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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 a destination beloved by tourists and expats alike, who are attracted by a city rich with history, a vibrant culture, and blessed with postcard-pretty scenery, not to mention a booming financial services industry.

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 a 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 city's financial hub.

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 those moving with children will be delighted to know that Edinburgh has a free, world-class education system.

One element that expats can struggle to adapt to is the consistent grim winter weather, when shortened days, sparse sunlight, 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 look forward to embracing a high quality of life in Scotland's capital.

Pros and Cons of Moving to Edinburgh

Nestled among the hills, Edinburgh is famed for its historic castles, the winding streets of Old Town and the Georgian splendour of New Town. Though Scotland’s capital city is picturesque, the city does have its downsides just as everywhere does. Expats moving to Edinburgh will need to weigh up the benefits and disadvantages of the city to decide whether it suits them.

Here are some of the pros and cons of living in Edinburgh.


Accommodation in Edinburgh

+ PRO: Historic homes

Edinburgh’s rich history can be seen just about everywhere, housing included. Some of the city’s tenements date back to the 1700s. There are also more modern apartments are available, though, for those who prefer a more contemporary style.

- CON: Expensive and often small apartments

With good accommodation options in constant demand, rental listings can come and go in the blink of an eye. Prices can be high in the best areas and expats may find that although there are many spacious, grand apartments and townhouses in Edinburgh’s New Town, the apartments within their budget may be a bit on the small side. 


Lifestyle in Edinburgh

+ PRO: Beautiful city with a long history

While the exact year of Edinburgh’s founding isn’t known, historians estimate that it was around 600 AD. As a result, there are plenty of age-old cultural attractions in the city. The most prominent of these is Edinburgh Castle, a distinct feature of the city’s skyline, which began as a hill fortress during the Iron Age.

+ PRO: Stunning green spaces, hills and countryside

Edinburgh has over 100 parks and more than half a million trees. Naturally, this makes the city an excellent spot for outdoorsy expats. Even those who prefer to stay indoors are sure to appreciate how green and lush the city is year-round.

+ PRO: Lots of festivals

Edinburgh is a hub of activity, especially when it comes to arts and culture. The city is home to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, famous for being largest arts festival in the world. There's also the Edinburgh International Festival, which sees performing artists from around the world converge on the city for three weeks.


Cost of living in Edinburgh

- CON: High cost of living

Living in Edinburgh is good value compared to living London, but it is by no means a cheap place to live, especially if intending to live in central areas. Accommodation will take up the biggest portion of an expat’s budget although this can be mitigated by housesharing or living farther out in the suburbs.

In comparison to other major Scottish cities, Edinburgh is generally cheaper than Aberdeen but slightly more expensive than Glasgow, especially when it comes to rental prices.

+ PRO: Free activities

Despite the high cost of living, there are all sorts of ways to enjoy the city on a budget. Almost all museums allow free entry with a donation being optional. There's also an abundance of free outdoor pursuits to enjoy such as hiking up Arthur's Seat.


Weather in Edinburgh

- CON: Cold and rainy

Like much of the UK, Edinburgh's weather can be unpleasant. Rain is frequent throughout the year and the sun is rarely seen during the winter months.


Healthcare in Edinburgh

+ PRO: Access to the NHS

Expats can rest easy when it comes to accessing high-quality healthcare in Edinburgh. One of the major benefits of moving anywhere in the UK is gaining access to the National Health Service (NHS). In Scotland, all appointments, prescriptions and hospital visits are fully funded.

- CON: Long waiting times

As is the case throughout the UK, waiting times for appointments via the NHS can be long. This can be circumvented by opting for costly private treatment. Expats taking this route should invest in comprehensive health insurance.


Education in Edinburgh

+ PRO: Education highly valued

Home to three excellent universities, Edinburgh’s rich history of education is still seen today. There are plenty of good options for every stage of education from nursery school to doctorate.

- CON: Catchment areas for public schools

Public schooling in Edinburgh is based on catchment areas, meaning that children are given priority admission to a school within their area. While it's possible to attend a school outside their catchment zone, they will not have priority entry and therefore aren’t guaranteed a place.


Getting around in Edinburgh

+ PRO: Small, walkable and easy to navigate

Edinburgh is a small city with a good public transport system, so most expats won’t need a car. Walking or cycling is a popular way of getting around, and the city’s plentiful landmarks and grid layout make navigation an easy task. 

Working in Edinburgh

Edinburgh's reputation as an economic powerhouse attracts expats from around the UK and beyond, all looking to find work in one of the city's strong sectors. With a GDP second only to London, Edinburgh continues to be highly sought after by professionals eager to open a business or take their career to the next step.

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


Job market in Edinburgh

Two of the city's major employers are the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Bank of Scotland, so expats with applicable skills and experience would do well to start their search here. These two entities not only provide opportunity, they also paint an accurate picture of an Edinburgh economy that takes pride in its financial services and 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

Most expats relocating to Edinburgh for work purposes arrive with a job in hand, which is the preferred way to do things in order to ensure maximum security. Those who arrive in Edinburgh still on the hunt for a job, should keep tabs on the recruitment pages and the business news in the Scottish press. Recruitment agencies and online job portals may also be helpful in finding work. Networking is also important, and making connections through professional platforms such as LinkedIn can boost an expat's chances of being noticed.

Accommodation in Edinburgh

Finding accommodation in Edinburgh will naturally be a top priority for 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 properties available with something to suit everyone's lifestyle and pocket.

Edinburgh is rather compact and 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 be bound by catchment areas and should find out which areas are associated with the best educational institutions.


Types of accommodation in Edinburgh

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

New arrivals 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 letting 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 browsing online property sites and reading the property sections of local newspapers.


Renting accommodation in Edinburgh 

Application

Once a potential tenant has found a property they like, they'll need to put in an application for rental. Applicants are typically asked to submit references and information about their credit history. New arrivals without Scottish renting- and credit histories may still be able to rent their intended home at an extra cost.

Deposits

In most cases, tenants will need to pay a deposit equivalent to one or two months of rent, but if expats lack a local credit history or references they may be asked to provide up to six months' rent upfront. This is most commonly the case with letting agencies but not always private landlords, so expats without the funds for this kind of expense may do well to opt for a private leasing.  

Leases

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. Rental rates vary according to the size of the property, the location and the level of furnishing.

Utilities

Utilities and council tax aren't typically included in the cost of rent and are an extra expense for the tenant. Expats should keep this in mind when budgeting for housing expenses.

Furnishing

In Edinburgh, expats will be able to find furnished, unfurnished or partially furnished flats, depending on their needs. Do be aware, though, that “furnished” properties vary significantly, so be sure to confirm what furniture, appliances and utensils are included in the property beforehand.

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.

The NHS is generally efficient and provides high-quality care. 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 different areas. Once registered, expats will be given an NHS number, after which getting an appointment becomes quick and easy.

Private healthcare is also available, though it can be prohibitively expensive and the superb standard of complimentary public care leads many expats to forego this additional cost. Some expats do choose to use private healthcare in order to skip the waiting periods characteristic of the public sector. If planning to use private healthcare, it is recommended that expats invest in health insurance.


Public hospitals in Edinburgh

Leith Community Treatment Centre

Website: www.nhslothian.scot.nhs.uk
Address: Junction Place, Edinburgh

Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh 

Website: www.nhslothian.scot.nhs.uk
Address: 51 Little France Crescent, Old Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh

Royal Hospital for Sick Children

Website: www.nhslothian.scot.nhs.uk
Address: 9 Sciennes Road, Edinburgh

Western General Hospital

Website: www.nhslothian.scot.nhs.uk
Address: Crewe Road South, Edinburgh


Private hospitals in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Clinic

Website: www.edinburghclinic.com
Address: 40 Colinton Road, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Medical Centre

Website: www.nuffieldhealth.com
Address: 5 New Mart Road, Edinburgh

Spire Murrayfield Hospital

Website: www.spirehealthcare.com
Address: 122 Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh

Spire Shawfair Park Hospital

Website: www.spirehealthcare.com
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. 

All state schools in Edinburgh teach according to the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, in which schooling is divided into two phases. The first phase is a broad general education, which includes a year of nursery school, 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.


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.

Private schools also 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 sit for an interview to satisfy admission requirements.


International schools in Edinburgh

While there aren't any schools in Edinburgh specifically catering to international students from particular countries, several schools offer the International Baccalaureate (IB). The IB is an ideal choice for many expat families as it's standardised throughout the more than 5,000 schools that offer it worldwide. It's considered to be a globally minded qualification and is widely accepted at universities around the world.


Special needs education in Edinburgh

The City of Edinburgh Council offers additional support for learning to any student requiring assistance. The council evaluates the individual needs of children, which may range from disabilities and difficult home situations to assistance of English as an additional language. The latter is particularly useful for expat families moving from a non-English-speaking country whose children are still getting the hang of English.


Homeschooling in Edinburgh

Homeschooling is legal in Scotland. Parents need to notify the city council if withdrawing a child from school. Children who have newly arrived in the country and haven't yet enrolled in school can be homeschooled without notifying the authorities.

Parents homeschooling their children are legally obligated to provide an education that is suitable for the child's age, ability and aptitude. The relevant authorities are entitled to ensure that conditions are adequate. This is usually in the form of an annual review.

Lifestyle in Edinburgh

Expats moving to Edinburgh may discover that 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 flipside, once the winter winds blow in, expats will find their lifestyle may change tremendously. During this time, rather than burying themselves in their cosy homes, expats should make an effort to seek out the many recreational facilities and indoor cultural opportunities that do, in fact, abound in the city.


Shopping in Edinburgh

For a bit of retail therapy to combat the grey winter mood, Edinburgh has some fantastic shopping, namely along Princes Street and George Street, where newcomers 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 and entertainment 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 nooks and crannies to explore and spectacular annual events to enjoy. The city is also well connected to the rest of the UK, making day trips to other parts of scenic Scotland, England and Wales eminently 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 was involved in numerous historic conflicts. A centre point of the city, the castle deserves an afternoon for a full tour – and expats shouldn't forget to take a moment to admire 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. Tours are available all year round, except when the Royal Family is in residence, usually one week per year. Highlights include the Throne Room, the Great Gallery, the Royal Dining Room and the personal chambers of Mary Queen of Scots.

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 15th-century home while learning about the historic conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants.

Arthur’s Seat

After the infamous castle, Edinburgh’s second most notable landmark is Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano that forms the main peak of the group of hills forming 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 manicured gardens, explore contemporary art exhibits, and to learn about the research taking place within.

Mary King’s Close

The subject of many spine-tingling myths and legends, these underground alleyways are well worth visiting. Embark on a tour led by an in-character guide for a fascinating look into the lives of the residents over the Close's several hundred years of history.

What's On in Edinburgh

Every year, Edinburgh hosts several world-renowned festivals and celebrations. Whether 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, as well as a buzzing film sphere.


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 arts festival, playing host to more than 50,000 performances over the course of several weeks. The festival is open to all, meaning that any and all performers are welcome. 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 70 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 curated range of performances, from opera and classical music to theatre and dance.

Doors Open Day (September)

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

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. East Princes Street Gardens are 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 broadcast throughout the country. A massive midnight fireworks display marks the New Year.

Getting Around in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a beautiful city, rich with history and brimming with great places for expats to visit and explore. The city itself is quite compact, so it's relatively easy to get around on foot or bike. Do bear in mind, though, 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, though, 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

Buses

Edinburgh has a 24-hour network of local bus services allowing frequent and cost-effective travel. Buses arrive at 10- to 30-minute intervals during the day, with a reduced service after 7pm. 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.

Trains

Though buses are the most common form of public transport in Edinburgh, there is also a train system. This is mostly used for intercity travel, linking Edinburgh with cities such as 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

Owning a car in Edinburgh isn't necessary, and in some cases even cumbersome. Apart from the advantages of cheaper alternatives such as travelling by foot in this compact city or using the extensive bus service, there are also drawbacks to owning a car, the most significant of which are parking tariffs (the city centre has a number of no-park zones, where the only alternative is making use of pricey parking garages), traffic, and other car-related costs such as insurance, maintenence and fuel.

Expats that do wish to drive will be able to do so legally for up to 12 months on a valid foreign licence. At this point, the foreign licence will need to be exchanged for a local licence. Nationals of EU and EEA countries can continue to drive using their foreign licence until it expires.