Find out the prices in the United Kingdom for housing, food, transport, and more with our guide to the cost of living in the UK.
The cost of living in the UK is high compared to other countries, although in many cases, higher salaries can offer a comfortable lifestyle for some expats. Prices vary across the country – in London, for example, the cost of living can be far higher than in the rest of the country, particularly when compared to the North, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
This guide covers:
- General cost of living and standards of living in the UK
- House prices in the UK
- The cost of domestic bills in the UK
- Healthcare costs in the UK
- Childcare costs in the UK
- Study costs in the UK
- The cost of food and drink in the UK
- Cost of public transport in the UK
- Taxation and social security in the UK
- Useful resources
General cost of living and standards of living in the UK
How much money you need to get by in the UK generally depends on where you live. That said, the average household spends in the UK is £585.60 per week. This amount includes housing, food, transport, and bills. The largest expenditure is transport, with an average spend of £80.20 per week per household. The average household weekly spend is comparable to other Western European countries, such as Germany.
About 11.7 million people live in poverty in the UK, or 18% of the population. After accounting for household costs, this rises to 22% of the population. This is slightly higher than the average poverty rate in the European Union (20%). Poverty rates are highest among families with Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds, unemployed people, and social renters. In addition, the poverty rate is higher among families with a member with a disability (27%).
When it comes to the quality of life, several UK cities appear in Mercer’s Quality of Living City Ranking:
- London – 41st
- Edinburgh – 45th
- Glasgow – 48th
- Birmingham – 49th
- Aberdeen – 57th
- Belfast – 64th
Cost of living in London
- 20% cheaper than New York
- 73% more expensive than Madrid
- 46% more expensive than Berlin
- 44% more expensive than Brussels
- 15% more expensive than Paris
Cost of living in Manchester
- 45% cheaper than New York
- 19% more expensive than Madrid
- About the same as Brussels
- About the same as Berlin
- 20% cheaper than Paris
Cost of living in Birmingham
- 50% cheaper than New York
- 9% cheaper than Brussels
- 8% cheaper than Berlin
- 9% more expensive than Madrid
- 27% cheaper than Paris
Cost of living in Edinburgh
- 44% cheaper than New York
- 21% more expensive than Madrid
- 2% more expensive than Berlin
- About the same as Brussels
- 20% cheaper than Paris
House prices in the UK
Rental costs in the UK
If you plan to rent in the UK, rental costs can vary greatly. One way to save money as a single person is by living in shared accommodation.
In London, a one-bedroom city center flat might cost between £1,350 and £2,000 a month. This goes up to £2,400–£4,500 for a three-bedroom home. Meanwhile, in a northern city such as Sheffield, prices are dramatically lower: £550–£750 for a one-bedroom city center apartment. Some rentals include utility bills in the contract, while others have these as an extra cost.
Property prices in the UK
The UK housing market has been steadily rising in recent years, despite the country’s exit from the European Union.
Needless to say, London is the most expensive place to live in the UK. In the capital, the average price for a home is about £514,000. In the rest of the UK, housing costs about half as much – the average price is just under £250,000. Read more in our guide to buying a home in the UK.
The cost of domestic bills in the UK
Utility bills in the UK
The privatization of energy companies in the UK means utility costs keep getting higher year-on-year. As a result, energy bills in the UK are the highest in Europe.
According to figures produced by energy market regulator Ofcom, the average dual fuel (gas and electricity) variable tariff is about £1,138 a year. By law, energy companies in the UK must inform households if they could be getting a cheaper deal by switching to another tariff.
Telecommunications in the UK
In terms of home entertainment, broadband, telephone, and satellite TV costs can be bundled into one expense if you buy a package from Sky or BT. However, packages vary depending on the channel selection you want. Sky Sports and cinema packages are more expensive.
You can also purchase broadband and landlines with mobile deals or some supermarkets and department stores such as John Lewis. Expect to pay somewhere in the region of £30 to £40 a month for a high-speed broadband and landline package.
Healthcare costs in the UK
Residents in the UK have access to free medical care under the National Health Service (NHS). This covers doctor’s appointments and some hospital treatments although most prescriptions carry a charge. In order to qualify for NHS treatments, expats must register for an NHS number.
There are also plenty of private clinics. Prices vary widely depending on the type of treatment you require and the experience of the specialist. However, operations are long-term illnesses can be very costly and could easily run up into tens of thousands.
Health insurance in the UK is not an obligation and most expats take out healthcare insurance because of the wide range of free treatments available on the NHS. If you do not qualify for NHS treatments insurance companies such as AXA, Bupa and Allianz provide healthcare insurance for expats.
Childcare costs in the UK
If you’re a working parent with young children, you need to find childcare for the little ones. All three and four-year-olds (as well as some two-year-olds) in England are entitled to 570 hours of free childcare, which rises to 1,140 hours in Scotland. Different rules apply in Wales and Northern Ireland. Many nurseries allow you to pay for extra hours.
If you employ an au pair to work in your home, there are several rules to take into account, which you can find on the UK government website. You must pay them a reasonable amount of pocket money – gov.uk suggests at least £90 per week.
Study costs in the UK
Expats residing in the UK are eligible to send their children to state schools in England free of charge. The only costs are for uniforms, dinners, and extra-curricular books that are not offered by the UK education system.
Children are obligated to attend school from the age of five to the age of 16, and to stay in education until 18. Many young people follow an apprenticeship, vocational qualifications, or A-levels required to qualify for university places.
The UK has many well-known private schools, but fees are often costly. The current average yearly tuition fee is an eye-watering £13,700.
Some expats choose to send their children to international schools to follow the curriculum of their home country. Bear in mind that many of these schools charge an application fee. Tuition fees vary across the country – for an idea of cost, the International School of London charges a minimum of £23,500 per year for tuition.
University fees are capped at £9,250 per annum by the UK government, but since Brexit, EU and international students pay different costs. These vary according to institution and course, and can cost up to £20,000–£40,000 per year.
If you intend to take a postgraduate course in the UK, fees range significantly depending on the university you choose and the subject you want to study.
The cost of food and drink in the UK
The UK has a string of supermarket chains that can be affordable if you shop in the right places. Lidl and Aldi stock a variety of quality products at reasonably low prices for budget shoppers. Mid-range supermarkets include Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, and Sainsbury, while Waitrose caters towards the higher end of the market.
While there are low-cost options available, the weakened pound and higher import costs due to Brexit have resulted in prices of some foods rising dramatically.
Restaurants in the UK
The major cities in the UK have a wide choice of restaurants, cafés, and pubs that serve food. Eating in a café or pub is generally the cheapest option.
Depending on where you are in the country, two people should be able to eat out at a good quality restaurant for £35–£80. An inexpensive restaurant charges around £12.50 for a meal, while a meal at a fast food chain costs about £6. Prices in London are far higher – a two-person meal will set you back £40–£100.
Many supermarkets and shops offer meal deals for £3–£4, which is good for an inexpensive lunch option.
Beer, wine, and spirits in the UK
Thanks to the Campaign for Real Ale and other groups, the quality of beer in the UK has improved in the last few decades. A draught pint bitter ale costs about £3.23, while lager costs about £3.88. As with many costs, the price of a pint of beer is far higher in London than elsewhere in the UK.
Cost of transport in the UK
Public transport in the UK
Public transportation outside the capital is often expensive and not always reliable. As with utilities, privatisation of transport companies pushes up ticket prices, and timetables don’t always align between services.
The UK also has an extensive rail network. When traveling intercity, it’s a good idea to book tickets a few weeks in advance, as last-minute tickets fetch high prices. For example, a ticket from Leeds to London costs £64 if you buy it on the day, but £23 if you buy it in advance. If you are making one-off journeys and know the dates you are traveling booking two or three weeks in advance using websites such as thetrainline can save you an average of 43% per journey. You can also save money by splitting your ticket with a website such as Split Ticketing.
In some areas of the UK, buses are the only public transport and cost a minimum of £1.80. The cost varies depending on the city and the distance you are traveling.
Residents in London should invest in an Oyster card, which provides access to buses and metro for slightly cheaper rates. A single fare with an Oyster Card is £1.55 on the bus and a minimum of £2.50 on the underground. Some fares are capped, meaning that there is a maximum you can spend on your Oyster card per day.
Private transport in the UK
Taxis are also costly. Black cabs are readily available, but the starting fare is around £3 and costs escalate quickly on longer journeys. Before traveling by taxi in the UK, estimate the cab fare with an online price finder.
Owning a car is also expensive in the UK due to relatively high fuel costs. The price per liter is around £1.31. Meanwhile, you can buy a Volkswagen Golf for about £23,000 and a Toyota Corolla Sedan for about £24,000, which is about the same as other European countries.
Leisure activities in the UK
Clothing in the UK
Clothing prices in the UK are similar to what you’d spend elsewhere in Western Europe. A pair of mid-range jeans cost around £60, while a summer dress from a chain store will set you back about £30.
Sports in the UK
Gym fans can get a fitness membership for £25–£90 depending on your location and your chosen gym facilities. On the other hand, if the world is your gym, a pair of running shoes will set you back about £76.
Meanwhile, film buffs can buy cinema tickets for an average of £15 in London and £10 elsewhere in the country. Independent cinemas sometimes sell tickets at cheaper prices.
Taxation and social security in the UK
The social security system in the UK can be complex. If you start a job without being registered with social security, you have to pay emergency tax for the first month, which typically involves substantially overpaying taxes. However, the difference is returned after the second or third month.
Social security benefits (National Insurance) cover expats for unemployment, sickness, maternity, disability, and death. The rate you have to pay depends on the length of service and the amount of income.
If you have been living and working in the UK for more than 183 days, you need to pay personal income tax in the UK. Compared to some other western European countries, the tax thresholds in the UK are generous.
If you earn less than £12,570 in England, you are not obligated to pay tax. However, if you are self-employed you are still obligated to submit a nil-return tax form. Most expats will pay personal income tax directly from your monthly salary. The tax bands are as follows:
- Up to £12,570: 0%
- £12,571–£50,270: 20%
- £50,271–£150,000: 40%
- Over £150,000: 45%
Assistance with living costs in the UK
Help is available for people struggling with living costs. The benefit system can be complicated, but the following is available:
- Carer’s Allowance – £67.60 per week if caring for someone more than 35 hours a week.
- Child Benefit – £21.15 per week for your eldest child, £14 for additional children
- Personal Independence Payment – £23.70–£89.60 for mobility and living costs for those with a long-term physical or mental health condition or disability.
- Employment and Support Allowance – £59.20–£74.70 per week if you have a disability of health condition that affects how much you can work.
- Universal Credit – £257.33–£509.91 per month depending on your age and status. This payment is supposed to help with living costs for those on a low income or out of work.
- Jobseeker’s Allowance – £59.20–£74.70 for those out of work. Several conditions apply.
UK residents are normally eligible for benefits providing they have lived in the country for long enough. Some benefits require that you have settled status if you arrived from the EU before Brexit. Make sure you read the terms and conditions of each benefit carefully, as the British welfare system can be strict.