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The quality and affordability of housing in the United Kingdom varies widely. While expats may struggle to find spacious, high-quality accommodation that doesn't break the bank in notoriously expensive London, there are many areas of the UK where it's much easier to find appropriate housing at a decent price.
Types of accommodation in the United Kingdom
Accommodation in the UK is generally in the form of houses – whether freestanding or row houses (known as terraced housing) – and apartments (known as flats). All these types of housing are widespread throughout the UK, with flats dominating in the more urban areas.
House-sharing (renting an individual room in a larger house shared by others) is another popular option among single expats in the United Kingdom – and is an avenue usually pursued out of financial necessity. Still, for young expats this can be a great way to meet new people.
Renting accommodation in the UK
Most expats in the UK opt to rent rather than buy property. This is partly due to the temporary nature of expat assignments and also due to the high cost of housing, especially in the capital. The process of renting property is generally the same throughout the UK, although finding property in larger, more populous cities is often much harder.
Finding rental accommodation
Finding a property to rent in the UK isn’t too difficult, especially for those who are flexible in terms of the exact area they want to live in. Online property portals such as Rightmove, Zoopla and On the Market are a great starting point as they allow expats to do research on the cost and availability of properties in various areas, even before they arrive in the UK. These websites include photos, details and floor plans on available properties, and are updated regularly by local real estate agencies.
Once an area or suburb has been chosen, it is worth building a relationship with local real estate agents, as they will have intimate knowledge of the local area and may be able to show properties before the details have been loaded onto the property portals. Some people moving to the UK are lucky enough to employ a local relocation agency, who will liaise directly with estate agents and shortlist properties for viewing.
Students and those on a tight budget often choose to rent a room in house, rather than renting a whole property. There are a few property portals that specialise in house-share, such as SpareRoom.
Furnished vs unfurnished
When searching for somewhere to rent, prospective tenants will need to decide whether to rent a furnished or unfurnished property. An unfurnished property will typically include kitchen and bathroom fixtures, and appliances such as a fridge, cooker and possibly a dishwasher and washing machine. Carpets and often curtains are included but no furniture such as beds or sofas. A furnished property will include items of furniture such as sofas and armchairs in the living room, table and chairs in the dining area and beds, wardrobes and chests of drawers in the bedrooms. Some will even include TVs, kitchen utensils and cutlery.
Many expats and assignees choose to rent a furnished property to save the worry and expense of sourcing furniture, or having it shipped from abroad. It may cost slightly more to rent a furnished flat or house, but the difference in cost is often marginal.
Short lets and temporary housing
Many new arrivals in the UK choose to stay in temporary housing, as it is usually a more cost effective and convenient alternative to hotels. There are a number of specialist providers of temporary housing in the larger cities, and holiday rental sites such as Airbnb are also an option.
Signing a lease
Once expats have found a suitable property, they will have to sign the lease in order to secure it. Most tenancies in the UK are Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs), which provide standard protection to both tenants and landlords. Lease agreements in the UK are generally signed for one year, with the option to extend. Usually, with one-year leases, a six-month break clause can be negotiated. This allows the tenant to terminate the contract any time after the first six months by giving the landlord either one or two months’ notice.
If this negotiable clause is included, renters should note that it may also allow the landlord to terminate the lease early without needing to give a reason, though it's worth remembering that it's unusual for a landlord to do so.
Most landlords in the UK will expect tenants to provide a security deposit which amounts to five weeks' rent. The landlord or their agent must lodge the deposit in a government-approved Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDP). In most cases, references and letters from an employer or payslips will be required to secure a property.
Tenant should seek the prior written consent from their landlord if they wish to keep a pet on the property.
When expats sign a rental contract, they should make sure they're clear on what additional costs they're liable for. These costs will typically consist of council tax, gas, electricity, water and internet. As these expenses have the potential to significantly increase accommodation costs, they need to be taken into account when budgeting.
Termination of the lease
A landlord may charge a cleaning fee if the tenant does not leave the property in a good condition, so it's important for tenants to get their property professionally cleaned before they leave. The landlord is also likely to make deductions from the deposit for lost keys and unpaid utility bills.
A landlord will not charge for fair wear and tear, such as wearing of carpets, scuffed wooden flooring or faded paint, as this is an inevitable part of letting out a property. Damage beyond ordinary wear and tear can result in deductions from the deposit.
The landlord or their agent should return the deposit within ten days of agreeing how much will be refunded. The tenant's deposit will be protected in the TDP scheme until any issues are resolved.
Buying property in the UK
Foreigners interested in buying property in the UK will need to engage the services of a reliable estate agent, who can help them find a suitable property. Once the buyer finds a property, the agent can also help with conveyancing (although some buyers hire a property lawyer to handle this).
Mortgages can be sought through any bank or building society, provided that expats are able to supply appropriate documentation such as evidence of earnings and reference letters.
►Learn more about the various Areas and Suburbs in London
"Rentals in England typically fall into a few categories: there are private rentals run by landlords, rentals run by agencies and house shares. You’ll likely live in a house share when you first arrive unless you know people or have a good job lined up. House shares can either be run by agencies, where the existing tenants have no control over who else shares with them, or they can be run privately and the tenants choose their fellow housemates. I’ve heard great stories and I’ve also heard horror stories; it just depends on the house share. Private and agency rentals can be a mixed bag as well." Read more about Canadian expat Allison's experiences in the UK.
Are you an expat living in The United Kingdom?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The United Kingdom. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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