Small white house in Scottish Highlands

The Pros and Cons of Living in Scotland

Scotland is the perfect country for anyone looking to move abroad. There are so many pros and cons of moving to Scotland. 

It’s truly an incredible place for foreign workers, whether you visit as part of your gap year with a working holiday visa, as a student studying at one of the universities or even if you're looking for a new place to live within Europe.

Before you make a move, it's wise to investigate the pros and cons of living in Scotland. There are always two sides to everything, and while Scotland has a few cons, the pros definitely outweigh them.

Here's my list of the pros and cons of living in Scotland, regardless of whether you're planning on moving to Glasgow, moving to Edinburgh or anywhere else in Scotland.

Living in Scotland — Pros and Cons

Red Deer in Scottish Highlands looking at camera

Living in Scotland: Pros

Opportunities

Scotland, in particular, the big cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, has many job opportunities for foreign and temporary workers.

You can find positions in hotels, hostels, offices, pubs and (in my opinion, the coolest places to work!) tourist attractions. The Scottish job market is incredibly welcoming to people from other counties — they embrace us with open arms.

Want to know how to work in Scotland? There are several jobs in Scotland for expats, but you have to get a work visa before starting. Alternatively, you can find temporary jobs through Scotland's job agencies, which sometimes provide accommodation in conjunction with employment.

There are loads of temporary job opportunities for foreign expat workers looking for ways to earn as part of a working holiday in Scotland.

I went through a few temp agencies before ultimately deciding to work at one of Edinburgh’s major attractions. I think visitor attractions are the best places to work on a working holiday in Scotland, but plenty of people also apply for jobs in pubs, hotels, hostels and general retail.

Job Agencies in Scotland

Scotland has several temporary job agencies that can assist you with your job search. Whether you are looking for a temporary office job in a city or a farm job with accommodation, check out my post on how to get a job in Scotland for more information.

Be sure to check out the websites of places you’d love to work to see if they’re advertising any career opportunities you can take advantage of. If they don’t have any job postings, it’s still worth sending a CV to their HR department just in case something pops up.

People

One thing I noticed the moment I stepped onto Scottish soil was how lovely, friendly and inquisitive Scottish people are. I had to ask for a lot of help when I first moved to Edinburgh, and everyone stopped to help me, no matter what they were doing.

When I moved into my first flat with strangers I’d never before met, they offered to pick me up from the train station and take me to the grocery store once I’d settled in.

When I started working, all my co-workers invited me out, treated me wonderfully and really made me feel part of the team.

It is really easy to make friends in Scotland as well. If you are new to the country be sure to check my post about how to make friends in Scotland to help you out.

Landscape

Scotland is home to some of the most stunningly beautiful landscapes in the world. No matter where you are in Scotland, you never have to go too far to find an incredible place to spend your time. In Edinburgh, you can head to Arthur’s Seat, go down to St. Margaret’s Loch or if you want to feel like you’ve stepped outside the city without actually leaving it, try a hike through the hilly Pentlands. Scotland’s many hills, peaks, and hiking trails make it easy to stay in shape.

Food

Scotland is the land of deep-fried food. Delicious, unhealthy and my personal favourite, the pizza supper is a deep-fried individual cheese pizza served with a side of chips.

I always put my chips on top of the pizza, thinking that’s what the locals did. But no, it turns out I was weird for doing it!

My other Scottish foodie favourite is chips and cheese — deep-fried chips covered in mounds of melted cheese. Magnificent! You can also get deep-fried cheeseburgers, sausages, haggis, and even deep-fried Mars Bars!

Moving away from the unhealthy world of fish and chip shops, Scotland actually has a fantastic selection of vegetarian and vegan food, both in takeaway restaurants and grocery stores.

There’s a dairy-free brand of yogurt (among other dairy-free foods) called Alpro. I absolutely loved it! We don’t have it in Canada, and I miss it dearly.

Scotland is home to the infamous haggis — ground-up sheep’s heart, liver and lungs stuffed inside a sheep’s stomach. Other ingredients in this one-of-a-kind dish include onion, oatmeal, suet, and spices. 

Scottish people eat haggis and have it at least once a year on Burns Night, a celebration honouring Robbie Burns. It’s also readily available throughout the year in restaurants.

I once tried a vegetarian version of haggis, neeps, tatties (haggis with turnips and potatoes), and I was not a fan. But haggis is a big part of Scottish cuisine, so you should give it a try — vegetarian-style or not.

One final Scottish delicacy I need to mention is Irn Bru. Drinking it is like sipping the joyous tears of every God in existence.

It’s a beautiful soda pop/fizzy drink that will rot your teeth while simultaneously filling your heart with happiness. Try it! It’ll be the best thing you’ve ever tried.

Bottles of Irn Bru (Orange fizzy drink) on the shelves of a supermarket

Imagine the music from the Legend of Zelda when Link opens up a treasure chest playing as you approach this shelf.

Want to try some Irn Bru and see how great it is? Buy it here and let me know if you love it as much as I do!

Is Scotland safe?

Scotland is a very safe country to travel and live in. During the two years I lived there; I never felt like I was in danger. There are some shady areas in the larger cities that you should avoid, like Niddrie, Wester Hails, MuirHouse and Pilton in Edinburgh.

It’s also wise to be aware of your surroundings when out in public and keep your wallet, mobile phone, etc., in a secure place out of reach of potential robbers.

The biggest safety issue in Scotland is dealing with public drunkenness. It’s not totally uncommon for someone who’s had a little bit too much to drink to try and talk to you or yell at you across the street. 

Mostly, these are infrequent and harmless encounters. But if it ever happens to you, I advise you to ignore the person and carry on.

Just use common sense and you will be fine.

If you ever feel like you’re in danger or feel unsafe during your stay in Scotland, dial the emergency services on 999. (911 will still get you through to the emergency services if you forget the UK number!)

Free Healthcare

Before you move to Scotland, you need to pay a one-time immigration health surcharge when you apply for your temporary work visa. As of 2019, it costs £300 each year of your working holiday (2-year max stay). But, unlike in some countries, after you’ve paid this fee, all the healthcare in Scotland is free.

You can visit doctors at any time, and the prescription charges are free. I only had to visit the doctor once during my two-year stay and received wonderful treatment, just for having a permanent address in Scotland.

Plus, due to the initial immigration surcharge, this ensures that people living in the country on a working holiday have not taken advantage of the NHS if they do fall ill.

Even though you will have access to free healthcare, you are advised to purchase travel insurance for the duration of your stay in Scotland. I used World Nomad's Travel Insurance for the two years I lived abroad.

Free Eye Care

In the same way that visiting a general practitioner is free, visiting the eye doctor is also free! The eyewear in Scotland is also incredibly cheap.

I never purchased glasses when I was there, but I did buy high-quality contact lenses for a very low price. One of the only downfalls of living in Scotland as a glasses-wearer is the constant rain. Contacts were a must!

Zero Bank Fees

Coming from Canada, the land of fees, I was amazed that bank accounts were free in Scotland. Even using cash machines from other banks was free.

There is the odd machine that charges you to make a withdrawal. But you’ll always be told the fee and given the option to cancel the transaction before you’re charged.

Great Mobile Phone Plans

In Scotland, mobile phone plans are phenomenal. Unlimited data plans and unlimited texting actually mean unlimited. 

Phone plans are affordable, unlimited and many companies offer additional perks, like free mobile phones and deals that include a free weekly movie and a meal.

Public Transport

Public transport in big cities is great. There are several buses and trams that run within minutes of each other throughout Edinburgh and Glasgow.

If you don’t live in a big city, you’ll still have access to regular buses and trains that will quickly and cheaply transport you all over the country. It’s effortless to get around in Scotland without ever having to buy a car.


The bridge leading to Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland

Fully Furnished Flats

When moving to a new country as a temporary worker, you don’t want to live in an empty apartment. But you don’t want to spend money on furnishing a place you’ll be staying in for just a few years, either. 

In Scotland, it was rare to find a non-furnished flat or house up for rent. Having easy access to fully furnished flats makes living in a country temporarily much easier. Most flats come with everything you need — dishes, beds, couches and all the rest.

Make sure you check out my post about where to live in Edinburgh to get help finding a flat or renting a room in Scotland.

University

Scotland treats its students very well and provides them with free tuition. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t born in Scotland. 

As long as you’ve been living there for at least three years before applying for university, you’re eligible for free university tuition.

The universities in Scotland are renowned worldwide for being incredible. People from all over the world travel to Scotland to attend classes at the University of Edinburgh.

Tons of Places to Live

Large cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow have a huge number of flatshares available. If you don’t mind living with strangers (who will usually become your best friends), then you’ll find it super easy to get a place to live. 

Sites like Gumtree are great when it comes to finding the perfect place. You could end up living with Scots or other foreigners like yourself, depending on who you connect with during your search.

History! Everywhere!

Boasting thousands of years of captivating history, Scotland is also home to some of the world's oldest places.

From exploring Edinburgh Castle on the Royal Mile to stepping below the city streets to discover the once plague-infested Mary King’s Close.

Scotland is bursting with fascinating sites. Scots are tremendously proud of their history, so be prepared to get an earful when you make friends with some locals. Thanks to my patriotic friends, I learned so much about Scotland during the time I lived there.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

If you love live theatre and festivals, you’ve got to check out Edinburgh’s Festival Fringe — the largest arts festival in the world.

As well as the Edinburgh Tattoo, for which tickets often sell out 6-12 months in advance, the Festival Fringe brings the city to life with street buskers, theatrical plays and hilarious comedians.

Be warned that the city becomes insanely busy with tourists during the Festival Fringe. So give yourself extra time to get to work if you have to pass through the city centre or the Royal Mile to get there.

Leaving Scotland

A pro for living in Scotland is leaving Scotland? Yes! The rest of Europe is right on your doorstep.

Living in Scotland: Cons

Black and White Photo of a rainy street in Glasgow. Rubbish Bin on the right side of the photo with several people walking on the pavement carrying umbrellas.

Weather

As a rain lover, I had a hard time putting weather on the cons list. But after 18 months, I grew tired of the Scottish weather, which generally consists of rain, cold, wind, and dampness.

I highly recommend checking out my packing list for Scotland to know what to bring to keep you warm.

Because Scotland’s surrounded by water, the humidity is always high, making the already cold days extra cold.

A few days a year, the weather is so warm Scots all around exclaim that it’s “taps off” weather! Grab a drink and join the other shirtless Scots enjoying the short-lived but much-appreciated super-hot sunny days.

Culture Shock

Depending on where you’re coming from, you may have to deal with the dreaded culture shock.

From being unable to understand the Scottish accent (don’t worry, you’ll get so used to it you won’t even notice people have accents eventually) to be unable to figure out where to buy certain items of clothing or struggling to figure out how to do laundry, Scotland’s culture can be tricky to come to terms with.

If you have any fears please check out my post about what to expect when moving to Scotland.

Taxes

Scotland has a few unexpected taxes. How much you pay depends on where you live, what type of accommodation you live in, and whether you have a TV.

These taxes pay for local services, such as garbage collection, schools, and general city maintenance, making them necessary and important. (but we can still complain!)

There are several different council tax bands, from Band A (the cheapest) to Band H (the most expensive), which dictate how much you need to pay.

These charges are separate from your rent payments, so be sure to find out which council tax band your future flat is in before you sign anything to avoid unwanted (and expensive!) surprises down the line.

To quote my friend Chris, “I introduce you to council tax, which is taking your hard-earned money and setting it on fire!

Another additional tax is TV tax! Because the BBC wants to remain ad-free, each household must pay a monthly TV tax. The only way to get out of paying is not to own a TV. Does anyone really watch TV anymore?

Washing and Drying Clothes

In most countries, hanging your clothes out on a line to dry is standard. But if you’re moving to Scotland from North America, you’ll have to adjust and learn how to do your laundry without the joys of a dryer (or a tumble dryer, as they say in the UK).

Even if you get your hands on a beloved tumble dryer, they are terrible in Scotland! Usually, the machines are one washer-dryer combo, with a definite quality compromise on the dryer side.

I have heard they have considerably better machines now, but chances are you won't have them in your rental flat. Just learn to hang your clothes and your life will be a breeze!

It’s almost like they move the laundry around in a circle for ten hours until it’s just damp, and you give up on waiting for warm, dry laundry that you doubt will ever come.

I have heard that you can purchase better stand-alone tumble dryers - but if you are renting a flat for 2 years, be prepared to have one of the terrible combo dryers! (or no dryer at all)

Plus, Scotland is the land of rain. So be prepared to dash outside often to pull your clothes off the line and dry them inside on a clothes drying horse instead!

That is the exact dryer horse I purchased and passed along to my friends when I moved. Who, in turn, passed it along to their friends. I wonder where my dryer horse is now.

No Screens on Windows

I’m not sure why people in Scotland don’t put screens on their windows. If I didn’t have a screen on my window in Canada, I’d be constantly plagued by spiders and other bugs in my bedroom because there wouldn’t be a barrier between the inside and the outside world. 

If you love having fresh air flow into your bedroom, be prepared to share your space with spiders. Depending on where you live in Scotland - this may not be an issue, but in Edinburgh and South Queensferry, the spiders were aplenty!

Should you move to Scotland?

Whether you’re planning on living in Scotland for a year or moving there permanently, you’re making the right choice!

It’s a beautiful country full of jaw-dropping landscapes, oodles of history, amazing (if unhealthy!) food, great opportunities, and amazing people.

If you are worried about making a move to Scotland, be sure to check out my Moving to Scotland Check List so you will be fully prepared.

However long you live there, Scotland will change you for the better, and you’ll turn into a proud Scot — even if you have no Scottish ancestry at all.

Planning on moving to Scotland? Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments or send me an email. I’ll help you out the best I can from my past experiences!

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