Living in the UK: A Guide for Beginners
To be honest, I hesitated a great deal before deciding to move to the UK. I had many concerns about whether I could adjust to the lifestyle, economic conditions, or culture.
Following thorough research, I made up my mind. Looking back, I can say I’m very glad I’ve built a new life in the UK.
If you’re going through the same decision-making phase about moving to the UK, proceed to read this article that will help guide you through the process. I’ve provided essential information about the UK lifestyle, culture, gastronomy, and the best cities to live in. Follow me…
Why Move to the UK
There are plenty of reasons to move to the UK. First of all, it’s a country with one of the world’s most solid economies. The UK offers endless job opportunities and very high quality of life. This was my motivation too.
Being an appealing country for many expats from all around the world, the UK has a very culturally diverse and tolerant character. Hence, wherever in the world you’re from, you’ll feel at home in the UK.
Whatever you’re seeking, you’ll find in the UK: urban life, rural tranquility, or historical texture. The country is a pot where every culture and lifestyle melts into one where everyone’s desires are fulfilled.
On top of these, the British people have great humor. If you have an even slightly sarcastic nature, you’ll fit right in!
Pros and Cons of Living in the UK
I’ve put together a pros and cons list for you to see many aspects of living in the UK in one place and hence decide more easily:
- Free education for all residents
- High quality of life
- Cultural diversity
- Superb history
- A leading country in art and culture events
- Traveling to Europe is easy
- Traveling inside the UK is easy
- Good healthcare for little/no cost
- Summer is precious
- Access to sporting events
- Well established labor laws
- Paid leaves
- Many job opportunities for skilled workers
- Beautiful landscapes
- English homes and cottages
- Pub culture
- Great country for an introvert
- British humor
- Education standards vary vastly
- Benefiting from healthcare takes a lot of time
- Migration rates were lowered by Brexit resulting in shortages of labor, diversity, food, and fuel
- Strict visa requirements to control unwanted migration
- Rainy and cloudy weather
- Competition in the job market is favoring only the most qualified
- Bland food
- Expensive housing
- Having a car is obligatory if you want to travel around in the rural
- The train system is not very affordable and there are often delays
- Football fanaticism can be overwhelming
- The British are not particularly amiable
What Are the Best Places to Live in the UK?
The largest city and capital of England offers you the most diverse and vivacious urban life in the country. Besides British culture, London encapsulates many other cultures from all around the world, which makes it a homelike place for everyone.
London is home to many museums and cultural events alongside a rooted historical inheritance. The city also offers great nightlife to those who love such perks of urban life.
One downside of living in London England is that it costs a lot, especially in terms of housing. But per this expensiveness, the job market is much wider and wages are higher when compared to other cities.
Glasgow is the largest city and the most favorable destination for expats in Scotland. Great heritage and modern city life is synthesized in Glasgow, presenting the residents with various activities.
Since it has the second most comprehensive railway system in the UK after London, getting around in Glasgow is a piece of cake. It is also easy to travel to central Scotland for train, bus and flight systems are very developed, as well.
Housing prices in Glasgow vary according to their locations and whether they’re old or new homes.
The capital of Whales brings the cosmopolitan city life and the calm of a small town together. After you live for a while in Cardiff, you’ll be familiar with most faces in the city, but you’ll also be able to find a quiet place for yourself.
Cardiff is a budget-friendly city to live in. Yet it still offers you a lot. You can enjoy rugby games, good food, and wonderful parks to have relaxing strolls in.
Because it’s a small city, it’s really easy to get around, plus it offers a good deal of international and intercity connections.
As many other aspects of living in Cardiff are, housing is affordable, as well. The city is not only cheap, but it also provides you with a great work-life balance.
Being the second-largest city in the UK and located at the heart of it, Birmingham is an ideal destination for expats. There are many affordable housing options and getaways to the rural or traveling to other cities are pretty effortless.
Birmingham has one of the longest canals in Europe, living on the sides of which enables the residents to have a great view and hence a great housing experience.
Scotland’s mesmerizing capital circles around the Edinburgh castle and is founded on an ancient volcano. The city center is simply divided into two: the Old Town and the Georgian New Town. Living in the latter is expensive when compared to the neighborhoods slightly further from the center. Neighborhoods such as Bruntsfield or Marchmont are good options to locate in because there’s convenient and affordable public transportation in the city.
With its famous festivals like the Edinburgh Fringe and Edinburgh International Festival, international events, and diverse food scene and nightlife, Edinburgh is a legitimately cosmopolitan and culturally sophisticated city. Moreover, it overflows with historical and natural beauty.
Known for its love for football and music, Manchester is a city where the historical and the modern are perfectly combined. The arts and culture scenery in Manchester is almost over the top.
Housing is generally a little pricy in the center of the city whereas it’s cheaper in the periphery and even more affordable in the suburbs. Living in these areas doesn’t pose a challenge to transportation because public transport is excellent in Manchester.
Brighton is a beach town proximate to the capital, London. Therefore it incorporates the advantages of city life alongside the diverse activities of a beach town.
With its eclectic character, Brighton meets the needs of every potential resident. Hence, the city offers a balanced life and a strong sense of community.
While living in the center might be a bit of a burden to your wallet if you have a limited budget, basic expenses, and housing prices drop as you go further west of the city.
Reading, Thames Valley
Formerly an industrial town and now a town for recreational activities and shopping, Reading is located very close to the city center of London.
Living in Reading is considerably cheap when compared to surrounding towns. With its proximity to London and its more affordable tranquil way of life, Reading offers the residents a glance at busy urban life whenever they desire, alongside the comfort of living in a small town.
An active life is one of the best outcomes of living in Reading because cycling and rowing are popular activities to do in the town.
Leeds is a great destination for expats as well as students for it has a steady economy that procures a wide selection of job opportunities. Being home to some of the best universities in the UK, youthful residents constitute a fair part of the population in Leeds, making it a hip and dynamic city.
Leeds is Yorkshire’s largest city and due to its cosmopolitan diverse character, solid economy, and student population, it offers a wide range of housing prices.
As the dreamiest place to live in the UK, Oxford presents you with a different way of life: the bohemian. The town is “Englishness” in flesh and blood. However, these are not all that Oxford offers. There’s great diversity in the neighborhoods of Oxford, you’ll find a place for yourself that fits your marital, cultural, or economic conditions.
Oxford swarms with a fascinating historical and cultural heritage, alongside bedazzling landscapes. Being home to one of the most famous universities in the world, of course, has its fair share in the appeal of Oxford for expats.
Living in the UK: Transportation
Getting around in the UK is quite easy. The extensive train and coach system allows you to travel nationally without having any obstacles.
While trains are the most preferred means of transportation, buses referred to as coaches ensure you a bit longer but much cheaper journeys.
In addition to trains and coaches, It’s cost-effective to travel by air, especially in the major places in the UK.
Taking public transportation in Britain is a convenient, cost-effective method to get around and a terrific way to get to know the locals. Larger cities have more bus services, while London, Newcastle, and Glasgow have an underground system. You’ll find tramlines in Edinburgh, Manchester, Nottingham, and south London. Taxis are accessible at almost all train stations. Many cities are best explored on foot, but whatever mode of transportation you use, try to avoid the busy hours of 8-9.30 am and 5-7 pm.
Taking the train is a great alternative when you want to travel around the country. You'll not only go from place to place quickly, but you'll also get to see some great British sights. If you intend to travel extensively within the country, get a train pass.
The standard and price of housing in the UK vary excessively depending on location. There are mainly two types of accommodation: houses and apartments. When one thinks of the UK, the first type of house that comes to mind is the rowhouses. These are more common in small towns whereas apartments are more widespread in the urban sphere.
If you’re planning to live in the rural, English cottages provide you with a whole new living experience with a modest and idiosyncratic touch.
Renting in the UK
Finding a property to rent in the UK isn't difficult, especially if you're open about where you want to live. Online property portals are a good place to start because they allow you to investigate the pricing and availability of properties in various areas before arriving in the UK.
When it comes to finding a property in the UK, hiring an estate agent is the most convenient alternative. Estate brokers have comprehensive knowledge of the property market in a certain city or region and may advise you on the best neighborhoods.
Signing a Lease
Once you've found a good house, you'll need to sign the lease to secure it. Lease agreements in the United Kingdom are typically for six months or a year, with the option to extend. A six-month break clause can usually be negotiated with one-year leases. This gives you the option to terminate the lease at any point after the first six months by giving the landlord one or two months' notice.
Driving in the UK
Driving in the UK might take some getting used to since the steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle and you drive on the left side of the road.
Expats from non-EEA countries can use their licenses for a year whereas those who are from EEA countries can use theirs until the expiration date.
Exchanging Your Driver’s Licence in the UK
If your license was issued in an EU or EEA country, you are legally able to drive in the UK with your original license until you reach the age of 70 and your license expires. If you are 68 or older when you legally become a resident of the United Kingdom, you will be able to drive for three years. You will need to exchange your license once this time has passed.
The traditional cuisine of the UK might be one of the least appealing things about moving there. British food is mostly bland and not very assorted. Gastronomy in the UK varies regionally but it mostly revolves around meat, beans, and potatoes.
Nevertheless, there are still some essential dishes to enjoy. Here’s a list of the most renowned food in the UK that you’d want to give a try:
- Fish and chips
- Shepherd’s pie: Not a pie but vegetables and potatoes on minced meat
- Steak with kidney pie: A sort of pie filled with beef, kidney, gravy, and onions
- Toad in the Hole: Sausages covered with Yorkshire pudding batter
- Sunday roast: Roasted meat and vegetables with Yorkshire pudding
- English breakfast: Sausages, eggs, bacon, beans, mushrooms, hash browns, etc.
- Bangers and mash: Sausages and mashed potatoes
In addition to these, Indian food is very common in the UK. Last but not least, one of the most important components of British gastronomy is "the afternoon tea", of course. It is usually accompanied by cake, finger sandwiches, or shortbread. The British mostly consume tea by adding some milk to it.
The National Health Service of the UK is considered one of the best systems in the world. NHS is a healthcare system that depends on residency, meaning every resident in the UK has easy access to it.
Although the treatment standards are considerably high in public hospitals, waiting to get treatment can take overwhelmingly long. If you have private health insurance, it’s more convenient to get a much quicker treatment at a private hospital.
Money and Credit Cards
There are too many banking institutions in the UK and the process of opening an account may be a little overwhelming for expats. Providing a series of bank statements from your bank in your home country will probably help shorten this process.
The most prevalent means of payment in the UK are debit and credit cards. People usually don’t carry much cash and use cards even for the smallest amounts. Still, if you need to withdraw cash, there are ATMs on every corner, especially in the major cities. If you’re using a foreign card, you may get charged for transactions. Hence, using a UK bank account may be more advantageous.
There are different types of visas that are most convenient for expats moving to the UK. One of them is the UK Startup Visa which allows entrepreneurs to establish a company in the UK and reside in the UK for two years. After the permit expires, applicants can switch to another visa. To be eligible for the UK Startup Visa you need to meet the following requirements:
- To be 18 years old at least
- To be establishing a new, innovative and viable company
- To get validation from an endorsing body
- To be starting a business in the UK for the first time
- To provide an endorsement letter obtained in the last three months before your visa application
- To speak B2 level English
- To provide a bank statement that proves you have a minimum amount of £1,270 in your account for 28 sequential days
- To prove that you’re willing to and capable of engaging in the business you mention in your application
Another type of visa suitable for the expats is the UK Innovator Visa, a type of visa for senior business people who are to establish an innovative and unique business that proves to be viable and scalable in the UK. The innovator visa allows you to live and work in the UK for three years. After completing that period, if your business is doing well, you can apply to extend your visa.
To apply for this type of visa you are required to:
- Be starting a new and unique firm
- Provide a bank statement that proves you have at least £1,270 in your account for 28 sequential days
- Prove that you can invest a minimum amount of £50,000
- Proof that you know B2 level English at least
- Deliver an endorsement letter from an approved body
Working in the UK
Once you’ve obtained the work permit/appropriate visa to live and work in the UK, regardless of your race or nationality, you’re eligible to be employed in the UK. You may get a permanent or temporary right to work according to the type of visa/permit you’ve acquired.
British Way of Life
The UK is a multicultural country with great diversity and it’s against the law to discriminate against people due to their race, age, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. The law, the diversity, and being a kingdom consisting of four separate countries make the UK a homelike place for people from all backgrounds and cultures.
Despite the country being one that embraces all, the Brits have their specific culture and some common characteristics. First is that they are not particularly warm-blooded. They’re mostly labeled as “cold”, but as the communication moves forward, you’ll see that they’re just not self-revelatory. They even like small talk, especially about the weather.
However, the most prevalent characteristic shared by the Brits might be their humor, of which I’m a great fan myself. Dry humor and making fun of oneself are indispensable hallmarks of British culture.
The British way of life depends highly on a good work-life balance. Although the Brits are generally hard workers who labor for long hours, the wages are accordingly convenient, job security is high, and paid leaves are very usual.
Social life usually pivots around pubs and drinking. The Brits get together and drink as if it’s a sport. Another beverage to socialize over is tea, of course.
The people in the UK are usually individualistic, therefore they hang out not as communities but as small groups. Still, if you have a specific hobby like outdoor sports or gaming, you can integrate into related groups to build a community for yourself.
One strong aspect of social life in the UK is the sporting events such as Wimbledon or the Premier League. Sports gather some of the biggest crowds in the UK.
Cost of Living in the UK
Let’s have a look at what it costs to live in the UK. Here are the expected monthly rents for a single bedroom apartment in some of the cities I’ve mentioned above:
- London: £1,300–£2,275
- Manchester: £800–£1,000
- Birmingham: £650–£900
- Glasgow: £650–£950
- Leeds: £700– £800
- Oxford: £1,200–£1,500
Also, see the below chart to have a general idea of daily living expenses in the country.
Meal, inexpensive restaurant
Meal mid-range restaurant, three-course (for 2 people)
McMeal at McDonalds
Domestic Beer (0.5 liter)
Coke/Pepsi (0.33 liter bottle)
Water (0.33-liter bottle)
Cost of Living in the UK vs. the US
- Consumer prices in the UK are 11.41% lower than in the US (without rent)
- Consumer prices including rent in the UK are 18.70% lower than in the US
- Rent prices in the UK are 30.61% lower than in the US
- Restaurant prices in the UK are 1.78% lower than in the US
- Groceries prices in the UK are 28.32% lower than in the US
- Local purchasing power in the UK is 5.23% lower than in the US
Living in the UK: Money-Saving Tips
It’s no secret that the UK is an expensive country. Still, with some tips, you can make it:
- Plan your budget
- Search for the best deal when you’re buying
- Buy second hand/sell the items you don’t use
- Plan your meals
- Economize on gas, electricity, and water
- Plan your travels ahead
- Go easy on your credit card
- Cut unused subscriptions/services
- Pay annually instead of monthly
- Know your taxes
- Always remember to save up
The overall climate of the UK is a temperate oceanic climate, which means it’s cool during the winter and warm during the summer, and humid almost all the time. The weather in the UK rarely climbs up or down to extremes.
The climate in the UK varies regionally and seasonally. However, there’s quite a rainfall throughout the year. If you don’t mind getting wet every once in a while and don’t get depressed due to cloudy and rainy weather, grab your umbrella and start moving! Because one upside of the frequent downfall is that the UK people know how to enjoy the sun for sure!
Is the UK safe?
Overall, the UK is a relatively safe country. However, this should not constitute a reason to be free from being cautious. Although the crime rates are low in the UK, there’s still pickpocketing, street robberies, and car theft. Therefore it’s wise to hold on to your common sense.
Other than these small crimes, it’s very rare to come across violent crimes. One thing you can consider avoiding might be mingling with football fanatic crowds, for they can get rough sometimes.
Insider Tips for Living in the UK
Here are some of my tips for the newcomers:
- Get used to having small talks about the weather
- Buy an umbrella (...and carry it in your bag all the time)
- Be prepared to “have a cuppa” (cup of tea) at all times
- Figure out public transportation, especially if you’re going to live in London
- If you’re used to speaking American English, revise your vocabulary
- Note that Air conditioners are rare due to the temperate climate
- Avoid talking about Brexit, as it might be kind of a taboo for some people
- Know that weather can be tricky
- If you’re not one to enjoy dry humor, British jokes can be a pain In the neck for you
There you have it. I’ve provided you with the prologue to your story of relocating to the UK, as it all starts with just reading a guideline. All you need to decide now is whether you want to add a drop of milk to your cuppa tea or not! Enjoy your new life in the UK!
Is the UK a good place to live?
There are many wonderful aspects of living in the UK, including the sense of humor, quality of life, and well-known politeness. The UK is a country with high living standards, good healthcare services, a good economy, and many business opportunities.
What are the disadvantages of living in the UK?
While everyone adores London, it is also one of the most expensive cities in the world. Unfortunately, as more and more individuals are unable to afford to live in London, they are relocating to adjacent cities. As a result, the costs in such cities have skyrocketed. The cost of living in any town near London has risen to the level of a black hole.
Living in England necessitates the sacrifice of some sunlight. The stereotype holds that England is dark and rainy for most of the year. The weather is also determined by where you reside in England or which region of the United Kingdom you are in. The south, for example, receives less snow and more sunlight than the north. The weather can also rapidly shift.
Is UK or US better to live in?
The answer to this question depends on your lifestyle and needs. For example, National Health Service in the UK is a major reason why many American expats want to live in the UK. While free healthcare is an incentive, the climate can be a deterrent. While the UK gets a lot of rain, the US has a wider range of climates. Plus, food is more diverse in the US. However, the pub scene in the UK is very attractive, too. Work life balance in the UK is another reason why many American expats choose to live in the country.
How do I permanently move to the UK?
Getting permanent residency in the UK is known as Indefinite Leave To remain (ILR). For this, you'll have to live in the country for a minimum amount of time, which is generally five years.