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Moving to Edinburgh

By moving to Edinburgh, you’ll be relocating to a place steeped in history. It has been the capital of Scotland since the 1300s; in 1999, it became the seat of a Scottish Parliament again. But if you’re looking for practical info rather than historical details, this expat guide is the right resource for you!
Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, is located on the North Sea coast.

Then and Now

Historical Edinburgh, with its medieval Old Town and its neo-classical "New Town" (‘new’ meaning 18th century), attracts thousands of tourists every year. So does the lively festival season in the summer months, when several world-renowned arts and cultural events lead to crowded streets and disgruntled locals.

The modern city also boasts the UK’s strongest economy outside the Greater London area, with plenty of employment opportunities in finance and insurance, business and technology, education and academic research, as well as travel and tourism.

The Edinburgh Area and the Lothians

Edinburgh lies at the center of a larger urban area. The city of Edinburgh proper, surrounded by its pleasant green belt, is more or less identical with the local council area of the same name. However, expats who plan to live in Edinburgh may not always find a job or housing in the capital itself.

The larger urban area stretches into the Lothians, a region in the Scottish Lowlands. West Lothian, Midlothian, and East Lothian are all located on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, the estuary where the River Forth flows into the North Sea. The Lothians include a variety of towns and villages.

The following larger places in the Lothians are within easy reach of the Scottish capital. They might be a good alternative destination for expatriates moving to Edinburgh.

  • West Lothian: Broxburn, Livingston
  • Midlothian: Bonnyrigg, Dalkeith, Loanhead, Newtongrange
  • East Lothian: Haddington, Musselburgh, Prestonpans, Tranent

Furthermore, Dunfermline in Fife, on the estuary’s northern shore, could be another option. Even if you work in the Scottish capital, it’s now linked to Dunfermline via a bridge across the bay. By car, a trip from one town center to the other takes about 30 to 40 minutes in normal traffic.

Climate and Weather

On both sides of the Firth of Forth, you’ll have to cope with the local climate. If you move to Edinburgh, you’d better prepare for plenty of rainy or windy weather, as well as coastal fog from the sea. On average, it rains every third day! You might want to pack both a couple of fleece jackets and a sturdy umbrella.

On the upside, the maritime climate is fairly temperate. Temperatures are often above 0°C in winter (though the lowest record ever was actually -16°C). However, even in hot summers, you should probably not try to take a swim in the North Sea. Local beaches are more suited to bird-watching, admiring the view, or taking long walks.

Population Figures

As far as the residential population is concerned, Scotland’s capital is more of a major city rather than a metropolis. Just compare the 8.31 million inhabitants of Greater London to the 483,000 people that live in Edinburgh! Together, the latter make up about 9% of the Scottish population.

Even if we also count the residents of the Lothians, the area just isn’t as densely populated as London. The population statistics for adjacent areas are as follows:

  • West Lothian: 176,000 residents
  • Midlothian: 84,000 residents
  • East Lothian: 100,000 residents

Nationality, Ethnicity, and Religion

After moving to Edinburgh, you’ll soon notice that the capital has a considerable foreign community. According to the 2011 UK census report, 16% of the local population was born outside the UK.

The most numerous expat community consists of Polish workers and immigrants (about 13,000 people), followed by Irish nationals and Chinese residents. But there are also larger communities from countries like India, Pakistan, the US, Germany, Australia, France, South Africa, and Canada.

In terms of ethnic and religious diversity, the census showed the following results: Less than 10% of all residents belong to a non-white population group. Various communities from South, Southeast, and East Asia make up the largest part of this demographic category.

The largest religious group in Edinburgh actually consists of non-religious people. Among believers, most of them belong to a Christian faith (about 43% in the census). The Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church are the two biggest denominations.

With roughly 3% of Muslim residents, Islam is the biggest minority religion. Furthermore, expats living in Edinburgh may be glad to know that there are also smallish communities for Orthodox and Liberal Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, and adherents of the Baha’i faith.


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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