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Moving to Aberdeen

At first glance, Aberdeen's grey facade can appear dull. Nicknamed the Granite City, Aberdeen makes liberal use of the material, which is visible throughout the city. But those expats who stay a while will find that on sunny days, the granite glints and shimmers beautifully in the sunlight, lending Aberdeen its other nickname of the Silver City. And while expats from tropical climes are unlikely to be whipping out their bathing suits, Aberdeen does hold the distinction of being one of Scotland's sunniest cities with an average of around 1,400 sunshine hours a year.

Thanks to its position as a Scottish economic powerhouse, Aberdeen has long been an attractive destination for expats. New arrivals are often struck by the seeming contrast between the city's proudly maintained heritage and its constant development driven by ambitious plans for the future.

Aberdeen is the hub of the North Sea oil and gas industry and has a reputation for its expertise in energy technology. The city's continuous demand for skilled workers remains a draw for expats.

After working hours, expats will find plenty to keep them occupied. Despite being a fairly small city, there is a vibrant range of artistic and cultural attractions in Aberdeen, which are spread across galleries, museums and performance venues. Expats who enjoy an active lifestyle can get involved in a number of sporting activities, from swimming at the city’s aquatics centre to hiking the trails of the Cairngorms National Park.

Despite its position on the east coast of Scotland, the city is relatively well connected to the rest of the UK and Europe, with good air, road and rail networks, so expats will have ample opportunity to travel. Buses are the main mode of transport in Aberdeen. While it is not essential to own a car in the city, it can be useful for exploring the country.

Those moving to Aberdeen with children will be pleased to know that a range of schooling options are available. Anyone legally living in the city can send their children to government-funded schools at no cost. 

Expats living in Aberdeen will also have access to good healthcare, whether in the form of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) or private hospitals.

Thanks to the Scottish hospitality, wealth of career opportunities and excellent lifestyle options the city offers, those moving to Aberdeen are sure to have a memorable expat experience.

Working in Aberdeen

Aberdeen is one of the most prosperous cities in Scotland and a cornerstone of the Scottish economy. Internationally recognised as a business centre with a number of globally competitive industries, Aberdeen has excellent academic and research capacities and is home to a growing, highly skilled workforce. Plus, unemployment levels in the city are consistently below the UK average, making Aberdeen a great place for people looking for work.


Job market in Aberdeen

The city’s economy was traditionally based on fishing, textiles and shipbuilding but these industries are no longer as prominent as they once were. Over the years, Aberdeen’s economy has modernised and traditional industries have given way to the high-technology sector, energy, agriculture, property and the oil industry, all of which have been significant contributors in the city’s economic boom.

Energy is the key driver of the local economy, employing roughly 10 percent of workers in the city. Aberdeen is recognised as one of the leading cities in Europe in oil and gas, a sector which attracts a large number of skilled expats to Aberdeen each year.

The property industry has also benefitted from the growth and development of Aberdeen’s economy. As the city grows, there is a sustained demand for both commercial and industrial property. This has made Aberdeen a popular destination for property developers and investors.


Finding a job in Aberdeen

Most expats who relocate to Aberdeen do so with a firm employment offer in place. It is a great city for expats with relevant skills and qualifications to build a career for themselves. Expats who move to Aberdeen often find themselves staying far beyond the end of their initial contract as there are plenty of opportunities for career progression in the city.

Those without a job offer can search for opportunities online or in local newspapers, though the best approach is often networking.

Finally, it is important to note that non-EU expats moving to Aberdeen to take up employment must hold a work permit to legally work in Scotland. For expats from outside the EU, the employer will be required to prove why they were unable to hire a candidate from within the EU for the position.

Cost of Living in Aberdeen

While the Granite City is one of the UK’s more affordable metros, it's still relatively pricey compared to many other expat destinations. The Mercer Cost of Living Survey for 2019 ranked Aberdeen as the 137th most expensive city out of 209 cities surveyed worldwide. According to these rankings, Aberdeen is the most expensive city in Scotland.

The good news, though, is that expats will likely find that the cost of living in Aberdeen is matched by their higher earning potential and supplemented considerably by the city’s social infrastructure.


Cost of accommodation in Aberdeen

The cost of rent in Aberdeen is among the highest in Scotland, largely a result of increasing demand for property. Accommodation will likely be the biggest expense facing prospective expats, so they should try to negotiate an adequate housing allowance in their employment contract to ease this burden.

As is the case with most cities, the area a person chooses to live in will have a noticeable effect on price ranges. Accommodation near the city centre is usually more expensive than in the suburbs.


Cost of food and entertainment in Aberdeen

Most grocery stores and supermarkets in Aberdeen have standardised pricing across the UK, with prices generally being quite reasonable. Some budget supermarkets, like Aldi and Lidl, offer many cheap off-brand versions of products that are surprisingly good quality.

Entertainment can be expensive, especially if expats go out fairly often. Alcohol is heavily taxed in the UK, making for some of the most expensive beer prices in the world. Cigarettes are also particularly expensive.


Cost of transportation in Aberdeen

Transport in Aberdeen is generally more costly than in most Scottish cities, but it is always reliable and efficient. Expats can get weekly or monthly bus passes to save money and make the most of the extensive bus network.


Cost of living chart for Aberdeen

Note that prices may vary depending on product and service provider and the list below shows average prices for May 2020.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

GBP 1,000 - 1,300

Three-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

GBP 600 - 900

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

GBP 500 - 700

One-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

GBP 400 - 600

Food and drink

Dozen eggs

GBP 2.50

Milk (1 litre)

GBP 0.90

Rice (1kg)

GBP 0.80

Loaf of white bread

GBP 1

Chicken breasts (1kg)

GBP 6

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

GBP 11

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

GBP 6

Coca-Cola (330ml)

GBP 1.50

Cappuccino

GBP 2.50

Bottle of beer (local)

GBP 3.50

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

GBP 50

Utilities/household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

GBP 0.10

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

GBP 30

Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)

GBP 140

Transportation

Taxi rate/km

GBP 2.60

Bus fare in the city centre

GBP 2.60

Gasoline (per litre)

GBP 1.25

Accommodation in Aberdeen

Finding a suitable home in the right location is essential for a positive expat experience of Aberdeen. Negotiating an unfamiliar city and its property market is always a challenge for new arrivals, so expats should do some homework before they move.

Expats should take some time to familiarise themselves with the various areas and suburbs in Aberdeen to narrow down their choices. Other factors expats should decide on before starting their search for accommodation include their budget; proximity to work, schools and public transport; and the type of property they want to live in. Most expats tend to rent rather than buy a home in Aberdeen, at least initially.

It's a good idea for newcomers to save time by using the services of estate agents who know the area well and therefore make it easier to find properties that meet expats' requirements.


Types of accommodation in Aberdeen

From Aberdeen’s distinctive granite townhouses to luxury apartments, expats are sure to find a home that meets their needs.

New arrivals will find fully furnished, semi-furnished and unfurnished accommodation options in Aberdeen. Expats on short-term assignments for work who won't be in the city for long will likely want to opt for fully furnished housing. Those searching for unfurnished accommodation, on the other hand, should find it quite easy to purchase reasonably priced furniture.

Expats on a tight budget will find plenty of house-share options in Aberdeen, especially given it's a university town. So renting an individual room in a larger house shared with others is fairly common among students and young professional expats starting out in Aberdeen.


Finding accommodation in Aberdeen

Finding property in Aberdeen can be a challenge for new arrivals who don’t have much knowledge of the local market. Some expats will be lucky enough to have their accommodation arranged by their employer but, for those who need to find a home on their own, there are a number of resources that can assist.

Before moving to Aberdeen, expats should browse property portals online to get an idea of what's available within their budget. While it is possible to deal directly with property owners, most new arrivals enlist the services of a letting agent who has local knowledge about Aberdeen’s property market.


Renting accommodation in Aberdeen

Applications

Once expats find a place they're interested in, they can start the process of applying to rent it. Landlords or agents will typically require references from the expat's employer or previous landlord, so it is always best to have these ready.

Deposits

It's standard to pay one month's rent upfront as well as one or two months' rent as a deposit. But if expats have no credit history in the country, letting agents might ask for as much as six months of rent in advance. To avoid this, expats can try renting privately instead as the deposits charged by private landlords vary quite widely and there's a better chance of not having to pay quite so much rent in advance.

Leases

The terms of tenancy agreements can vary and can be negotiated between tenant and landlord. Generally, landlords rent their properties for between six months and a year.  

Utilities

Before committing to a contract, expats should find out whether utilities are included in the rental price. In most cases, expats will need to budget for gas and electricity as additional costs. They will also need to factor in the cost of council tax.

Areas and Suburbs in Aberdeen

The best places to live in Aberdeen

For expats moving to Aberdeen, the decision on where to live in the city will have a significant impact on their overall experience. Various factors will influence the decision of which area of Aberdeen to live in, including budget, the size and type of available properties, proximity to work, shopping and entertainment facilities, and access to road links and public transport.

For expats relocating to Aberdeen with a family, living in a neighbourhood with access to good schools will be a priority, especially as admission to local government-funded schools is based on a student’s residential address.


Recommended neighbourhoods in Aberdeen

West End

This is an area close to the centre of Aberdeen. Properties here are a mix of traditional granite terraced houses as well as free-standing homes. There are also a number of modern developments in this part of town where expats can find luxury penthouses with a range of facilities.

The area is very popular with young executives who enjoy a high standard of living and wish to be close to the city centre. The West End is well connected to the rest of Aberdeen through the city’s bus network. 

Old Aberdeen

Old Aberdeen is the name given to the area located to the north of the city centre. This area is home to the University of Aberdeen. Here expats will find small cottages and large old houses with lots of character. The area is highly sought after, though, and it can be difficult to find properties available for rent. 

The desirable location and the area's large properties make accommodation in Old Aberdeen fairly expensive. The area is popular with those looking to be close to the city centre while also enjoying an element of historic charm. 

Rosemount

This is a popular residential area northwest of Aberdeen’s city centre. Residents have access to excellent local shopping facilities and reasonably priced accommodation. Housing in Rosemount mainly comprises of Victorian-style terraced houses, but an increasing number of modern apartment complexes are being built. 

This is a quaint area and expats living here should take the opportunity to support the local boutique stores. Rosemount is highly popular with couples and artistic types. The area's many parks and green spaces make it perfect for expats who enjoy a healthy outdoors lifestyle.

Cults

Cults is a family-friendly suburb perched on the banks of the River Dee, well known for its historic granite buildings. Houses in the area are large and often come with spacious gardens, making them perfect for expats with children.

Despite being relatively close to the city, Cults maintains an element of village life and many who live here prefer the area's tranquillity compared to the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s a great place to raise children, as there are many parks and a number of good schools.

Healthcare in Aberdeen

The NHS Grampian, an affiliate of the Scottish National Health Services (NHS), is the main provider of healthcare in Aberdeen. While most expats in Aberdeen choose public healthcare, those who can afford it make use of the private sector.

To receive treatment under the national system, an expat would need to see a general practitioner (GP) and ask to be registered as an NHS patient. This is free of charge and the NHS Helpline can help new arrivals with finding a GP, which is necessary to access specialists in the public sector.

The downside of public healthcare in Aberdeen is that patients often face long waiting lists to get treatment. On the other hand, waiting times at private hospitals are much shorter, but they can be extremely pricey. For this reason, expats wanting to make use of private medical treatment are advised to invest in medical insurance to cover the costs.

Below is a selection of recommended public and private hospitals in Aberdeen.


Public hospitals in Aberdeen

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary

Website: www.nhsgrampian.org
Address: Foresterhill Road, Foresterhill, Aberdeen

Aberdeen Maternity Hospital

Website: www.nhsgrampian.org
Address: Cornhill Road, Foresterhill, Aberdeen

Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital

Website: www.nhsgrampian.org
Address: Westburn Road, Foresterhill, Aberdeen


Private hospitals in Aberdeen

BMI Albyn Hospital

Website: www.bmihealthcare.co.uk
Address: 21-24 Albyn Place, Aberdeen

The Aberdeen Clinic

Website: www.tachealthcaregroup.com
Address: 387a North Deeside Road, Cults, Aberdeen

Education and Schools in Aberdeen

Expat parents will be glad to know that the standard of education in Aberdeen is generally high. With two universities that date back centuries and still rank among the best in Scotland, learning is part of the city’s fabric.

Schools in Aberdeen are either state-run or private. With only a small minority of children in Aberdeen attending private school, it's well worth considering state school as an option. Education Scotland does regular inspections of all schools, the results of which can be accessed on the Education Scotland website.

All of Aberdeen’s state schools (and all private schools but one) follow the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, which divides schooling into two main phases. The first phase is a broad general education, starting with nursery at age 3 and continuing through seven years of primary school (P1 to P7) and three years of secondary school (S1 to S3). The senior phase starts in S4 at age 16 and concludes in S6 at age 18.


Public schools in Aberdeen

Expats can choose from a variety of primary and secondary schools in the city, many of which have good reputations.

Pupils generally attend a school based on where they live. Those wanting to attend a school outside of their zone or who have not attended an Aberdeen City Authority primary school are required to apply at their chosen school. 


Private schools in Aberdeen

There aren't many options for private schools (known as independent schools) in Aberdeen. With fewer than 10 private schools in the city, parents may find it difficult to secure a spot for their child. Unlike public schools, private schools charge fees. Considering that there are also good public education options available in Aberdeen, this may be an unnecessary expense.

That said, there are a number of benefits associated with private schools, such as smaller class sizes, superior facilities and diverse extra-curricular programmes. If expats decide to go this route, it's best to enquire and apply early.


International schools in Aberdeen

There are no international schools in Aberdeen in the traditional sense of the term – that is, schools teaching the curriculum of a foreign country. However, the good news for parents is Aberdeen is home to one of only four International Baccalaureate (IB) schools in all of Scotland. The IB curriculum is standardised and taught at more than 5,000 schools around the globe, easing the process of transitioning between two schools, even in different countries.


Special education in Aberdeen

Aberdeen's special needs programme is based on three major facets: inclusivity, early intervention and participation, and effective targeting of resources. These facets define the city's approach to catering for special needs.

Children identified as having special educational needs are thoroughly assessed in order to provide the correct level of assistance. The council's policy is geared towards the idea that interventions should be as minimally intrusive as possible while also maximising efficiency and effectiveness. 

Different levels of care are allocated according to each child's needs. Milder cases may only require assistance from the child's class teacher (universal support), while slightly more severe cases might warrant assistance on a school-wide basis involving several staff members (targeted support). Children who require the highest level of care will receive specialised assistance from multiple parties, both internal and external to the school (multi-agency support).


Homeschooling in Aberdeen

Under Scottish law, expats in Aberdeen are able to homeschool their children. Parents wanting to take their children out of a state school have to get permission from the local council, but if an expat pupil has never attended a Scottish school or if they attended a private school, they won't need official permission.

The Scottish government has published a Home Education Guidance document aimed at helping parents interested in homeschooling their children. Those homeschooling their children are obligated by law to provide suitable resources and deliver an adequate standard of education appropriate to the child's age, ability and aptitude. Homeschooling families are reviewed annually by the authorities in order to ensure these standards are upheld.

Lifestyle in Aberdeen

Expats moving to Scotland's Granite City are sure to find the lifestyle in Aberdeen enjoyable. The city's diverse array of after-hours attractions caters to a range of tastes. Whether in the mood for the consumer comfort of retail therapy, the constant beat of clubs and bars, or the green silence of nature, there's always something to get up to in Aberdeen.


Shopping in Aberdeen

While it doesn’t quite have the prestige of a New York or Paris, shopping in Aberdeen is an enjoyable experience nonetheless, and the city is something of a retail destination in its own right.

The main shopping area in Aberdeen is Union Street. Known as Granite Mile, Union Street houses numerous shops, bars, clubs and restaurants. Just around the corner is the biggest shopping centre in Aberdeen, Union Square, which has an assortment of high-street and upmarket retailers, restaurants and a cinema.

Expats after a more authentic experience should visit the Merchant Quarter. Situated between the city’s major malls, the Quarter‘s historical architecture is an attraction in itself. There are restaurants and bars, live music and entertainment venues, and a shopping section filled with quirky boutiques to explore.


Nightlife in Aberdeen

There's plenty of nightlife to explore in Aberdeen. For starters, no expat can be called an Aberdonian until they have been to one of its traditional Scottish pubs. Aberdeen’s pubs are the perfect spot for enjoying the company of friends, watching sport, drinking ale and sampling the city’s best pub grub.

Expats wanting to dance into the wee hours won’t be disappointed either. Covering a broad range of electronic genres, live music and 80s oldies, the city’s club scene caters to eclectic tastes.

For more refined surroundings, there are various cocktail bars in Aberdeen as well as a few comedy clubs.


Sports and outdoor activities in Aberdeen

Expats will be able to enjoy a range of outdoor activities in Aberdeen. The city is well-known for the green spaces that offset its granite facade, having won the Royal Horticultural Society Britain in Bloom award a number of times.

Residents can escape the city’s commotion in Aberdeen's urban parks, flower gardens, and numerous national parks and leafy estates, all within driving range. Part of the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail, the picturesque beaches around Aberdeen are another popular way to get some respite from the ups and downs of city life. Water sports such as surfing, diving and sailing are all popular pursuits.

See and Do in Aberdeen

Characterised by beautiful granite architecture, a rich maritime history and natural beauty, expats will have no shortage of things to see and do in Aberdeen. All too often overshadowed by Edinburgh in the sightseeing stakes, the tourist's loss is the expat's gain.

Aberdeen boasts fascinating museums, impressive castles and stately gardens, while national parks and beaches are never more than a short drive away.


Recommended attractions in Aberdeen

Aberdeen Maritime Museum

A popular tourist attraction, the Aberdeen Maritime Museum gives visitors the opportunity to explore Scotland’s nautical history. Expats can learn about the shipping, fishing and oil industries that have played a major role in Scotland's economic development, and enjoy beautiful views of the harbour.

Balmoral Castle

The royal holiday home Balmoral Castle has been in the British royal family since 1852 and was described by Queen Victoria as her "paradise in the Highlands". The grounds are open to the public from April to July each year and visitors are free to explore its gardens, the Castle Ballroom and special exhibitions.

Cairngorms National Park

Extending over the Cairngorms Mountains, the national park is the largest in Britain and offers activities such as mountain biking, skiing, horse riding and white-river rafting. It is also home to a quarter of the UK’s threatened wildlife, and expats will get a chance to see some of Scotland’s most iconic animals in their natural habitat.

Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail

The beaches around Aberdeen form part of the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail. The route consists of 165 miles (265 km) of pristine natural scenery, picturesque towns and gorgeous beaches, each one with its own unique atmosphere. Expats will be able to explore cliff-side castles, spot local wildlife, or simply kick back with sand between their toes and enjoy watching the waves.

The Tolbooth Museum

A former 17th-century prison that’s supposedly one of the most haunted sites in Scotland, the Tolbooth Museum showcases the history of crime and punishment in the city. Expats will be able to experience the original atmosphere of this popular tourist attraction in its centuries-old cells and displays, such as the old city guillotine.

What's On in Aberdeen

The packed calendar of events in Aberdeen means that expats will have numerous opportunities to enjoy themselves and get involved in the local culture. The city council is active in supporting many of the events that take place in the city, and several of them have international renown, attracting audiences from across the world.

Here are some not-to-be-missed annual festivals and celebrations in Aberdeen.


Annual events in Aberdeen

Spectra (February)

What better way to get to know a new city than to see it all lit up? This dazzling light show, complete with dramatic artwork projections on famous city buildings, attracts just short of a million visitors annually and is held at various sites throughout Aberdeen. Every year has a distinct theme.

Braemar Gathering (September)

Part of the traditional summer highland games, the Braemar Gathering takes place on the first weekend of September and has a 900-year history. The event is traditionally attended by the royal family and attracts large crowds every year, who come to watch bagpipe bands, tug-of-war events and catch a glimpse of the queen.

Aberdeen Winter Festival (November/December)

This fun-filled festival is made up of various events held in Aberdeen throughout the festive season. From Christmas markets to carol concerts and outdoor ice-skating, there are plenty of opportunities for the whole family to get into the festive spirit.

New Year's Eve (December)

The new year in Aberdeen explodes into existence with a massive street party, complete with a dazzling fireworks display at midnight. The city’s local celebration of Hogmanay, the traditional Scottish new year festivities, is characterised by live bands, merriment and the clinking of glasses.

Getting Around in Aberdeen

Getting around Aberdeen is quick and straightforward, and many residents prefer to use public transport to commute to work rather than driving. Owning a car is not essential as Aberdeen’s buses connect most areas of the city, but having a car does offer the freedom to explore the countryside and is particularly useful for expats with children.

Although the Scottish weather is not always conducive to it, cycling is another great and healthy way to commute in Aberdeen.


Public transport in Aberdeen

The public transport network for getting around in Aberdeen mainly consists of buses. The city’s buses are efficient and get commuters to almost anywhere. There is also a railway network that connects the city to other parts of the United Kingdom.

Buses

Buses are the main mode of public transportation in Aberdeen. First Aberdeen has a monopoly on the city's bus services, but Stagecoach also runs a few lines and there's a handful of smaller operators too. There are more than 30 bus routes in Aberdeen, most of which begin on the outskirts and run through the city centre before travelling to other suburbs. 

The regularity of buses varies between routes. Generally, services run at intervals of 15 minutes during the daytime and every 30 minutes in the evenings and on Sundays.

Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the bus in exact change as drivers do not carry cash. Frequent users of various bus services may find it useful to purchase a Grasshopper ticket, which allows access to all buses regardless of operator. Tickets are loaded onto a Grasshopper Card and are available as day or weekly passes.

Trains

While there is no local commuter system in Aberdeen, the city is well-served by national rail connections. From Aberdeen railway station it is possible to catch inter-city, regional and local train services to various parts of the UK, including overnight sleeper trains to London.


Taxis in Aberdeen

Taxis are readily available in the city centre and most taxi companies offer booking services online, via mobile application or by telephone. Passengers are usually charged a base fare and a fee for each additional mile they travel. Most people only use taxis for short journeys as fares are relatively high.

Ride-hailing services such as Uber are operational in Aberdeen and are a good alternative to taxis as they give the commuter more control over routes and displays the expected price of travel beforehand.


Cycling in Aberdeen

Cycling is also a good way to get around Aberdeen. There is a bike-share scheme in development, but for the moment residents who want to cycle have to invest in their own bike. The city does have a fairly good network of cycle paths that connect certain suburbs through the city centre. However, cyclists should be aware that some cycle lanes are shared with buses, though these are usually regulated by dedicated traffic lights. In areas without adequate cycling infrastructure, it's possible to ride in the road but cyclists will need to be cautious, especially as Aberdeen's roads are rather narrow.


Driving in Aberdeen

Driving in Aberdeen poses no real challenges. The standard of road infrastructure is good and signage is generally clear. 

Driving conditions in Aberdeen are good and local drivers are courteous to other road users. However, expats should be aware that roads in Aberdeen are often affected by snow and fog in winter. Although local authorities take measures to grit the main roads, smaller roads are often slippery and the risk of accidents is high. Drivers need to be especially careful when driving in severe weather conditions.

As is the case in the rest of the UK, EU citizens can drive on their licence from their home country until it expires. Non-EU expats can also drive on a valid licence from their home country, but can only do so for 12 months before they will need to exchange it for a UK licence.