As with any country, the cost of living in the United Kingdom varies depending on your lifestyle choices and location. Major cities such as London have a well-earned reputation for being pricey to live in, and while life in the rest of the UK is by no means cheap, the cost of living is substantially lower outside these big metros.

In 2023, the Mercer Cost of Living Survey ranked London as the 17th most expensive destination out of 227 destinations surveyed. Other UK cities appear much further down the list, including Edinburgh (86th), Glasgow (109th), Birmingham (118th) and Aberdeen (119th).

Many expats move to the UK in search of new job opportunities and a better quality of life. Although salaries tend to be relatively high, this is often to offset the higher cost of living in the United Kingdom. However, there are plenty of ways for you to save while still getting the best of expat life here. If you're a resident, you'll likely have access to at least some level of free healthcare on the country’s National Health Service (NHS), and you’ll be eligible to send your children to British state schools at no cost.

The costs of accommodation, transport and entertainment are fairly high, but if you take the time to investigate, you'll find plenty of discounts and ways to circumvent this.

Cost of accommodation in the United Kingdom

As is the case for working people all over the world, a significant portion of your income will be spent on accommodation. Renting doesn’t come cheap, especially in cities, but you'll likely choose this over buying property in the UK, which is impossibly expensive in cities like London.

London has the country’s most expensive rent, although there are still significant price variations between different areas in the city. Rent in other big cities such as Manchester and Glasgow is a little more reasonable but still pricey, while rental costs in smaller towns will generally be on the lower side of the scale.

If you're a student or you professional, you may decide to rent a room within a larger house or apartment, which can save a substantial amount of money. Houseshares are also an excellent opportunity to meet other young people.

Utility costs vary depending on the size of the property. It’s worth noting that heating costs can increase considerably during winter, particularly in an airy, older property without proper insulation. Council tax is usually not included in the price of renting a property in the UK and is loosely based on the property’s value. Additionally, you should budget for the cost of a security deposit, which is usually equivalent to five weeks’ rent.

See: Setting up Utilities in the UK

Cost of transport in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is served by a national network of trains and long-distance buses, but with the growth of low-cost airlines in Europe, it is also possible to fly between cities at reasonable prices. Travelling in the UK can be expensive, although you can save money by booking the journey well in advance or investing in a railcard. However, travelling by long-distance bus in the UK is a more economical option.

Within British cities, the price of public transport varies considerably. London has the UK’s most comprehensive public transport network, but fares are relatively steep. You can save money by investing in weekly or monthly travel cards.

While most expats living in the UK won’t invest in a car, it is relatively cheap to buy and maintain one. Petrol prices fluctuate but are reasonable compared to elsewhere.

Cost of groceries in the United Kingdom

While not necessarily cheap, the cost of groceries in the UK can be reduced based on what you buy and where you buy it. With rising inflation, the cost of essential grocery staples such as toilet paper and cooking oil is high in the UK compared to other European countries like Italy and Germany. You can minimise your expenses by buying non-perishables in bulk and shopping at discount supermarkets such as Aldi, Asda and Tesco.

If you enjoy the finer things in life and want to purchase imported cheeses and wines, you'll spend significantly more on these luxuries. Premium supermarkets such as Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Whole Foods will carry organic and gourmet products at high prices.

Cost of entertainment and eating out in the United Kingdom

The cost of eating out in the UK’s major cities, such as London, will carry a heavy price tag, so it’s recommended that you prioritise cooking at home and enjoying a meal out occasionally if you're on a budget. Similarly to eating out, enjoying fancy cocktails at one of the country’s many pubs and bars will set you back significantly. For that reason, most local revellers start the party at home to reduce the amount they spend on alcoholic drinks at these establishments.

If you're a culture buff, you won't be spared either, as tickets for theatres, movies and museums can also be pricey. Fortunately, expats can be thrifty and look out for specials to enjoy these activities at discounted prices. The UK also offers plenty of green spaces and natural landscapes that can be explored on hikes or a swim at little to no cost.

Cost of education in the United Kingdom

If you have temporary residency in the UK, you can send your children to a state school at no cost. Standards vary considerably, and the better state schools tend to be located in more affluent areas. You will be required to pay for uniforms, stationery and school excursions.

British private schools – or independent schools, as they are commonly called – charge hefty fees. These schools usually offer a higher standard of education and a host of extracurricular activities.

Some expats living in the UK send their children to an international school, allowing them to continue studying the same syllabus as they would in their home country and, therefore, offer the least disruption to the child’s education. Fees at these schools are high, but you will likely find that the standard of education, facilities and extracurricular activities more than justify the cost.

Cost of healthcare in the United Kingdom

One of Britain’s greatest assets is its National Health Service (NHS). Public healthcare in the UK is free to all British citizens and permanent residents. You can use your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to pay for medical treatment in the UK if you're a citizen of the European Economic Area (EEA) in the country for a short-term visit. Non-EEA expats who are ‘ordinarily resident’ (i.e. in the country for longer than six months but not yet a permanent resident) must pay a yearly surcharge of between GBP 470 and GBP 624 to access the NHS.

The United Kingdom also has some excellent private healthcare facilities, and private healthcare is the best option for those who want to avoid waiting lists and are happy to pay for speedier service. The cost of private health insurance varies according to how comprehensive the policy is and the state of your health.

Cost of living in the United Kingdom chart

Prices vary across the UK – these are the average costs for London in April 2024. Prices may also vary depending on the product and service provider.

Accommodation (monthly rent)
Three-bedroom apartment in the city centreGBP 4,350
Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centreGBP 3,050
One-bedroom apartment in the city centreGBP 2,300
One-bedroom apartment outside the city centreGBP 1,650
Food and drink
Dozen eggsGBP 4.50
Milk (1 litre)GBP 1.25
Rice (1kg)GBP 2.05
Loaf of white breadGBP 1.60
Chicken breasts (1kg)GBP 4.85
Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)GBP 15.20
Eating out
Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurantGBP 85
Big Mac MealGBP 8.20
Coca-Cola (330ml)GBP 2.05
CappuccinoGBP 3.75
Bottle of beer (local)GBP 1.95
Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)GBP 0.15
Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)GBP 30
Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)GBP 205
Taxi rate/kmGBP 2.05
City-centre public transport fareGBP 3.05
Gasoline (per litre)GBP 1.45

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