- Download our Moving to the UK Guide (PDF)
Expats moving to the United Kingdom will find it fairly easy to travel nationally. Extensive train and long-distance bus networks make travelling between major destinations straightforward, and the growth of low-cost airlines in Europe has made flying a viable option.
While owning a car is not essential for expats, those that do will find that the condition of the roads and infrastructure is excellent, and that getting around the United Kingdom by car can be a real pleasure.
Public transport in the United Kingdom
Trains are the most popular mode of public transport in the United Kingdom. National Rail operates the railway network that covers England, Scotland and Wales, and Northern Ireland Railways is in charge of the train network in Northern Ireland.
While National Rail oversees the railways on mainland Britain, expats will find that there are a lot of different companies offering train services as a result of privatisation.
Despite some criticism about network delays and overcrowding during peak hours, expats living in the United Kingdom will find that travelling by train is generally a fast, enjoyable way to get around and see the country.
Train tickets can be purchased at any train station or online and are usually the same price regardless of which train operator commuters use. That said, cheaper tickets may carry restrictions and some services stop at more places or take a longer route to get to their final destination.
Expats can also save money on train fares by booking tickets in advance or using a discount card such as the Student Rail Card (for 16 to 25-year-olds) or the Senior Rail Card (for those over 60).
For those who travel by train regularly, it's worth investing in a season ticket, which is valid for either a week, a month or a year. Prices of a season ticket depend on the routes travelled.
Buses and coaches
Long-distance buses in the United Kingdom are commonly referred to as coaches. Travelling by bus will usually take longer than the equivalent journey on a train, on account of traffic. Like trains in the United Kingdom, long-distance buses tend to take passengers right into the centre of town.
The main bus service provider in the UK is called National Express and serves all major destinations in the UK. Megabus is an alternative service provider that covers a limited number of the major cities, but it's inexpensive and popular among students.
Travelling by bus is fairly comfortable and services are rarely fully booked. The main benefit of travelling by bus in the United Kingdom is cost. Bus fares are often less than half of what one would pay for the equivalent train journey, especially if booked in advance or on a special offer. Tickets can either be bought online or at bus terminals.
Taxis in the United Kingdom
Taxis are readily available in the United Kingdom. There are two types: metered black cabs that can be hailed in the street and are found in all larger towns and cities, and minicabs which usually need to be pre-booked online or over the phone.
Ride-hailing applications such as Uber are also operational throughout most of the country, although Uber's operating licence in London was temporarily revoked in 2017.
Taxis in the United Kingdom can be expensive and should be reserved for travelling short distances within the city centre, travelling late at night or with a group of friends.
When using a taxi in the United Kingdom, expats should always check that the driver’s taxi licence number is displayed on the dashboard and that the meter displays the correct rate.
Driving in the United Kingdom
Owning a car isn't a necessity for expats living in the UK. In fact, it will be of little benefit to those who spend most of their time in one city, which likely has comprehensive public transport. That said, having a car can be useful when it comes to getting around the country and for exploring the countryside.
Unlike the rest of Europe, the UK drives on the left-hand side of the road. Most cars in the UK are manual transmission, so expats who plan on hiring a car will need to specifically request an automatic vehicle if they require one.
The standard of roads and signage in the United Kingdom is excellent and there are very few toll roads. Driving standards in the UK are good and the country’s roads are considered to be among the safest in Europe.
Parking can be expensive and difficult to find, especially in London. Petrol is heavily taxed in the UK, and expats from the Middle East and the USA will find that prices are higher than at home.
Traffic can be a problem, especially during rush hour, and a number of cities in the United Kingdom have Park and Ride schemes to try and alleviate congestion. These car parks are mostly located at the edge of a city, with cheap buses provided to transport commuters to the city centre, and the schemes are a great option in major cities as it saves on the cost of parking fees, petrol and time.
Expats in the UK can drive on their licence from home for 12 months, assuming they are citizens of a non-EEA country. Meanwhile, EEA expats will only need to replace their licence once it expires.
Domestic flights in the United Kingdom
With the growth of low-cost airlines in Europe, it has become possible for people to fly to and from all of the UK’s major cities.
Major airports can be found in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Cardiff and Belfast.
Flight prices fluctuate all the time but are usually reasonable when booked in advance and domestic carriers such as Easy Jet and Ryanair often run special offers.
While flying is the fastest way of travelling across the UK, expats should note that because most airports are located on the outskirts of a city they'll probably have to take a bus or train to the city centre after arriving at their destination. This, combined with the fact that passengers need to check in 90 minutes ahead of time for domestic flights, means that in reality it could be faster to travel by train.
Cycling in the United Kingdom
The standard of infrastructure for cyclists in the United Kingdom is variable and depends on location. Most cities in the UK have designated cycle lanes, which are sometimes ignored by drivers. On major roads one may find split-pavements shared by pedestrians and cyclists. Bicycle parking is available in most cities and is often free of charge. Bicycles are only permitted on certain train services.
►Moving to the United Kingdom with children? Education and Schools in the United Kingdom page is essential reading
►Use the Cost of Living in the United Kingdom page to plan out your budget before moving
"Public transit, despite how much people moan about it, is much better than it is in Canada. While trains can often be late, it is usually by minutes and not a huge inconvenience." For more insights from Allison, a Canadian living in Manchester, read her interview with Expat Arrivals.
Are you an expat living in The United Kingdom?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The United Kingdom. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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