Cost of living in the UK: Your guide

TransferWise content team
27.09.17
5 minute read

The United Kingdom hosts large numbers of expats - some of whom arrive for just a short while, while others choose to make Britain their permanent home. Many of them choose a life in the capital, London, where it’s quite expensive, but you'll also find the highest paid jobs here.

If you're working on a tighter budget, you can get a lot more for your money in one of the major regional cities, or a smaller town. And don’t forget, there’s more to the United Kingdom than England. Consider Cardiff in Wales, Glasgow or Edinburgh in Scotland, or Belfast in Northern Ireland, for example. Wherever you're headed, and no matter whether you’re retiring, temporarily relocating or moving to the UK for good, it’s helpful to have a picture of what life there will cost as an expat. Here’s a quick guide.

How expensive is the UK in comparison to the EU, the USA and Australia?

The official currency in the UK is the pound (GBP or £ on currency exchanges). It's also sometimes referred to as sterling.

You can find out the exact value of your money in GBP, using an online currency converter - but here’s a rough guide:

  • $1000 = £774
  • A$1000 = £588
  • €1000 = £877
Comparing basic cost of living 1 bedroom flat in city centre (monthly rent) Lunch for 2 (3 courses, mid range restaurant) Transportation (monthly pass)
London, UK £1,686 £55 £132
Manchester, UK £709 £50 £51.50
New York City, USA £2,323 £58 £92
Sydney, Australia £1,538 £47 £94

One major factor that adds expense for expats in the UK, is the cost of converting cash to sterling from your home currency. Even if your bank says it offers fee-free money exchange, you can be sure that they are taking their piece in the exchange rate they use. To get the best deal, you should use an exchange service like TransferWise, which applies the same real mid-market exchange rate you’ll find on online through Google. With a quick service, and low fees to transfer your funds, this can be a much better deal than relying on your home bank.

What are the general living expenses for the UK? How much can you get by on?

As the UK’s capital, and a global financial hub, London is one of the most expensive places to live on the planet. Rents, in particular, push up overall spending - but day to day expenses tend to be higher too. Choose another city, such as Glasgow, Cardiff, Manchester or Birmingham, to live more cheaply. Life in a smaller town or village typically comes with a much smaller price tag than can be found in the large cities.

Living expenses in the UK (excluding rent) London average cost Manchester average cost
Single person, per month £756 £596
Single person, per year £9,072 £7,152
University student, per month £557 £433
4 person family, per month £2,717 £2,108
4 person family, per year £32,604 £25,296

What are the average salaries for the UK?

Salaries in the UK in general are above average - but your earning power will vary a lot depending on where in the country you live. Typically salaries decrease significantly as soon as you move away from the capital and the South East of the UK. The data below is for average salaries in London.

Salary averages for the UK Average annual salary
Cashier £15,465
Copywriter £26,109
Financial analyst £39,995
Graphic designer £26,707
Mobile developer £41,918
Product manager £46,009
Receptionist £17,532
Software engineer £42,875
Teacher £25,509
Web developer £32,664

How expensive is housing and accommodation in the UK?

There’s a shortage of affordable housing in many places in the UK. This is especially acute in the densely populated South East, and means that rental prices in London in particular are very high.

Renting in the UK Average monthly cost (London) Average monthly cost (Manchester)
One bedroom apartment (city centre) £1,686 £709
One bedroom apartment (outside of city centre) £1,180 £501
Three bedroom family home (city centre) £3,125 £1,180
Three bedroom family home (outside of city centre) £1,975 £795
Internet £24 £19
Utilities (gas, electric and water for a 85m2 apartment) £143 £129

What about healthcare and dental costs in the UK?

The UK has a health system which is rated as one of the best in the world. Care is free at the point of need for people considered to be ‘ordinarily’ resident in the UK. As an expat, however, you can turn to private facilities if you prefer. Having private health insurance can mean you get access to services quicker than you might through the public system.

Healthcare service Average cost to you
Family doctor check-up £68
Cold medicine for 6 days £3.81
Antibiotic prescription £8

How much is travel and transportation in the UK?

Travelling by car in the cities in the UK is often fairly slow, making public transportation a smart choice. The public transportation network in the large cities is extensive, but tickets can be pricey.

Transportation and vehicle prices for the UK Average cost
Gasoline (1 litre / 0.25 gallon) £1.19
Monthly bus/transport pass £132
Bus ticket, single use £2.50
Taxi tariff, 8km/5mile journey £19
Toyota Corolla, new £18,702
VW Golf, new £18,000

How much does education cost?

The UK has world class universities, and good schools. However, in some areas, finding a place at a local state school can be tricky, so some parents choose a private education instead. The cost of university study is set by the individual institution, with caps in place on the amount that can be charged for students from the UK and EU (currently £9,250 a year). Studying at university level is more expensive if you’re from outside of the EU.

School Average cost
Preschool / kindergarten (monthly fee) £1,039
Private school for lower grades (annual) £15250
University tuition (University College London, international students) Annual tuition fees of £16,340 to £32,670 depending on the course
University tuition (University of Manchester, international students) Annual tuition fees of £17,000 to £24,000 depending on the course

The cost of living in the UK, especially in London, is fairly high. However, the range of experiences on offer means that it's still a hugely popular destination, for a permanent move, or just to spend a year or two exploring somewhere new. If you’re flexible about the exact location you choose in the UK, you can have a great lifestyle without breaking the bank.

Good luck with your new life in the UK!

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