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Living in Edinburgh

Welcome to "Auld Reekie", as residents of the Scottish capital affectionately call their city. Life in Edinburgh has a lot to offer – not only for tourists and attendees of the local arts festivals. Our expat guide provides useful information on leisure, education, healthcare, and transport.
Scotland offers a comprehensive education system for local students and expat kids alike.

Tourism and Leisure

As far as leisure and cultural activities are concerned, expats who have made Edinburgh their new home are quite spoiled for choice. The Scottish capital is the UK’s second most popular travel destination and tourist attraction for a reason!

The historical city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is very much worth exploring while you’re getting settled. In addition to historic buildings, museums, and galleries, the larger urban area offers plenty in the way of outdoor life in Edinburgh.

Older expatriates might enjoy bird-watching or simply taking in the rugged scenery of the North Sea coast. Families with children, on the other hand, can visit the local zoo or the nearby wildlife parks, with their opportunities for cycling, camping, horse riding, or running wild on an adventure playground.

Arts and Culture

In summer, the city will be literally overrun by visitors from others parts of the UK and the rest of the world. August in particular is festival season.

Locals living in Edinburgh sometimes prefer to schedule their holidays abroad in order to escape the onslaught. New arrivals, though, may want not to miss out on the chance to attend one of the biggest and liveliest arts and entertainment events around the globe.

The Edinburgh Festival is an "umbrella term" for a variety of different events that attract thousands and thousands of people every year. The Edinburgh International Festival, a high-brow cultural event, and its somewhat less serious counterpart, the Edinburgh Fringe, are probably the best-known examples.

But the city also hosts events for movie buffs, fans of jazz and blues, bookworms, and science geeks, as well as the Edinburgh Mela, which celebrates the cultural diversity of Scotland’s South Asian immigrant communities.

Events for Attendees of All Ages

Again, the local festival season addresses people of all ages. While expat kids may not really care for the serious parts of the schedule (e.g. Britten’s War Requiem or a dance choreography by the late great Pina Bausch in 2014), they definitely profit from separate children’s programs at most of the other major events.

At the Edinburgh Science Festival, for example, kids from the age of three can participate in a jungle safari, become code crackers and detectives, or explore the era of the dinosaurs. That way, learning is much more fun and exciting than at school!

Early Childhood Education

Alas, the festival season, as well as summer holidays in general, will come to an end. Then it’s back to school for all children who live in Edinburgh and adjacent areas.

Scotland has its own distinct education system, which is different from other regions in the UK. With regard to early childhood education for children under the age of five, please contact the local Childcare Information Service. They will provide you with up-to-date information on all kinds of daycare in your local council area.

However, the availability of childcare is not necessarily guaranteed for families who live in Edinburgh. 3-year-old and 4-year-old kids are entitled to 12.5 hours of free pre-school education per week – a number to be raised from August 2014 onwards. Nonetheless, as far as full-time daycare is concerned, a 2011 study talks about a veritable "childcare lottery".

Whether you find a place at a daycare center or nursery school for your kid and how much you pay for it often depends on your exact place of residence. The cost can be considerable, especially for infants and toddlers up to 2 years. In such cases, parents spend about 25% of their gross income on full-time childcare.

Schools in Scotland

All government-funded schools, owned and operated by local authorities, are free of charge for kids and teens up to age 19.

Normally, children in Scotland are 4 or 5 years old when they first go to their local primary school. However, expat parents might be reassured to hear that it’s possible to apply for deferral if they feel their kid isn’t quite ready for school yet.

After seven years of primary education, students go on to secondary school. Most secondary schools are called "high school", "academy" or similar; however, regardless of the name, all state schools are comprehensive and non-selective institutions.

The first four years of secondary education are mandatory: Then, at the age of 15 or 16, all students in Edinburgh, Glasgow and beyond will be cramming for the National 4/5 Exams, the equivalent of the GCSE in England and Wales.

After that, two years of further optional study lead up to Higher / Advanced Higher Exams (similar to A levels or the International Baccalaureate). These finals enable students to attend university – Edinburgh, a traditional center of learning, boasts four universities altogether!

Finding a School for Your Children

If you want to choose a school near your new home in Scotland, you should have a look at these websites:

  • The Scottish Council of Independent Schools is the umbrella organization in charge of fee-paying private institutions. They have quite a few member schools in the Edinburgh area, but they may also cost a pretty penny.
  • Fettes College and St Leonard’s both offer an IB curriculum, as well as EFL (English as a Foreign Language) support for non-native speakers living in Edinburgh.

Our in-depth Expat Guide to the UK includes even more information on the education system, from childcare for toddlers to university admissions for international students. Have a look at our section on Family, Children and Education in the UK!


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Ruben Barbosa

"Whether it's the Edinburgh Fringe Festival or the Highlands -- such great opportunities to explore Scotland with my fellow expats."

Marleen Jansen

"I'd never have discovered my favourite museum without the Edinburgh Expat Guide! "

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