December 24, 2023
min read

Guide for Expats Living in the UK

Luis Minvielle

🇬🇧 Country Facts:

Pop: 67,833,050

Avg. salary: £34,963

Capital: London

Temp. Summer: 9 to 18 °C

Temp. Winter: 2 to 7 °C

Currency: Pound Sterling £, known as quid

Comprising England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the UK is ranked the 13th best country to live in. The country’s blend of professional opportunities, economic stability, cultural richness, and quality of life make it an attractive destination for those looking to settle down and work there, even after the Brexit saga went down.

As any expat might tell you, the UK presents a more distinctive experience for foreigners than for locals. To navigate life effectively, this guide explores social dynamics and day-to-day logistics, drawing from fellow expatriates' experiences. Whether understanding the social fabric or practicalities, this guide ensures a realistic understanding of life in the UK.


English is the primary language spoken throughout the UK. Still, it shares official status with native languages in specific regions:

  • Welsh in Wales
  • Gaelic and Scots in Scotland
  • Irish and Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland
  • Cornish in Cornwall, England

While these languages evolved separately from English and have a limited common vocabulary, they are experiencing a resurgence, especially among younger generations who learn them as a second language. While you might catch them more in rural areas, English remains the dominant language across the four countries, spoken fluently by most of the population. In the UK, people write with the British spelling, except for certain highbrow outlets, which opt for the Oxford spelling. There’s no need to dive into the details of each, since web browser extensions like LanguageTool got you covered.


Refer to the UK government's website for UK visa information and contact details. If you’ve got further questions, contact UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) directly. You can also get legal advice from an attorney or through Citizens Advice, which offers free and confidential assistance online, by phone, or in person in the UK. “Citizen” is still one of the few words you’ll read with a z in the UK.

Though there's no specific UK remote work visa, digital nomads can usually sustain overseas employment while visiting on a Standard Visitor Visa for up to six months. There are no plans for a dedicated remote work visa soon, aligning with the UK government's goal of reducing net migration. A visa is essential for living and working in the UK except for British citizens or nationals.


Rent Per Month (London) Average Price
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre £2,090
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside the Centre £920
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre £7,000
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside the Centre £4,000

The first thing you need to do when moving to the UK is find a flat (the British word for apartment). As we know, the United Kingdom comprises four different countries, so we’ll focus on the major cities. In the beginning, before you get to know the city properly, you might want to consider some furnished short-term lease flats. These offer flexibility while you wait for your shipped goods or if you’re only staying for a few months.

Consider factors like stay duration, budget, and commute when choosing a place. Begin your search online, exploring various platforms for cost and availability. Rental contracts, usually for a semester or year, may require a security deposit. Proof of ID and a verified account on the platforms are mandatory documents for rentals. Others you might be asked to present include proof of a legal work permit or visa, proof of earnings, a letter of confirmation of employment from your employer, a copy of the employment contract, and references from previous landlords. Most contracts are for a semester or a year, at the end of which you can extend your stay. 

As of November 2023, the UK's average rent is £1,279; excluding London, the UK average is £1,066. All regions are familiar with annual rent increases, with Scotland showing the largest, up 9.63% since November 2022 to £922 PCM.

London is one of Europe's priciest rental cities and the most expensive in the UK, averaging £2,174 PCM, while London's shared flat room averages £800. Other rental averages include Belfast at £908, Edinburgh at £1,372, Glasgow at £1,105, Cardiff at £1,551, Bristol at £1,725, and Manchester at £1,157.  Utility costs are around £125, with an additional £25 for basic internet.

Be extremely cautious online, verify listings, and, if possible, visit properties to avoid scams.

Bank accounts

The UK banking system boasts world-class standards with broad currency support, low tax rates, and high security. However, not all paths to opening a bank account in the United Kingdom are suitable for all types of non-residents. There are three basic types of accounts:

  1. A current account is your everyday banking account, where your primary salary is deposited. It comes with a debit card and, depending on your situation, allows overdrawing up to a specified limit. Some of these accounts may have associated fees, but they offer perks in return, such as cashback on expenditures, interest on positive balances, or benefits like roadside car insurance. This account is usually known as a checking account to expats because that’s what United States banks call it.

  2. Basic banking accounts are designed for individuals with low incomes or poor credit ratings. True to their name, these accounts provide only essential features and do not include overdraft facilities.

  3. Savings accounts come in various forms, including regular savings accounts that offer current account customers preferential rates and ISAs (individual savings accounts), where the interest earned is tax-protected.

The bank most suitable for you will depend on your needs and preferences. These options include: 

  1. High-street banks are ideal for extensive services and significant investments. These require proof of UK residency and are only available to non-residents who make large investments in the UK or who are about to immigrate to the UK.

  2. Online banks​​ offer low-cost digital services. They require proof of UK residence.

  3. Multi-currency accounts, allowing UK account opening without proof of address.

Non-residents must provide essential documentation: proof of identification, address, income, and visa or immigration status. However, securing proof of address can be challenging for newcomers and non-residents. Multi-currency bank accounts are a practical solution to simplify financial management while living abroad. Online payment services or “challenger” banks allow easy account setup without requiring proof of address. Online multi-currency accounts from fintech or money services companies like Revolut, Wise, Monzo, and Monese offer convenient global money management.

Each fintech has specific eligibility criteria, such as Wise not requiring UK residence proof for a VISA debit card. Still, you do need proof of residence in the EU, US, Singapore, Japan, Australia, or New Zealand. Revolut’s British pound account details are only available to EU/EEA and UK customers.


Transportation (London) Price
One-way Ticket (Adult Price) £1.75
Monthly Pass (Adult Price) £94.90
Taxi Start (Normal Tariff) £3.00
Taxi 1km (Normal Tariff) £2.30 - £1.71
Taxi 1 hour Waiting (Normal Tariff) £30.00
Train from London to Edinburgh (one way) From £39.87
Coach from London to Edinburgh (one way) From £19.90
Flight from London to Edinburgh (one way) From £32

Regardless of your location—whether in the city or countryside—you can easily travel to most destinations across the UK. With Eurostar, international coaches, and excellent flight connections, all of Europe is easily accessible. The country’s transportation options encompass trains, long-distance coaches, aeroplanes, buses, the metro, trams, and taxis for various distances. Numerous apps and websites, such as Citymapper, Omio, Trainline UK, Sky Scanner, Uber, and UK Bus Checker, facilitate commute planning across the UK. For public transportation, browse through the discounted fares available, including students, teens aged 16–17, pensioners, and individuals with disabilities. By buying group tickets, you will get some sweet deals as well. Children aged 5–11 and 11–15 can typically travel for free by presenting their Oyster card in London.

Remember that the British drive in the right seat and thus in the left lane. The trains also take this disposition. Many countries that drive on the right still have “inverted” trains that go against car traffic. The British established plenty of train systems during the British Empire's heyday.

Different types of transportation

  • 🚆 Trains: Great British Railways will now oversee most rail services in England, Scotland, and Wales, making prices throughout the UK more consistent. While train travel in the UK is relatively expensive compared to other European options, purchasing tickets in advance can help you save a few pounds. 
  • You can also check SplitTicketing.com or Split My Fare, which offers split rail tickets. Onboard facilities vary, with toilets available on all trains and Wi-Fi accessible on select services. Travellers can bring up to two pets at no extra charge.

  • If you intend to become a frequent train user, get a Railcard to access trains at one-third of the regular fare. International train services operate from London St. Pancras, Ebbs fleet, and Ashford, offering Eurostar connections to cities like Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. NI Railways and Iarnród Éireann cross the border between Newry (NI) and Dundalk (ROI) on the route from Belfast to Dublin. Prices vary, being more economical mid-week and rising over the weekend. You can calculate journey costs through the Eurostar website.
  • 🚎 Coaches: Coach travel is often significantly cheaper than train travel nationwide. Most major cities have direct coach connections to London, making it accessible for many travellers. International coach routes from London’s Victoria Coach Station can take you to Madrid, Rome, or even Bucharest, regularly providing more affordable alternatives to plane or train tickets. This is, however, a much more time-consuming alternative. For example, a coach's journey from London to Belfast takes over 15 hours, in contrast to the 1 hour it would take by aeroplane and 9 hours by train. Ticket prices vary based on the destination, so check National Express or Megabus for accurate journey cost calculations. If you’re wondering how you cross the English Channel by coach, you usually take a ferry to Calais in France once you reach Dover. This one takes an hour and a half. Don’t think you’ll sleep too much since you’ll have to get off the bus for the ferry ride.
  • 🚌 Metropolitan Buses: Local buses stand out as the most popular mode of public transport in the UK, both in the cities and in the countryside. Nevertheless, bus travel's quality, cost, and efficiency will vary significantly across regions. In certain cities, like London and Reading, the bus network operates as a not-for-profit entity under the local government, contributing to relatively low fares and good service quality. 
  • Private companies manage routes in other areas, resulting in notably higher bus fares, especially in rural regions. Ticket prices typically correlate with the distance of travel. The TFL website provides updated information on London bus fares. You should check Stagecoach or the local bus operator’s website outside London. An increasing number of buses in larger towns and cities now accept contactless payments onboard. Still, in some regions, like London, contactless credit/debit cards or local transport cards, such as the Oyster card, are mandatory. In more rural settings, contactless payment may not be available, but ticket machines at bus stops or stations could provide an alternative. You can easily request the spare cash on your Oyster card in vending kiosks down in tube stations.
  • 🚇 Metro: You can find underground networks in London, Glasgow, Newcastle, and Liverpool. London has the most extensive and well-known one, commonly referred to as the Tube. It's advisable to check the specific ticketing options available at the respective metro system; however, the same rules apply to the bus system: local transport cards, contactless payment methods, and ticket offices. It’s also completely advisable to mind the gap between the yellow line and the platform.
  • 🚋 Trams: In the UK, cities typically feature either a metro system or a tram system, with London being the exception by having both. Cities offering tram services include Blackpool, Edinburgh, London, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Tyne and Wear, and West Midlands. Generally, UK trams are characterised by their cleanliness, modernity, and affordability. They often offer picturesque city views, and some provide free onboard Wi-Fi. Ticket fares vary across cities, with Manchester basing prices on travel zones, while London employs a more straightforward pricing system. Despite the differences in pricing structures, tram fares largely fall within the same range as bus prices.
  • 🚕 Taxis: Local taxi services are available for your convenience in all towns and cities across the UK. Minicabs, identified as private hire vehicles, operate throughout the UK, necessitating booking through licenced minicab companies via phone or mobile apps. Every taxi, whether a black cab or a minicab, must hold a valid licence. Black cabs are equipped with metres that calculate fares based on both distance and time, whereas minicabs usually offer a pre-agreed fare. Individual cities or districts determine their taxi tariffs in Great Britain. The tariff considers factors like the planned route, journey duration, and time. Popular ride-hailing services like Uber or Bolt provide convenient alternatives for booking taxis. London black cab drivers must pass an examination nicknamed “the Knowledge,” where they memorise the city’s 25,000 streets and landmarks. So when you are in London, consider taking a black cab for a unique tour of the city by a cabby, who is known to be chatty and witty. 
  • ✈️ Flights: With over 40 airports across the UK, you’ll be well-connected domestically and internationally. Public transport connects The biggest airports to their cities, so you can save some pounds on the way to your accommodation. To travel, you will need your passport, even for European destinations. You may need a UK transit visa for travellers transiting through the UK. You can get cheap flights through the Skyscanner website or choose low-cost airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet.

Food and drink

Food and Drink (London) Price
Coffee £2.70 to £3.50
Beer (pint) £4 to £6
Meal: Inexpensive £19
Fish and Chips £11.05
“Full English” Breakfast £11.33
Weekly Grocery Shopping £34.5
Tipping Not expected like in the US

From a per-person perspective, the average monthly food budget in the UK is £194, with £149 allocated to grocery shopping and £44 for food prepared outside the home, including takeaways and restaurant meals.  The average annual food cost for a typical UK household, based on an average of 2.3 individuals per household, is around £5,343 as of mid-2023. You can expect to spend around £19 for an inexpensive lunch and £4 to £6 for a pint of beer. If you know where to cop your pints, you could find it for less. According to dive-bar connoisseurs, the pint is £3.50 in unmitigated dive bars, £5 anywhere standard, and £6–7 anywhere a bit more fancy. Notably, prices in London tend to be approximately 25% higher than the national average.

Even though the UK is not regarded as one of the world's culinary capitals, you should not sleep on traditional British meals. English dishes like steak, kidney pie, and lamb chops are prevalent across cafés, pubs, and restaurants nationwide. However, regional specialities such as the Northern Irish Ulster fry, the Scotch Pie, and Welsh cakes are gaining prominence. Despite variations in quality, excellent, locally sourced food is consistently available at reasonable prices.

Breakfast remains a steadfast tradition in the UK, with the “Full English” breakfast, featuring back bacon, eggs, British sausage, baked beans, bubble and squeak, fried tomato, fried mushrooms, black pudding, and fried and toasted bread on the side, continuing to be immensely popular.

Pubs will become your closest friends, so you might as well learn a bit more about them. If they even serve food, most pubs rely on microwaves and deep-fat fryers. However, the term “gastropub” has been coined for pubs offering restaurant-quality food. This shift towards finding great, affordable, high-quality “pub grub” in rural and urban settings has become very popular. Regarding operating hours, most pubs, and bars adhere to a schedule of 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (typically closing at 10.30 p.m. on Sundays). However, urban areas and popular resorts may have establishments that remain open during the late hours.

Chinese, Italian, and Indian cuisines are favourites among the British. Still, as immigration grows, more ethnic restaurants are opening up, so you can enjoy high-quality food worldwide.

Earnings and taxes

Taxes Income Range Tax Rate
Personal Allowance Up to £12,570 0%
Basic Rate £12,571 to £50,270 20%
Higher Rate £50,271 to £125,140 40%
Additional Rate Over £125,140 45%

The UK tax year spans from 6 April to the subsequent 5 April. Determining your residence status involves a comprehensive statutory residence test; however, spending 183 days or more in the UK during a tax year automatically classifies you as a UK resident. Depending on your work, accommodation, and family ties, you might be classified as a resident even if you spend fewer than 183 days in the UK. Even high-profile British citizens are willing to take an exile on the main street to avoid British taxes, even if the price is renting a French villa.

Among the primary direct taxes for individuals are income tax and capital gains tax. Additionally, individuals may be compelled to pay UK social security (National Insurance) on both employed and self-employed income. Beware if you intend to reside in Scotland, as their income tax bands are different. Check the UK government website for more detailed information about tax rates.

Salaries in the UK are not known for being exceptionally high, so check out the 10 highest-paying jobs in the UK to see if you fit in. Countries like Switzerland and Germany have much higher average salaries. The highest average salary is in London, amounting to £44,370, while the lowest average salary is in North East England, standing at £31,200. Regional variations significantly impact annual earnings, with South East England and Scotland, at £36,560 and £35,518, respectively, surpassing the UK average. This is nothing to worry about, as the differences usually match the cost of living. Besides, according to Glassdoor, expatriate salaries in the UK range from £25,000 to £50,000, with an average annual salary of £40,580 (which is above the national average). Forbes surveyed on how salaries vary in the UK based on age, and it’s a good starting point. But if you are interested in UK IT salaries, we’ve got you covered.

Recent OECD data indicates that salaries in the UK rank above average, securing the 15th position out of 35 countries. However, it's crucial to acknowledge that your earning potential can vary significantly based on where you live.

Cost of living

Cost of Living (London) Expenses per Month (excluding rent)
Average Expenses, Single Person £919
Average Expenses, Family of Four £3,196
The Most Expensive City London

London holds its ground as one of the priciest cities globally, and takes the crown as the most expensive in the UK. However, the overall cost of living in the UK tends to surpass many global counterparts. London is followed by Bristol, Manchester, Brighton and Hove (that’s one), and Edinburgh as the most expensive cities to live in. It is important to note that the cost of living in the United Kingdom as a whole has risen due to rent increases, rising energy prices, and a surge in inflation, reaching 10.3% in March 2023. So yes, the UK is more expensive right now than before the pandemic.

A Josh Rowntree Foundation study notes £25,500 as the minimum for a single person's acceptable living standard, while a couple with two kids needs £43,400. Recent ONS data reveals a modest 7.8% wage increase in 2023 but a 22% surge in costs, which unfortunately means that real salaries are going down. For a comfortable UK lifestyle with financial wiggle room, consider annual incomes of £33,600 for an individual, £49,670 for a couple, and £67,554 for a family of four with two young kids.


These are cultural staples that define life for the British:

  • 💬 Communication and politeness: Brits are generally a polite and reserved bunch, cherishing their personal space. They've got a knack for indirect communication, throwing in a “perhaps” or “possibly” for good measure. Emotions? Well, they're kept on a bit of a leash—not too out in the open. This is known as their stiff upper lip. So, when chatting with the British, maintain some distance, keep the volume in check, and maybe don't spill all your life secrets right away. Oh, and don't underestimate the power of a good ol' weather chat—it's a Brit's secret weapon for lively conversation without the drama.

  • 🗣️ ​​Humour, banter, and sarcasm: British humour is steeped in irony and sarcasm, so if you're easily offended, brace yourself when socialising with a Brit. Their sarcasm is top-notch, often leaving newcomers wondering whether it's all in good fun or not. Banter, a light-hearted and amiable exchange of teasing remarks, is the centre of close British relations, so you better take a masterclass on it before moving to the UK. It's not about trading insults or putting someone down—far from it. Banter becomes a sign of intimacy and trust, so the closer you are to someone, the more fun you have. Always keep it friendly, using a warm tone and open body language.

  • 🧍‍♂️🧍🧍‍♀️ Queuing: British folks take queuing quite seriously, and newcomers in the UK should be mindful never to disrupt a queue. In other places, this is commonly referred to as a “line” or “lining up.” If you dare to “cut” a queue, expect to encounter the infamous British “tutting” of disapproval or possibly face a fellow queuer pointing out that jumping the queue is a big no-no. During Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, “The Queue” to say farewell to her gained behemoth status and became capitalised in international media.

  • 🍻 Pub culture: Pub culture is vital to British life, particularly in student circles. Pubs serve as social hubs, offering a space to unwind, socialise, and enjoy drinks. Don't expect fancy cocktails at pubs; those are more commonly found in bars. Pubs generally stick to classic brews and spirits. The typical pub order for drinkers includes lager, ale, bitter, and spirits. You'll usually receive a full pint when ordering lager, ale, or bitter unless you specify otherwise. The British will demand their pint to be top full and will notice if theirs is a bit scanty.

  • 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Welsh and Scottish nationalism: Don’t ever call a Scot or a Welsh “English”, or you will suffer the consequences. In Wales, there's an ethnic nationalist movement dedicated to safeguarding Welsh culture and language. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the nationalist movement adopts civic implications, emphasising the rights of the Scottish people as citizens of a historically rooted homeland that has, for centuries, asserted its statehood.

If you want to expand on work life and corporate culture, you will want to check out our article on UK business etiquette.

How safe is the UK?

On the Global Peace Index, the UK is ranked #37 out of 163 countries, signifying a high level of peace. ​​Although it is generally a very safe country, it's important to acknowledge the prevalence of tourists, which makes it a prime environment for pickpockets and scam artists, particularly in popular cities and landmarks. 

Medical Care

Living in the UK offers the advantage of a publicly funded healthcare system, known as the National Health Service (NHS), with branches in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. All individuals, including expats, can access free primary, emergency, and compulsory psychiatric care. However, eligibility for free secondary care services is limited to those who are ordinarily resident.

This can be a bit of a hassle for foreigners. The National Service is renowned for being a solid system, but it has a seemingly random assignment system that can leave expats blindsided. Suppose you have a simple infection in your toe. Depending on certain factors, you could be compelled to arrange for the NHS to schedule an appointment with a registered doctor. Even if you’re willing to shell out some quid for a brief visit, you need to wait for them to give you the green light. Meanwhile, your health condition may deteriorate. That’s why some expats prefer to take a flight and see a doctor elsewhere than wait for the appointment. Some expats still confirm they could access private care, pay for it, and solve the fuss with that, but anecdotal evidence suggests this is not as straightforward as it could be.

While most healthcare is free, dental and prescription charges are exceptions. Opting for private health insurance can provide quicker access to services compared to the public system, although only a small percentage of Britons choose this option. Notable private insurance companies in the UK include Aviva, AXA Health, Bupa, and Cigna.

Finding work in the UK

Are you looking for an exciting job opportunity in Europe? In our books, Britain will always be part of it. At WeAreDevelopers, Europe’s #1 developer community, we offer remote positions based in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, and now we are expanding to the UK! Have a look at our jobs page and find an open position that matches your career.

Guide for Expats Living in the UK

December 24, 2023
min read

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