17 Things to Know Before Moving to Scotland
Thinking of moving to Scotland? You have so much to look forward to. Scotland has a lot to offer expats – a thriving job market, dramatic Highland landscapes, quirky delicacies, (mostly) free healthcare, and an annual city-wide festival that celebrates the arts.
But there are a few things you should know about this old Viking territory before you settle there.
Edinburgh – Scotland's capital – is adorned with architectural gems on every corner
1. The topic of Scottish independence will come up a lot
If you’re moving to Scotland, you’ll be hearing a lot about Scottish independence – so you might want to brush up on your knowledge of it.
By gaining independence, Scotland would become its own nation, and be separate from the rest of the UK. So, whether it’s talking with mates down the local pub or watching TV, the issue of Scottish independence is usually at the center of political debate in Scotland.
Eight years ago, Scotland voted on the question of independence, which resulted in 55% of people voting against it and 45% voting for it. However, the independence debate was revived a couple of years later, after the UK voted to leave the EU – something 62% of Scottish voters opposed.
2. The views are out of this world
There’s no denying it – Scotland is a breathtakingly beautiful country. You can take in views of impressive city skylines, and see dramatic landscapes just a short drive away.
But the further you drift from the cities, the more rugged the landscape gets. On the west coast, you’ll find yourself surrounded by towering mountains and glistening lochs (lakes). If you’re lucky enough to get some sun, the Scottish Highlands look more like the mountainous parts of Norway than the UK.
3. Scots can go to university for free
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you – university is free in Scotland.
But before you get excited, students need to have lived in Scotland for at least three years to be eligible for free university. Students from the rest of the UK – England, Northern Ireland, and Wales – and the Republic of Ireland have to pay £9,250 a year to attend university in Scotland.
2. Healthcare is mostly free
Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, which means it benefits from the country’s National Health Service (NHS).
All treatments and appointments under the UK’s healthcare system are free at the point of use – although most users still have to pay for medicines.
Good news for foreigners – primary care, such as treatment in A&E, care for most infectious diseases, and family planning services, is available to all, regardless of their nationality.
Although the NHS is free to use, it’s mostly funded by general taxation (mainly income tax) and National Insurance contributions – so it’s not completely free.
Before your big move to Scotland, it’s wise to consider whether you’ll need medical cover for when you’re out there. Check out our list of recommended healthcare providers.
From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.
5. You’ll need layers – and lots of them
Compared to the rest of the UK, Scotland’s weather is very mild throughout the year, and is particularly cold during the winter.
The winter months in Scotland often see temperatures hover around 32°F (0°C), with the summer months ranging from 59–63°F (15–17°C).
Wondering whether you’ll be able to experience a white Christmas in Scotland? The most northerly parts of the country experience heavy snow during winter and spring, with cities like Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Glasgow occasionally getting a dusting of the white stuff between December and March.
6. Its electricity is almost 100% renewable
If you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint, Scotland will be just the place for you since its electricity is produced with almost 100% renewable energy.
In 2020, 98.6% of Scotland’s gross electricity consumption came from renewables – up from 97.4%.
This is a trend that is only set to increase too, as the Energy Secretary, Michael Matheson, said the country wants to continue leading the way with its commitment to be net zero by 2045.
Scotland is also aiming to generate 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
A trip to the Highlands will greet you with stunning views, dramatic landscapes, and glistening lochs
7. It’s a very multicultural country
You’ll meet people from all corners of the globe in Scotland. In fact, one in six of Scotland's households with two or more people have more than one ethnicity represented.
The cities often draw in a lot of international students, thanks to the excellent stay-abroad programs at the universities. Edinburgh Fringe Festival also attracts thousands of people from around the world, ready to celebrate the arts, enjoy comedy shows, feast at food markets, and get boozy at the many beer gardens.
The majority of people in the Highlands also rely on tourism for their livelihoods, which means you can come across people from all sorts of backgrounds.
8. The cost of living depends a lot on your location
Like the rest of the UK, the cost of living in Scotland is increasing because of the ongoing energy crisis, which has mainly been caused by the war in Ukraine.
However, the cost of living in Scotland is still usually more affordable than in the rest of the UK – but, of course, this depends on where you settle.
Edinburgh is much more expensive than the rural areas in Scotland, as well as the other major cities. For example, the average monthly rent in Edinburgh is £1,200, which is much higher than Scotland’s average of £861.
9. There are no free refills
This one might be difficult for many Americans to get their head around. In Scotland, free refills are not a thing – you have to pay for all of your drinks at restaurants.
This isn’t exclusively a Scottish thing either. If you travel to any other European country, you’ll often find that there are no refill policies.
10. Public transport in the cities is great…
There are plenty of ways to get around Scottish cities without a car.
Overall, local bus services, express coaches, national rail services, ferries, the Glasgow subway, and Edinburgh tram routes all make up Scotland's public transport network.
Some people won’t have to pay for these modes of transport either. For example, 5-21 year-olds living in Scotland are eligible for free bus travel.
11. …But you’ll need a car in the rural areas
If you’re traveling outside a major city in Scotland, relying on public transport will be a lot trickier – and even impossible in some areas.
Some isolated areas of Scotland are connected by train, but bus services can be rare, or at least less reliable than in the city.
You’ll also want to make sure you fill up your tank or recharge your car battery whenever you get the chance, as petrol stations only come by occasionally.
12. Midge season
If you’re heading to the western Highlands, always have a can of midge spray on hand – unless you want to be bitten by a swarm of midges, that is.
Midges (pronounced ‘mid-jees’) are similar to mosquitoes – they’re small flies with a wingspan of only 2–3mm. Midge season runs from April to September, with July and August being the peak times. During this time, the flies bite humans for fresh blood in order to mature their eggs.
But don’t fear, a small can of midge spray will keep these pesky flies at bay.
If you're lucky, you might come across a Highland cow – also known as a Hairy Highland Coo
13. You can't buy alcohol in shops after 10pm
Unlike their English neighbors, Scots can’t buy alcohol between 10am and 10pm, except on Sundays, when shops can’t begin selling alcohol until 12:30pm.
It’s a legal requirement for all shops, even 24-hour supermarkets and off-licenses, to stop serving alcohol during these times in a bid to combat the country’s alcoholism.
If you’re in the mood for a drink outside of these times, you’ll have to head to a pub or club, which are allowed to sell alcohol after 10pm.
14. There are lots of local delicacies to try…
Scotland has a lot to offer for foodies. Restaurants serve up food from all around the globe – particularly in the larger cities. But if you want to get stuck in with Scottish culture, you’ll have to at least try some of the local delicacies. Some of the most popular include:
- Haggis – Scotland’s most famous delicacy. This savory dish contains sheep's ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, and is traditionally encased in the animal's stomach – although, most people now use an artificial casing instead
- Black pudding – A type of sausage made from pig’s or cow’s blood, suet, and oats
- Tattie scone – These triangular-shaped treats are made from mashed potato and flour, are fried in oil, and look like thin pancakes when served
- Scotch egg – A boiled egg, wrapped in sausage meat, and coated in breadcrumbs
- Bridie – Originating from Forfar, this Scottish pastry is filled with pieces of beef and onion
15. …Including a deep-fried Mars Bar
The Scots have a few odd local delicacies, but the deep-fried Mars Bar is perhaps the strangest. The sweet treat was invented in 1992 by John Davie, a local who worked at the Haven Chip Bar in Stonehaven.
To make it, simply coat the chocolate bar in batter (a mixture of flour, eggs, and milk) then stick it in the deep fryer. The result is melted chocolate enveloped in crispy batter.
You can find this unique snack in fish and chip shops (also known as ‘chippies’) throughout Scotland.
16. You’ll need to get used to the slang
There is a wide range of different languages, accents, and dialects spoken across Scotland, but English is the main language spoken in the country today.
This means you’ll hear a lot of slang that might take a while to get used to. Some of the most common Scottish phrases include:
- Aye – ‘yes’
- Dinnae – ‘don’t’
- Canne – ‘can’t’
- Eejit – ‘idiot’
- Ken – ‘know’
- Tattie – ‘potato’
- Bairn – ‘baby/child’
- Wee – ‘small’
17. Don’t confuse them with the English
Despite being located on the same island, and both being part of the United Kingdom, Scotland and English are two separate countries.
The two nations have a complicated relationship with a dark history, which dates back as early as 1072, when William of Normandy invaded Scotland after establishing his reign over England. His troops defeated King Malcolm III of Scotland, and forced him to hand over his son Duncan as a hostage.
Fast forward to today, and the tension between Scotland and England continues – especially given the recent Scottish independence debate.
Scotland is a beautiful country. The views are incredible, the people are friendly, and the unique food is out of this world. People living in Scotland also get to experience affordable healthcare, free university, and an excellent work-life balance.
The downside of living in Scotland? You’ll probably have to put up with a few tourists wandering around appreciating your new home.