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Living in the UK : How the UK rates as an expat destination

living in the UK

Living in the UK has a lot to offer expats, especially professionals. Let’s have a look at what expats report about living in the UK, including the benefits as well as the drawbacks.

Great Britain and Australia have a long history of shared culture and travel exchange. The flow of tourism between the two countries is huge and many Aussies are drawn to move to the UK for work or just for the adventure of living abroad. Britain has the unique advantage of a sharing a common language and culture with Australia, while also offering a European lifestyle. The isolated nature of the Australian continent means than many of us are keen to travel and life in the UK offers not only a vibrant society of its own, but also easy access for exploring the European continent.

Advantages of living in the UK:

Economy: London has been the financial capital of the world for most of its existence and economics are still one of the main draws attracting people to Britain from all over the world. Occupations in the financial sector are the most common for expats living in the UK, making it no surprise that the country ranks far higher among expats for finance than it does for other lifestyle factors. The UK ranks 16th among expat destinations for its economy, according to the HSBC 2016 Expat Explorer survey.  While the British pound isn’t as resilient as it has been in the past, it is still one of the strongest currencies in the world. Trade and financial services are at the heart of London and the UK, much of it with international implications.

Career Progress & Job Prospects: Expats have rated the UK as one of the top places worldwide to progress their careers. 62% of expats have said that the country is a good place to advance their career, beating out the average responses from expats across Europe and the rest of the world. Over a third of expats head over to the UK in order to improve their job prospects, while almost three-quarters agree that the move has increased their career prospects for when they eventually return to their home countries.

Entrepreneurship: The UK is a vibrant business hub that appreciates innovative ideas and business practices. Almost two thirds of entrepreneurs in London report a more positive attitude toward such enterprises compared to their home countries.

Working culture: Professional expectations and cultures differ between countries, cities and companies. The UK workplace is generally considered to be polite and restrained, with outbursts of emotion a rare occurrence.  Hints and indirect statements are used instead of outright objections or refusals, so as to avoid being perceived as impolite. Nevertheless, the work atmosphere is friendly, with humour often used and colleagues addressing each other by their first names. Things are generally done ‘by the book,’ with business gifts and similar practices frowned upon. 60% of expats in London praise the local working culture, compared to an average response of 45% globally.

Tolerance & Integration: The UK rates extremely highly among expats for its tolerant attitude toward people from a wide range of backgrounds. Britain itself is home to scores of different regional identities and cultures, not to mention people of a wide range of ethnicities originating abroad. Generally speaking, Brits are welcoming and friendly to almost any type of person. The country also rates above average for expat integration. While 2017 has seen the Brexit vote and a general decline in the perception that Britain is welcoming to foreigners, it seems unlikely that one political decision could drastically change an entire country’s culture. Despite rating highly for tolerance, expats do report it taking a long time to settle in, with only 29% feeling at home within the first six months. Aussies are likely to find this easier than many, given the close cultural and historical ties

Culture: With a history dating back to the Stone Age, Britain has had plenty of time to develop a lively and dynamic culture of its own, and many Commonwealth expats are attracted by the ‘home away from home’ feel of living in the UK. After career progression, culture is the part of British life most praised by expats. Almost three quarters of expats say they enjoy immersing themselves in the local culture, with the city of Bristol having a particularly high number of enthusiastic participators.

Healthcare: Home to the world’s first socialized healthcare system, the UK’s Healthcare system (NHS) provides high quality healthcare free at the point of use to citizens and travelers alike. Depending on your work and visa situation, it may be necessary to pay a bill after receiving your treatment, but unlike some other expat destinations, need not fear that you will be unable to receive treatment when needed. Australians are eligible for free NHS healthcare within 6 months of arrival in the UK, due to a reciprocal health agreement between the two countries. Otherwise, you may be required to pay an immigration healthcare surcharge as part of your visa application, which gives expats access to many of the same treatments as citizens. Strangely, while healthcare is highly rated by expats, health itself is not, possibly due to various lifestyle and diet options.

expats living in the UK

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Disadvantages of living in the UK:

Work-life balance: Unfortunately, exceptional career development comes at a price, and the work-life balance of expats living in the UK can really suffer. Less than half of expats across the country say that their work-life balance and quality of life in the UK is better than in their home countries. For some reason, Bristol and Leeds seem to be exceptions here, with 60% of expats in Bristol reporting an improved work-life balance and 52% of expats in Leeds enjoying a higher quality of life than in their home countries.

Social life and Family: Following on from work-life balance, the majority of expats struggle to maintain a social life or a close relationship with their partner. Measured against other expat destinations, the UK ranked 29th for family life, 37th for closeness with partner and a dismal 41st for social life.  Less than half of expats across the UK find it easy to make new friends, though Edinburgh seems to be a particularly sociable city with 57% of expats saying that they can make friends easily.

Cost of living: Depending on where you are living in the UK, the cost of living in the UK can be very high. Most expats gravitate toward the urban centres in the south, especially London, which is very expensive in terms of property rentals and cost of goods. Northern cities and towns are far more affordable, but offer fewer opportunities for career advancement. According to the 2017 Internations Expat Insider survey, only around a third of expats are satisfied with the cost of living, and 69% believe housing prices to be unaffordable.

expats living in the UK

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Britain: It is what you choose what to make it

A person’s experience of living in the UK is as unique as each and every individual. What really stands out among the statistics taken from expats living in the UK is that there are no extreme majorities; perspectives are often split down the middle, with only a third to a half of people giving the same answer to a question. There are few questions in which a large majority people agree, giving the impression that people are able to make their own lifestyle and priority choices. Someone travelling to the UK on a working holiday visa will have a completely different agenda from a professional working toward career goals, and this variety of opinion is expressed in the survey responses given.

Whatever your purpose in moving to the UK, the advantages and disadvantages listed above are just trends; Britain offers a wide variety of lifestyle choices, you just need to decide on your priorities for your time abroad.



About the author


Craig is an Australian Expat and the founder of The Australian Expat Investor. Craig is passionate about investing, and while Craig cannot give personal financial or tax advice, Craig enjoys sharing investing, tax, and other tips for Australian expats to help them to build their wealth while living abroad and get the most out of their time living overseas. Get his free ebook on 9 Financial Surprises That Could Cost Australian Expats Thousands of Dollars

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