Is the UK expensive to live in? This is potentially one of the most basic questions informing one’s decision to relocate to the country. If you are thinking of immigrating to Great Britain, you may be interested in learning about the average cost of living in UK countries. Ultimately, the average cost of living in the UK varies greatly within and across England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Read on for more detailed information about the average expense in UK countries, including average food costs, housing, and other prices for basic goods and services. 

Is the UK expensive to live in?

  • As a highly developed liberal democracy and welfare state, the UK is more expensive than many other countries in Asia, Africa, and South America. Ultimately, however, the average cost of living in UK countries is comparable to, and in some cases lower than, living costs in many other European states.
  • Thing to keep in mind when thinking about average expense in the UK (i.e. the average cost of living in UK countries):
  • The average rent cost (housing)  
  • The average food cost (grocery prices)
  • Transportation
  • Healthcare
  • Taxes

Food

  • One of the main components factoring into the average cost of living in UK countries is the price of food.
  • The average food cost varies across the UK, with prices highest in England, particularly in London.
  • The average food cost in London also varies. On the low end, the London School of Economics (LSE) estimates that students should budget £50-£300 per month on food.
  • For reference, a liter of milk in London costs £.91-this is a bit less expensive than Paris (€1.23) but more than Germany (€0.71).
  • The London price of £0.91 for a liter of milk is higher than the national average of £.59 across the UK, reflecting how grocery prices vary throughout the country and tend to be significantly lower outside urban centers.

Housing

  • When it comes to housing, is the UK expensive to live in? While the UK has a reputation for being expensive in this context, it is important to remember that, like food, rent costs and other types of housing in the UK vary greatly within and across England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland.
  • In general, England has the highest costs for housing, with the highest prices in urban centers. London, the capital, has the UK’s highest home and rental prices; the average home price is £484,000-almost double the national average.
  • The average rent cost in London is also high relative to other areas in England; £1425 per month vs. £700 for England generally.

Health

  • UK residents have free health care, which covers hospitalization, special surgery, and neo-natal care.
  • With some exceptions for youths and low-income earners, UK residents must pay for vision and dental care, and also cover the basic cost of prescriptions; £9.15 per medication (prescription costs in Wales are completely covered by the Welsh NHS). (Click here for more information on UK health costs).

Transportation

  • The UK has a well-funded public transportation system, which incorporates busses and light and heavy rail services. Taxis and ride-share companies are also active throughout the country.
  • The cost of travelling via London’s underground subway system is determined by zone (where/ how far you are travelling) as well as when (peak vs. off peak).
  • An adult travelling in the capital within Zone 1 (central London) could expect to pay around £2.20 for a one-way journey; an annual adult travel card for unlimited journeys within and across Zone 1 and Zone 2 costs £1444-or £120 a month.
  • London busses cost an average £1.50 for all journeys; bus riders will never spend more than £4.50 per day, no matter the distance or duration of their journey.

Taxes  

  • UK residents pay taxes on income, property, and a number of other assets and goods. These payments go toward funding the national health system and other public services.
  • The UK personal income tax rate ranges from 20%-45% for people making £12,500-£150,000, respectively. (Click here for more information on taxes in the UK).

Summary

So, is the UK expensive to live in? It depends on what you are comparing it to and where you want to live. There’s no denying that the average expense in the UK is high in comparison to many places around the world. However, relative to other Western European states, UK costs of living could be considered moderate or even low. When calculating costs, it is also important remember that the average cost of living in UK countries varies greatly between England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. While housing prices are high in London, prices are low outside of the capital throughout England, and even lower in urban centers across Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

If you still desire to live in London, you should be prepared to spend a significant portion of your income/savings on housing. However, living in the capital (and in English cities generally) has other financial advantages that must be taken into account, particularly in the realm of transportation. Residents of London and other cities can use the urban public transportation system rather than purchase a car and spend money on petrol, both significant expenses. Similarly, the higher average cost of living in UK countries must be weighed against the significant social security benefits inherent to residency; those living in the UK get free healthcare through the National Health System (NHS); an incalculable asset lacking in other Western developed countries like the United States. Additionally, the UK has a lower income tax rate and corporatization tax rate in comparison to many other European countries.

And if the average rent cost for the UK seems high, this is mainly because prices in London are so elevated as to inflate costs elsewhere. Therefore, when looking at rental and home price averages, it is important to remember that high pricing for urban areas, particularly within the capital, can obscure the depth and variety of the broader UK housing market as well as the average expense in UK countries.

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