Moving to Scotland is a big dream for many people out there, and once you’ve got your visa sorted, nothing stands in the way between and life-long happiness in a kilt. Or does it? This guide explains 7 things you should consider when you move to Scotland – from opening a bank account to making friends.
Guest blogger James from Worldwide Shopping Guide moved to Scotland from another European country a few years ago, and provides a run-down of the most important things to sort out once you have cleared your visa and decided to make Scotland your new home.
Congratulations! You’ve chosen to live in the most beautiful country in the world, and in the best part of the United Kingdom. It may be one of the coldest parts of the UK but, what Scotland lacks in warm weather, Scotland makes up for it with free university education, free prescriptions, inventions like “the spurtle,” and warm, friendly people.
In this guide, we look at some of the biggest hurdles people face when moving to Scotland. From finding a place to live, to opening a bank account, this article covers everything you need to make your move to Scotland a successful one.
Get a UK Phone Number
The first, and easiest, thing that you’ll need to do is to get a UK phone number as you’ll need a phone number to include on your CV and for opening a bank account. Landline numbers are rarely needed anymore but, if you do need one, you can purchase a UK landline number through Skype. You can even narrow it down to a particular city like Edinburgh (0131) or Glasgow (0141).
A Pay as You Go (PAYG) sim card is going to be much easier to get than a monthly contract, at least in the beginning. A monthly contract usually requires proof of address, and you probably won’t have that when you arrive. You can always switch to a contract later.
A sim card with data is essential these days. It’s very easy to get lost in a new place, and you’ll want to be able to access Google Maps when you’re out and about and running to interviews. Prepaid with Data is an incredibly helpful wiki that covers all of the PAYG networks in the UK, and which ones have the best data packages.
Finding a temporary place to live
Your next step will be to find somewhere to live, either temporarily or semi-permanently. Semi-permanently would be an apartment rental or houseshare, while temporarily would just be until you have found a job and know where you want to live. You may also want to wait until you’ve found a job before committing to yourself to a six-month lease, both from the point of view of your budget and also reducing your commute.
There are plenty of cheap accommodation options to consider. Many hostels offer long-term rates, for example, and, outside of term-time, it’s often possible to get on-campus university accommodation. Long-term accommodation in a hostel definitely has its cons, but one big pro is the chance to meet other people who’ve just moved to Scotland. The easiest option, though, is to rent a room through Airbnb.
Although renting with Airbnb is often more expensive than renting normally is, it’s possible to find spare rooms for rent for as little as £10 per night in otherwise expensive cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow. You can rent by the night or by the month, which gives you quite a bit of flexibility. Your host may even allow you to use the property’s address to register for a bank account or national insurance number, although you should always ask first. Once you’ve found a job, and know where you want to live, you can start looking for more permanent accommodation.
Finding a permanent place to live (flat-shares)
While you may have plans to buy a place in Scotland, most people either rent a spare room in shared accommodation or a private apartment or house initially. If you plan on renting a room, there are a handful of sites dedicated to flatshares like Spare Room, Easy Roommate, and Room Buddies. Some agencies, like City Lets, will also have rooms for rent listed on their websites. The easiest place to find flatshares, however, is Gumtree.com.
Gumtree.com is a classifieds website, a little like Craigslist in the US, and it’ll probably be your go-to website for everything while you’re in Scotland: accommodation, jobs, second-hand furniture, English-language tutors, you name it.
Renting a spare room is usually a very casual process where the other tenants just want to make sure you’re a good fit for the house. You may be shown around by the landlord, or you may just meet the other tenants. Regardless of how casual this process is, you’re still entitled to a contract and will probably be asked to pay a deposit as well.
It’s normal to be asked for the first month’s rent upfront as well as a deposit, which may equal another month’s rent. You’ll probably find that the other tenants have lined up a number of other people to view the room so, if you like the room and your future flatmates, let them know that you’d like to take it straight away.
Finding a permanent place to live (rentals)
If you plan to rent an entire apartment or house, Gumtree is also the best starting point. Most rentals are listed on here, both by private landlords and by agencies. Some people have a preference for agencies, while others prefer private landlords. Renting privately is usually cheaper and, if you’re on a budget, this is the avenue that you should pursue. If you’d prefer to rent through an agency, you’ll also find houses and apartments for rent on Scottish property sites like S1 Homes, ESPC, and Letting Web, as well as on Zoopla and Right Move.
Private landlords are a mixed bag. Some are strictly professional, while others are less so. Some even operate illegally. Private landlords should have a landlord registration number, which should be included on the rental agreement. If it’s not, you can ask to see it. If they don’t provide one, that probably means they’re not officially registered. It’s up to you whether or not you rent with them.
Always make sure you get a tenancy agreement. Not only does this protect your rights, but you may also be able to use this as proof of address for essentials like opening a bank account.
Typically you will be asked for the first month’s rent in advance, along with a deposit. This is usually another month’s rent, and legally it can’t be any larger than the equivalent of two months’ rent. The landlord is legally supposed to pay the deposit into a tenancy deposit scheme. Typically they will acknowledge that they will do this on the rental agreement.
If you are confused about renting in Scotland, or anything to do with your rights while living in Scotland, The Citizen’s Advice Bureau is a fantastic source of information.
Other home-related costs to factor in
Regardless of whether your new home is furnished or unfunished, it’s likely that you’ll have a few extra costs to think about. If bills aren’t included in your rental, you may be liable for costs like electricity and internet as well as your rent. Unless you’re a student, it’s likely that you’ll have to pay council tax as well (although sometimes this is included in the monthly rent). It’s a good idea to find out about all of these costs in advance, and before you sign any kind of rental agreement.
If you’re renting the entire apartment privately, you will be responsible for paying a lot of these costs yourself. This means registering for council tax, paying for a TV licence (if you have a TV), setting up the internet, and registering with the utility companies.
Although this is time-consuming, the good news is that you’ll now have a lot of pieces of paper that you can use for proof of address.
Getting a National Insurance Number (NIN)
You’ll need a National Insurance Number, which is a fiscal number used to record your tax and national insurance contributions. You don’t need a National Insurance Number to start working as you’ll automatically be assigned a temporary number, but you may be charged a higher rate of tax when using this temporary number. Basically, it’s just a good idea to sign up for it as soon as possible.
The process for getting this number is reasonably straight-forward. You will need to phone the National Insurance Number application phone number, and you may be required to attend an interview before they will assign you your number. You will be sent a letter if you need to attend an interview, which is why you need to have some form of address organised first.
If you do get asked to attend an interview, the letter will tell you which types of identification documents you will need to bring with you. You normally won’t be given your National Insurance Number on the day; this is usually sent by post a few weeks later.
Setting up a bank account
Setting up a bank account in the UK can be a difficult process for newcomers, mainly because of the proof of address requirement. The most commonly accepted proofs that are accepted are a council tax bill, bank statement or credit card statement, and an electricity bill. Of course, that’s a bit of a catch-22: to pay for your electricity, you’re going to need a bank account first.
Some banks will accept a tenancy agreement, although often it depends who you end up speaking to at the bank. Just because one branch of Natwest didn’t accept you, that doesn’t mean all Natwest branches won’t. As well as proof of address, you’ll also need a passport or another form of ID.
There are now a number of online or app-based bank accounts in the UK such as Monzo, Tandem, and Starling. These banks are typically very easy to open an account with, and could be a good short-term option. They’re not necessarily just a short-term solution: banks like Monzo are aiming to provide a better current account than the high street banks, and you may find that they offer a better product than most high street banks.
It is worth opening a bank account with a high street bank like Barclays, Natwest, or Santander eventually or as well as your other bank account, as you may end up wanting a loan or mortgage later on. Having a relationship with the bank could make that a little bit easier. Most UK banks offer free current accounts, so there is no real cost to you for having another bank account.
If you do opt for one of these new banking start-ups, always check that the bank is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority, and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority (you can usually find this info in the website footer).
Monzo, Atom, Tandem, and Starling are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), which covers up to £85,000 of your savings. If you go with any other banking startup, always check that it offers the same protection. Many startup banks (like Pockit currently) aren’t banks, but prepaid cards, and you don’t get the FSCS protection with a prepaid card.
Pro Tip: You’ll probably want to transfer money from your non-UK bank account to your UK bank account. The best way to transfer from a bank outside of the UK to a bank in the UK is to use a transfer service like Transferwise or CurrencyFair, which typically only charge single digit fees as opposed to the double or treble digit fees you bank back home may charge.
Finding a job
Most employers in Scotland will list their jobs online, regardless of whether it’s bar work or a CEO position.
For part-time and general job searches, Gumtree is going to your first port of call once again. After that, jobs site like S1 Jobs, Monster, and Scot Careers are all incredibly useful. If you’re looking for work in a specific sector, for example, work in the oil industry or public sector then you’re probably best off using an industry specific job site like oilandgasjobsearch.com and myjobscotland.gov.uk.
Recruitment agencies are another place to look, although almost all of these agencies will list their jobs on sites like S1 Jobs.
Making friends in Scotland
The hardest part of moving to a new country isn’t necessarily opening a bank account or finding a place to live, but making new friends.
Most people make their friends through work, and you should do everything you can to be as friendly and sociable as possible at work. While many Scottish workplaces are relaxed, the majority of socialising takes place outside of work – usually at the pub on a Friday evening.
Sites like Meetup.com, CitySocializer, and even Couchsurfing can also be great ways to make new friends. Most of these sites will have meetups for people who are new in town, as well as groups that are specific to a hobby or activity like running, pub quizzes, knitting, going to the cinema, origami, you name it!
Another great place to meet like-minded people are University clubs and societies. Even if you are not a student, most clubs will likely welcome you to their social events and their Facebook groups are a good resource to discuss additional meetups and activities.
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James writes the travel blog Worldwide Shopping Guide, a travel blog that’s all about shopping.
You can follow him, and all of his latest posts, on Twitter.