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Moving to Edinburgh

Although easily eclipsed by Glasgow in terms of population, Edinburgh holds its own as the capital of Scotland and is the country's most popular destination for expats, who are attracted by a booming financial services industry and the vibrant culture and arts scene. 

As the location of the Scottish Parliament, the University of Edinburgh and the Bank of Scotland, Edinburgh is home to many of the country’s political, legal, educational and financial leaders. Expats aiming to work in Edinburgh should be prepared to enter a highly skilled workforce, as most employees have some degree of tertiary education.

Edinburgh is situated in the southeast of Scotland, less than an hour from Glasgow by train, and little more than four hours from London. The town centre remains dominated by Edinburgh Castle, situated atop Castle Rock and perched above the medieval Old Town and the Georgian New Town. To the west lies the West End district, which includes the financial district. 

The city is a pedestrian-friendly mosaic of open green space intermixed with the cobbled alleyways of Old Town and the wide Georgian avenues of New Town. An easy-to-use public transport system connects nearby suburbs, and even makes the coasts and countryside accessible for a quick weekend break.

Expats can take comfort in a reputable state-funded healthcare system, and a free education system that is regarded as one of the best in the world. 

One element that expats can struggle to adapt to is the consistent grim winter weather, when days are short, sunlight becomes sparse, and high winds and rainfall can make for melancholy moods.

Still, with the legendary Edinburgh Art Festival to look forward to in August, and an impressive selection of pubs to help take the nip out of the winter air, expats can embrace a high quality of life in Scotland's capital.

Working in Edinburgh

Just as Edinburgh's civic character is often described as a Jekyll and Hyde type divide, expats considering working in Edinburgh should be prepared for a similarly stark polarisation. The city's workforce is separated between a highly qualified population of professionals and a group of low-income workers who have no qualification.

Several of Edinburgh's key industries include financial and business services, renewable energy, electronic technologies and a highly successful life sciences sector.

Job market in Edinburgh

Expats with a tertiary education should look either to the University of Edinburgh or to the Royal Bank of Scotland for employment opportunities. These are two of the largest employers in the city, and they also paint an accurate picture of an Edinburgh economy that emphasises its financial services and its education sector.

The city's science and technology sector is also quite robust, and has the potential to attract highly skilled foreign nationals interested in working in Edinburgh.

On the other end of the spectrum is a thriving tourism and hospitality industry and a selection of creative industries that hinge on the annual Edinburgh festival. Though formal positions in these sectors can be limited, there are lots of informal positions that appeal to younger, more inexperienced expats looking for a cultural experience rather than a leg up on the career ladder.

Finding a job in Edinburgh

Expats looking to find a job in Edinburgh should keep tabs on the recruitment pages and the business news in the Scottish press. Recruitment agencies and online job postings may also be helpful in finding work.

Accommodation in Edinburgh

Finding accommodation in Edinburgh is a top priority for most newly arrived expats. Those fresh from the plane need not lose too much sleep over the issue though, as there's a wide range of property available with something to suit everyone. 

Types of accommodation in Edinburgh

Expats will quickly find that Edinburgh itself is a fairly compact city, made up of various distinct areas and suburbs, each with its own character.

Edinburgh has a reliable and easy-to-use transportation system, so proximity to work need not be a major concern when choosing where to live. However, an expat family with children that will be attending a state-sponsored school will want to research which areas are associated with the best educational institutions.

Expats should consider whether they would prefer to live in an old or modern flat (apartment), and whether they would prefer to be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city centre or the more relaxed atmosphere of the surrounding suburbs.

Most of the accommodation found in the city centre of Edinburgh is in traditional tenements, some dating as far back as the 1700s. Though some are rather densely packed and somewhat small, they can be extremely charming with perks like Victorian-era architecture, wooden shutters and high ceilings.

Finding accommodation in Edinburgh

Generally speaking, it's best for expats to arrange short-term accommodation for their arrival in Edinburgh, to give themselves a place to stay while house-hunting. 

For first-time Edinburgh renters, contacting a real estate agency will likely be the best way to start; agents can advise regarding districts of town that would be most suitable and can provide a more in-depth look at the renting options in Edinburgh. Expats should keep in mind that letting agencies will only show properties they have listed in their portfolio, so be sure to visit several. 

Alternatively, available properties can also be found by perusing the property section of the local paper or online property sites, whereupon the letting agency or private landlord should be contacted directly to view the apartment.

Renting accommodation in Edinburgh 

Flats available for rent are let by agencies or directly by private landlords. The typical long-term lease is for six months or a year. A deposit of the equivalent of up to six weeks' worth of rent will be required.

In Edinburgh, expats will be able to find furnished, unfurnished or partially furnished flats, depending on their needs. Do be aware, however, that “furnished” properties vary significantly, so be sure to confirm what exactly is included in the property and what will need to be added. Rental rates vary according to the size of the property, the location and the level of furnishing. 

Healthcare in Edinburgh

Expats will have numerous options for private and public healthcare in Edinburgh. 

Public sector services are provided by the National Health Service (NHS) Scotland. All citizens and residents are eligible for enrolment in this system, funded through deductions from salaries. In short, no payment is required for doctor or hospital visits.

While plagued by some controversies, the NHS is generally efficient and provides high-quality care. Expats will find that the waiting times for appointments are generally shorter than in England; often a same-day appointment can even be booked. Although some systematic red tape can cause irritation, expats who have never benefited from nationalised healthcare may be pleasantly surprised.

Upon finding accommodation in Edinburgh, expats will need to register with a “surgery”, the term for a General Practitioner’s (GP) practice. The NHS website will help in finding which practices serve the different areas. Once registered, expats will be given an NHS number, and obtaining an appointment becomes quick and easy.

Private healthcare is also available, though it can be prohibitively expensive and the elevated standard of complimentary public care leads many expats to forego this excess cost.

Public hospitals in Edinburgh (NHS)


Leith Community Treatment Centre

Address: 12 Junction Place, Edinburgh


Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

Address: 51 Little France Crescent, Old Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh


Royal Hospital for Sick Children

Address: 9 Sciennes Road, Edinburgh


Western General Hospital

Address: Crewe Road South, Edinburgh

Private hospitals in Edinburgh


Edinburgh Clinic

Address: 40 Colinton Road, Edinburgh


Edinburgh Medical Centre

Address: 5 New Mart Road, Edinburgh


Spire Murrayfield Hospital

Address: 122 Corstorphine Rd, Edinburgh


Spire Shawfair Park Hospital

Address: 10 Easter Shawfair, Edinburgh

Education and Schools in Edinburgh

The Scottish capital is regarded as a thriving educational and academic centre within the UK. Schools in Edinburgh are among the best in Scotland, and with four universities within city limits, the metropolis is generally accepted as a great incubator of ideas, second only to the likes of London.

On the whole, the region caters to a wide array of educational needs, from an impressive primary school sector all the way to top-notch further education options.

State-funded schools in Edinburgh

State schools in Edinburgh are highly regarded and are available free of charge as they are funded by taxes.

They operate according to a catchment system. Each area of the city is divided into a catchment area, and households are given admission priority at the school associated with their catchment. 

Expat parents should note that the school nearest in proximity might not necessarily be the catchment school associated with their area. For this reason, it is highly recommended to conduct extensive research into which schools serve which areas before choosing accommodation.

It is possible for parents to place a request with the City of Edinburgh for a school other than those that appear within their catchment, but these demands are not necessarily granted.

Private schools in Edinburgh

Independent schools in Edinburgh, also known as private schools, are not funded by taxpayer money nor government agencies. Even though the state-sponsored school system in Edinburgh is commendable, many expat parents still prefer to send their children to these tuition-based schools because they are generally regarded as having even higher and more consistent academic standards.

Furthermore, private schools usually have fewer students per class, have first-class facilities and offer an extensive range of extra-curricular activities.

Available space at these schools can fill up fast, but admission is not necessarily limited to a specific period of time, so expat parents can try to gain entrance for their child at various points in the school year. Sometimes children must pass an examination or undertake an interview to satisfy admission requirements.

While there aren't any schools in Edinburgh specifically catering to international students, several schools offer the International Baccalaureate, which is standardised over many countries and is considered to be a globally minded qualification.

Lifestyle in Edinburgh

Expats moving to Edinburgh will find their lifestyle, and perhaps even their moods, will quickly become weather dependent.

As a city intimately intertwined with the surrounding landscape and infinitely fond of outdoor space, life in the summer sunshine is active and inspiring. Whether residents are absorbing the creative energy that flourishes during the city's internationally recognised festivals, or simply enjoying a classic picnic in the Princes Street Gardens or on one of the rocky outcrops of Arthur's Seat, there is plenty of opportunity to be active and engaged.

On the flip side, once the winter winds blow in, expats will find their lifestyle may change tremendously. During this time, it is important to seek out the many recreational facilities and indoor cultural opportunities that do, in fact, abound in the city, rather than drowning the sorrows of a lost summer season in Edinburgh's heavy drinking culture.

Shopping in Edinburgh

As a quick fix to a grey winter mood, Edinburgh has some fantastic shopping, namely along Princes Street and George Street, where expats will find all of their favourite UK chain stores.

Boutiques and independent stores offering a slightly more quirky selection can be found around the West End, and Victoria Street and Grassmarket are full of bookshops, arts and crafts stores and specialist food retailers.

The Royal Mile is perfect for scouting souvenirs and gifts, while the luxury shopper can head to Multrees Walk in New Town.

Eating out in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has become one of the UK's top foodie destinations, boasting a large and diverse collection of restaurants. The options are endless; be it traditional Scottish fare in a cosy pub, seafood along the docks, or international cuisine at one of the many unique neighbourhood cafés and bistros.

With a handful of Michelin stars and numerous celebrity chefs in residence, the Scottish capital also offers expats some truly innovative and imaginative fine dining options.

Nightlife in Edinburgh

In a city of countless watering holes, expats will soon find out how intoxicating the Edinburgh nightlife can be. Pubs, whether historic taverns or chic bars, are at the heart of the city’s social culture.

From a wild night of pub crawls and clubbing, to a mellow evening at the theatre or comedy club, Edinburgh has something for everyone.

The cobbled streets of Old Town offer a huge selection of lively bars and pubs, with a wealth of options around Grassmarket and Victoria Street, and some cheerful choices surrounding the university. A number of dedicated live music venues can be found in Cowgate, and the area around the George IV Bridge is a great place to go for cocktails.

New Town is home to some of the city’s best bars and nightclubs, particularly along the upmarket George Street, and Leith has become a trendy hangout boasting numerous restaurants and bars.

See and Do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a beautiful and historic city full of exciting places to explore and spectacular annual events to enjoy. The city is also well-connected with the rest of the UK, making day trips to other parts of scenic Scotland very accessible. Here are some of Edinburgh's best offerings of things to see and do. 

Recommended attractions in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

This old and magnificent fortress was once home to kings and queens and has been involved in numerous historic conflicts. A centre point of the city, the castle deserves an afternoon for a full tour – and don't forget to catch the magnificent view of Edinburgh from outside the castle.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Royal Family’s official residence in Scotland, this stunning property is situated at the foot of Arthur’s Seat in the midst of Holyrood Park. Visitors may tour the palace, the Great Gallery, as well as Holyrood Abbey (the oldest section of the palace) all year round, except when the Royal Family is in residence.

Royal Mile

Running from Edinburgh Castle through to Holyrood Palace, the Royal Mile is a favourite tourist spot. Lining the streets of the Royal Mile is an eclectic mix of tourist shops, pubs and historical attractions.

John Knox House

Traditionally assumed to have been the one-time home of the Protestant reformer, tours of this house allow the visitor a chance to explore a well-preserved home while learning about Mary Queen of Scots and the historic conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants.

Arthur’s Seat

Edinburgh’s second focal point seen from anywhere in the city is Arthur’s Seat, the main peak of the group of hills in Holyrood Park. The climb to the top is relatively quick, and the effort is richly rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the city and beyond.

Royal Botanic Garden

Set in the beautiful Inverleith area, the Royal Botanic Garden offers visitors the chance to stroll through beautifully maintained gardens, explore contemporary art exhibits, and to learn about the research taking place within. The Temperate Palm House is a particular highlight.

Mary King’s Close

These alleyways are the subject of many myths and legends about ghosts, murders and plague victims left to die walled up in their homes. Any fan of ghost stories will want to put this at the top of their list.

What's On in Edinburgh

Every year, Edinburgh hosts several world-renowned festivals. Whether visiting historic sites, taking in shows from up-and-coming artists, perusing artefacts from across the world, or joining up with others for a massive street party, expats are sure to find plenty to do at Edinburgh's festivals. The city has a vibrant arts scene year-round, bringing the stage to life with numerous concerts, plays, operas, dance, and the international film even in between the larger festivals. 

Annual events in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Fringe Festival (August)

One of the year's most exciting events, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the world's largest art festival, playing host to more than 50,000 performers over the course of several weeks. The Fringe Festival holds a legendary status among artsy Brits and has been instrumental in launching the careers of many performers and comedians, such as Billy Connoly, Rowan Atkinson and Eddie Izzard.

Edinburgh International Festival (August)

The world-renowned Edinburgh International Festival is a constant and continuous flux of creative energy that takes hold of the Scottish capital for three weeks a year. The festival itself, now over 50 years old, is not so much one large celebration as it is many microcosms of artistic endeavour. Nearly every public place is transformed into a venue of some sort and plays host to a range of performances, from opera and classical music to theatre and dance.

Open Doors Day (September)

Every September, Edinburgh opens the doors to some of its best (and some very unknown) attractions for free! This is a great time to take advantage of the free admission to see some of the city's great sites. 

St. Andrew's Day (November)

Celebrate St. Andrew’s Day with traditional Scottish music and storytelling events held alongside bustling markets selling local crafts, food and drink.

Edinburgh's Christmas (November/December)

Beginning on the last Thursday in November and continuing to the New Year, there is a fabulous German Christmas Market on the Mound. Princes Street Gardens East is also transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with carnival rides, food stands, and gift shops to celebrate Edinburgh’s Christmas. 

Hogmanay (December)

Nothing ushers in the new year like Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebration. Once a makeshift street festival, organisers have taken Hogmanay by the horns and transformed it into a slick event headlined by international musicians and an ad hoc amusement park. Lately, it's become necessary to purchase tickets in advance. A massive midnight fireworks display marks the New Year!

Getting Around in Edinburgh

Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, is a beautiful city, full of history and brimming with great places for expats to visit and explore. The city itself is quite compact, so it is easy to get around on foot or bike. However, bear in mind it is quite hilly and many of the streets in the city centre have cobblestones which make cycling rather challenging.

Those who do make the effort to tackle the gradients will be rewarded with magnificent views all around. The city centre, aside from the rugged cobbled terrain, is certainly cycle friendly. Otherwise, bus and train services make getting around Edinburgh and surrounds easy and efficient.

Public transport in Edinburgh


Edinburgh has a 24-hour network of local bus services allowing frequent and cost-effective travel. The suburbs are well-connected to the city centre, with some bus services even extending to the regional surrounds. Edinburgh's two major bus companies are Lothian Buses and First Scotland East, both of which have a simple ticketing system with a single flat fare for all destinations.


Though buses are the most common form of public transport in Edinburgh, there is also a train system – however, this is mostly used for intercity travel, linking Edinburgh with cities like Aberdeen, Glasgow and London. The main train station is Edinburgh Waverly. There is also a small commuter rail network that runs from east to west.

Taxis in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has hundreds of black cabs that can be hailed on the street or called for in advance. Travelling by taxi is quite expensive and probably not necessary when surrounded by a network of buses in the city centre. Ride-hailing applications such as Uber are also operational in Edinburgh, which may be a cheaper option.

Driving in Edinburgh

While it's not necessary – and in some cases even cumbersome – to own a car in Edinburgh, expats that do wish to drive will be able to do so legally for up to 12 months on a foreign licence. At this point, the foreign licence will need to be exchanged for a local licence. However, nationals of EEA countries can continue to drive using their foreign licence until it expires.

Expats should be warned, however, that certain areas in the city centre are no-park zones, and where parking is available, it is expensive.