The complete guide to moving to Scotland

Updated: Apr 26, 2018

Sipping whisky, rambling through the Highlands or searching for the Loch Ness Monster – whatever your reasons for wanting to move to Scotland, you’ll be glad you did. Big cities like the capital Edinburgh mix rich history with micro-distilleries, quaint cafes with fine-dining, but within a short time you can be exploring the lochs, castles and beautiful scenery of the national parks. Alongside our UK guide, we’ve got some Scotland specific tips to help make your move smoother than a single malt.

Setting up home

Thanks to the extensive public transport network in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, unless you’re living in a really rural spot, which let’s face it you wouldn’t be moving to a city if that’s the case.

Just because it’s not the capital, don’t be fooled that it will be much cheaper. Areas such as Bearsden and Shawlands are affluent, with leafy streets, big homes and gardens with spend of space for kids and /or dogs to run around. Scotstoun is another family favourite, mainly as two of the city’s best schools are here – Scotstoun Primary School and Jordanhill Secondary school.

You also have a ton of choice when it comes to Edinburgh, although budget may have a lot to do with where you live. The old town is beautiful – and central – however, you’re likely to be in apartments rather than a house. Alongside the Haymarket, the old town is popular with tourists and so you’re not likely to find it a quiet place to live. Corstophine is an area popular with everyone it seems – there a great small homes for couples, plus bigger spaces for families. There are also plenty of walking routes nearby so you won’t feel like you’re too hemmed in to a city. And if you need further reason to move here, Corstophine is home to Edinburgh Zoo and their resident Panda couple.

To rent or buy:

As with the rest of the UK (read our guide here) buying property in Scotland can be a lengthy process. And expensive – particularly if you’re looking at buying in Edinburgh where it’s not only a capital city but where you’re likely to have restrictions placed the property in regard to protecting listed buildings.

There are also a couple of differences in the process of house-buying in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK. One of the main things to be aware of is that you may end up with a solicitor who is also your estate agent, and contracts can be binding without actually being signed. Consumer website Which? has a very comprehensive guide you might want to pour over with a glass of wine:


Water is supplied by one company, the aptly-named Scottish Water. The average yearly charge is £350, which is around £50 less than in Wales and England. Your new home will already be connected, but you will need to sign up for a new account, which you can do via their website:

Gas and Electricity

The whole of the UK has a deregulated energy market, meaning that you’ve got plenty of choice due to competition. As a new customer, companies will offer great deals to get your business, so it really does pay to shop around.

We’d recommend you use a comparison site such as uSwitch, or which will also indicate if there are special offers or reduced rates. The actual setting-up is pretty painless as the providers do most of the work. If you’re moving to rented accommodation, depending on your contract, you might need to provide meter readings to the new supplier if your letting agent/landlord hasn’t already done this. It’s basically to ensure you’re not paying someone else’s bill, but often means you’ll be on a higher tariff for the first few days while things are sorted out.


The cost of a TV licence in Scotland is currently £150.50 per year. It is easy to register and pay at the TV Licensing website You must do this – if you’re caught watching a TV without a licence you can be fined and/or prosecuted. The law has also recently changed, taking into account the popularity of ‘on-demand’ services, so your licence covers all live or recorded television on any device, and any programme watched via the BBC’s iPlayer service.

You’ll still receive the UK’s main free-to-air channels, namely BB1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4 and Channel 5. The BBC channels often move away from the main schedule, with local programming replacing the national schedule. You’ll find there also local news and weather bulletins in addition to UK-wide news and weather. Scotland also has a further free-to-air channel: BBC Alba, a Gaelic language channel.

In terms of digital and satellite offerings, the main providers are:






There are a great many broadband providers available in Scotland, and, as with utilities, you should use a comparison site to find the best deals. Most media companies provide TV, phone and broadband, so you’re often best looking for package deals across devices.

As with television, the main providers are:





If in the cities, broadband speeds will be great, but you may want to use one of the big boys rather than a plucky new entrant to the market if you live in the more remote areas of the country, such as the Highlands. The bigger the company, the more likely they are to have a better network out there, and be able to supply Superfast Broadband.

Getting around

Public transport:



The major means of getting around Edinburgh is by bus – and accordingly, an extensive network covers the city and beyond. Edinburgh is one of the most comprehensive and heavily-used bus networks of any UK city, with residents making over twice the UK average number of bus rides per year. The two major operators are Lothian Buses ( and First (

It costs as little as £4 for a daily ticket, valid for any number of journeys across the city. If using the bus for your regular work commute, West Lothian’s Ridacard or First’s FirstYear tickets will give you can give you a year’s worth of unlimited travel for as little as £580, valid on buses, trains and trams according to each fare’s individual entitlement.

TIP: If you’re moving to Scotland to retire, then you’re in luck as the bus system is completely free – whether you’re popping in to the city centre or heading up to the Highlands.


The main operators are:

First Glasgow



Given Glasgow’s notoriously confusing grid-system network of one-way streets, letting the bus driver take the strain can be far less stressful than driving yourself. With over 100 routes across the city, you can get anywhere you need to go.

Yearly tickets, offering unlimited bus travel, start from £480 with First.

For both Glasgow and Edinburgh, First’s mTicket system allows you to buy and store tickets on your phone via their app:

For Glasgow, Stagecoach have a mobile app that allows you to buy and store tickets, while McGill’s have a smart card called GoSmart, which allows you to buy and store tickets, and quickly ‘tap and go’ when you get on the bus.


Edinburgh is one of the UK’s few cities with a tram service:

Linking the city centre and Edinburgh Airport, it’s a great way to get around (and conveniently stops at Murrayfield if you’re a rugby fan).

It’s a cheap way to get around: just £4.00 for an unlimited DAYticket covering all stations except the airport (which is £8.50 return). DAYtickets also include unlimited travel on all Lothian buses.

Be aware, you should purchase your ticket before travel, at a station vending machine, online or via the app, and then use it to board within 30 minutes of purchase, activation or validation. If you purchase a ticket onboard, it will cost you £10.


The quickest way to get around Glasgow is by the Subway ( – the third oldest underground system in the world. Services run every four minutes at peak time, and you can traverse the entire network of 15 stations – situated either side of the River Clyde – in just 24 minutes. A day ticket costs just £2.90, while a 12-month ticket is £485.

Regular Subway commuters can benefit from the Subway Smartcard, on which you can store credit to use on the go, and will always give you the cheapest fare possible.

A fun official app, iShoogle, will keep you up to date on all latest Subway news, check service status, and give you local information.


As an historic city, Edinburgh has only a modest rail network. The Edinburgh Crossrail links Edinburgh Park in the west to Newcraighall in the east, with a total route time of around an hour. The major stations in Edinburgh are Haymarket and Waverley, which link to other Scottish and English cities. Services run half hourly during the week.

Almost the complete opposite of Edinburgh, Glasgow has the most extensive network of suburban railway lines in the UK outside of London. Thirteen lines serve Glasgow city centre and the wider Ayshire region. Glasgow’s two main stations, Glasgow Central and Queen Street, connect to other Scottish and UK cities.

When travelling between cities in Scotland, you will most likely use ScotRail, the nation’s national railway operator. Their website has information on all train services in Scotland:

For Glasgow, the SPT ZoneCard is a flexible season ticket that allows unlimited travel by Scotrail, Subway, most buses and ferries in the Strathclyde region. Full information is available at

Getting a driving licence:

You can drive in Scotland with your current Australian driving licence for 12 months after arriving.

After at least 185 days as a resident, you can exchange your licence for a British one. You need to complete Form D1 from the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Authority (DVLA) - - and return it by post with a £43 fee and any identity documents it will request. You should then receive your new licence within 3 weeks.

As Australia has a reciprocal agreement with the UK, you won’t need to re-take your test, provided you switch your licence over in the allowed time period.

This is very important: the drink drive limit in Scotland is extremely strict. The alcohol limit is so low that, effectively, just one drink can put you over the legal limit for driving. In practice, it means that is essentially illegal to drink any amount of alcohol and then drive. Fines range from points on your licence, to a £5000 fine, to prison time.

TIP: Remember to exchange your driving licence within 185 days of moving to Scotland, or you’ll need to re-sit your test again.

School options

The education in Scotland is slightly different than the rest of the UK. However, qualifications gained in Scotland are recognised in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scotland follows the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

Depending on what time of year your child is born, they will start school between four and a half and five and a half years old, and remain in primary education for seven years. Children will usually start secondary school from age 11 or 12, with a compulsory four years, and two further optional years. Students study for National 4/5 exams at age 15/16, and Highers at 17/18. State schooling is free, universal and compulsory. The state schools your child attends will often depend on where you live, known as the ‘catchment area’. If you have the time to think about where you’ll be working and where you’d like to live, then you can explore the schools in your catchment area.

Some private and independent schools follow the English National Curriculum, where students study for GCSEs and A-Levels. Some independent schools also teach the International Baccalaureate. It is worth checking which system your school follows if you opt to go private. A great deal of information is available from Education Scotland:


There are 15 universities in Scotland, some ancient and internationally-recognised, including St Andrews, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

If you have been living in Scotland for three years by the time your youngster is ready for university, then good news: your child’s university place in a Scottish university is free. Unlike the rest of the UK, you do not pay any tuition fees. More details are available at:

TIP: The wonderful Scottish free tuition rules for university students are only applicable in Scotland and not the rest of the UK and you must have been resident in Scotland for three years prior to their enrolment.



To register to vote in Scotland, you must be on the UK electoral register. You can register online via

In Scotland, you can register to vote from age 14. Unlike the rest of the UK, you can vote in local elections and Scottish Parliamentary elections from age 16. However, you still cannot vote in a UK General Election until age 18.

Council elections usually take place every four years, and are the most local level of government.

Scotland has its own devolved government from the British parliament, which has responsibility for matters including healthcare, education, justice, policing and transport that are specific to Scotland. Scottish residents vote for Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) every four years.

On top of that, Scottish residents also vote in UK General Elections, electing a local MP to the British Parliament.


From April 2018, you will pay Scottish Income Tax, which will be taken at source by your employer. If you’re self-employed, you need to register with HMRC and complete an annual self-assessment. Lower earners pay less tax than in the rest of the UK, while higher earners pay more. You can currently earn up to £11,850 before paying tax, which starts at 19%, rising to a top rate of 46% for those earning over £150,000.

You also pay National Insurance at the UK rate, and a local Council Tax, which is rated on the valuation of your home -

Finally, VAT of 20% is automatically added to the cost of most goods you’ll buy.

TIP: If you’re self-employed, it would be a good idea to employ the services of a book-keeper or an accountant to make sure you a paying the correct rates of tax and National Insurance.


Must be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies (at least 21 days before travel, and after your pet has been microchipped), have an official veterinary certificate. Dogs must have had tapeworm treatment 1-5 days before arrival. Animals can only be brought into Scotland via Edinburgh and Glasgow airports, through their Animal Reception Centres. You must also complete a declaration confirming that you do not intend to sell or transfer ownership of your pet (

If you are bringing more than five pets, you need to enter through a border inspection post. These are only located at Edinburgh, Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

Everyday life


NHS Scotland provides health care free at the point of service for anybody employed or self-employed in Scotland, and their families.

You will need to register with a local GP. You don’t pay to see a doctor, and – unlike in the rest of the UK – prescriptions are also free of charge.

You can find your nearest GPs, hospitals, pharmacies and more at NHS Inform:

TIP: Register with a GP and a dentist as soon as you can. Some local surgeries will have a waiting list for patients for public NHS services.

Banking & currency:

While there is no difference in banking in Scotland from the rest of the UK and the currency is the same, there is one notable exception: Scotland prints its own bank notes. They do look different to the ‘usual’ bank notes you’ll see in the rest of the UK. They are perfectly legal tender in England, Wales and Northern Ireland also, however you may find that some establishments will not accept these readily. It’s worth knowing that the only time a Scottish banknote can be refused is if the place in question has a clear sign stating they do not accept Scottish bank notes.

Recreation activities

Scotland’s two main cities are quite a contrast, which if you’re lucky enough to have the choice, might actually make for a tough decision. Glasgow has undergone a transformation in recent years, with a thriving student population injecting some youth – and hipster – vibes to the city. You’ll find it’s a much most cost-effective option than living in the capital city, and it’s actually easy to get across to Edinburgh should you want to.

Edinburgh is great if you want a London experience without actually living in London. As a capital city, it’s big, busy and full of people passing through. The benefit of this, as a resident, is that the city always feels ‘new’, with exhibitions, live music and new venues opening up.

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow are in enviable positions that give you the big shops, art, theatre and restaurants but also have a wide variety of outdoor activities on the doorstep. Hiking is undoubtedly popular with mile of national parks to explore. From the heather-filled moors, to the dramatic mountain ranges, there are courses and paths to suit all abilities and fitness. The Scottish lochs are a haven for watersports, though you might want to get used to the water!