Moving to Edinburgh from Australia
Affordability 4 out of 5
Safety 4 out of 5
Healthcare 3 out of 5
Traffic Flow 5 out of 5
Property affordability 3 out of 5
Climate 5 out of 5
Environment quality 5 out of 5
Capital of Scotland, the “Athens of the North”, haven for generations of academics and upstarts… Edinburgh’s reputation as one of the most beautiful cities in the world spans centuries. Today it is the political, financial, and cultural centre of Scotland, admired around the globe. Few places on earth are held in higher regard than Edinburgh.
Moving to Edinburgh
As Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh is highly connected. The logistics of moving there are simple. The Port of Leith, the largest deepwater port in Scotland, is only 2 miles north of the city, while Edinburgh airport is a 40-minute drive away. Getting yourself and your things there couldn’t be much easier.
Visas & work permits
As with most European countries, Scotland has its fair share of hurdles for getting in. If your presence is valuable to the state, you submit the right paperwork, and allow time for processing, you’ll be giving yourself the best chance possible. There are a range of visas for those hoping to move to the UK long-term, three of which should cover most Aussie needs:
- Skilled worker visas, which are available to those who have been offered a skilled job in the UK
- Youth mobility scheme visas, which cover up to 2 years of living and working in the UK. This road is better suited to those with more temporary plans, volunteer work, work experience, and other short-term roles
- High value worker visas, which loosely translates to, ‘investing £2 million or more into our economy? Come on in!’ Congratulations if this one applies to you
Or, if you’re a Commonwealth citizen and one of your grandparents was born in the UK, you can apply for a UK ancestry visa.
For those expecting to hop between Scotland and Australia after their move, it may also be worth joining the Registered Traveller scheme. Open to all Australians, the scheme streamlines passage through UK customs, costing £70 for the first year before settling down to £50.
For a more complete picture, read our guide to UK visas.
Despite Edinburgh’s international standing, it isn’t the diplomatic centre of the UK. Australians will need to pop down to London for their nearest embassy.
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Shipping your belongings from Australia to Scotland is a straightforward business, but there’s no getting past the distance. It will take a good 29 days to ship your things across the world. Below are the estimated shipping costs of a 20-foot container from Australian cities to Edinburgh. Keep in mind that these are ballpark figures. For a personalised estimate you’ll need to request a quote.
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Living in Edinburgh
The world really can’t say enough good things about Edinburgh. Deutsche Bank ranked it 2nd in its 2017 quality of life study, praising the city’s commute time, health care, and low pollution levels. The city is thriving, a magnet for the young and ambitious. Those in the 25-44 age bracket account for almost a third of the city population.
The city’s history effectively began 50 million years ago with the formation of Castle Rock, the volcanic plug Edinburgh Castle is built on. Glacial erosion shaped the rock into a crag and tail formation (think massive doorstop sloping east) and Edinburgh is built on top of it.
Like any British city worth its salt, Edinburgh had a rich history of Celtic tribes, Roman invaders, and royal grandstanding before taking its current shape. It was formally established in the 12th century and has been the de facto capital of Scotland for almost as long. In the city’s early years the castle was built at the top of the crag, the Holyrood Abbey at the bottom, while the town grew on the slope between the two. That (Scots) mile stretch became known as the Royal Mile, which now forms the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Squalid housing and and a rising population led the city to expand north. A design competition won by James Craig in 1766 resulted in New Town, a masterpiece of Georgian architecture and Enlightenment era city planning. The city has continued to grow beyond that core, and its population recently surpassed 500,000. Today Edinburgh is one of the top finance and education hubs in Europe, and a cultural sanctuary to boot. There’s very little wrong with the place.
Geography and climate
The city has the novel distinction of being built atop an extinct volcano. The colourfully named Water of Leith river drains the city, meeting the sea at Leith port a couple of miles north of Edinburgh. The terrain around the city is lush and rocky, boasting glorious views all over the place.
You might want to sit down for this: Edinburgh isn’t terribly hot. The city is quite temperate given how far north it is, but average temperatures seldom rise above the teens, and as lush as the surroundings are, they owe much to the year-round rainfall. It’ll take Aussies some time to adjust, but you’ll develop a fondness for biting winds and sombre, overcast skies. It’s a prerequisite for living in the UK.
(Fairly coherent) English is far and away the most spoken language in Edinburgh, though an influx of asylum seekers and refugees in recent years has seen the number of represented languages in the city rise to over 100, chief among them Polish, Urdu, and Punjabi.
Banking and finance have been mainstays of the Edinburgh economy for centuries, and it’s now the second largest financial center in the UK, after London. Modern Edinburgh is very much a service economy. Its population is projected to grow faster than Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds over the next 20 years.
Healthcare, education, finance, and public services account for 62% of all employment in Edinburgh. The city’s top employers are NHS Scotland, the city council, the University of Edinburgh, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Lloyds Bank.
Manufacturing has dwindled in recent decades, with the the region making a conscious shift towards a service economy. Edinburgh Park, a business park opened in 1995, is the flagbearer of this change. As the second most visited location in the UK after London, tourism and the arts is also thriving. (More on this below.)
If you haven’t yet found work in Edinburgh, The Scotsman and scotjobsnet regularly post new opportunities. Or if you want to be more targeted, it’s well worth checking the city’s top employers for vacancies:
Schools and education
Edinburgh has a rich academic heritage. From preschool to postgrad, there’s more than enough choice to find the right fit. The most esteemed primary schools in the area include Sciennes, home to 650 students and a thriving selection of clubs. Meanwhile, South Morningside was lauded in 2015 as one of the best state primary schools in the UK.
James Gillespie’s is probably the top pick of secondary schools, which is no small feat in a city like Edinburgh. Nearly 75% of students attain three or more higher qualifications. Broughton High School has a leading soccer programme in partnership with the Scottish Football Association.
Where private schools are concerned, George Watson’s College goes all the way from kindergarten to sixth form and is highly regarded. Or there’s George Heriot’s, the inspiration for Hogwarts. Reputable and magical? Priceless. (Although technically it’s very expensive.)
There’s plenty more where those came from. For a complete breakdown of all the schools in the area, the City of Edinburgh Council have got you covered:
There are three universities in the city proper, and a fourth on the outskirts.
The University of Edinburgh is the big cheese, one of the oldest and most esteemed universities in the world. It was at the heart of the city’s intellectual rise during the Age of Enlightenment. Even if you’re not attending, its
presence in the Old Town and 35,000 strong studentship means the place will be part of your Edinburgh life.
The others are Heriot-Watt, Napier, and Queen Margaret University, which specialise in engineering, technology, and healthcare respectively. Although they’re not quite as renowned as their elder sister, Edinburgh’s ongoing success would not be possible without them.
Edinburgh’s healthcare needs are primarily met by NHS Scotland, although there is a selection of private alternatives as well. The UK has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with Australia, meaning that Australian citizens are exempt from charges for immediate medical treatment. Once you take up permanent residence you will be entitled to free NHS hospital care. If you have applied to the UK Border Agency for resident status you may have to pay for any medical costs accrued before it is granted.
The city is served by two main NHS hospitals — the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the Western General Hospital. The main private hospitals in the area are Murrayfield and Shawfair. The NHS has its kinks, but if you enjoy having a disposable income you’ll find it highly agreeable.
Edinburgh enjoys a low crime rate, with Numbeo reports ranking it as comfortably safer than Melbourne, Sydney, or Adelaide, which (as far as we know) aren’t exactly hotspots of anarchy themselves.
Cost of living
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Be it by sea, train, plane, or car, travel to and from Edinburgh is a doddle. Should you ever wish to get out of the city, the Caledonian Sleeper train can get you to London overnight, while a flight takes just an hour. In the city itself, the medieval heritage has made it one of the most walkable cities in the UK. In fact, it topped a 2017 survey on the matter. In most circumstances travelling by foot or public transport is more convenient than driving.
The long and short of it is that you’re unlikely to need a car in Edinburgh. If you got one it would be more useful for seeing Scotland than for getting around the city. Everything in the city centre is in walking distance, and even if you live in the suburbs, getting around is much more straightforward when done via public transport.
Waverley railway station is the public transport hub of the city. Dozens of bus routes pass the station, providing an excellent service. Even the suburbs are only 20-30 minutes away from the city centre by bus.
Edinburgh has also recently expanded into tramways. Edinburgh Trams opened in 2014, connecting the airport to the city centre via Edinburgh Park business park. It has fast become a popular travel option in the city.
Edinburgh Airport is just 6 miles west of the city centre, only a 40-minute drive or a 30-minute tram ride. With hundreds of destinations through dozens of airlines, it’s an excellent means of regional travel.
The heart of Edinburgh comprises of two main neighbourhoods – Old Town and New Town. Old Town, built along the crag between the castle and the Holyrood Palace, has taken a millenium to settle on its current charm. It’s home to most of the University of Edinburgh and the beating heart of much of the city’s tourism industry.
New Town, meanwhile, is the result of an 18th century initiative to expand the city, its neat grid layout and grand stone facades are a product of Enlightenment thinking. It was built as an escape route for the affluent members of Old Town, and that desirability holds true today.
Between them they make for uniquely pokey, eclectic, beautiful character. Not many cities have had their entire centres protected as UNESCO heritage sites. There are over 4,500 listed buildings within the city.
The West End (we’ll let you guess where that is) is home to many of Edinburgh’s art venues, as well as the Murrayfield stadium, home of the Scottish Rugby Team.
Most of the other neighbourhoods are former outlying villages. Dean Village closely resembles a fairytale. To the north, Stockbridge has a colourful selection of shops and markets, as well as an annual 1000 rubber duck race in the Water of Leith river. The small-town background of Edinburgh’s neighbourhoods has made them distinct, intimate communities with plenty of local quirks and greenery.
“Auld Reikie” has long been one of the world’s intellectual and cultural centres. Scholars, authors, bands, castles, whiskey… Edinburgh’s cultural output spans centuries and is still going strong. Its past includes Charles Darwin, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few, while its present is a rich mix of music, literature, film, and arts festivals.
There’s the tourist rounds of course: Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, loads of churches, and all the nooks and crannies you could ask for. The general consensus around Edinburgh is that one of the finest things to do with your time is simply explore.
If you want something more specific, there’s a variety of Museum of Scotland exhibits, and the Writer’s Museum on the Royal Mile, not to mention the Scotch Whiskey Heritage Centre, where you can pay your respects until either your wallet or your liver gives out.
Outside the city there’s rock climbing at the Salisbury Crags, or the Water of Leith Walkway. Head up to Leith and you can visit the Queen’s old yacht, the Britannia, where you can pay your respects until your patience gives out.
Idleness is a choice in a city like Edinburgh. Go outside and you’ll do well to avoid something interesting.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, spanning nearly the entirety of August and boasting tens of thousands of performers. It is best known for its comedy, but The Fringe hosts all manner of arts. Dance, opera, cabaret, you name it,someone’s probably doing it. The festival owes its name to the circumstances of its founding in 1947, when theatre troupes turned up uninvited to the first Edinburgh International Festival and performed on the fringes.
Another staple of the Edinburgh calendar is Hogmanay — New Years Scotch style. Featuring whiskey, fireworks, and hundreds of thousands of people, it’s a party in the truest sense of the word.
Edinburgh is a city with international appeal and strong local roots, and the same can be said of its cuisine. From fine dining to affordable eats, the biggest hurdle is probably just picking somewhere.
Old Bell Inn (233 – 235 Causewayside, Edinburgh, EH9 1PH)
A fine example of Scottish tradition, with a whiskey list almost as long as its menu; the Old Bell Inn is popular with both locals and visitors. Its cosy interior is almost as comforting as its food. They serve pub staples like fish and chips as well as Scottish fare. You could do worse for haggis and a nice local whiskey. The staff are renowned for their friendliness, and will make you feel right at home.
Leslie’s Bar (45-47 Ratcliffe Terrace, Edinburgh EH9 1SU)
This is a beautiful little time capsule, its ornate Victorian interior immaculately preserved and its taps flowing with the finest real ales and malt whiskeys. The food is homely, perfect for lining your stomach as you sample Scotland’s finest. The home-made soup and cumberland sausages with mash go down especially well.
Forage & Chatter (1a Alva Street, Edinburgh EH2 4PH)
For a more contemporary experience, some of the finest eats can be found at the Forage & Chatter. Nestled in the Edinburgh West End, the staff take real pride in their work, and rightfully so. From the service to the fresh local food, Forage & Chatter is well known in Edinburgh. (So book ahead). The dishes on offer include North Sea hake, aged beef sirloin and ox tongue, and crab bisque. It’s a slick setup as well. You know the food presentation’s good when it takes up most of the Instagram feed.
Pickles (56a Broughton Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3SA)
If you’re looking for something lighter, Pickles is a good place to start. They specialise in nibbles and platters, offering a variety of local and global dishes. If meat, cheese, patés, and wine in a relaxed environment sounds good to you, head down to Pickles.
There are plenty more where these came from, but you have to start somewhere, and these are excellent somewheres indeed.
Most of the debauchery goes on in the Old Town, as is tradition. It has a hefty student population to please, remember. That said, there’s plenty going on elsewhere. Every neighbourhood has its haunts.
The Bow Bar (80 West Bow, Edinburgh, EH1 2HH)
This is a Scotch fan’s dream. The Bow Bar, sat in the heart of Old Town, stocks over 300 malts and dozens of beers. It’s a no frills, unhurried sort of place, an essential port of call for those looking for a real taste of Edinburgh.
Cabaret Voltaire (36-38 Blair St, Edinburgh EH1 1QR)
Specialising in “loud music”, the Cabaret Voltaire is a two-floored underground nightclub with gigs and events year round. It’s a beautiful conversion of the Edinburgh Vaults – a series of underground chambers built in the 1700s – with a colourful atmosphere. Even the nightclubs in Edinburgh have a magic to them.
Panda & Sons (79 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 4NF)
Set up like a modern day speakeasy, Panda & Son is a prime spot for cocktails (if you can find it). Painstakingly designed, popping by for a drink is like dropping into a dream. Not content with standard recipes, they have dozens of kooky, delicious creations to choose from. The Fennel Countdown and Free as a Curd are some of the options, just so you know what you’re in for. They don’t shy away from theatre here, and it’s marvelous.
Edinburgh’s openness to the arts means events are a year-round certainty. Rest assured there’s memories to be made in Edinburgh’s night scene, all you need to do is dive in.
Just behave yourselves.
There’s no shortage of fine books, films, and music from and about Edinburgh. If you want to learn more about the city, give these a spin!
Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh
Knots and Crosses, by Ian Rankin
Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson
44 Scotland Street, by Alexander McCall
Edinburgh: Mapping the City, by Chris Fleet & Daniel MacCannell
A Work of Beauty: Alexander McCall Smith’s Edinburgh, by Alexander McCall Smith
Music & film
Music Has the Right to Children, by Boards of Canada
The Beta Band, by The Beta Band
Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Ewan McGregor