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An Expat's Guide to Living in Glasgow

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Tess
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Hi! I’m Tess, a 22-year-old from Canada, who moved to Glasgow, Scotland on a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa in June 2022. 

I’ve dreamed of living abroad for years and decided to make the leap a few months ago. There are a lot of smaller (perhaps insignificant) reasons that I moved abroad, but the overarching theme was to explore the world and figure out what brings me joy. 

The last time my family and I visited the UK, I truly fell in love. The architecture and the landscapes are stunning, and the people are overwhelmingly friendly. There’s also something so beautiful to me about the perfect balance of similarities and differences to home that the UK holds.

I chose to move to Glasgow due to its large size, reasonable cost of living, and accessibility to the rest of Europe. The city is also full of people from different countries and cultures, who moved to Glasgow for a variety of reasons, but ultimately ended up falling in love with the city. 

An Introduction to Glasgow

Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland with a population of 1,689,000. Only 45 minutes away by train is the country’s capital, Edinburgh. The people in Glasgow are friendly and welcoming, and the city has an unfaltering vibrance and energy to it.

It has a fantastic nightlife and live music scene, and makes for a great base for those wanting to travel, with daily flights to a variety of European destinations from both GLA and EDI airports. 

The main neighborhoods of Glasgow are the:

  • City Center
  • West End
  • East End
  • Southside

The City Center and west end are more touristy areas and are filled with many great restaurants and shops. There is also plenty to discover on the east side and south side as well, though I have not spent as much time there as they are less accessible by public transit. 

Safety in Glasgow

Safety is an incredibly important topic to research when you’re considering moving somewhere new. Despite Glasgow’s rough reputation, I have not had many troubles in the city beyond some catcalling or stares from men. And for the most part, as long as you make an effort to stay out of trouble, you will be fine.

Numbeo is a great resource when looking at a city’s crime rate or cost of living and even has a comparison tool. Using this for reference, London is considered more dangerous than Glasgow in all surveyed statistics, with the highest crime levels being the use/dealing of drugs and being robbed/mugged.

The only parts of the city I’ve really been told to avoid are the lower edge of the City Center, near the River Clyde, as well as “4 corners” - an intersection not too far from Central Station. These areas are both known to be a bit rougher, especially at night, and are best to avoid when possible. 

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The Logistics of Moving to Glasgow

Long-Term Visas

Though the visa process is extremely daunting at first, it ended up being much simpler than I thought. This may not be the case with all types of Visas, but the Youth Mobility or Tier 5 Visa seems to be one of the simpler options. 

Based on your home country, you may be eligible for a Youth Mobility or Tier 5 Visa. This is essentially a working travel visa, and allows someone from Canada to live and work in the UK for up to 2 years. I have a full, more detailed post on this visa on my blog. 

The nationalities eligible for this visa are:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Monaco
  • New Zealand
  • San Marino
  • Iceland
  • Hong Kong*
  • Japan*
  • South Korea*
  • Taiwan*

Other options for living in the UK are Skilled Worker Visas, Ancestry Visas, Study Visas ,and Partner/Spousal Visas. For more info on these other options, consult the UK Government’s website

Other Legalities 

Buchanan Galleries, Photo by Artur Kraft.

NIN

If you’re wanting to work in the UK, you must apply for a National Insurance Number (NIN) after arriving in the country. It is a fairly simple application which can be completed online, however, it’s best to do it as soon as possible as the processing time can be lengthy.

You can typically begin working even before you’ve received your NIN, so long as you have confirmation that you have applied. 

Taxes

If you’ll be working for a Scottish company, worry not! Scotland automatically handles taxes for their workers and you no longer need to concern yourself with filing tax returns.

However, if, like me, you’re continuing to be employed by a North American company or are self-employed whilst living in the UK, you should consult an accountant prior to tax season. In my pre-move research, I found that a tax treaty exists between Canada and the UK, so you shouldn’t be double taxed on your earnings.

To make sure you’re abiding by all the necessary rules, it is a good idea to consult an accountant (ideally one who has experience with taxes in both the UK and your home country). 

Driver’s License

Though I am choosing not to drive here and instead rely on public transit, I have heard from other expats that it is fairly easy to transfer a Canadian license over to a UK license. However, since I have not done it myself, I would recommend referring to the government website for the most up-to-date information.  

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Finding Housing in Glasgow

My experience with housing was a bit of a tumultuous one. Luckily, that whole mess ended as well as it could have, and I’m now in a much better living situation than before.

I found both of these flats via Spareroom. The three main options that I will discuss below are Spareroom, Rightmove, and Facebook groups, however, student accommodation is also worth looking into if you will be studying while abroad. 

Spareroom is a great place to hunt for a room to rent, whereas Rightmove is better if you are looking for your own place or have a group of friends you’d like to move in with.

One frustrating barrier about Spareroom is the paid messaging feature. To message any “new” postings (added to the site within the last few days) you have to pay for an Early Bird upgrade, bought in spans of 1wk, 2wks or 28days.

There is, however, a way around this, and while it's not foolproof, it may help if you’re on a tight budget. Spareroom postings have a “show interest” button which can be used even on the free version of the site. This will show your profile to the ad’s poster and increase your chances of them reaching out to you first (and you get to avoid upgrading your account).

Facebook groups are another great place to look for housing, for example, “Glasgow Housing, Room & Flat Share” is a local group where you can find many rentals posted. 

Other Key Housing Info

Glasgow City Center

UK Guarantors & Council Tax

Be prepared that you may need to pay a few months of your rent upfront unless you have a UK-based guarantor. Council taxes are also a completely new concept to me, but we’ll get into that more later. 

The Best Areas to Live in

Most would recommend the City Center or the West End if you want to stay within the city.

Southside also offers more reasonably priced flats, but is a bit detached from the city in terms of public transportation options. The same goes for the East End, which is considered by many to be an up-and-coming neighborhood, however, I was recommended to avoid living there alone as a woman. 

People Make Glasgow

It’s no surprise that Glasgow holds the slogan, People Make Glasgow. Glasgow is a city full of kind, interesting people, and they’re not hard to find! It can be difficult to adjust to the Glaswegian accents and slang at first, but you get the hang of it eventually.

A few of my favorite ways I’ve made friends since moving to Glasgow are:

  • Bumble BFF – a great way to meet like-minded people as you can see people's interests up-front, and makes it easy to start a conversation. 
  • Instagram & Facebook — easily find groups full of other travelers or expats in the same area as you! I’m personally into a few such as: Canadians in the UK/Scotland, Glasgow gals making pals, Girls Abroad, and Gals Who Travel.
  • Local events via the Meetup app – they have groups for everything on here! Expat groups, language groups, hiking groups, you name it. 
  • Just say hello – Chat with random people at gigs/events, especially if you’re there solo. You never know, a simple compliment or question could lead to a friendship! 

I have found that there is a strong community of expats in Scotland from all around the world – a large percentage of which have moved over from Canada as well. Back in July, some of us met up for an “unofficial Canada day” meetup, which was so lovely! 

I also consulted with some folks who identify as LGBTQIA+ about whether they feel that Glasgow is an accepting/welcoming city. I feel that this is an important topic to cover, however since I do not identify as  LGBTQIA+, it was not my story to tell.

Those that I spoke to reported an overall positive experience in the city and noted that there are a variety of queer bars/pubs around the city, namely Katie’s Bar, Delmonicas, Polo Lounge, and there’s even a Queer bookshop, Category is Books.

Things to Do in Glasgow

The Highland cows, photo by Julia Barrantes.

The social scene in Glasgow is fantastic, with tons of coffee shops, restaurants, music venues, and more. Living in Glasgow is a lot of fun, with plenty to do around every corner. Take a peek at my shared Google My Maps for the locations of all my favorite places in Glasgow. The best way to get to know a city is to explore it! A popular option is the hop on hop off sightseeing bus.

Here are some of my favorite things to do:  

Go Cafe Hopping

Glasgow has TONS of amazing cafes and bakeries. A few of my favorites in no particular order: 1841 Coffee, the Bakery by Zique, Caffe Monza, Riverhill Coffee, Ottoman Coffeehouse, the Hyndland Cafe.

Get a Bite to Eat

If you’re craving Italian, give Sugo, Paesano’s, or Eusebi Deli a try. Feeling more like Indian Tapas? Head over to Chaakoo Bombay Café. Looking for something more high-end? Try 63rd & 1st. This spot is sure to impress with its stunning décor, top-notch service, and amazing food/cocktails. 

Catch a Show

If you love live music, Glasgow is a fantastic city to live for you. My favorite/top venues are SWG3 and King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut which typically hosts indie-pop and alternative artists/bands.

Since arriving in Glasgow in June, I’ve been lucky enough to attend 7 different concerts. There are also many spots around town that offer comedy shows or Katie’s bar, and LGBTQIA+ location, which frequently hosts Cabaret shows and Karaoke. 

Admire the Architecture

Glasgow’s architecture is stunning, particularly to someone coming from Canada (where all the buildings are new and look the same). I spent a lot of time during my first few weeks here just wandering around and admiring the buildings. Remember to look up!

Have a Wee Wander Through Nature

There are plenty of great hikes in the Scottish Highlands but Kelvingrove park (West End) or Queen’s park (Southside) are two of my favorite spots. They are both free to visit and easily accessible by public transport.

Visit an Art Gallery

Glasgow has a great art scene, and best of all, admission to most galleries and museums in the country is free! I’d recommend checking out Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, GoMA, and Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery (found within the University of Glasgow).  

Highland Cow Spotting

Pollok Country Park (Southside) and Beecraigs Country Park (near Edinburgh) are great spots for this. While you might think this a silly thing to do for fun, the Highland Cows are incredibly cute, shaggy, and fun to see in person.

Immerse Yourself in the Nightlife

As I mentioned above, the nightlife is bustling in Glasgow. I had to consult some outside sources for this bit as I’m not one for clubbing and I rarely drink anymore.

A few of my favorite spots for more casual drinks are Gin71, Vodka Wodka, and Hillhead Book Club. Revolution, Slug & Lettuce, and Missoula are also fun, and typically have good deals as well as fun and unique drinks.

If you’re looking for a proper night out, there are many clubs in Glasgow! Polo (mentioned above, LGBTQIA+ friendly), Cathouse, and Garage were some of the top picks from those I spoke to. 

Shop Till You Drop

Glasgow is known for its wide range of shops, ranging from midrange shops such as H&M and Next, to luxury stores such as Rolex or Gucci.

The two main shopping centers in the City Center are Buchanan Galleries and Princes Square, but if you’re willing to travel out of the city a bit, you can find great deals at larger malls such as Livingston Outlet or Braehead Shopping Center

Travel Opportunities

Photo by Giorgio Trovato.

Accessibility to travel within the UK and mainland Europe was a huge part of my move abroad. As someone who loves to travel, nothing beats being able to find a last-minute cheap flight deal, rather than having to plan years in advance and spend a minimum of 1K just to get over to this side of the world. 

I’ve put together a little list of a few spots you can access easily from Glasgow via train or plane below: 

Travel Opps By Train

Shorter trips within Scotland: 

  • Stirling – 30 mins
  • Edinburgh – 45 mins
  • Loch Lomond – 1.5 hrs 
  • St. Andrews – 2.5 hrs 
  • Loch Ness & the Highlands**– semi-accessible by train, but you may prefer to consider a guided day tour or simply rent a car! 

Longer trips, UK, & Ireland: 

  • Manchester – 3.5 hrs 
  • London – 5 hrs 
  • Bath – 6.25 hrs 
  • Belfast – 6 hrs on a direct bus

Travel Opps by Plane (prices via Skyscanner)

  • Belgium and Ireland from £15-20
  • Spain, Poland, UK from £30-35
  • Croatia and France from £35-40
  • Italy, Portugal, Czechia, Switzerland and Sweden from £40-45

Cost of Living in Glasgow

Glasgow City Chambers

The cost of living in Glasgow, as with most places in the world, is increasing. That said, it’s more reasonably priced than comparable large UK cities such as London or Dublin.

Rent

The average rental cost of a 1 bedroom flat in Glasgow’s City Center or West End is approximately £500 PCM – £675 PCM.

Keep in mind that on top of this fee will be monthly council tax, which is priced based in “bands” – typically higher the more wealthy/desirable of an area you live in. Council tax essentially covers the work done for the upkeep of your local area.

Groceries

I’ve found groceries to be significantly cheaper compared to back home. For the cheapest groceries, choose Aldi or Lidl over alternatives. 

Phone Plans

In comparison to Canada, phone plans are amazing here! I’m with VOXI (through Vodafone) and pay £10 for 30GB of data per month + unlimited data on Social Media apps/platforms. 

Clothing & Furniture

The best way to shop for cheap in Glasgow is to visit one of the many charity shops scattered throughout the city (essentially thrift stores). There are also more “high-end” or vintage shops, particularly in the West End. 

Transportation

One great thing about Glasgow is that there are many transportation options such as the bus system, the train, and the subway. They all have their faults and can be unreliable at times but unless it’s a truly terrible day, at least one will be running. 

The subway is my favorite form of public transportation, as it runs in a circle connecting the West End, City Center, and Southside rather well. Options for public transport are more limited in the East End, requiring residents to rely more on the trains or private transportation methods. 

As far as public transportation goes, keep this in mind:

  • ZoneCard is a great way to enjoy travel via rail, bus and Subway travel.
  • The City Center is limited to drivers, with many streets being bus or taxi only. There are plenty of one-way streets, as well. My top tip? Avoid driving in the City Center whenever possible. 
  • Taxis and Ubers are easy to find and typically reasonably priced, but not really necessary unless you’re out much earlier or later than public transit runs. 
  • The Young Scot National Entitlement Card offers youth in Scotland (11-26-year-olds) discounts on a variety of stores and businesses, £1 entry to a variety of historical sites via Historic Houses, and free bus fare for those under 22. 

Is Living in Glasgow Worth it?

As cheesy as it sounds, moving abroad is without a doubt the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. The experience has opened me up to so many opportunities, allowed me to prioritize travel, and helped me to meet so many wonderful new people. 

So if you’re looking for a sign to make that jump, do it. You almost certainly won't regret it, and even if you do, at least you won't be left wondering about what could have been. 

I’ll leave you with the quote that really pushed me to move, and that is: 

“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest … thing in the world.” – John Green, Paper Towns. 

Any questions about moving abroad or life in Scotland? Please reach out to me via Instagram  and I’d be more than happy to answer/chat! 

Hero picture by Anna Urlapova. *This article may contain affiliate links, meaning I make a small commission on any purchases at no extra expense to you. Read our disclaimer & privacy policy here.

xx,
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