International applicants

Scottish culture

Knowing a bit more about Scotland and Scottish culture could help you settle in your new life in Edinburgh.

About Scotland

Population Scotland is a small country. The population is around 5 million. There are about 500,000 people living in Edinburgh.
Landscape Scotland has a beautiful landscape and much of the country is uninhabited. Edinburgh is in the lowlands of Scotland, but it doesn’t take long to get to the mountains. Scotland has the highest mountain in the UK, called Ben Nevis.
Climate Edinburgh has a varied, temperate climate, just a degree or two cooler than London. In the winter, snow is rare in the city and the temperature rarely dips below freezing during the day. In summertime, it is generally warm, with temperatures between 18-24 celsius / 65-75 fahrenheit.
History Scotland has a long and interesting history, and a rich tradition of writers and inventors. You can learn about its history in the National Museum of Scotland, here in Edinburgh.
Money The currency used is pounds sterling (GBP).
Religion Just over half the population are reported to be Christian, but Scotland has a multi-faith community and all religions are accepted. You will be free to practice your own religion when you come to Edinburgh.
Government Scotland is governed by the UK parliament. The government is a parliamentary democracy, and people vote every five years. Scotland has its own highly devolved government, which makes decisions about domestic policy, such as health, education, and the environment in Scotland.

Festivals, holidays and celebrations

Scotland is traditionally a Christian country, so most of the holidays are based around the Christian calendar.

There are a number of fixed holidays in Scotland, when most shops and businesses are closed, but bars and entertainment venues are normally still open. These are called public holidays or bank holidays.

Public holidays

31 December

Hogmanay. This is a Scottish new year celebration and is very popular.

01 January New Year's Day.
14 April 2017 Good Friday. The date of this holiday changes every year.
01 May 2017 May day. This is a spring celebration which takes place on the first Monday in May every year.
30 November Saint Andrew's Day. St Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland.
25 December Christmas Day. This is one of the biggest celebrations of the year. Most people will spend the time with their families.
26 December Boxing Day.

Social etiquette

Relationships, gender and equality

There are laws which prevent discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

Men and women have equal rights, and are not expected to carry out traditional gender roles. Most women work outside of the home, and men carry out chores and housework, such as cleaning and cooking. It is acceptable for both opposite and same-sex couples to show affection in public, such as kissing and holding hands. However, it is unusual for people who are not in a romantic relationship to hold hands.

When you are in the UK you must respect equality.


Scotland is generally a welcoming and friendly place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. In the United Kingdom it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation or sex , and many international LGBT students study here on the understanding that their rights will be respected.

If you are an international LGBT+ student, the University and EUSA can offer advice and support. 

EUSA - Advice and Support for LGBT+ students

EUSA - Advice and Support for Transgender Students

Body language

Generally, people in the UK value privacy. They tend not to get close or touch each other, unless they know each other well. Body language in the UK is normally quite contained. This may seem less friendly than you are accustomed to. In fact, people are generally very friendly. When meeting for the first time, people in the UK normally shake hands.


You may notice that people say 'please' and 'thank you' often. These forms of politeness are expected.

You will be expected to queue in shops, at banks, in pubs, at bus stops and other public places or services. This means that you stand in line and wait your turn to be served or get on the bus. It is considered rude not to queue.

Time keeping

Punctuality is valued, particularly in formal settings, such as work, classes or lectures, or meetings. In social settings, such as at parties, punctuality is not as expected. However, if you have arranged to meet someone at a particular time, it is polite to let them know if you will be late.


Socialising in bars and clubs is popular in Scotland. It it is normal for people to drink alcohol. If you want to go to the pub with friends, you won’t be expected to drink alcohol, if you prefer not to. There are many other things that people do to socialise, such as going for a meal, inviting friends to your home, or meeting for coffee. Edinburgh has lots of great options for socialising.

Related Links

About Scotland