A month ago, I shared that Colin and I have plans to move to the UK. But deciding where to live in the UK? That’s a whole other story!
Since that post, Colin and I have put together a tentative plan. Our goal is to move to the UK in late summer/early fall of 2019 on working holiday visas. Colin will be able to continue his work as an x-ray tech thanks to Globe Locums and I’ll still be working remotely as a freelancer. Our plan is to stay there for a year or two, experience a brand new city and travel throughout Europe as much as possible!
There’s a ton to do logistically. We have to apply for visas, get Colin certified with the UK health board, register with Globe Locums, find Colin a job, rent out our apartment here in Vancouver, make plans for Ellie, book our flights, find a place to live – and that’s all before we move! Once we move we have to get work numbers, set up cellphones, find a rental, open bank accounts, and so much more.
If you know me, you know I’ve already started on the research. I love researching and planning trips. It’s my favourite thing to do! For me, it makes the trip more fun because I can extend a week-long trip by spending the months before planning it. For example, we bought our tickets to Southeast Asia way back in March and we’re not even going until January 2019. But you better believe I’m having the best time looking up activities, booking hotels and doing lots of SE Asia research!
So I’ve already looked up the visa process, the process of bringing Ellie over to the UK (so difficult and expensive!) and UK weekend trips I can’t wait to take. But my biggest research project has been deciding where to live in the UK.
Am I way ahead of myself? Absolutely! We haven’t made a single concrete plan towards moving to the UK. And even if things work out the way we want, we won’t be moving there for about a year. So there’s really no reason for me to be researching where to live in the UK right now.
And yet, it’s my favourite thing to do! Anytime I want to procrastinate work, I’m doing UK city research. And it has gotten intensive. I’m breaking things down, watching videos on YouTube and even noting the amount of rain each city gets.
So let me walk you through my process, share our top contenders of where to live in the UK, and (hopefully!) get your advice. We’re UK newbies and would love some input!
Our criteria for where to live in the UK
So here’s what we’re looking for:
- good-sized city with amenities, shops, etc.
- walkable city centre
- hospitals in town (where Colin will work)
- to rent a furnished 1-2 bedroom in the city centre for less than £1000pcm
- good connections to other places in the UK
- proximity to an airport for international travel
- bonus points if the city is also cute with cool architecture, fun things to do, nice landscapes and good culture
Are we asking for too much? I don’t think so. Or at least, I hope not!
Researching where to live in the UK
We had no clue where to live in the UK when we started this whole thing. The only UK city I was really familiar with was London, which got axed pretty quickly because it would be too expensive. We’d end up living far away from the city centre and spending all our time on transit. I already feel like we live that life in Surrey commuting to Vancouver and I don’t want it in the UK. While London will always have my heart, it likely won’t be my home.
So my first step for deciding where to live in the UK was to take my question to the experts (aka Facebook). I posted our criteria on a few travel and digital nomad groups and got a huge list of cities to consider. Colin had also heard of some cities from colleagues at work and I had discovered some independently. I added all of the cities to a spreadsheet for further research.
Before I get into the spreadsheet, I’ll share a few other research avenues we’re taking. These might be a bit more fun (though what could be more fun than a travel spreadsheet?).
- During our trip to London this October, we’re spending a day heading out on the train to visit two of our contender cities. (Which ones? You’ll have to read on to find out!) Since we likely won’t have a chance to visit the UK again before we move there, this is our only time to potentially see a city we may move to.
- Reading expat blogs has been an awesome way to learn more about where to live in the UK and the experiences we might have there. If you know of any good ones, send them my way!
- Watching YouTube videos is a great way to see more of the cities. Granted, most videos are made for tourists or university students, but they still give us a better idea of what the city is like.
- Watching episodes of House Hunters International! I knew my obsession with House Hunters would pay off eventually. I managed to find a good number of episodes that were filmed in our contender cities and have loved thinking about where to live in the UK while also criticizing a couple for picking the wrong house on HHI.
How my city spreadsheet breaks down
It’s time for the spreadsheet! If you’re a travel nerd like me, you’re going to love this. And even if you’re not, I hope you’ll appreciate how well this spreadsheet helped me narrow down where to live in the UK.
So I listed all of the cities in column A and added the following categories in the next columns:
- distance on transit to closest airport
- number of hospitals
- amount of rain per year
- average annual weather
- distance to London by train (I told you London still has my heart)
- if the city is pet friendly
- rental options in the city
- feedback from Facebook
- my opinions
And, because I’m such an overachiever, I also did a separate spreadsheet with information on the airports of these cities. I looked at the airport size, budget airlines that flew from there, number of destinations, and number of destinations we could fly to roundtrip for under $100 CAD (thank you, Skyscanner).
To figure out the rental options and pet-friendliness of where to live in the UK, I turned to Zoopla. Zoopla is one of a few apartment finding websites in the UK. I really like the format of Zoopla; it’s incredibly user-friendly. It’s easy to search the map, set our budget and even see what the extras would cost us like water, energy and council tax (why is council tax a thing and why is it so expensive??).
Our top contenders
Our spreadsheet started with 23 options for where to live in the UK. With the research I did, I narrowed the 23 down to 12. Most cities got the axe because they were either too small, didn’t have enough rental options in our budget or were too far from a good airport. Here’s what we’re left with:
- Only 15 minutes on the train to Birmingham Airport with awesome budget airline options
- Lots of hospitals
- Lots of affordable rentals
- Central to the rest of England
- It seems to lack charm and character – someone told me it was boring
- It might be too big (population over 1 million)
- This was overwhelmingly the most popular choice for where to live in the UK when I asked the question on Facebook
- Not many affordable rentals in the city
- Looks like a cool city with pretty scenery
- Lots of affordable rentals
- The Cardiff Airport doesn’t have very many budget options
- Only 5 minute train ride to London Gatwick Airport!
- Good number of affordable rentals and many that are pet-friendly
- Seems like a small and sleepy town
- Only one major hospital
- Beautiful city
- Edinburgh Airport has great budget options
- Rentals are on the higher end of our budget so we may end up outside of the city centre
- Rentals are more affordable than Edinburgh
- But I’ve heard it’s not as pretty or nice as Edinburgh…
- Lots of affordable rentals; somewhat pet-friendly
- Seems like a good balance between cute and urban
- Good airport and hospitals
- Facebook says: diverse, friendly, good music scene, good train connections
- None, really! But is Leeds the best city?
- Lots of affordable rentals and a good number are pet-friendly
- Lots of hospitals and Liverpool Airport has tons of budget options
- On the coast
- Facebook says: friendly & vibrant
- Again, none that I can think of!
- Only 25 minutes to Manchester Airport with great budget options
- Lots of rental options; somewhat pet-friendly
- Seems like there’s lots to do and a cool culture to the city (or so says Facebook)
- Lots of rentals but they are on the higher side of our budget
- Extremely affordable rentals; somewhat pet-friendly
- Lots of hospitals
- On the coast
- Newcastle Airport doesn’t have many budget options
- Farther north
- Lots of affordable rentals
- Enough hospitals
- Robin Hood
- Possibly too small a city
- Lots of very affordable rentals
- Supposed to be a beautiful city to live/work
- Far away from good airports
Help us decide where to live in the UK!
In October, we’re doing a day trip to visit Manchester and Liverpool. But besides those two, we haven’t stepped foot in any of these other cities.
If I had to, I could probably cut a few more off of this list. It would hurt but it’s probably best to say goodbye to Birmingham (too big), Bristol (not enough rentals), Cardiff (bad airport), Crawley (too small), Newcastle (bad airport) and Sheffield (bad airport). Can you tell that travel is a big deal since I’m cutting cities based on airports alone?
Which leaves us with six:
We might price ourselves out of Edinburgh, but it’s too pretty for me to cut from the list just yet!
Clearly, we need help! Can you help us decide where to live in the UK? If you have any advice, tips, suggestions or input, we are all ears!
With so many options for where to live in the UK,
where would you go?