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Employment in Edinburgh

As mentioned in our guide on moving to Edinburgh, the city is one of the UK’s most prosperous regions outside London. Edinburgh – where banking looks back on over 300 years of tradition – is not only the second largest financial center in the country: The local economy also boasts a fairly strong service sector in general.

The Service Industry: Fields of Employment

Though banking in particular is still recovering from the impact of several global crises, finance, insurance, and law still offer plenty of employment opportunities to those working in Edinburgh. If you’re an expat lawyer, however, please take note: Practicing law in Scotland may require special qualifications. Even if you are qualified to work in the legal profession in England, you should consider that Scotland has a different legal system.

As the capital is Scotland’s #1 tourist destination, the travel and tourism industry is another key sector. In addition to domestic and international visitors flocking to the summer festival season, the city attracts lots of business travelers and conference guests.

Moreover, the four local universities are in need of administrative, technical, and academic staff. If you should be interested in working in Edinburgh as a lecturer or researcher, the fields of medicine, law, engineering, computing, business, and the natural sciences are particularly strong.

The city has also invested in establishing a new business park, west of the town center and fairly close to the international airport. After the new tramline opened in June 2014, the park has its own stop now. The area is the seat of such companies as Fujitsu, the British Telecom, and Agilent Technologies (a manufacturer of measurement instruments for the biotech, electronics, and chemical industries).

The Labor Market: Essential Data

Generally speaking, Edinburgh seems to attract numerous highly qualified people. According to local statistics, over 50% of all employed residents aged 25-64 have at least a bachelor’s degree.

The unemployment rate is slightly lower than the Scottish average: In 2013, only 6.7% of the local working population were out of a job, as opposed to 7.7% in all of Scotland. However, the construction sector, as well as the financial industry, is still struggling to some extent with the aftermath of the 2008/2009 recession.

Local Top Employers

Expats keen on working in Edinburgh should be aware that the public sector is one of the biggest local employers. It creates about 25% of all job opportunities in Edinburgh.

Especially if you have previous experience in healthcare, this might be a good option for you. Health and social work is the top local sector by employees; the biggest single employer in the entire area is NHS Lothian, the public healthcare agency.

The other top 10 sectors by the number of employees working in Edinburgh are as follows:

  • wholesale, retail
  • finance
  • education
  • accommodation, food services
  • professional, technical, scientific services
  • administration, support services
  • public administration, defense, social security
  • ICT
  • transport, storage
  • arts, entertainment, recreation

Job Hunting in Scotland

If you are looking for a job in Edinburgh or one of the nearby towns and cities, the resources below will serve as a useful starting point:

  • Reed UK, Monster UK, and Indeed UK are the respective UK versions of well-known international job sites.
  • Jobsin Edinburgh is an online database specifically aimed at English-speaking expats.
  • Both The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, two of the UK’s biggest national newspapers, offer online job ads that cover the entire country.
  • S1Jobs is one of the biggest job sites for the Scottish employment market.
  • Don’t forget to check some print sources, too: The Scotsman (Edinburgh) and The Herald (Glasgow) are Scotland’s most influential newspapers. The Scotsman also provides its own career section online whereas The Herald cooperates with
  • The Daily Telegraph and The Times both publish a special Scottish print edition, with a dedicated classifieds section.
  • While The Guardian and The Financial Times don’t have extra publications for Scotland, plenty of Edinburgh-based employers still choose to advertise their job openings there.

Best of luck for your job search abroad! If you want to know more about working in Edinburgh, for instance about work visas, self-employment, or social security, just explore the rest of our city guide.

Work in Edinburgh: Visas & Permits

Before you make any definite plans for your new job and life in Edinburgh, don’t forget to figure out the bureaucratic details. First, you should find out if you need an employment visa or any other kind of permit for working in the UK.

Options for Work Visas

Generally speaking, EU/EEA nationals do not require a visa or work permit to take up employment in Edinburgh. However, they should be able to support themselves and their dependent family members financially, through gainful employment or self-employment.

Expats from outside the European Union, on the other hand, should look into getting a work visa for the UK. At the time of writing (July 2014), this visa will probably belong to one of the following categories:

  • Tier 1 Visas are mostly aimed at investors, entrepreneurs, and exceptional talents (e.g. in science and the arts). So you’ll need to be either an outstanding expert in your respective field, or have access to considerable sums of investment capital.
  • Tier 2 Visas address the needs of skilled workers, employees, and foreign assignees. Generally speaking, they are easier to apply for than Tier 1 Visas. Nonetheless, you usually need to collect a certain minimum number of points to be eligible. Points are awarded for such requirements as a future employer willing to sponsor your visa, an appropriate salary, English language skills, and a minimum amount of money in savings.

To find out more about UK visas, please read on in our guide for moving to Edinburgh, or browse the detailed information provided by the UK Home Office.

Self-Employment in the UK

Unfortunately, non-entrepreneurial visas don’t really allow for self-employment in the UK. If you have moved to Edinburgh on a work visa and would rather like to be your own boss, always check beforehand how this could affect your immigration status.

EU nationals, however, can opt for self-employment at any time. But they should still take the following points into account:

Self-employment in the UK is possible as a sole trader, as part of a partnership, or a limited company. You may also consider joining a cooperative or becoming part of a franchise. If you’re interested in the latter, the British Franchise Association is an excellent resource.

However, no matter what kind of legal business structure you prefer, self-employment in Edinburgh requires clarifying several important things first. Even if you already have sufficient funds for your own business and have done some market research, there are more matters to take care of:

  • Check if your professional qualifications are officially recognized in the UK, or what you’d have to do to make it so.
  • In addition to having the necessary know-how and qualifications, you may also need business permits or licenses for carrying out a trade, practicing a profession, or running a specific kind of company.
  • You should read up on UK bookkeeping / accounting standards, especially if they differ from what you have previously worked with.
  • Tax issues (e.g. VAT, income tax, business rates for your premises, etc.) are also a big task to tackle, as is paying social security contributions for yourself and your employees. You’ll find more information on social security and national insurance in the last part of this guide.

Resources for Self-Employed Residents

In case you need support for any aspect related to self-employment, expats interested in switching to self-employment should explore the following resources:

Social Security and Pensions

If you live in the UK and meet certain minimum income requirements, you have to pay National Insurance (NI) contributions on your wages or salary. Those contributions are used to fund essential parts of the UK’s social security system – mostly retirement pensions, contribution-based jobseeker’s allowance, and statutory maternity pay.

Contributing to National Insurance

The income limits for having to pay National Insurance contributions are as follows:

  • If you are an employee earning more than GBP 153 per week, you’ll need to contribute to the NI.
  • The same applies to self-employed people whose business profits are higher than GBP 5,885 per year.
  • If you don’t meet any of these income requirements, you can still make voluntary contributions to avoid gaps in your insurance history.

Before you start working in the UK, you therefore need to get a National Insurance number. You can apply for this at Jobcentre Plus: Dial 0345 600 0643 for their hotline (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm) and make an appointment for an interview at the nearest local office.

Once you have an NI number, your contributions will be deducted from your earnings on a PAYE basis. Employees have to pay so-called Class 1 contributions: They have to share 12% of their weekly income, as well as an extra 2% of all weekly earnings over GBP 805.

Self-employed contributors to National Insurance, on the other hand, fall into either the Class 2 or the Class 4 categories. They pay a nominal sum of GBP 2.75 per week; the major part of their NI contributions consists of a certain percentage of their profit. It needs to be calculated and paid as a part of their income tax returns.

The UK Pension System

Once you reach the official retirement age (to be raised to 68 by 2046), you are entitled to a basic state pension based on your history of National Insurance contributions. If you have paid the latter for at least 30 years, you will receive the full amount of the UK basic pension.

However, the basic national pension only provides a subsistence-level income for retirees. Therefore, the UK government added the so-called State Second Pension (S2P) to their pension schemes. This allowed employees to top up their government pension, based on their employment history and their income over the years.

However, the basic pension and the S2P may soon be subject to a rather controversial reform: For future generations of pensioners, their retirement benefits will probably be combined in a flat sum of roughly GBP 144 per week. Therefore, company pension plans and individual pension provisions are more important than ever.

Pension Issues for Expatriates

If you are a national of an EU member state, or an expat from a country that has entered into a social security agreement with the UK, you are normally entitled to a UK pension as well. This may also apply if you retire outside the UK.

For instance, the principle of pension harmonization applies throughout the European Union. If you have lived, worked and paid insurance contributions in several EU member states, your government pension will consist of individual shares according to the countries’ respective pension systems.

If you are covered by one of the UK’s social security agreements, the regulations may vary. In this case, it’s probably best to study the agreement carefully and find out how working in the UK could affect your future government pension. This applies especially to expats from the following countries:

  • Canada
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • The Philippines
  • South Korea
  • Turkey
  • The United States

For more information on social security agreements with the UK, please read on in the online guide provided by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Moreover, you should always talk to your local pension office and your financial advisors well before you move to the UK. Take enough time to find out how exactly your stay as an expat will impact your long-term financial planning.

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