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An Expat's Guide to Living in Edinburgh

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Hi! I’m Arianna, I’m Italian and I’ve been living in the UK since October 2019, Bristol first and now, Edinburgh, Scotland's capital city.

Living in Edinburgh has been a dream come true for me and if you think you'll love this city just as much as I do, I highly recommend you give it a shot. Although it's a compact city, there's so much to see, do, and enjoy here.

With ample green space, interesting city attractions, and plenty of fun pubs and restaurants to hang out in, settling in and finding your people is pretty easy to do.

I moved to Edinburgh a few months ago just because I completely fell in love with this city when I visited for a holiday.

The old buildings, the medieval town, cobbled streets, the numerous chimneys on every roof… it has an irresistible charm that just worked for me! So here I am, two years later, living in the great Scottish capital city!

If you're like me and want to see how you can try living abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland let's dive right into it.

Getting a UK Visa

Luci di Natale in Edinburgh

I basically ran away from Italy just before Brexit, to be able to start fresh in a new country without the hustles of getting a visa. I agree now that it's NOT THAT EASY to move to the UK from other European countries but it’s not impossible! So don’t give up just yet.

You will need to apply for a visa, so it'll take just a bit more paperwork. But the dream has not vanished! The UK Government website has the most in-depth and up-to-date information regarding visas. But, if you just need some inspiration, read how you can snag your dream job in the UK.

If you're planning to study abroad in Scotland, you should also consider living in Glasgow. Both Edinburgh and Glasgow have excellent universities for you to choose between.

Once you make it to British soil, it’s “just” about finding a job, a place to live, and settling in! And that's where I'll come in on this article all about living in Edinburgh as an expat.

The last part, settling in, will be the least of your problems! Scottish people are lovely, friendly, and very welcoming. I always feel at home in Edinburgh. The numerous pubs and cafes make it easy to meet new people too. Trust me: this is going to be the best part!!!

Finding a Place to Live in Edinburgh

Just like living nearly anywhere in the UK, finding a place to live in Scotland's capital can take some time and effort but it's certainly not mission impossible.

There are several ways to find a home here. My suggestion is to join different Facebook groups like (in my case) Italian in Edinburgh, or any renting flats/house/rooms groups that you can find. Just type a few keywords in and click "join!" Once in, write your message and post it in every single group. That’s how I found my flat!

Another way could be to browse rental apps like Spare Room or Gumtree. If you're a remote worker, selecting a platform that lists places with a dedicated workspace in Edinburgh might also be a good option.

The easiest and cheapest option is to move into a shared house, especially if it’s your first experience abroad on your own. You will not feel alone and you'll probably make new friends straight away with your flatmates. Plus, you'll have help and support from people who are already living in Edinburgh! It’s a choice that of course leads to lots of compromises, but it can be totally worth it.

Tips for When You Arrive

Photo by Adam Wilson

It'll be a lot easier to find an apartment once you've arrived in Edinburgh. Although you can browse listings and join groups ahead of time, most likely you won't actually be able to sign a lease and secure a place until you move to the city. Plus, you'll want to see the place in person to make sure it's a legit spot.

So, once you arrive, here are a few helpful tips:

  • The easiest way is to move into a hostel first, it’s cheap and convenient, and you'll meet lots of people that are likely to find themselves in your own position!
  • When you find something that suits your requirements, send a message straight away and ask for a viewing.
  • Don’t be too picky: housing in Edinburgh is HARD. So, at least in the beginning, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • Choose something only if you feel comfortable, especially in a shared flat: notice the vibes you get from the house and the housemates. Even though Edinburgh is a safe city, you need to feel comfortable and happy in your own space.
  • The market goes fast, like, very fast. Be confident in your choice and be ready to make a decision to move in ASAP.
  • If it’s far from the city centre, check the public transport: is there a bus stop near with more than one option to get you home? Good. The bus stop is more than 10 minutes walk and there’s only one bus stopping? Not ideal.
  • Be aware of scams. There are so many, but fortunately, they are quite easy to detect. Make sure you visit the place physically and you’ll be fine.
  • Don’t give up! You will find the place to call home eventually.

Best Neighborhoods to Live in

Grassmarket area of the city

When you start looking for a place to live, you will need to look in every area. Public transportation is good in Edinburgh, so even if you’re far from the central areas, you won’t necessarily be tucked away and isolated.

I've divided the best areas to live in by location from the city centre.

North Edinburgh Neighborhood:

  • Leith: Here you'll have restaurants, cafes, and pubs at your doorstep. This neighborhood is harbor side and offers nice walks.

West Edinburgh Neighborhoods:

  • Stockbridge: This is a very pretty area, filled with charity shops, independent artisans, restaurants, and cafes.
  • West End: This is a fancy neighborhood. It's very safe and filled with shops and restaurants.

South Edinburgh Neighborhoods:

  • Newington: This is close to the university, which means lots of students and young professionals. It's well connected to the city centre and offers lots of shops, cool restaurants, and cafes for your days off.
  • Bruntsfield/Morningside: This is an elegant, residential area, close to the Meadows (a very big green area). This affluent area is famous for its restaurants, bars, and quirky shops.
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Finding a Job in Edinburgh

Photo by Cameron Gibson

Looking for a job can be a very different experience depending on what you’re looking for. I’m a barista, therefore I’m going to talk about how to find job opportunities in the hospitality world.

Welcome to the easiest city to find a job in hospitality!!!

I am serious, I got a job on the same day I moved here and a few days after, one more offer and so I was able to decide which one to take.

If you know what you’re doing, my advice is to start looking for jobs a few days before moving to Edinburgh (unless you want to take some free time to settle in). This will give you some kind of relief and sense of stability, too.

The best platform to use for job seekers is probably Indeed. On this platform, you just need to create a profile, upload your cv, filter your search, and send lots of applications! From there, you'll just wait for the responses and plan your interviews! Done!

Another good way to find a job is, again, through Facebook groups. Honestly, they are good for many things, so make sure you join a few. People who join communities like this are very likely to help you as they probably found themselves in the same situations before you.

The job market for the hospitality sector in Edinburgh is in great urge for workers, so even if it’s not your field, your biggest dream, or you don’t have any experience, it's still a good way to get you started with a salary. Don’t be shy!

What I really appreciate about working in the UK is the transparency of things, great contracts, and good pay.  

Cost of Living in Edinburgh

The view from Arthur's Seat

I’m afraid there’s no easy way to say this: Edinburgh is an expensive city. And so far, it looks like the prices are only going up and up.

From housing costs to bonus expenses, here are some of the AVERAGE expenses you might have to deal with:

  • One bedroom flat: 700-1000£ (bills excluded)
  • One bedroom in a shared flat (this is just the estimated cost, it really can vary): from 400£ to 600£ (way more affordable!)
  • Bills 100£
  • Coffee 3£
  • Pizza 12£
  • Dinner at a nice restaurant 25£
  • Bus ride 1,80£
  • Healthcare is mostly free with NHS!
  • Pint of beer 5/6£

To cut your living expenses and save money, I recommend living in a shared apartment. You can also take advantage of completely free things to do, like grabbing a friend for a long walk down the winding streets, taking a picnic to the park, or inviting friends over to your place for dinner and drinks at home.

Luckily, it's completely possible to enjoy Edinburgh on a smaller budget, you'll just have to be more pragmatic about your expenses.

Social Life in Edinburgh

Photo by Jillian Kim

As I already mentioned, being social in Edinburgh is pretty easy and fun.

Scottish people are very friendly: go out to a pub and your chances to meet someone are infinite!

Be chatty, don’t be afraid to tell people you just moved to Edinburgh and you haven't yet made any friends. They will totally understand, Edinburgh has a huge amount of expat, so probably you will be talking to someone just like you before you know it!

If you don’t feel confident enough to approach a stranger, try again with Facebook groups, just drop a post saying you’re new in the city and want to get to know people!

Put yourself out there, isn’t that the whole point of moving abroad anyway?!

While going out to the pubs and making friends will certainly help to make this city feel like home, another way to settle into quicker is by getting to know the city itself. Use your weekends to enjoy a handful of the best things to do in Edinburgh once you arrive.

Local Travel & Public Transport

Portobello photo by Callum Deas

As I already mentioned, Edinburgh is very well-serviced.

Make sure you download the Bus & Tram Lothian app and Google Maps to move around.

Lothian is the main bus company in Edinburgh but there are others as well. Although, I normally use Lothian buses.

Get yourself a member's card called “Ridacard.” You can purchase a card in one of the travel hubs (check locations on the map). With this card, you can get on any of the Lothians buses, airport buses, and trams just by tapping it as you get on.

Although you'll most likely use public transport in your day-to-day life simply navigating the city, it’s really easy and safe to go on a day trip or even a few days trip, starting from Central Edinburgh using ScotRail or coaches like National Express or Megabus.

Take every chance you have to explore Scotland and the UK! You won’t regret it.

Scotland has so much to offer but historic sites, ancient castles, and breathtaking nature are the keywords.

Great Day Trips from Edinburgh:

  • Glasgow: the university city
  • North Berwick: a tiny, pretty seaside village
  • Stirling: the old capital
  • Portobello: a seaside Edinburgh suburb

Longer Getaways (2-3 Days):

Final Considerations & Tips

Photo by micheile dot com

If you’re seriously thinking about moving to Edinburgh, Scotland, DO IT! It’s a beautiful city, with lots of things to do, opportunities of any kind, and warm (metaphorically speaking) and welcoming people.

Edinburgh really is a contemporary melting pot.

There are just a few things you should know before you move to Edinburgh:

  • The accent. It’s not English. It’s not what you hear in films, it’s not what they teach you at school. It’s Scottish. And it’s hard, very hard to understand. Sometimes I just nod and pretend I understand a Scottish woman simply wanting to order a latte! Watch some YouTube videos from Scottish creators beforehand just to avoid the cultural (language) shock!
  • The cold. Because it gets so cold, pack all the warm staff you have! Even real winter clothes if you have them - boots, gloves, hat, and scarf cannot be forgotten!
  • The unstable weather. It's a thing in all of the UK. I have never seen the weather in Edinburgh changing so fast anywhere else! Basically, when you walk out the door in the morning you need to be ready for everything, from the sunshine to heavy rain!
  • The sun. When it’s out, the light hits you hard. Don’t forget sunglasses.
  • Summer doesn’t really exist. Don't expect a lot of sunbathing and days at the beach. Keep that in mind if you're a summer person.

Now you are ready to move to Edinburgh with confidence. It’s time to make that dream come true!

“Take the first step, then the rest is MAGIC.”

Please, feel free to contact me for any further questions on my Instagram account: ari_lesploratrice

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