 at 1:13 pm

    This is a REALLY great blog! Thank you so much for all of the content

    • Reply ashleywanders Apr 11 at 10:01 pm

      Thanks for saying that, Shanna 🙂

  • Reply Sara Iamonte Jun 16 at 6:55 pm

    What a lovely post! I love your writing style and your blog <3 Cannot wait to read more, hoping to not get too homesick about Edinburgh!

    • Reply ashleywanders Jun 25 at 5:44 pm

      Thanks so much, Sara! Appreciate your kind words 🙂

  • Reply Simona Oct 26 at 8:09 pm

    This is a great blog, lot of useful info! I am thinking of moving there soon, excited but scared! 🙃

    • Reply ashleywanders Oct 27 at 12:54 pm

      Thank you, Simona! Best of luck when you do decide to move there – I’m sure you’ll love it 🙂

  • Reply Roxy Nov 26 at 12:09 pm

    Love this blog, thanks for the info, I’ve lived in London all my life and am now quite bored of it and thinking of moving to Edinburgh. I’m definitely used to the cold already lol but have been to Edinburgh once before and though it was so beautiful 🙂

    • Reply ashleywanders Nov 26 at 10:09 pm

      Thanks, Roxy – so glad to hear you’re loving my blog! Edinburgh is an incredible city, and even better if you’re already used to the cold haha

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