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What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to Edinburgh

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Relocating to Edinburgh

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.

Visas and Permits for Expats in Edinburgh

EU/EEA Nationals

Moving to Edinburgh is not very difficult for nationals of an EU member state, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. They don’t need a visa to enter the UK or a permit to live there.

However, they should have a job in the UK, go to school or university there, or be able to prove that they are financially independent (e.g. retirees with a guaranteed pension).

Residence Certificates for EU Expats

It’s often recommended that EU/EEA nationals in the UK should apply for an official registration certificate, though it’s not strictly necessary. This has two distinct advantages: First, it makes it easier to get access to government services and benefits, if necessary. Second, there will also be less of a hassle if family members from outside the EU/EEA would like to join them in the UK.

In order to get a residence certificate, you need to download the residence card application form online. Please fill it in and send it to the Home Office. You have to pay a fee of GBP 55 as well.

Once they have lived in Edinburgh (or any other place in the UK) for five years, EU/EEA nationals can apply for permanent residence in a similar way.

Regulations for Croatian Nationals

Please be aware that there are, for the time being, special regulations for citizens of Croatia, the most recent EU member state. Job seekers usually need a UK employer to sponsor them. Moreover, they have to apply for a so-called “purple registration certificate”.

Self-employed expats or students from Croatia, on the other hand, can simply come to the UK, as long as they are able to finance their stay. Upon arrival, they have to apply for a yellow registration card, though.

Visa Options for Non-EU Expats

Expats from outside the UK or EEA need to apply for a visa before they move to Edinburgh. Which visa type they need and how the application process works will depend on several factors:

  • nationality
  • planned length of stay
  • reason for moving to the UK (e.g. work, business, study, family)

The following visa options are fairly common among expats who move to the UK for work-related reasons:

“Skilled worker visas” (Tier 2) address the needs of skilled laborers and employees. There’s also a separate sub-category for intra-company transfers. So-called “high value workers” fall in a different visa category (Tier 1) than skilled workers.

Visas for Skilled Workers and Employees

Applicants for a visa from the Tier 2 category for skilled employment candidates generally have to fulfill the following requirements, which are part of a points-based system:

  • They need to find a sponsor in the UK. This is usually their future employer.
  • They have to earn an appropriate minimum salary. In 2014, this means an annual gross income of more than GBP 20,500.
  • They have to show proof of English language skills.
  • They need to have at least GBP 945 in savings.
  • Applicants from selected countries may also need to be tested for TB.

Start the application process for your visa at least three months before your planned moving date. You also need to consider that you have to pay quite a hefty sum in application fees.

A visa that’s valid for up to three years will set you back by over GBP 500. If your visa’s supposed to be valid for five years, the fees amount to more than GBP 1,000.

However, if your job is on the shortage occupation list for either Scotland or the UK in general, getting the visa may be easier and/or cheaper than for other applicants. These lists are updated about every one or two years.

The visa can normally be extended for another three to five years. While you are staying in the UK with such a Tier 2 visa, you won’t have any access to public funds during that period. You aren’t entitled to benefits such as job seeker’s allowance, child tax credit, etc.

However, if any benefits or government services are financed from National Insurance contributions, this rule doesn’t apply: Once you start working in Edinburgh, you’ll also pay NI contributions in the UK. Therefore you can receive, for example, a UK retirement pension or maternity pay for new mothers.

Visas for Investors and Entrepreneurs

Investors and entrepreneurs can apply for a Tier 1 visa if they are able and willing to invest substantial sums in the UK.

For example, you can get an investor visa if you have at least GBP 1 million that you’d like to commit to business ventures in the UK. An entrepreneur, however, needs “only” GBP 50,000 or more to obtain a visa and start their own company in the UK.

If you’d like to know more about visa categories and the application process, please have a look at this website provided by the UK Home Office.

Edinburgh: Housing and Safety

The Housing Search

When it comes to finding housing in Edinburgh, it is rather difficult to give any specific recommendations. Your choice of accommodation and neighborhood always depends on factors like your budget, the location of your new workplace, the proximity to schools for your kids, available transport links, and so on.

To get your bearings, it’s probably best to start by looking at the area maps provided by Scottish real estate agency ESPC. Their maps cover a fairly large region in southeast Scotland:

  • the City of Edinburgh proper: Central Edinburgh, Edinburgh North, Edinburgh West, Edinburgh South, Edinburgh East, as well as Northwest and Southwest Edinburgh
  • the Lothians: the region adjacent to the city
  • East Fife: across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh
  • West Fife & Kinross: also on the opposite side of the estuary
  • Central Scotland: an area that includes Stirling, Clackmannashire, and Falkirk

The maps offer a fairly good overview of individual towns and neighborhoods: their exact location, important landmarks, and transportation options, such as main roads and train stations. Thus you may narrow down your search options to pre-selected areas.

The Housing Market

Unfortunately, the housing market in Edinburgh is rather expensive, though. Rental prices hit a new record high in late 2013.

For instance, a room in a shared flat will cost you about GBP 450. A two-bedroom flat in Edinburgh’s popular areas, such as New Town or the West End, is rented at an average (!) price of GBP 1,000.

The BBC’s popular online calculator for property prices and rental costs in the UK shows a similar result: For a mid-priced two-bedroom flat in Edinburgh, you have to pay GBP 700-800 per month in rent.

Please remember that utility costs for water, gas, and electricity aren’t yet included in those sums.

Safety in Edinburgh

When choosing a place to live, people new in town may also be worried about personal safety. In general, Edinburgh is a fairly safe city. For example, in 2012/13, the local police recorded two cases of homicide in the City of Edinburgh and another two cases in the Lothian & Borders region.

The biggest risks probably include getting targeted by pickpockets, especially during festival season, or being accosted by brawling drunks in Edinburgh’s nightlife areas. For this reason, you should probably avoid popular party spots such as Lothian Road or Cowgate at night, especially on weekends.

Some neighborhoods – particularly impoverished areas and council estates – also have a general reputation of being “dodgy” and “unsavoury”. They tend to have an above-average crime rate when it comes to vandalism, drug use, anti-social behavior, and assault. However, the City of Edinburgh is working on major redevelopment projects for such areas in order to support local communities.

But don’t worry! Neighborhoods like that are the exception rather than the rule. While not all of Edinburgh is neoclassical architecture or leafy greenery, the Scottish capital is mostly a pleasant place to live.

If you should still happen to have an emergency (crime or accident), just call 999. If you’d like to report a crime, contact the Scottish police via 101.

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