The Pros And Cons Of Living In Birmingham, UK

Looking for a city living but not as costly as in London? Discover Birmingham and what it's like to live in this vibrant but affordable city.

When considering a move to the UK, many people think of London first.

However, what if we told you that there was a place in the UK that was just as well connected (thanks to an international airport), had plenty of entertainment options, a thriving education system and economy that you could take advantage of, without the expense of London? Sounds pretty good, right?

What is this city that sounds a little too good to be true? The home of the infamous Peaky Blinders, Birmingham. If you want to discover what living in Birmingham is like, read on.

Living in Birmingham
Birmingham canal

Birmingham, or ‘Brum’ as it’s known by the locals, is something of an unknown hero to those living outside of the UK – which is surprising for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it served as the inspiration for the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. It’s also the birthplace of Black Sabbath, Thomas the Tank Engine, Duran Duran, Tennis, Balti cooking, and Cadbury Chocolate.

The FA cup was also made in Birmingham. The city has more canals than Venice and has the largest library in Europe. 

So, when you consider all of this, it’s pretty surprising this highly influential and thriving city in the midlands doesn’t draw more attention. 

The question remains – is Birmingham a good place to live for expats? Keep reading to find out!

Is Birmingham a good place to live in?

The short answer to this question is yes. When you consider the amount that Birmingham has to offer expats, it’s easy to understand why it’s a good place to live in. 

Living in Birmingham
Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham

For those looking for employment, there is a growing tech sector, as well as offices for many international companies. 

From an education perspective, there is a wide variety of great schools for parents to choose from. For older students, look no further than renowned Birmingham University. 

Outside of these considerations, there is still so much available for expats to experience and enjoy. There is a thriving art and cultural scene including theatre, music, and the famous Birmingham Ballet. Excellent shopping is available in the Bull Ring with brands from around the world, and the option to dine on one of the many canals. 

Should you wish to explore other parts of the world, there is a well connected international airport or you can catch a train that will get you to London in just over an hour. 

Is Birmingham safe?

Birmingham is generally considered a safe place to live. Given that it is a large city (one of the largest in the UK), there will of course be a presence of crime. Crime rates are typically low and there is active law enforcement. 

Like any major city, there are areas that will be safer than others, but you can feel comfortable that you can move to Birmingham and live safely. 

Is it cheaper to live in Birmingham or London?

Despite Birmingham’s recent growth, it is still much cheaper than London.

Living in Birmingham
Selfridges Department Store in Park Street – part of the Bullring Shopping Centre. 

Whilst many jobs in London may offer higher salaries, this won’t entirely offset the higher cost of living. If you wonder how expensive life in the UK capital is, read our Living In London guide. You will find out all about London areas, housing, cost of living and more.

In Birmingham, your money tends to go a lot further – whether it be for food, property, or entertainment. 

When it comes to housing prices, for example, London is around 170% more expensive. Whilst this may not matter to some, this is something of a point of pride outside of London: you can get a pint in parts of town for as little as £3, whereas in the capital you will pay at least £5.50.

Transport, food, and other general costs are cheaper than those of London. 

Monthly costs of living in Birmingham

There is a wide variety of housing available in Birmingham and you can often get larger property than you would in London for a similar price.

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is £650, and the average price for renting a house is £1000.

This of course changes depending on your proximity to the city centre and the size of your property.

Utility bills will vary depending on several factors, however, you can expect these to range between £90-160 per month.

Add to your budget about £85 for a monthly transport ticket (tram, train and bus) and what you have left is all yours to spend on groceries, shopping, leisure and entertainment.

Your cost of living will of course vary depending on your lifestyle, however, it is easier to live comfortably on a budget in Birmingham than it is in London. 

The pros and cons of living in Birmingham

The pros

1. City life without the price

Living in Birmingham
Pubs with outside sitting areas along the canal in Birmingham.

We’ve touched on this already, but it’s worth repeating. Birmingham offers almost everything you could want from a big city while enjoying a relatively moderate cost of living. The range of nightlife, cultural attractions, and other things on offer is seriously impressive! 

2. Good job market 

Given Birmingham’s size, there is a large job market with opportunities in various sectors. This can make the transition for expats easier, as they can find a large number of professional and casual employment options. 

3. It’s a city on the rise

Birmingham is expanding in an effort to capture the imagination of those looking for an alternative to London. This means that more venues will open up and more businesses will set up shop – all of which you can take advantage of! 

4. It’s a cultural melting pot 

Birmingham is a very multi-cultural city, meaning you can experience food and cultures from around the world. This can also make the transition into a new place, given that the locals are so friendly and welcoming. 

5. Well-connected for national and international travel 

Birmingham’s international airport is a huge plus! It offers you the ease of connection to most corners of the globe. 

6. Let me entertain you! 

This is by far one of the best things about the city – there is so much to do!

In Birmingham, you can enjoy world-class theatre, concerts, ballet, and entertainment all in one place. There are countless restaurants, including Michelin starred and independent venues, and plenty of bars and cafes.

You can explore the canals, enjoy internationally renowned sporting venues, and the countless surrounding green areas of the city.

The Bull Ring is an excellent shopping destination that rivals areas in London, and it’s even home to the biggest Primark in Europe.

Keep an eye out for the annual German Christmas markets that take over the city during December as they are regarded as some of the best in the UK. 

The cons of living in Birmingham

1. Public transport is not the most efficient

Birmingham has a transport system that is ok, but it’s not as good as the Tube. The tram will get you around the city centre, and buses and trains to the outer suburbs, but it can be pricey and inconsistent. 

Living in Birmingham
Grove Park in Harborne, Birmingham.

2. The weather

It rains a lot in Birmingham. It’s also quite cold (like most of England), so if you’re seeking somewhere with a warmer climate, this isn’t the place for you. 

3. Traffic and parking are a problem

The traffic in Birmingham, like many other cities, is a common problem for people. Also, Birmingham is one of the UK’s most expensive cities for car ownership mostly due to the hefty cost for a yearly resident’s parking permit in the city.

4. Life in the Middle

Whilst many people are attracted to Birmingham as an alternative to London, and it has so much to offer, it still isn’t quite London. It does still have the all hustle and bustle you would expect from a big city, so if you’re looking for somewhere quieter, perhaps Birmingham isn’t the place for you. 

The best areas to live in Birmingham

1. Moseley

Moseley is a very popular area in Birmingham and served as inspiration for places in the Lord of the Rings.

It is filled with Victorian architecture, independent bars and cafes, as well as plenty of green spaces. It also won the title of the ‘best area to live’ in 2015, beating some suburbs in London. 

2. Jewellery Quarter

For something closer to the city centre, the ‘JQ’ as it’s known locally, is the place for you. You’ll get life in the big city with a small-town feel thanks to a thriving community and network of independent shops and eateries. This area of Brum is also responsible for roughly 40% of the UK’s Jewellery production. 

3. Solihull and Shirley

These areas offer the chance to experience life in the country and the city. Located a short distance from Birmingham, these suburbs are surrounded by parks and are home to several highly ranked schools. There are also great transport links to the city centre. 

4. Bournville and Edgbaston

Bournville and Edgbaston are neighbours, both offer a very similar experience. They are more affluent areas, with green spaces and several sporting societies.

Living in Birmingham
Bournville suburb of Birmingham built by the Cadbury family

Edgbaston is also home to the famous cricket ground of the same name which hosts numerous international and domestic games. 

5. Harborne

This Victorian suburb has a long history and a number of stunning buildings. There are a number of parks and great schools in the area, all of which are close to the city centre. This is a great spot to consider for families. 

Areas to avoid

Birmingham is considered a generally safe place, however, there are of course areas that won’t be as safe as others.

The following areas have had higher numbers of reported crimes than other parts of Birmingham so should be lower on your list when looking for somewhere to live:

  • Handsworth
  • Lozells
  • Ladywood
  • Balsall Heath

Much of the crime in Birmingham, like London, is gang-related, meaning it doesn’t affect everyday people like yourself.

How to make your life in Birmingham as good as it can be

Enjoy life! 

When moving to a big city, expats can fall into the trap of all work and no play. Try to make the most of your time in Birmingham, because if you don’t, you’ll miss out on all this city has to offer! 

Plan ahead for a job

Whilst there are plenty of jobs available, the market can be very competitive. So, get ahead of the game and start hunting for a job before you arrive in the UK.

If you know that you’re arriving with a job already, it will make the transition much easier. 

Keep in mind that salaries are lower than that of cities like London, so be sure to adjust your lifestyle accordingly. 

Making friends

The people of Birmingham are generally very friendly and welcoming. So, don’t be a stranger and you’ll be sure to meet plenty of great new friends.

There are a number of free meetups that focus on various interests, as well as local events where you can get involved with the community. 

Final thoughts on living in Birmingham

There is a lot to love about life in Birmingham, which makes it all the more surprising that the city flies under the radar for most expats.

If you are planning to relocate to the UK and looking for city life on a smaller scale, you should definitely consider Birmingham. It’s an excellent choice for expats who don’t want to go all out in London. 

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Jack Griffiths
Jack Griffiths

Jack is an Australian freelancer now based in London who has been living the expat life for over three years now. Whist in the UK, Jack has travelled across Europe, Asia and the U.S.A. So far his favourite destination has been Malta.

He writes for Expatra alongside a number of other clients and his own creative pursuits. Hoping to continue living and working abroad, Jack hopes to live and work in Spain, Italy and South America in the future.

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One comment

  1. As some one who lives in Birmingham me entire life, discount the first con, public transport can be every 5 minutes on many bus routes (mon-sat), perfect for students as child tickets are 18 and under, and we have the cheapest bus tickets in the entire UK, with astonishingly cheap railway tickets into the inner city.

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