What Is the Cost of Living in the UK?    

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London Bridge and the Shard tower during a twilight sunset in London. The colors are yellow and warm, and the skyline shows the city lights on.

Many people love to visit the UK, and many relocate there permanently, although this has little to do with the cost of living in the UK. The quality of life in the UK, however, is quite high and the benefits ranging from tax credits to a growing economy make it a popular choice.

Immigration figures show that most relocating to the UK come for work or education, or are moving to rejoin family already living in the UK. Whether you are interested in coming to the UK for a long-term stay or to pursue full-blown citizenship, it is important to know how much you’ll be paying monthly.

As is the case in many developed countries, the cost of living in the UK is going to vary by region and by your chosen lifestyle.

Someone who opts to live in the bustling, capital city of London will have a measurably higher cost of living than someone who decides to enjoy a quiet life in a rural village.

Of course, the UK is not just England.

It is also Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, and in each area there are popular cities and large towns where prices are going to be higher than in the surrounding countryside.

Traditional British countryside village Hawkshead

While salaries are surprisingly high, they are so because of the higher cost of living in the UK as well as the higher taxes. With public healthcare and free schooling, earnings can see sizeable chunks going to the government, but in general most are happy to enjoy free health services and a good quality of life.

Tourism is a constant in all parts of the UK, and this can make some areas a bit more expensive, so be aware of the tourism “hot spots” when seeking accommodations and transportation options. English is the primary language, but there is great cultural diversity in the cities.

And though the UK is a member of the European Union, they have yet to adopt the Euro.

In all parts of the UK it is still the GBP or pound sterling that stands as currency. The UK current exchange rate is:

£1=$1.51

To make things as clear as possible, I’ll convert pricing to dollars.

As indicated, the cost of the living in the UK is lower in rural areas. But if you are planning on emigrating and pursuing citizenship, do take note that the once liberal immigration policies of the UK have been changing of late. Currently, it is people with special job skills who are in demand and find it easier to emigrate, especially engineering, healthcare, energy, and IT.

Accommodations

Regardless of your background and whether staying for a long term visit or permanently, most newly arrived to the UK feel a bit of culture shock. The difficult weather, the crowded urban areas, and the higher cost of living in the UK can prove challenging. Accommodations are also a bit of a shock to many as renting is quite expensive and ownership usually well outside of the average budget.

Accommodations in the UK: Colored doors and stairs leading to townhouses in a suburb of London.

However, the country’s transportation system makes it easier to find more affordable housing in rural areas. It is not unusual to find rooms for rent, roommates, hostels and less costly housing in smaller cities like Leeds, Manchester or Birmingham.

In general, London and its environs are extremely costly.

When renting, it is also important to remember that utilities are rarely included and that council taxes are added on (usually no more than $150 per month):

Hostel dorm bed in London — $22 per night

Hostel dorm bed in the rest of UK — $20 per night

Budget hotel in London — $110 per night

Budget hotel in the rest of UK — $105 per night

Medium-comfort hotel in London — $138 per night

Medium-comfort hotel in the rest of UK — $120 per night

Luxury hotel in London — $360per night

Luxury hotel in the rest of UK — $233 per night

The prices of hotels in the UK are known for being high,

and have increased by 9% in the last year!

This makes renting a much more reasonable option for a long-term stay. Though listings are found online and on sites like Craigslist, working with an agent may be an ideal way to find exactly what you need.

You can expect to pay the following for accommodations in the UK:

Studio apartment in London (modern) — $1200 per month

1 bedroom apartment in London — $2500 per month

1 bedroom apartment in the rest of UK — $1700 per month

3 bedroom apartment in London — $5200 per month

3 bedroom apartment in the rest of UK — $3000 per month

Obviously, life in London is going to nearly double your cost of living in the UK. Yes, there is amazing entertainment and you can walk almost anywhere, but food and other expenses can really hit hard.

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Instead, look for suburban areas or opt for smaller cities with many of the same features, like Edinburgh or Glasgow in Scotland, or Reading and Manchester in England.

Transportation

If there is one country in which vehicle ownership does not have to figure into the budget, it is the UK. A national network of trains that run like clockwork, excellent “coaches” (buses), and an excellent system of roadways makes it easy to get around.

Cycling and walking in urban areas is a good option as are the “tubes” and subways.

The cost of local public transportation is affordable with fare less than $4, taxis asking only $3.75 per mile, and monthly passes for public transport at $200. Definitely not as cheap as Mexico or Thailand, but remember that you’re making more money in the UK.

Street of London with many red buses and taxis at stop. The backdrop is of the beautiful Victorian buildings on this narrow street.

I learned that booking in advance, when going to visit family in London (from Manchester) helped reduce the train fare, and I also purchased a railcard for the discount. I also found that going from Manchester to Birmingham (for football matches) cost me less when booking in advance and using my Coach Card (I make that journey by bus as it is much cheaper). You will also find Megabus is a very popular and cheap travel option in the UK and across Europe.

Technology

Almost as soon as I arrived in the UK, I realized that the mobile phone is a part of life for everyone who lives there. There five main carriers: Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile, Orange and Three. Resellers include One Tel and Virgin. I was able to bring my own mobile, and elected to get a UK SIM. However, North Americans and Asians will have a CDMA phone which may be incompatible with the UK networks. However, local carriers provide affordable phones for locking into a plan.

The cost of internet and cell phone usage is as follows:

Prepaid mobile cell phone (international minute) — $0.22

Flat rate prepaid plan (includes 3Gigs/unlimited local call/SMS) — $37 per month

Broadband Internet — $12 per month

Cable TV – $12 per month

I was shocked at the affordability of Internet and television services in the UK. But their networks are so strong and fast that you are smart to purchase a bundle and/or just stream TV over your high-speed Internet. As a budget item, technology is an essential and affordable part of the cost of living in the UK.

Food & Drink

My average weekly grocery bill was around $90, and food and drink tends to be a hefty part of your cost of living in the UK. As an island nation, some foods are imported, though the UK is still great at producing a great deal of its own food.

Fish and Chips wrapped in a newspaper. This popular and cheap British snack keeps your cost of living in the UK down.







Opting to cook for yourself is the wisest course of action as restaurants (with the exceptions of pubs) can be very pricey.

Here’s what you can expect to pay for food and drink in the UK:

Chicken breasts (1lb) — $5

Bottle of red table wine — $11

Takeaway gourmet coffee — $4

Lunch in a café (per person) — $18

Fast food meal — $8

Pub dinner, including alcohol (1 person) – $15

Fancier restaurant dinner, including alcohol (1 person) – $40

If you are in a city, don’t overlook the many markets and the different ethnic foods that are quite affordable. Going out for a quick curry is a lot less expensive than a pub meal or even a fast food meal if you limit yourself to a single dish. You can also buy many of the ingredients and make exotic foods at home.

Entertainment

People in the UK love sports and watch them all of the time on TV or as spectators in stadiums. You will find this a common form of entertainment, and my first experience of a football match in a pub was unforgettable! This means entertainment can be very affordable and cost you the price of a few lagers.

However, other forms of entertainment, and their prices, include:

Movie ticket — $18

London Theater ticket — $25

Concert ticket — $10

Admission to the London Eye — $55

Tennis court rental (per hour) — $17

One pint of beer in a bar or pub — $4-5

You will find that local entertainment is often free, such as festivals and local celebrations. Cricket matches are a great experience, and outdoor trails and public gardens are wonderful part of life in the UK.

Beautiful young woman wearing a short dress at a beach in the UK. The photo is defocused and the girl, her back to us, is in focus. The beach looks crowded.

And don’t forget the UK has some great beaches and surf spots!

Other

As you will learn when you travel, there are often unexpected “one off” costs that you didn’t calculate into the budget. Don’t forget them when estimating your cost of living in the UK as some are surprisingly high. For example:

Pair of jeans (Levis or similar brand) — $92

Sneakers (Nike or Adidas) — $97

Standard haircut (salon, not barber) — $75

Barber haircut — $15-20

Gym membership (per month) — $72

Again, the cost of living in UK is much more manageable if you choose to live somewhere outside of London. Commuting is easy and relatively affordable and can allow you the financial freedom to experience more of the country.

Cost of Living in the UK–Grand Total

The total cost of living in UK can only be estimated as factors like location, family size, and lifestyle all play a part in the totals. A good set of rough estimates includes:

Accommodations — $1,200+ (nice little studio)

Food and drink — $360

Technology — $40 (phone + cable TV)

Entertainment — $100

Transportation — $200

Other costs — $150

Grand Total–$2,050

Of course, you can cut a huge amount right off the top by finding a flat to share or a small room and bath to let. This would give you a tremendous discount, but keep in mind that you may not like the “house rules” that often come with such situations. It can be a good way to test an area to see if it is to your liking.

A typical street side pub in London, UK. Several people stand outside, talking. The pub is called "The White Lion".

The cost of living in the UK is quite high, but it is not so high as to be unrealistic. After all, citizens enjoy amazing benefits and have access to some of the best transportation options available.

Unlike places like Vietnam or Mexico, where you could easily live on a $1,000 or less, the UK is definitely a high-priced option in comparison.

But you can explore the UK easily and affordably while living there or choose to stick to the city and still enjoy a good standard of living if you find low-cost housing.

With its excellent job market and growing economy, the UK is an appealing place to many and is a truly multicultural land with a lot of opportunities.
 

Have you ever lived in the UK? What was your cost of living there like? What items did you find surprisingly more expensive, or cheaper, than back home?

 
 

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2 comments on “What Is the Cost of Living in the UK?    

  1. Good guide, though as a Brit I must point out one thing – nowhere can you get a pint in a pub for $2! I wish you could! $4.50 would be considered cheap and its normally up to $7.50 in London.

    Also studio apartments in London are not typically half the price of a one bedroom, there is usually just a few hundred pounds a month difference. My one bed in zone 2 in a decent area is $1800 and a studio would be around $1200 like you mentioned.
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