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Calculating the cost of living

Many expats are attracted to the U.K.’s strong economy and relatively high wages.

But these advantages do come with a higher cost of living — particularly in more expensive regions.

That’s not to say that a good, affordable quality of life isn’t possible. Expats just need to do a little homework before they go, as costs vary depending on where — and how — you plan to live.

A roof over your head

As any local will tell you, it’s easy to spend a large proportion of your income on accommodation in the U.K. A shortage of housing in key areas has led to a steady rise in both house prices and rental costs over the last few decades.

The most popular cities can be particularly expensive. In London, expats can expect to pay an average rent of around £1,250 ($1,585) for a one-bedroom apartment.

Elsewhere in the U.K. rental prices are considerably lower, offsetting lower wages with cheaper accommodation. The average rent for a one-bedroom property in Edinburgh is £995 ($1,260); in Manchester it’s £714  ($904); and in Birmingham it’s as low as £653 ($828). But it’s worth noting that renting in the most popular areas of these cities is likely to cost considerably more.

Many younger expats — and particularly students — manage the cost of living by renting a room in a shared house. While there are still large variations in cost around the country, this is likely to be much cheaper than renting a whole apartment. It’s also a great opportunity to meet new people!

For those expats looking to buy, the U.K. can offer a relatively safe investment. House prices have risen steadily over the last few decades, even taking into account challenging economic conditions. While buying a house in the U.K. isn’t cheap, it could be worth considering for the medium- to long-term benefit it could bring.

Paying the bills

Water, gas and electricity are not cheap in the U.K. although there are good deals to be had by shopping around in an increasingly competitive market. Expats should expect to pay around £100 ($130) a month for power and another £34 ($43) for water bills. Once again, this does vary across different regions and depends on the size and type of property you live in.

You’ll also have to find money for council tax. This is paid to your local council to cover crucial services and is calculated based on the value of your property. Most landlords will expect their tenants to pay this tax in addition to rent — although some may include it in their original price.

Travelling in and around the U.K.

As the U.K. is relatively small, most people use cars, buses or trains to travel around. But recent years have seen the growth of low-cost airlines in the country and it’s now possible to fly between some cities relatively cheaply.

Train travel in the U.K. is not always the cheapest option, with commuter fares on the most popular routes proving particularly expensive. But it is possible to save on the cost of many journeys by travelling at non-peak times, booking well in advance, or purchasing a railcard.

It’s considerably cheaper to travel long distances around the U.K. by coach. But the low prices are accompanied by longer journey times.

Expats moving with family may find it’s cheaper to travel around the country by car. This can quickly work out more cost-effective with three or four passengers.

Many people living in cities — and particularly in London — benefit from relatively good public transport systems. This means they can save on the cost of running a car and avoid the stress of congested urban roads. While the cost is not always that low, it usually works out as the cheapest and easiest option for most urban expats.

Family life and education

Expats moving with children can benefit from the country’s system of free state schools. Standards can vary considerably, so it’s worth doing some research about schools in each area. The most popular will draw pupils from a local “catchment area”, which can mean increased house prices and rental costs.

Private or independent schools are also available in most areas, although these do charge fairly high fees. The average cost per term is around £5,500 ($7,140), with boarding schools charging considerably more. But private schools do generally offer a higher standard of education and a wide range of extracurricular activities.

Many expats choose to send their children to an international school so they can continue studying the same syllabus as their home country. However, these can charge extremely high fees — particularly in London.

Protecting your health

There are both public and private health care options in the U.K., with the National Health Service (NHS) aiming to provide free health care for all.

In reality, pressures on the system mean that long waiting times for appointments and treatment are common for many, and some foreign nationals are not eligible for free treatment at all.  

Aetna International offers a range of health and wellness cover that can make sure you stay happy and healthy in your new life. Contact us for a quote today.

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(Prices correct December 2018)

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