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. The city is rich with history, a vibrant culture, and blessed with postcard-pretty scenery, not to mention a booming financial services industry.
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.
Living in Edinburgh as an expat
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.
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.
Cost of living in Edinburgh
When compared with other major expat hubs such as Hong Kong, Singapore and New York, the Scottish capital's cost of living is actually rather reasonable. Edinburgh ranked 86th out of 227 cities worldwide in the 2023 Mercer Cost of Living Survey. In the UK context, this is a touch expensive, though still more affordable than London, which sits significantly higher at the 17th spot. The cost of accommodation in the city is sky-high, and expats will have to negotiate their salary accordingly if they are to live comfortably.
Expat families and children
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. There is also plenty for families to get up to in their leisure time, including picnics in the many lovely green spaces dotted around the city, hikes in its hills, and many spectacular museums, theatres and other entertainment.
Climate in Edinburgh
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 melancholic moods. Most expats report that they get used to the grey skies after a while, but new arrivals should be prepared as their first, long winter may come as a bit of a shock to the system
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.
►See Lifestyle in Edinburgh for an overview of shopping, nightlife, eating-out options, and how to make friends in the city
"I love the deep and rich history everything is steeped in, which is often an odder mix than you’d expect. The cultural sense of humour is great, often dark and frank to the point some foreigners would take offence, but it arises from a place of love and respect for the most part. Nobody will put up with any nonsense." Read more of Scottish repatriate Daniel's interview.
Are you an expat living in Edinburgh?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Edinburgh. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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