Moving to Scotland

Written by Chris Thornton | 26th of January 2024
Moving to Scotland

Browsing the Scotland Facebook groups is a great place to see what people are up to in Scotland; what Munros are they climbing? Where did they wild camp at the weekend? But one of the most common talking points is from people living in other countries wishing they could live here.

Why do people want to move to Scotland?

What makes Scotland so unique? Why do people who visit want to stay here and make a life for themselves? There are many reasons, so let's delve into this topic and learn more about moving to Scotland and why people want to.

Lossiemouth overlook.
The view from the town of Lossiemouth in north east Scotland.

I'm this percentage Scottish!

With the advent of genealogy websites and home DNA testing kits becoming massively popular, people can accurately track where their ancestors originated.

Many proudly exclaim, "I am 60% Scottish!". Why do Americans, in particular, like this idea of being Scottish? Most Americans are so proudly patriotic (not a bad thing!). Hence, while they worship the star-spangled banner, why extoll their Scottish heritage virtues and tell everyone who will listen about their Scottish percentage?

Comparatively, America is a young country

Despite having the world's largest army and gaining significant technological achievements such as visiting the moon - America as a country is only 246 years old. I think Americans are intensely interested in their ancestral heritage.

Their European colonist roots may be lost in time with many people forced from Scotland during the Highland clearances. Adequate records may not have been kept, so the ability to find out their heritage via DNA test must be a very attractive prospect.

Many Americans see Scotland as their ancestral home, and therefore it holds a special place in their hearts... It can be a bit wearing, though, as everyone and their dog seems to be related to Robert the Bruce or Robert Burns!

The Scots are well-loved around the world

The Scots are great ambassadors for their country. At home or abroad we are generally a very cheery, optimistic bunch and love meeting new people. While the English flag or union flag can be associated with lager louts and rowdy football fans abroad, the Scottish Saltire is seen in a better light.

Surprisingly, the Scots got off so lightly in the eyes of the world, considering we were also part of the British Empire and pretty much exploited and enslaved half of the world. A hard fact to swallow, but it's true. Scotland played its role in this; our people were highly educated and perfect at running the logistics of this enormous empire.

Stromness in Orkney.
Stromness in the Orkney Islands.

The Scots have a positive image in fiction

Many Scottish characters in fiction are always portrayed in a very positive way:

  • Montgomery Scott from Star Trek - A dependable engineer, miracle worker and the source of comic relief in the films and TV shows.

  • Pippin from the Lord of the Rings trilogy - Not Scottish in the film, but Billy Boyd spoke with a Scottish accent and played a very Scottish role. Again a solid dependable character with humoristic traits.

  • Jamie Fraser - Played by Sam Heughan in the massively popular Outlander TV series, Jamie has many traits associated with Scottish men, trustworthy, generous, dependable, humorous (and easy on the eyes for the ladies!).

  • Shrek - Yes I know he is a green swamp ogre! But Shrek is most definitely Scottish and again has many Scottish traits.

  • James Bond - The quintessential super-spy known worldwide is Scottish!

  • Merida - From the Disney classic "Brave", she is a fantastic role model for women and extolls many Scottish virtues.

  • The movie "Local Hero" was a revelation to audiences worldwide and put Scotland on the map for many.

Scots are always the underdogs!

Being a small, less powerful country, we are often the underdogs, be it a history of being invaded by our nearest neighbours or our continual losses at football (soccer)... Scots have had a hard time with it!

When Scottish athletes win major events at the Olympics or other major sports, we are so proud as we are certainly punching above our weight class. Andrew Murray winning the Tennis at Wimbledon and Sir Chris Hoy winning six gold medals at the Olympic games are engrained on the Scottish psyche.

Comically, it's often tradition for Scottish people to always back any team playing against England... we were staying at Scandinavian Village in Aviemore last year when England lost the football, and the celebratory roar that came from the holiday park was deafening!

Chrismas at Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh.
Christmas in Edinburgh.

The benefits of moving to Scotland

Scots today have some of the strongest moral compasses you will find anywhere in the world. We have a strong sense of equality, fairness and social justice. Scotland leans more to the left on the political scale, and where possible, the Scottish government have spent money wisely on a variety of projects to help people, such as:

  • Free school meals in primary schools (soon to be rolled out in secondaries too).

  • Free education for every citizen, including college and university fees (three years residency required) and only for age 25 or under.

  • Free bursary's/grants for some roles ie Nursing.

  • Free prescriptions for medicines that are available on the NHS.

  • Free care for anyone over 65 who needs it.

  • Mitigation of Westminster (UK Government) taxes, ie the Bedroom tax.

  • A much lower population level. The city of London has more people than all of Scotland.

  • The cost of living can be 50% lower than in London.

  • Property prices are lower.

View from Calton Hill, Edinburgh.
View over Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

Scottish weather

Although the Scottish weather can get a bad reputation, the spring and summer months are lovely, and a surprise to many visitors how warm and temperate it can be. Sure, we do get a lot of rain, but we get a lot of nice weather too.

This makes Scotland an attractive place to move to as it is one of the most northerly countries with the mildest climate. Read more on my article, is Scotland cold?

Something to consider is light levels in Scotland. In the summer months, we bask in up to 18 hours of sunlight per day, but at the height of winter, only 7 hours. Winters can be depressing, waking in darkness and returning home in darkness after the workday.

Scotland is safe

Our geographical location on the world stage makes Scotland one of the safest places. We are far away from wars and unstable countries, and we do not suffer from extreme weather events such as hurricanes/cyclones/tornados or natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis.

The crime rate is also comparatively low, and homicide levels are among the lowest globally (five times lower than in the USA).

Tartans
Scottish food - Haggis, neeps and tatties!

Scottish Culture

Although Scotland is known for its bagpipes, tartans and highland cows, Scotland has its own unique culture, including music, art, language (Gaelic and Scots), food and drink and a distinct law system separate from the wider UK. Burns night and Hogmanay (new years celebrations) are a couple of the most celebrated events on the Scottish calendar.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world. It is held each summer in central Edinburgh along the Royal Mile up to Edinburgh Castle, which is home to the fantastic Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Scottish culture is a big draw to tourists as well as prospective new Scots.

Tartans
Selection of Scottish tartans.

World-class universities

Scotland has a great education system and boasts more world-class universities per capita than any other country. Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews all rank within the QS World University Rankings and cements Scotland's position as a significant seat of learning in the world.

Let's not forget that many of the most important inventions of the last 300 years were developed in Scotland by Scottish inventors. Televisions, telephones, antibiotics, animal cloning, MRI scanners, and refrigerators are just a few of the world-changing technologies developed in Scotland. Today Scotland leads the way in renewable energy production methods and is pioneering tidal wave turbines to generate free electricity.

So how do I move to Scotland?

Do you like what you hear above? How can you legally move to Scotland? A visa application is the first step in this long process if you come from outside the United Kingdom.

What is a visa?

To live in Scotland for any meaningful length of time, you will require a visa, which is an extension of your passport that grants the applicant official consent to enter, stay or leave a country for a defined time period.

There are different types of visas available:

  • Student visa - granted for those looking to study in the UK. Good to start with, but your status will change if you drop out of your course or graduate, so it isn't ideal for a long term stay.

  • Spousal visa - If you are married to a British citizen, you can apply for a spousal visa.

  • Work visa - If you have an employer in the UK willing to sponsor you, you can apply for a work visa. However, this job must be on the "Skilled Worker visa: shortage occupations" list.

  • Ancestry visa - If you have one grandparent born in the UK, and if you are a citizen of a commonwealth country, for example, Canada, the ancestry visa can be a great option.

There is a handy wizard-style questionnaire on the UK Home Office website. This is the best way to find out what visa options are available to you, along with fees and further information. In addition to the visa fee, there is also an immigration health surcharge to cover any healthcare costs you may accrue while visiting Scotland/UK.

Visas must be applied for while you are still residing in your home country, and then you must wait until you receive a response.

Biometrics appointment

Next up, you will be required to attend a biometrics appointment to be photographed and your fingerprints recorded. Depending on the visa you are applying for, you may need to provide your birth certificate, marriage certificate, job sponsor information, etc.

Visa approval

After 3 to 12 weeks, you should receive a response on your visa application. If you need to have your application looked at sooner, you can pay an additional fee for this process to be expedited.

Biometric Residence Permit (BRP)

If all goes well, your visa should be approved, and you will be issued with a Biometric Residence Permit that will detail your visa information and duration validity.

Unfortunately, if your visa application is refused, you will not receive your application fee back, but you will be refunded for the immigration health surcharge. You will receive details on why your application was declined.

Check your BRP and see if a national insurance number is printed on it. If not you will have to apply for one as most employers will need it to be able to give you a job.

Arthur's Seat
View of Edinburgh and Arthur's Seat.

Scottish citizenship

Achieving citizenship depends on the type of visa you currently have while staying in the UK. It's well worth pursuing, though, as you will be able to stay in Scotland permanently and will no longer have to continually apply for visas. And, of course, you get the kudos of saying you are "a real Scot" now too!

As Scotland still exists within the United Kingdom framework, and immigration is not devolved to the Scottish Government, you can apply to the UK Government to become a British citizen. A great deal of information is available on British citizenship on the UK Government website.

Are there any unseen costs to living in Scotland?

If you are coming from a country like America, there are some costs you may not expect.

  • Value-added tax (VAT) - everything for sale in Scotland, such as goods and services, is subject to a sales tax of 20%. Most items will be at 20%, but some items such as children's car seats can be 5%, and food and children's clothes at 0%. Costs are typically factored into the price displayed, so you do not need to calculate this yourself.

  • American taxes - You will still have to pay American taxes and UK taxes. So if you earn over $100,000, you must declare your earnings to the IRS; the only way to stop paying this tax is to renounce your American citizenship. If you are not from America there may still be taxes due to your country of origin.

  • TV license - All households must pay for a TV license at a rate of £159 per year, but only if they watch live TV. If you only watch on-demand services such as Netflix, you do not have to hold a license; just make sure to detune your TV from live channels.

  • Council tax - Each home must pay tax to the local council for garbage collection, school system, libraries, police and fire services, general city maintenance, transport maintenance and administration of births and deaths. Each home has a different council tax band and will pay a different rate for each band, A being the cheapest and H the most expensive.

Moray coast
Section of the Moray Coast in north east Scotland.

Where are the best job prospects in Scotland?

The central belt with the highest concentrations of people would have the best job prospects. Major cities like Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh or the suburban commuter towns near them would give the best jobs. The city centre might be a big draw for employment opportunities, but the cost of living will be higher.

The most prominent industries include:

  • Agriculture and forestry - vast swathes of Scotland are used for farming and the cultivation of forests for use in the construction industry.

  • Fishing - The waters around Scotland are very rich in marine life, with many varieties being caught for human consumption. Herring, cod, haddock, crab, and lobster are landed at Peterhead, one of the largest white fish ports in Europe.

  • Oil and gas - After oil was discovered in the North sea during the 1960s, the 1970s became a golden age for oil extraction and offered many high paying jobs to those in the northeast of Scotland.

  • Renewable energy - Scotland leads the world in renewable energy. Many onshore and offshore wind farms provide almost 100% of Scotland's electricity needs.

  • Whisky - As the largest Whisky producer in the world, there are many job opportunities available here. Diageo is one of the biggest employers in this field.

Driving in Scotland

Please see my dedicated guide to driving in Scotland, where I write about driving rules, licenses, and hiring cars in the UK, like Glasgow, Belfast, Birmingham.

Stromness in Orkney.
The A95, a lovely stretch of road.

Moving to Scotland FAQs

Here are a few of the most popular questions when moving to Scotland.

Can I just move to Scotland?

If you are a UK citizen, you can permanently move to Scotland. If you come from a country outside of the United Kingdom things get a little more complicated; read above for more information.

Can a UK citizen move to Scotland?

Yes. If you are currently a UK citizen you can relocate to Scotland without requiring you to fill out any special paperwork or meet any predefined requirements. However, as Scotland is still part of the UK and has no devolved powers for immigration, the UK government retains complete control. There are no special rules when moving to Scotland from England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Looking for help moving? Why not check out man and van Edinburgh for some quotes?

Can I use the Scottish NHS (National Health Service)?

Provided you have paid the immigration health surcharge as part of your visa application and your visa grants more than six months' stay, you can use all NHS services for free.

NHS in Scotland, local services.
The Scottish NHS.

Is it worth moving from England to Scotland?

It depends on what you like, and why you want to move away from England. It is a different way of life in Scotland. Quality of life is rated higher in Scotland than in England, and education and the NHS are generally better.  My personal experience of ethnic minorities making a life for themselves here has been good. Average house prices in Scotland are much lower than in England too, you could sell a flat in London and easily afford a four bed house in Scotland.

Just keep in mind that the Scottish outlook on life is different. For example, if you don't believe in free education or free school meals for Scotland's children, it's annoying for you to move here and vote for it to be taken away.

Are the Scots anti English?

Not at all. You will always get a bad banana in the bunch on both sides of the border, but generally, Scots will welcome English people to live in Scotland with open arms.

I've been here for over 35 years, and I have seen minimal anti-English sentiment, even at school, English kids were not singled out for their accents or bullied in any way.

Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle, one of Scotland's finest castles.

Is the Scottish accent hard to understand?

Maybe for those not used to it, but I feel many foreigners are acclimatised to the accent through TV and film. Most Scots will tone it down a little if they think you don't understand them correctly. Be aware that there are many different accents in Scotland and it varies wildly depending on where you are, Glaswegian accents are wildly different to Edinburgh accents, and the east coast is different to the west coast. In my home county of Moray, there are even differences in accents between towns only a few miles away from each other.

Can I live on a Scottish island?

Yes, and some islands expressly seek more people to increase the population. There are even incentives to move with grants being offered (free money!) to start new businesses or build homes. Please see my guide, the best Scottish island to live on.

Tobermory. Scottish residents.
The village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.

Where is the best place to live in Scotland?

That's too hard a question to answer; it all depends on what you like personally. Do you want to live in cities, or do you prefer more rural locations? Do you like the coast or prefer the inland mountainous areas? Whatever your requirements, I think you will find somewhere in Scotland you will enjoy.

For me, the Dornoch/Embo area is a charming place to live in north Scotland. We have stayed at Grannie's Heilan' Hame Holiday Park many times and just fell in love with the area. Alternatively, the Aviemore/Kingussie area is equally as lovely and offers more in terms of forests, lochs, mountains, and fantastic touristy things like Highland Wildlife Park and one of Scotland's two national parks.

Edinburgh would be the one for me if I had to live in a city; with all the Scottish history intermixed with modern life, I would never be at a loss for something to see or do.

The Scottish islands also look absolutely idyllic, but more exploration is required before I can comment on that (coming soon!).

Garenin Blackhouse Village
Garenin Blackhouse Village (Na Gearrannan), Isle of Lewis, Scotland.

Scots going abroad!

If you're currently living in Scotland and looking to move abroad, before you apply for a work visa, you can save a bit of time and money by applying for a travel visa to visit your future destination. If your destination is somewhere in the US, you do not need to apply for a visa, which requires high fees and a trip to the embassy. You can apply for an ESTA instead, and head to the city you are considering moving to. With an ESTA, you can travel to the USA for two years as long as your passport is still valid, so if you want to relocate but aren’t sure where in the USA you aim to go, with an ESTA, you can make several trips to see which city suits you best. Although the ESTA is valid for 24 months, you can only stay in the USA for less than 90 days consecutively.

Or, if you have time before your move, you can even travel to the same city throughout different seasons, to make sure you can handle the winters, or make sure the summers are not too hot. An ESTA makes scoping out your potential new city much easier, which will ultimately make your move a lot less overwhelming.

Key information on moving to Scotland

  • Many people, especially Americans, are interested in moving to Scotland due to their ancestral connections.

  • Scottish people are generally seen as cheery and optimistic, and they are good ambassadors for their country. The Scottish flag is usually seen in a positive light.

  • Scottish characters in fiction, such as Montgomery Scott from Star Trek, are often portrayed in a positive and endearing manner, enhancing the image of Scotland globally.

  • Scotland is often seen as the underdog, particularly in the realm of sports. Notable sporting achievements, such as Andrew Murray winning at Wimbledon and Sir Chris Hoy winning six Olympic gold medals, are celebrated and remembered by the Scots.

  • The Scottish people are known for having strong moral compasses, with a focus on equality, fairness, and social justice.

  • Scottish citizens have many benefits, such as free education and free healthcare.

  • Scotland generally has great weather and isn't as cold as you would think.

  • Scotland can be dark within the winter months, with only 7 hours of daylight each day.

  • Scotland is one of the safest countries in the world in terms of crime and natural disasters.

  • Taxes include VAT, council tax, and the TV license.

Conclusion

Scotland is a lovely country, and I genuinely believe one of the safest places to live in the world with an excellent quality of life. So why not join us in building a better Scotland and moving here, be it for work, study or love? You would be very welcome.

Some of the photos here have kindly been provided by Alan Butterfield and John Luckwell.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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Comments:


Gem Collins
25th of May 2023 @ 13:58:24

Amazing article, my daughter and I are currently formulating a plan for moving from the South East of England to Glasgow (hopefully in the not too distant future). Although we currently live in the countryside, I felt the job opportunities would be better in a city and your article helped me confirm that. Fingers crossed we'll be seeing Scotland soon!

ChrisLBS
22nd of May 2023 @ 07:49:44

Hi Sajida, Scotland actually isn't too cold in the grand scheme of things. The winters can be fairly cold but nothing like central Europe or Russia. I have another wee guide to Scottish weather here if you're interested. Generally, it will be colder the further north you go, but it can be milder in some areas, for example, Lossiemouth and Dornoch.

Sajida Shah
22nd of May 2023 @ 06:46:00

I love Scotland and have visited Edinburg, Glasgow, Inverness, Fort William, Oban and South Loch side. I'd love to live in Scotland, but I suffer from Arthritis, and cold weather is generally bad for me. I want to know the hottest regions of Scotland to consider moving.

ChrisLBS
4th of March 2023 @ 18:51:10

Hi Cathy, I once knew a couple who moved from Durban to Scotland. He was an engineer but eventually went on to help run a caravan site with his wife. They seemed to love it in Scotland, and he was definitely over 60. I'd say go for it if you can find work.

Cathy
4th of March 2023 @ 18:09:57

My husband and i are both 60 year old South Africans. My husband can apply for a UK passport as his mother was born in the UK. Are there job opportunities in Scotland for people our age? We both hold university degrees. I'd love to live in Scotland, i just don't know if, at our age, it is advisable/possible to emigrate?

ChrisLBS
18th of January 2023 @ 22:10:22

That's awesome Joanna; I hope the move is as stress-free as possible!

Joanna
18th of January 2023 @ 21:19:34

Hi! My partner and I are looking to move to Scotland from New Zealand with our 5 month old this year! He is Irish and went to university in Scotland, so really wants to go back. My parents are from England so I have a UK passport, but I've lived in New Zealand my whole life! How does one go about getting all the necessary things when you have a UK passport but have never lived there 😂 It was our "5 year plan" to move over (mostly because we were hoping Scotland would go Independent before we moved 🙈) But we are so excited to move it's gotten shorter and shorter until we said "to hell with it" and decided on this year 😂

ChrisLBS
3rd of January 2023 @ 01:07:44

Hi Sarah, That's great your starting a business in the Borders. As far as I understand it, your kids would only be able to claim free education if they have lived in Scotland for three years. It might be worth running it by SAAS and asking the question for your particular circumstances: https://www.saas.gov.uk/ Hope that helps

Sarah
3rd of January 2023 @ 00:58:58

Hi, I’m thinking of relocating to start a business in the Scottish Borders. I have two children who will remain in boarding school in England during term time (music scholarships). I’ve just heard that they may be eligible for lower/free fees at university in Scotland when they finish school. They will only live in Scotland in the holidays though for the five years running up to uni age. Would they be eligible? I’ve no idea what they will study or where their preferences lie right now but curious to know if Scottish university might be an option? Thank you 🙏🏻

ChrisLBS
18th of December 2022 @ 20:11:05

Hi Karen - just the same as in England, job centres, local ads in newspapers, and job websites like Indeed etc. You can also check websites for businesses you are interested in... for example, if you wanted to get into the whisky industry, you can check for vacancies on the Diageo website.

Karen
18th of December 2022 @ 19:54:04

Hi, what is the best method for finding a job if relocating from England please? Thanks

ChrisLBS
19th of October 2022 @ 20:19:10

Hi James, you make some good points there. I only have my personal experiences locally in terms of tolerance to ethnic minorities in Scotland. I will amend the article.

James Petrie
19th of October 2022 @ 20:09:58

You say that Scotland is more tolerant towards ethnic minorities than England. If you have lived in Scotland for 35 years how could you know this and what evidence do you have? England is far more culturally and racialy diverse than Scotland. And yes things are not perfect but generally everybody tries to get on with one another and most English people are friendly welcoming and tolerant with thriving multi cultural city environments.

ChrisLBS
17th of October 2022 @ 16:06:40

Hi Wendy, move here and help us build a new country. You would be very welcome.

Wendy Thompson
17th of October 2022 @ 14:03:33

Would prefer to be able to vote SNP and I live in South Yorkshire. Scotland has my heart.

anniezel
15th of October 2022 @ 13:52:49

Very informative article. Thank you for publishing this. I'm a nurse checking for best places to work and live in the UK. Scotland caught my attention because of all the things I've read here. I'm going to start my application very soon and will be bringing my family with me. See you Scotland!

Michelle
31st of August 2022 @ 23:28:29

Lovely article. Wished I'd moved in my 40s but now 70 and unable to do it. My soul places are the Hebrides and the Highlands xx

Christian
11th of July 2022 @ 14:20:56

What a great article!