Edinburgh Expat Life Scotland

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Edinburgh

Jan 18

View from above looking down Victoria Street, Edinburgh

When I decided to move to Edinburgh, my excitement level was at an all-time high — and, annoyingly, so was my anxiety level.

One minute I’d be deliriously happy, lost in a daydream imagining what my life in Scotland would be like. Five minutes later, I’d swing to the opposite end of the spectrum, my mind awash with thoughts of the dreaded what-ifs: what if I can’t find a job and run out of money? What if I hate it and want to move back home? What if I don’t make any friends?

I’m sure anyone who’s ever moved abroad can relate — those what-ifs and imagined worst-case scenarios can mess with your head, making you question your decision to uproot your life and relocate to a new country.

If you’re anything like me, I’m guessing you’ve also spent hours scouring the internet, looking for answers and reassurance as you try to navigate everything that comes with a big international move.

I certainly did! And while I came across some helpful information, it wasn’t quite as specific or detailed as I’d hope it’d be.

Like, all I wanted was a comprehensive depiction of day-to-life in Edinburgh, a behind-the-scenes peek at what living in the city is really like, AND all the practical information I needed to make my move there seamless as can be. Was that too much to ask?

Apparently it was, because I struggled to find most of that info online. And that, my friends, is why I wrote this post (along with my monthly expat in Edinburgh round-ups, my nearly 3,000-word guide to living in Edinburgh, and all the other Edinburgh expat-related content on this blog) — so that you can have an easier and (hopefully) stress-free experience moving to Scotland’s capital.

But now that I’ve managed to waffle on and veer ever so slightly off-topic, let’s get back to the topic of this post, shall we?

Here are ten things I wish someone told me before I moved to Edinburgh.

Historic tenements buildings along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

1. Living in Edinburgh isn’t always sunshine and rainbows

Now, I know I paint a very rosy picture of my life in Scotland on this blog (and that’s a completely accurate representation of my expat experience), but my time in Edinburgh wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns.

To be fair, when I look back on my stint abroad, it was ONLY rainbows and unicorns. But, once I remove those pesky little rose-coloured glasses, I remember my experience in its entirety: yes, my time in Edinburgh was mostly fantastic, but it was also peppered with plenty of challenges and heartbreak.

There was the painful (albeit relatively short-lived) period in between jobs where I was constantly worried about how quickly my bank account balance was dwindling.

There was the crushing disappointment of having to leave when my visa expired and say goodbye to a life I loved before I was ready.

There were all those minor health issues that made me wonder whether the city was trying to kill me slowly (seriously, I felt like I constantly had a cold/cough/random illness in Edinburgh which, mysteriously, doesn’t happen now that I’m back in Canada).

It’s inevitable: when you move to a new country, you’re going to face some significant setbacks and disappointments, so remember to accept whatever comes your way and try to roll with the punches as best you can.

2. … but everything will work out in the end

You know those over-used and incredibly cliché phrases: everything happens for a reason and everything will work out okay in the end? Try to remember them whenever shit hits the fan (and shit will hit the fan at some point during your time abroad).

Despite all the hiccups I experienced in Edinburgh, everything turned out to be alright, and it happened exactly as it was supposed to in the end (even if it took me a few years and many a breakdown to realize that).

Ah, retrospect. Where would I be without you?

3. You’ll start drinking too much

It’s not like I moved to Edinburgh and turned into a raging alcoholic, but Scots like to drink — and they like to hang out in pubs after work, on the weekends, during the week, on their days off… you get the picture.

And when you’re constantly surrounded by Scottish people who like to drink, you’re bound to pick up on their habits.

The pub culture is real in Edinburgh, folks.

4. You’ll regret not spending more time travelling around Scotland 

Cheap flights are both a blessing and a curse; one on hand, it’s delightfully easy to fly to any number of countries across the European continent for next to nothing.

On the other hand, it’s way too easy to prioritize travel to places outside of Scotland — which is something I now regret doing.

Learn from my mistakes, people!

Black taxis parked along Princes Street in Edinburgh, Scotland

5. You’ll end up realizing Scotland does so many things better than your home country

It’s only natural for expats to compare their adopted home to their actual home. While so many people talk about everything they miss from their respective home country, I ended up realizing how many things Scotland does better than Canada.

Before I say what I going to say, I want you to know I’m not an ungrateful little brat — and I’m fully aware how lucky I am to live where I do.

I’m eternally grateful to call Canada home, but let’s be real: no country is perfect. So won’t you indulge me as I play the expat country comparison game, then?

#1: Cell phone plans

When I found out you can get 3GB of data and unlimited texts for £10 per month (the equivalent of $17 CAD) I was like: wait, WHAT?

Obviously I was thrilled to pay next to nothing for my monthly phone plan in Edinburgh, but I was also slightly enraged that phone companies in Canada get away with charging quadruple the fee for fewer services.

(Canada has the most expensive cell phone plans in the world, just in case you think I’m being dramatic.)

#2: Vacation time

Fellow North Americans, I know that, like me, you probably have a visceral reaction when someone from Europe says they get five or six weeks off every year. Going back to a measly three weeks vacation time was probably the hardest adjustment to make after leaving Scotland.

#3: Public transport

God, I miss the days where I could hop on a bus or train and get just about anywhere in the UK. AND it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. AND it was comfortable and reliable.

Meanwhile, to get to Niagara from Toronto (which is a 1.5-hour drive, by the way), I have to take a painfully slow and expensive three-hour train + bus journey.

So yeah, living in Scotland made me realize the Scots know what they’re doing. Take note, Canada.

View of the Grassmarket from Granny's Green steps in Edinburgh, Scotland

6. You’ll end up wanting to stay for, like, ever

Whew, I didn’t see this one coming, to be honest.

While I was laser-focused on trying to achieve all the goals I’d set out for myself while living abroad, I ended up building a life I really loved — one that made me feel happy and content and fulfilled.

So I guess it’s no surprise I ended up wanting to plant some roots and make Edinburgh home for the foreseeable future…

…until the UK immigration system destroyed my dream, that is.

7. Saying goodbye will be the hardest part of your entire expat experience

I’ve already talked about this ad nauseam on this blog, so I won’t go over it yet again. In short, I wanted to stay in Edinburgh, I couldn’t get a visa, and then I had to say a painfully heartbreaking goodbye. The end.

LOL, JUST KIDDING! I actually sort of refused to accept that I couldn’t stay in Scotland and went back twice after my visa expired, and then eventually (read: two years later) came to terms with having to leave.

Like I said, I’ve talked about it far too much already, but if you’re feeling particularly nosy curious, you can read all about my expat saga here:

Red phone booths along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

8. You won’t have time to do it all

Me, before I moved to Edinburgh: “Two years is basically an eternity. I’m going to travel to 3238423 countries and road trip across the entirety of Scotland and advance my career and make new friends and try new things and…”

Me, at the end of every month in Edinburgh: “HOW have I been here for this long ALREADY?!”

Does time go by faster when you live abroad? Is that a thing? Trust me on this one: your time in Edinburgh will fly by faster than you can say “Haud yer wheesht!”

Actually, your Youth Mobility Scheme Visa will probably expire by the time you learn to pronounce that phrase properly. Oh, Scotland.

9. You’ll have to learn a new language (well, sort of)

Moving to a new country is tough, especially when you don’t speak the language and the culture is starkly different from your own.

Luckily, Scottish culture is fairly similar to Canada’s and we speak the same language — or so I thought until I moved to Edinburgh and realized Scotland has its own vernacular. As it turns out, we only kinda sorta speak the same language.

Okay, so technically people in Scotland speak English, but thanks to the mind-boggling amount of slang, Scots words, and regional accents and dialects — each with their own variations of words and unique-to-them jargon — you’ll start to wonder whether you and the locals are, in fact, speaking the same language.

It’s not just the slang you have to get used to — you’ll also feel like you don’t know how to pronounce anything either. I’ve mentioned this before in my Edinburgh Expat Guide, but I learned the hard way with street names like Cockburn (co-burn) and Buccleuch (book-loo).

The view toward New Town and the Firth of Forth from Castle Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland

10. Summer doesn’t really exist in Scotland

“Wait, so you’re telling me it doesn’t get warmer than, like, 17°C in the summer?!”

I genuinely did not understand what my Scottish friend was saying the first time she tried to explain Edinburgh’s “summer” weather to me.

Come to think of it, I’m glad I was blissfully unaware of the fact that Edinburgh doesn’t get a proper summer because it probably would have made me think twice about moving there.

Is there anything you’d add to this list? What do you wish you’d known before moving to Edinburgh (or somewhere else abroad)? I’d love to hear your input and experiences!


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Are you thinking of moving to Edinburgh? Learn from my mistakes before you relocate! Here are 10 things I wish someone had told me before I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland.

25 Comments

  • Reply Tony Chen Feb 02 at 7:13 pm

    Hello Ashley thanks for the honest review of Edinburgh 😀 I can totally relate to the feeling of moving a new place, since there will always be thoughts of how are the people like, will I enjoy it and so forth. And once you fall in love with the place the saddest part is to leave the comfort of the people and culture there

    P.S. I never traveled to Edinburgh but I will add it to my list
    Tony Chen recently posted…How Many Pieces of Sushi Per Person for Party?My Profile

    • Reply ashleywanders Feb 03 at 10:16 pm

      Hey Tony, you’re welcome, and glad to hear you can relate! 🙂 You should definitely add Edinburgh to your list — I’m sure you’d love it!

  • Reply Aiden Apr 28 at 10:03 pm

    I completely agree with these, especially number four. I’ve lived here for almost two years now and always wanted to go to the Isle of Skye, the Highlands and spend more time in the other cities (especially Glasgow and Aberdeen) but haven’t as I prioritised flights instead. As you mention, they are cheap, so it initially feels like a waste of time and money to stay in Scotland. As soon as I can, I will go up to the North of Scotland. Fortunately, I’m here for a few more years.

    I would also add that Edinburgh doesn’t represent Scotland as a whole very well. As the capital and home of the Parliament, it seems to have much more investment and a different atmosphere than other areas. Another reason why it’s worth exploring outside of the capital!
    Aiden recently posted…Lockdown Learning: 4 Free Certificates to Collect OnlineMy Profile

    • Reply ashleywanders May 08 at 2:19 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Aiden! And I’m so happy to hear you’ll be heading north as soon as you can — there’s SO much more of that region I’d love to explore! Definitely regret not doing it while I had the chance. I totally agree that you need to travel beyond Edinburgh to really get a feel for Scotland! The problem is, I love that city so much I never want to leave when I’m there haha.

  • Reply Kalie Jun 24 at 4:45 pm

    Hi Ashley!
    Kalie here from ExpatsEverywhere. Awesome information! We just did a video on our channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-0kGSwlSRM&list=PL25TVkE0JZWmiLYti4cS8Nj2uLH7OARYN&index=15&t=0s) about moving to Edinburgh but it was tough because although Josh and I have traveled a lot, Edinburgh is a place we haven’t been. So we had to do a lot of research before giving our viewers information. I was researching a bit more and came across your blog. Since there is interest in Edinburgh right now on our channel, we would love to interview you about being an expat there. Maybe we can figure out how to collaborate? I’ll try to reach out through your contact info but hopefully our video helps give your readers some more info!
    Kalie
    Kalie recently posted…Canadian Expat Living in Stockholm, SwedenMy Profile

    • Reply ashleywanders Jul 02 at 7:29 pm

      Hey Kalie! Great video and thanks for reaching out to collaborate 🙂 Looking forward to chatting more about my expat experience in Edinburgh.

  • Reply George Sep 17 at 12:02 am

    Lived in Edinburgh for 18 years but the Highlands is the place to be absolutely stunning

    • Reply ashleywanders Sep 21 at 5:51 pm

      I agree – the Highlands are a spectacular part of the country!

  • Reply David Oct 23 at 4:14 pm

    Thanks for all the great info! Who was your cell plan through? We had something similar in Germany through Lidl – we paid 13 Euros a month for each line and it was active everywhere we traveled in Europe.

    • Reply ashleywanders Oct 25 at 9:25 pm

      You’re welcome! And that sounds like a great deal. My cell plan was with Giffgaff.

  • Reply Mike Barton Dec 08 at 3:14 pm

    The non existent summers are a complete deal breaker for me.

    • Reply ashleywanders Dec 13 at 5:25 pm

      It’s definitely an adjustment! But the milder winters *almost* made up for the crappy summer weather haha.

  • Reply Gretchen Benson Dec 14 at 1:22 pm

    Thank you for all the great info. The weather is surely quite bleak, with a few days of sunshine. I always had to check accurate info on weather through apps like Openweather, Aeris, or Climacell before important activities. But somehow the place has a lovely charm, and I wish I would go back one day soon.

    • Reply ashleywanders Dec 22 at 2:50 pm

      You’re welcome 🙂 And yes, it’s still such a lovely city despite the weather!

  • Reply Ludmilla Haskell Dec 31 at 9:44 pm

    Ashley….I was born in Edinburgh over 60 years ago and now my husband and I are looking into spending our retirement there….what are we to expect?

    • Reply ashleywanders Jan 20 at 10:02 pm

      Hi Ludmilla, I don’t have any insight when it comes to retiring in Edinburgh, unfortunately! Best of luck with your move if you end up there!

  • Reply Sharon Gullikson Jan 22 at 4:36 am

    You crack me up!!!! Women’s rights are being stripped away in the USA? You must listen to the liberal media (I’m being redundant, I know). Thanks for your take on the city. We are trying to find a different country to live in. It is funny that certain people think that the USA should let anyone, ANYONE, just come into the country to live, have taxpayers support them, etc. But they have no problem with other countries, like Scotland, having rules and laws about non-citizens moving there. Some countries require a person to bring $2Million, buy a house, not be able to buy property, etc., etc., etc. But the USA should not be allowed to limit or prevent non-citizens from coming? People don’t think.

    • Reply ashleywanders Jan 22 at 12:55 pm

      Your assumption that I listen to the media really cracks me up! Just for the record – I do not watch or listen to any news from mainstream media outlets, and I’m fully aware of the biases/falsities/insanity they promote. I wrote this post nearly two years ago, and the women’s rights comment was tied to certain events happening around that time. I suppose I should remove it now that it’s no longer relevant to current headlines (and to avoid having to reply to any other comments like this 😉 ). I’m not sure what the second half of your comment/rant has to do with me or this blog article, but I’m wishing you the best of luck with your search/move!

  • Reply Robert M Jan 25 at 1:37 am

    Thank you for this. I plan to retire in Edinburgh but worry about living expenses. Average income does not necessarily mean adequate income. I don’t want to move and be destitute!

  • Reply Ross Feb 27 at 3:38 pm

    Folks be warned living in Scotland and visiting are two COMPLETELY different things.

    Visiting Scotland you can expect:

    Charming locals, beautiful old buildings, Some lost connection to your deeper history as a caucasian, beautiful scenery. Yes phone plans are nice and cheap. So is alcohol and tobacco in comparison to Canada. Drinking more than usual.

    Living in Scotland you can expect:
    Very narrow minded people, if you so much as open your mouth as a foreigner or worse yet you are of a visible minority, it is likely you will endure some form of racism or even a physical altercation.

    Drinking. It’s all they do literally, there are very few social opportunities outside of the pub. The weather is shit. All the time.

    And if you want to change up the pace and move to the ‘idyllic’ countryside? Don’t bother, it’s even worse out there. Definitely do not have kids there and expect the local kids to not bully them senseless.

    Sure Scotland is a great place to live, if you are born there and your skin is the right colour.

    Be warned.

    Go for a visit, pump some tourism dollars into the economy, sample some whiskey on a distillery tour or go for a wonderful hike somewhere. But I don’t recommend living there. it’s just a depressing place really.

    • Reply Zahra Jul 04 at 12:17 pm

      Lol – I was thinking of moving to Scotland for 6 months, but after reading your comment – I’m not so sure! I’m definitely the wrong colour, wrong faith but I sound posh! Guess I’ll be you’d to “go back home” as I experience in most Northern UK cities 🙂

  • Reply Helen Donohoe Mar 17 at 1:00 am

    Hello Ludmilla:

    I come from Edinburgh but have been in Canada for a long time. I am in Edinburgh frequently, when COVID is not around! There are lots of retirement and non-retirement flats for at reasonable prices but rules and conditions are strict. You would have to check what applies to non-Britons. Check the espc website for property for sale. As a resident you would eligible for the over 60 travel card, with free transportation by bus in Edinburgh itself and throughout most of the country. You don’t say where you are living now.
    Ashley, congratulations for moving to Auld Reekie for a while at least and managing the lingo! I hope you have recovered the letter “t” in your speech and can now say water instead of wa-er and bottle instead of boa-al. The famous Edinburgh glottal stop!

    • Reply ashleywanders Jun 09 at 12:58 pm

      Thanks for your info and advice here, Helen! My Canadian vernacular has returned since being back home 🙂

  • Reply Ana Marsh Jul 19 at 8:53 am

    When you were there, what were some safer areas, especially at night, and what were the more dangerous/rougher areas in Edinburgh? Thanks!

    • Reply ashleywanders Aug 03 at 1:51 pm

      Hey Ana, I never felt unsafe at any point while living in Edinburgh. Certain areas – like parts of Leith for example – do have a reputation for being a bit “rough” or less safe than neighbourhoods like New Town, Stockbridge, and Bruntsfield.

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