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Moving to a new country can be daunting…finding new friends, figuring out which items you like from the grocery store, hell, just finding a grocery store can be a challenge! You’ve uprooted yourself and plopped down into a whole new environment. Luckily, for an American expat in Scotland, the transition really actually isn’t that hard.
Getting your bearings after arriving in your new expat home can take time…so take your time. There is absolutely no need for you to have it all figured out the first week after you’ve landed.
Take it easy, wander your new neighborhood, explore local stores and shops, keep your eyes up, and take it all in. This is your new home. As a newbie, you’ll have endless things to discover, but you won’t unearth them all right away.
Read more: Lessons I’ve learned moving to new countries.
Visas for Moving to Scotland
If you’re an American hoping to move to Scotland, obviously your primary concern is your visa situation.
Americans are allowed to stay in the UK for up to six months within a 12 month period, with no visa required.
So if your plan is a temporary stay to check it out and decide if you like life here, then you’ll be fine on the tourist visa granted at the airport upon arrival.
You might be asked about your return flight if you declare on your immigration card that you’ll be staying the full six months.
I was asked, although all I said was the date of my return flight and no further proof was required.
You should have your booking confirmation handy though, just in case you need to show it.
And, don’t forget, you might not have internet access when you land in a foreign country! Take a screenshot of your pertinent emails or travel apps as needed.
If you’re hoping to study, work, or otherwise stay in Scotland for longer than six months, you will require a visa.
Be sure to investigate your own situation thoroughly to ensure a smooth arrival process.
As with most countries’ immigration policies, the rules can be difficult to grasp and will vary case by case.
Changing a visa status will have certain requirements, so be sure to check into that if you think you might stay to work after your student visa expires.
Certain visas can only be applied for inside or outside of the country – be vigilant in reviewing the details relevant to you!
Find out how I got my UK residency through marriage right here.
Daily Life in Scotland
Americans will find endless similarities between life back home and life in Scotland. They will also find countless differences.
It’s those small differences that will make your life so much more interesting!
Be sure to explore your new country as much as you can! Start with a weekend in Pitlochry.
Take note of the different flora and fauna.
Marvel at the old buildings and beautiful architecture. Roll your eyes alongside your
neighbors neighbours as the weather changes five times in an hour.
Life in Scotland will beguile your senses in the best possible ways.
You’ll notice familiar brands and labels for lots of food and clothing products…although you’ll notice little differences, like the fact that the store is called TK Maxx here.
You’ll find nearly everything you like from back home, with a few exceptions that might require you to do a little extra work to obtain them.
(The sourcing of acceptable canned pumpkin around Thanksgiving is a popular discussion topic on American expat forums!)
As with all expat homes, sometimes you just want that taste of home, so you’re willing to drive several hours or pay four times the normal price just to get it.
That’s okay, too. Moments of missing home and wanting something to feel familiar are normal for all expats!
Just remember that there are probably lots of local products that you’ll love as well. Don’t be afraid to give everything a try.
Read next: Living in Scotland Pros and Cons from a US Perspective
Luckily, throughout all these small changes you’ll face as an American expat in Scotland, language isn’t a huge issue.
I say “huge” because it clearly can cause some confusion, but you’re still – essentially – speaking the same language as locals. You’ll be fine.
Laugh about it when you get confused, ask questions when you don’t understand, and pretty soon you’ll be speaking in Scottish slang yourself!
Just make sure you know which words and phrases are appropriate depending on your setting and audience.
Top tip: You can learn about regional accents and slang by exploring your new expat home. Head west to the convenient (and incredible!) Isle of Arran.
Housing Insights for Americans in Scotland
Finding a place to rent from overseas is incredibly challenging, so if you’re able, try to book temporary accommodations to allow yourself time to look upon arrival.
We found that flats in Edinburgh move very quickly, so you could view several within a few days and be ready to move in immediately after.
You can start off in a B&B or home rental with access to a kitchen to get yourself settled. I recommend searching through booking.com:
More rural areas obviously offer fewer options, but you might have more luck finding available places in advance if you reach out to real estate companies in the area.
Another challenge you might face if you’re renting is your lack of local credit information.
Some rental companies (they’re called letting agencies here, by the way) will ask for six months’ rent paid up front if you have no local financial information.
If that poses too large a problem for you, you might be better off looking at a private rental. For that, head to the UK version of Craigslist: Gumtree.
I’ve heard from others moving to Edinburgh that it can happen though.
*2019 update: We did encounter this issue upon returning to Scotland after traveling and housesitting for a while. We are now renting through a local company and needed to pay 6 months’ rent up front! Guess I jinxed myself when I originally wrote this post…
Local bonus: Did you know Amazon has a warehouse in Fife? That means same-day delivery is available! It’s ideal for setting up your new home with all the appliances and furniture you might want.
Something I learned in my first flat in Scotland? An electric kettle is mandatory, but toaster ovens are harder to find.
Also: Slippers are a requirement for every home! Okay, your friends won’t require you to BYO slippers, but I have a pair at my in-laws’ house and 2 at home.
Just saying, you’ll want them!
Utilities in Scotland
Utilities proved to be much cheaper than I anticipated.
Our cell phone (ahem, our mobile) bill was only £10 each per month for unlimited texts, 150 minutes, and 1.5GB of data. With easy access to WiFi nearly everywhere, that’s plenty!
*2019 Update: We pay £16 per month total for our two mobile plans. For that, we get 5GB of data (combined), unlimited texts, and an unknown number of minutes. Phone calls are so rare that we’ve never maxed out on those!
We also aren’t bound by a contract, just a month-to-month payment plan.
Similarly, our home utilities have been much cheaper than expected, totaling less than £150 per month all included!
Just don’t forget to pay your council tax each month and to obtain your TV license, if you need one. Those do add extra costs that I haven’t had in other countries.
You can figure out your council tax rates by first identifying the band your property is in (bands are letters A-H).
Use this Scottish Assessor’s site to figure out the council tax band.
You will then visit the individual council website for the location. For example, this is the West Lothian Council website, where I can see the annual fees for each council tax band. Add that into your monthly costs.
Location searches throughout the UK are often started with the postcode (like a zip code), and then you narrow down the exact property from there. This will happen for everything from ordering pizza delivery to setting up your utilities!
Gas and electricity costs will vary based on your property and your personal lifestyle and usage, so I won’t venture to estimate those.
I will say, however, that electricity can sometimes be operated via USB!
We’ve had two flats with this system (so far). It functions like a debit account, so you “top-up” by adding money to the USB at your local vendor.
This can usually be done at local mini-marts like RS McColl’s, Spar, or other locally-owned shops.
The first time I saw this in a flat, the letting agent said “obviously you just top that up as needed” as she continued on her apartment tour.
Obviously, I had no clue what the heck I needed to do, when to “top up” whatever needed topping up, or where to do it! #ExpatLife
But, obviously, I did figure it out after much googling and asking anyone who would listen. You’re welcome in advance if you end up with one of these but now know how to handle it 😉
Want to know where else I’ve lived? Check out my expat timeline right here.
Life for an American Expat in Scotland
As an American expat in Scotland, adjusting to life here is fairly smooth and straightforward.
You will adore the friendliness of locals, you will gape in amazement at the scenery, and you will have myriad adventures to enjoy as you explore your new expat home.
You will find yourself immediately brought into the local fabric of the community here. The local butcher will get to know your name and your favorite orders.
The bartender at your local (you don’t need to specify your “local pub” or “local bar”…it’s just called your local) will get to know you and chat as you order your pint.
And it’s perfectly normal to chat with strangers on the bus or in the pub. Well, perfectly normal if they’re from an older generation.
The younger generation is often glued to a mobile (which you now know is a cell phone). That, unfortunately, is universal.
You’ll easily make friends with locals no matter which part of the country you move to. And you’ll quickly adapt to the cadence of life in Scotland.
You’ll lament the lack of sunshine with expats and locals alike, but you’ll learn to embrace every moment of summer warmth with BBQs in The Meadows and beer tents during festivals.
Ah, the festivals. You will soon learn that nowhere else does festivals quite like Edinburgh!
If you’re an American moving to Scotland, brace yourself to learn, to laugh, to drink too much, and to bundle up because those temperatures will never rise. You’d better just get used to them and get out there to explore!
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