Cost of living in the UK: Your guide

Zorica Lončar
18.08.21
8 minute read

The United Kingdom hosts large numbers of expats - some of whom arrive for just a short time, 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. 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 to the cost of living in the UK.

move-and-manage-your-money

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 at the time of writing, compared to a few major currencies:¹

  • 1000 GBP = 1376 USD
  • 1000 GBP = 1738 CAD
  • 1000 GBP = 1173 EUR
  • 1000 GBP = 1892 AUD

Additionally, you might find the following chart helpful. It compares some of the basic costs (in GBP) all across the UK as well as three major countries. This should give you an idea of general pricing for day to day expenses.

Comparing basic cost of living1 bedroom flat in city centre (monthly rent)Meal for 2 (mid- range restaurant, three courses)Transportation (monthly pass)
London, UK²£1,662£60£158
Manchester, UK³£849£60£71
Edinburgh, UK⁴£828£60£57
New York City, USA⁵£2,321£73£95
Sydney, Australia⁶£1,422£54£116
Toronto, Canada⁷£1,121£46£90

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.

Wise can help

To get the best deal, it's a good idea to consider using an exchange service like Wise, which applies the same real mid-market exchange rate you’ll find online through Google. Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can avoid all those high bank fees and currency conversion costs.

With a quick service, and low fees to transfer your funds, this can be a much better deal than relying on your home bank. Not to mention having the possibility to manage over 50 different currencies from the same account.

Join Wise today

What are the general living expenses for the UK?

cost-of-living-in-the-uk-general-expenses

As the UK’s capital, and a global financial hub, London is one of the most expensive places to live on the planet. It’s certainly the most expensive city in the UK.⁸

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.⁹ 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 London (excluding rent)²Average cost
Single person, per month£859
Single person, per year£10,308
4 person family, per month£3,041
4 person family, per year£36,492
Living expenses in Manchester (excluding rent)³Average cost
Single person, per month£691
Single person, per year£8,292
4 person family, per month£2,413
4 person family, per year£28,956
Living expenses in Edinburgh (excluding rent)⁴Average cost
Single person, per month£684
Single person, per year£8,208
4 person family, per month£2,413
4 person family, per year£28,956
Living expenses in Cardiff (excluding rent)¹⁰Average cost
Single person, per month£662
Single person, per year£7,944
4 person family, per month£2,195
4 person family, per year£26,340

What are the average salaries in the UK?

According to the latest OECD data, salaries in the UK are above average and they rank at number 15 out of 36 countries. However, 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.

Here are some professions and average salaries for those positions. The data below is for average salaries in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff:

Salary averages in London¹¹Average annual salary
Cashier£15,483
Copywriter£34,113
Financial analyst£40,042
Graphic designer£26,738
Mobile developer£41,431
Product manager£46,063
Receptionist£17,553
Software engineer£42,925
Teacher£25,539
Web developer£32,664
Salary averages in Edinburgh¹²Average annual salary
Cashier£14,387
Copywriter£23,876
Financial analyst£41,086
Graphic designer£21,433
Mobile developer£32,709
Product manager£52,448
Receptionist£14,865
Software engineer£29,078
Teacher£23,356
Web developer£26,423
Salary averages in Cardiff¹³Average annual salary
Cashier£12,057
Copywriter£23,052
Financial analyst£24,114
Graphic designer£23,979
Mobile developer£26,167
Product manager£36,941
Receptionist£15,339
Software engineer£32,540
Teacher£20,300
Web developer£19,883

How expensive is housing and accommodation in the UK?

cost-of-living-in-the-uk-renting

There’s a shortage of affordable housing in many places in the UK. This is especially visible in the densely populated South East and East, as well as London, where rental prices are particularly high. On average, the cheapest region is the North East.¹⁴

Here are some average monthly rent prices in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Cardiff;

Renting in London²Average monthly cost
One bedroom apartment (city centre)£1,662
One bedroom apartment (outside of city centre)£1,272
Three bedroom apartment (city centre)£3,188
Three bedroom apartment (outside of city centre)£2,081
Internet£32
Utilities (gas, electric and water for a 85m2 apartment)£171
Renting in Manchester³Average monthly cost
One bedroom apartment (city centre)£849
One bedroom apartment (outside of city centre)£569
Three bedroom apartment (city centre)£1,469
Three bedroom apartment (outside of city centre)£935
Internet£31
Utilities (gas, electric and water for a 85m2 apartment)£161
Renting in Edinburgh⁴Average monthly cost
One bedroom apartment (city centre)£828
One bedroom apartment (outside of city centre)£664
Three bedroom apartment (city centre)£1,557
Three bedroom apartment (outside of city centre)£1,193
Internet£30
Utilities (gas, electric and water for a 85m2 apartment)£143
Renting in Cardiff¹⁰Average monthly cost
One bedroom apartment (city centre)£650
One bedroom apartment (outside of city centre)£483
Three bedroom apartment (city centre)£1,102
Three bedroom apartment (outside of city centre)£818
Internet£32
Utilities (gas, electric and water for a 85m2 apartment)£235

What about healthcare and dental costs in the UK?

One of the perks of living in the UK is the free, publicly funded healthcare system. The National Health System or the NHS also has a Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales branch. All UK residents can receive free care, which means expats can enjoy the benefits all other residents have.¹⁵

The UK has a healthcare system which has always been rated as very good by various surveys and rankings. A recent report by the Commonwealth Fund considers UK healthcare to be the 4th best in the world. However, in the Commonwealth Fund’s previous report, the NHS occupied the number one spot among 11 rich countries.

Having private health insurance can mean you get access to services quicker than you might through the public system. Although a relatively small percentage of British people pay for private insurance, it sure does bring a lot more comfort.¹⁵ Some prominent private insurance companies in the UK are Aviva, AXA Health, Bupa and Cigna, to name a few.

Although healthcare in the UK is free, there are some things you need to pay for.

Here are some average charges you can expect for healthcare services:

Healthcare serviceAverage cost to you
Dental charges¹⁶£23.80 - £282.80
Prescription charges¹⁷£9.35
3-month PPC (prescription prepayment certificate)¹⁷£30.25
12-month PPC¹⁷£108.1

The PPC is a good option if you have a lot of prescriptions. No matter what option you choose - the 3-month or the 12-month one - all your prescriptions will be covered, including the dental ones. The NHS compares it to a season ticket, which is essentially what it is.¹⁸

How much does travel and transportation cost 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.

Here are some average prices for bus tickets, cars and everything transport related. The prices listed below are London prices

Transportation and vehicle prices for LondonAverage cost
Fuel (1 litre / 0.25 gallon)£1.22
Monthly bus/transport pass£158
Bus ticket, single use£2.80
Taxi start (normal tariff)£3
Taxi tariff, 1km (normal tariff)£1.7
Toyota Corolla, new£23,013
VW Golf, new£23,018

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).¹⁹

Studying at university level is more expensive if you’re from outside of the UK. Before Brexit, EU students paid the so-called “home status fee”, same as UK nationals. Now, only UK nationals can enjoy the lower costs, while the rest pay the “international fee”.²⁰They are significantly higher.

Here are some average education costs in the UK:

SchoolAverage cost
Preschool / kindergarten in London (annual fee)²¹£7,160
Private school (annual)²²£15,250
University tuition (University College London, international students)²⁰Annual tuition fees of £23,750 to £40,600 depending on the course
University tuition (University of Manchester, international students)²³Annual tuition fees of £19,500 to £46,000 depending on the course
University tuition (University of South Wales, international students)²⁴Annual tuition fees of £13,500 to £14,500 depending on the course (with £1,500-£2,500 scholarships available)

Cost of living in the UK for international students

cost-of-living-in-the-uk-for-international-students

So, tuition fees for international students are much pricier than those for UK nationals. This means that the cost of living in general is much higher and harder to afford. On average, if you’re an international student, you’ll pay up to £7,000/year more than others. The home fee is sometimes even 3 times lower than the international fee.²⁰

Also, keep in mind that the £9,250 limit we mentioned before only applies to UK nationals. Starting August 2021, everyone besides them will be excluded from these benefits. This means higher tuition fees, so keep an eye on any updates.²⁵

If you’re studying at a private university though, there probably won’t be a difference between you and UK students. Some of them are as affordable as public ones, while certain have fees around or over £30,000 per year.²⁰

How much money do you need to live comfortably in the UK?

The amount of money you need each month to be able to say that you’re living well depends on your location. More expensive cities, such as London, require a larger income in order for you to have a good life. However, keep in mind that this particular amount also entirely depends on your personal standards. Everyone is different and defining what living a comfortable life means is very subjective.

Having that in mind, it’s still possible to do some number crunching. Because of a tool called the Minimum Income Calculator, we now know that a couple in the UK can live comfortably on £27,340 per year. To put this into perspective, that’s just over £480 a week. However, a single person should be pretty satisfied with £20,383 a year.²⁶

Those who have children obviously need more money, since they have larger expenses. So, a couple with a one year old can maintain a comfortable lifestyle with £49,714 annually. Due to the very steep costs of childcare, living comfortably with older children requires a lot less income. For example, a couple with a child of primary school age should be happy with around £31,902 a year.²⁶

No matter how much you earn, get the most out of your money by using Wise’s multi-currency account. It will allow you to send and receive money worldwide and manage over 50 currencies. Also, the Wise debit card ensures easy, contactless payments.

Join Wise today

All in all, 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!

Sources:

  1. Wise - currency converter
  2. Numbeo - cost of living in London
  3. Numbeo - cost of living in Manchester
  4. Numbeo - cost of living in Edinburgh
  5. Numbeo - cost of living in New York
  6. Numbeo - cost of living in Sydney
  7. Numbeo - cost of living in Toronto
  8. Thrillist - most expensive cities in the world 2021
  9. Numbeo - cost of living in United Kingdom
  10. Numbeo - cost of living in Cardiff
  11. Teleport - salaries in London
  12. Teleport - salaries in Edinburgh
  13. Teleport - salaries in Cardiff
  14. HomeLet - rental index
  15. Expatica - healthcare in the UK
  16. NHS - dental charges
  17. NHS - prescription charges
  18. NHS - prescription prepayment certificate
  19. BBC - University tuition fees frozen at £9,250 for a year
  20. Masters portal - tuition fees and living costs in the UK in 2021
  21. Day nurseries - childcare costs
  22. The National News - UK private school fees
  23. University of Manchester - fees for international students
  24. University of South Wales - international fees and funding
  25. Masters portal - tuition changes after Brexit
  26. Express.co.uk - How much do you need to live comfortably in the UK

*All sources checked on August 18, 2021


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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