- Download our Moving to the UK Guide (PDF)
As with any country, the cost of living in the United Kingdom varies depending on an expat’s 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, the reason for this is often to offset the higher cost of living in the United Kingdom. But there are plenty of ways to save while still getting the best of expat life here. Most expats living in the UK will have access to at least some level of free healthcare on the country’s National Health Service (NHS), and they’ll be eligible to send their children to British state schools at no cost.
The costs of accommodation, transport and entertainment are fairly high, but expats who take the time to investigate will find plenty of discounts and ways to circumvent this.
Cost of accommodation in the United Kingdom
As is the case for expats all over the world, a significant portion of their income will be spent on accommodation. Renting doesn’t come cheap, especially in cities, but most expats still choose this over buying property in the UK, which is impossibly expensive in a city such as 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. Some students and young expats choose 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, expats must budget for the cost of a security deposit, which is usually equivalent to five weeks’ rent.
Cost of education in the United Kingdom
Expats with temporary residency in the UK will be eligible to send their children to a state school at no cost. Standards vary considerably, and the better state schools tend to be located in more affluent areas. Parents 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.
Many 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 can be exorbitant, but parents will likely find that the standard of education, facilities and extramural activities more than justify the cost.
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 travellers can save money by booking the journey well in advance or investing in a railcard. Travelling by long-distance bus in the UK is a more economical option, though.
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. Commuters 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 fairly cheap to buy and maintain one. Petrol prices fluctuate but are reasonable compared to elsewhere.
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. Citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA) can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to pay for medical treatment in the UK if they are 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 have access to 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 long 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 an individual’s health.
Cost of groceries in the United Kingdom
While not necessarily cheap, the cost of groceries in the UK can be reduced based on what expats buy and where they 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. Expats can minimise their expenses by buying non-perishables in bulk and shopping at discount supermarkets such as Aldi, Asda and Tesco.
Expats who enjoy the finer things in life and want to purchase imported cheeses and wines will 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 for budget-conscious expats to prioritise cooking at home and enjoying a meal out occasionally. Similarly to eating out, enjoying fancy cocktails at one of the country’s many pubs and bars will set expats back significantly. For that reason, most local revellers choose to start the party at home to reduce the amount they spend on alcoholic drinks at these establishments.
Culture buffs will also not be spared, 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 living in the United Kingdom chart
Prices vary across the UK – these are the average costs for London in October 2023. Prices may also vary depending on product and service provider.
Accommodation (monthly rent)
Three-bedroom apartment in city centre
Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre
One-bedroom apartment in city centre
One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre
Milk (1 litre)
Loaf of white bread
Packet of cigarettes (Marlboro)
City centre bus/train fare
Taxi rate per km
Petrol/gasoline per litre
Big Mac Meal
Local beer (500ml)
Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant
Internet (uncapped ADSL per month)
Monthly phone plan with calls and data
Utilities (average per month for standard household)
►For more on expat money matters, check out Banking, Money and Taxes in the United Kingdom
What do expats say about the cost of living in the UK?
"I’ve generally found things in Britain are the same price as in Canada but in pounds instead of dollars, so things are close to twice as expensive. Rent is quite costly, along with eating out and consumer purchases. Electronics are particularly expensive, so make sure you won’t need to replace your phone or laptop while here.
"Groceries, however, tend to be cheaper by comparison even at the higher end shops such as Marks & Spencer. The quality of the food in grocery shops is one thing I’ve really appreciated; generally, things are quite fresh and healthy." Get more insights from Canadian expat Allison in our interview with her
Are you an expat living in The United Kingdom?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The United Kingdom. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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