An expat guide to living in Glasgow, Scotland
What is it like to live in Glasgow as an expat?
In this Expat Interview, Katie will share her expat life in Glasgow. She will discuss the cost of living in Glasgow, things to do in Glasgow, how to overcome culture shock, and more.
About Glasgow, Scotland
Despite not being the capital of Scotland, Glasgow is the country’s largest city.
Situated on the River Clyde, Glasgow is an old port city, with shipbuilding being the main industry historically.
Glasgow went through a significant period of industrial decline post-war before gradually improving in the 1980s.
In recent years, Glasgow’s modern and progressive arts and music scene juxtaposed against its old-world architecture and heritage have seen the city grow into a vibrant and alluring place.
Why did you choose to live in Glasgow?
I moved to Glasgow in March 2016.
I lived in Inverness the year prior when I’d made the big move from Australia to Scotland. Inverness was lovely but too small, and I craved life in a bigger city.
During my year in Inverness, I’d had a couple of weekend city breaks in both Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Edinburgh remained pretty and charming, but Glasgow, to me, just felt extremely comfortable and liveable.
Visits to Glasgow included seeing bands, eating at interesting restaurants, visiting quirky bars, and having lots of fun. With all of this on offer, I knew that I’d never get bored in Glasgow.
Procedure for moving to Glasgow
For me, moving to Glasgow was super easy, mainly because I had already made the big overseas move and was now making a smaller inter-city move.
I applied for jobs and searched for flats online, so when it came time to make a move, I had the luxury of having a job and a place to live already lined up.
Overcoming difficulties and culture shock in Scotland
While there are certainly cultural differences between Scotland and Australia, both are western, English-speaking countries, making amalgamation into a new city that little bit easier than moving to a country whose language is not your first.
Many cultural differences are minor things like food (the Scottish love their haggis, black pudding, and anything deep-fried).
Some words and sayings are unique to Scotland, and it can take a bit of time to understand what people are saying, particularly with the thick Glaswegian accent.
A friend from work bought me a mug with Scottish words and the English translations for my first Christmas here, I think partly as a joke, but it has come in very handy!
Is there any discrimination while living in Scotland?
I personally have not experienced any discrimination as a foreigner in my whole time here in Glasgow.
I am, however, a Caucasian female, and without speaking to me and hearing my Australian accent, you wouldn’t necessarily know that I was a foreigner.
In general, though, I have found Scottish people very friendly and accepting of people from all different places, and I would expect anyone who came here would be made to feel welcome.
The overall attitudes toward immigration in Scotland are less negative than in the rest of Britain, backed up by the fact Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU during the Brexit vote.
5. Cost of living in Glasgow Scotland
The cost of living in Glasgow is undoubtedly cheaper than some other large cities in the UK, like Edinburgh and London.
This applies to all the main essentials, such as accommodation, food, transport, and spending.
a) Accommodation in Glasgow
Accommodation prices vary depending on what you are looking for.
The most desirable areas to live in would be either the West End or the Southside.
West end is the pricier of the two. You could get a decent-sized room to rent in a shared flat in either location for around £350-£500, including bills.
The price for a one-bedroom flat in the area ranges from around £400-£700, and you would then need to pay council tax (around £100pcm) and bills on top of that.
There are cheaper places, but you tend to get what you pay for in terms of location and quality of the flat.
It is common for flats here to be rented out fully furnished, which is excellent and means you don’t need to worry about buying a ton of stuff.
b) Public transportation in Glasgow
Glasgow also has excellent public transport links, meaning it is by no means essential to have a car in this city.
Wherever you choose to live, I would recommend within a 5-10 minute walk of a train station or the subway would make getting around easy. Both go into the city center at regular intervals.
The subway ticket is £3.10 for a return, and the train price varies depending on location but is usually around £2.80/£2.00 return peak vs. off-peak if you are within about 3 miles of the city center.
Both travel options offer slight discounts if you travel regularly and buy a season pass.
c) Car-club in Glasgow
We are also a member of a car club here in Glasgow, which means if we fancy a drive out in the country, we can walk down the street and jump in a car, hiring it for as little as 30 minutes a time.
Co-Wheels, the car club we are members of, operates as a social enterprise and works to develop more sustainable car use across the UK.
Groceries are fairly reasonable to buy, mainly if you shop at the lower-cost supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi instead of the bigger stores like Tesco.
You could get away with spending around £25 a week on groceries if you shop wisely.
e) Eating out in Glasgow
Eating out in Glasgow is also reasonably affordable compared to other cities in the UK like Edinburgh and London.
There are quite a few restaurants where you can eat out with a main for around £8-12.
A pint of beer is around £3-5 and a glass of wine around £4-7.
There are websites such as 5pm.co.uk that offer daily deals for lots of restaurants around Glasgow and can be helpful if you want to enjoy a dinner out without breaking the bank.
Using these websites, you can often get dinner for two with wine for around £25-30.
6. What do you like about Glasgow?
There is so much to like about Glasgow!
There’s a saying that you’ll see in colorful graffiti paint in a few locations around the city that says People Make Glasgow.
And I have to agree. I think much of what I like about Glasgow is best described by that saying.
Glaswegians are friendly people. I know that gets said about many cities, but to be honest, I’ve not experienced the kind of genuine friendliness that you get in Glasgow anywhere else in the world that I’ve been.
Hospitality staffs are friendly, not because they want to get your post-brunch tip, but because they are generally good people who enjoy their work much more by having a little banter with their customers.
Having a city where the general population is like this certainly helped put me at ease and feel comfortable and at home straight away.
Apart from my favorite thing about Glasgow, the people, there is much to love about this city. Glasgow is full of art and culture accessible to everyone.
I also love that within not much more than an hour’s drive of the city. You can be on one of the beautiful west coast beaches, the misty, enchanting Glencoe Mountains, or the bonnie shores of Loch Lomond.
7. Is there anything that you don’t like about Glasgow?
Glasgow is ranked the third wettest city in the UK behind Cardiff and St Davids based on the volume of rainfall, but it actually has the highest number of days with rain with an average of 170 days per year.
I had to look that statistic up and am actually mildly surprised. If I’d had to guess how many days of rain Glasgow receives, I think I would have put the figure much higher at around 250-300!
However, it does mean when we get a day of lovely sunshine here, we embrace it like nowhere else. You’ll find people going ‘taps aff’ in all sorts of weird and wonderful places when it happens.
8. What are your favorite things to do in Glasgow?
One of my favorite things to do in Glasgow is visiting one of the many lovely parks. Glasgow is known as the Dear Green Place due to it having the highest percentage area of green spaces in a city in the UK.
While I love living in the city and being around things happening, I also have a real need to experience the outdoors and nature.
Two of my favorite parks within a short walk of where I live in the Southside of Glasgow are Pollok Country Park and Queens Park.
Queens Park is smaller and perfect for getting my outdoor fix, whether through a gentle stroll or a game of tennis (there are courts free to hire Glasgow residents).
You can also wander through the Glass House at the top of the hill, admiring weird and beautiful animals in the reptile park if you need to escape the weather for a while.
My favorite thing to do in Queens Park, though, is to be spent on one of those rare sunny Glasgow days: a picnic on the grassy hills looking out at the views over Glasgow city and onto the Campsie hills in the distance. Perfection!
9. Where do you recommend visiting Glasgow?
Glasgow has lots of lovely cafes, some of the best are on the Southside near me, and they’re so good. I rarely find myself venturing away from here for brunch or coffee.
Café Strangebrew and The Glad Café are my main go-to’s. Café Strange brew serves inventive sweet and savory brunch delights alongside coffee from local roasters Dear Green Coffee. The Glad café is open for brunch or coffee and cake throughout the day and stays open as a bar in the evening, playing host to a variety of events in the side room, including bands, comedy, and films.
My favorite café’s in the West End include Papercup, a tiny but bustling place where students serve up Papercup’s own coffee beans and a selection of tasty and affordable brunch delights.
For Fika Sake, also in the West End, is a lovely spot to pop in for coffee and cake. This artisan café serves coffee downstairs and opens its upstairs space for various workshops and social events in the evenings.
There are also some great vegan café in Glasgow. Stereo and Mono in the city center are both exciting places to try some tasty vegan food, grab a drink, and catch some live music.
10. Nightlife in Glasgow, Scotland
The drinking culture is big in Scotland, and there are many interesting and cozy bars in this city to visit.
For a night out with friends, I’ll usually head to Finnieston, just west of the city center, where both sides of the street are lined with desirable venues.
One bar in this area worth special mention is The Ben Nevis, a tiny whiskey bar where dogs are welcome. On Sunday and Monday evenings, a group of musicians takes up residence at one end of the bar, performing traditional Scottish music that serves the perfect drinking accompaniment.
11. Is it easy to make new friends in Glasgow?
Making friends anywhere new can be challenging, particularly as you get older.
When you’re at school or university, you’re forced to spend time with people day after day and naturally form friendships with like-minded people.
When you no longer attend these institutions, making friends requires a little more effort.
You don’t make friends sitting at home watching Netflix, so you need to get out there and do things to make new friends in Glasgow.
Luckily, Glasgow has a host of extra-curricular activities no matter your tastes, and the friendliness of people makes it easy to try new things.
Many of the friends I have made in Glasgow have been through work, but I have also met people by getting involved in other activities, such as attending All The Young Nudes, a drop-in-life drawing class run at a couple of locations in the city.
The class is very informal, and you don’t need to be an artist to go, but I found drawing in this environment a lovely way to unwind and meet new and interesting people.
I also joined a basketball team not long after moving to Glasgow. That instantly gave me a new group of girlfriends.
I no longer play due to other commitments, but for anyone new to the city looking for friends, I’d recommend getting involved in a team sport as a way to get an instant group of pals.
12. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?
I mainly hang out with locals, which is something I like about living in Glasgow.
While I appreciate that when moving to a new city, it can be easier to make friends with other expats as they face the same difficulties as you, part of me feels that to really absorb the grits of the city, you need to hang out with the locals, at least some of the time.
When I first moved here, I did sign up for a meetup group for expats, but I never ended going to any events, and within a short while, I didn’t feel I needed to.
While it wasn’t for me, I think it’s good that these groups exist in the city because I believe it can be really intimidating moving somewhere new, and having a pal in a similar situation may be just what you need.
13. Where is your favorite place in Glasgow to meet friends?
I mentioned some of my favorite cafes and bars above, but other great places to hang out with friends in Glasgow would be at one of the many live concert venues dotted around the city.
Glasgow is a top touring destination for many local and international bands and has a thriving music scene.
You could see a band any night of the week at one of the more intimate venues such as The Art School, The Hug, Pint, or King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut.
Bigger bands play at the iconic The Barrowlands, an old ballroom in the east end of the city center, while the SEC Hydro attracts large international acts with a capacity of up to 13000 people.
Another fun thing to do on one of those dreich Glasgow days is visiting some of the city galleries.
I like The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) in the city center and Kelvingrove Gallery in the West End for a taste of art, The Riverside Museum in the West End, which houses Glasgow’s Transport Museum, and Tramway in the Southside for contemporary art including music, film, and theatre.
14. The memorable experience in Glasgow Scotland
One of my favorite memories of Glasgow is attending the Strathbungo Window Wanderland in February 2017.
Strathbungo is a tiny area in the Southside of Glasgow, and last year, this event was created to transform the space into an outdoor gallery for the first time.
Residents were invited to participate by creating their own window display, which ranged from decorative artwork to live music and all sorts of weird and wonderful things in-between.
We were living in the area at the time, and on a cold wintery night in Glasgow, residents from around the area took to the streets to wander around and enjoy the display.
I felt the night just really captured all of the things I love about this city, the artistic culture, and the friendliness and community spirit of the people.
15. Did you change your perspective about Glasgow after living here?
I don’t think my perception of Glasgow changed hugely in the two years I have been here. I believe with Glasgow you get what you see.
What I liked about the city before I moved here – the friendliness of the people, the artistic vibe, and the general feel of the town – have remained the same and the reason I continue to enjoy this place.
I wasn’t expecting anything other than what I had got from this place.
16. What are your advice and tips for moving/ living in Glasgow?
a) Participating in activities
I’d advise anyone moving to Glasgow to embrace the city for what it is and get involved in activities that you enjoy as a way to meet new people.
b) Finding accommodation in Glasgow
From a practical point of you in terms of sorting yourself out when you first get here, I would suggest using Airbnb or cheap hostels for accommodation when you first arrive and then use sights like spareroom.co.uk or gumtree.co.uk to find yourself a furnished room in an existing flat quite easily.
If you are traveling on your own, moving into a share house would be an excellent way to make some new pals when you are fresh in the city.
c) Finding jobs in Glasgow
As for finding a job, it depends a lot on the industry that you work in.
One thing that I found with my healthcare industry, which extends to many professional sectors, is that the time between applying for work and starting can be somewhat lengthy – up to three months.
This would apply to my experience of both public and private work.
For this reason, I would suggest that if you are looking for a professional job, you do quite a bit of homework before moving and maybe even start applying for jobs before you move to minimize the time you are sitting waiting around to start work.
17. Would you recommend others to live in Glasgow?
Yes! I’m sure Glasgow is not for everyone, but it is a vibrant and fun place, and if you can get past the grey skies and rain, you will learn to love the city.
18. What have you learned from living abroad?
Living abroad has taught me how important it is to take chances and step out of your comfort zone.
Many challenges come with leaving the place you know as home and setting up a new life in a foreign place.
Overcoming these challenges is what helps you to grow as a person.
Things won’t always work out exactly the way you had imagined, but as long as you learn from each experience, it’s all still valuable.
There is a saying here in Scotland that goes, ‘what is for you won’t go by you.’ I find comfort in this saying when I think things aren’t going the way I had planned.
My name is Katie, and I’m a physiotherapist from Perth, Australia.
Coming from the most isolated capital city in the world, I’ve always had a sense of wanting to travel and see different parts of the world, whether it be my own country or somewhere much further away.
My first taste of overseas was not until I was 20 when a high-school friend and I started exploring Europe on a working holiday. During this six-month visit, I spent a tiny three days in Scotland and decided I loved this place and would come back to live here one day.
Fast forward ten years, and I found myself living in the suburbs of Perth with a 9-5 job and a dog, wondering what had happened to those lustful travel dreams. Since moving to Glasgow, I met my partner – Ian, who also loves travel and has completed a world trip in 2010.
We are now in the process of planning our adventure together, where we hope to travel to places neither of us has yet encountered, including much of Eastern Europe, Russia, and parts of Asia.
Follow our adventures on Pinterest.
The opinions expressed here by Expatolife columnists are their own, not those of Expatolife.