Difference Between Flat and Apartment?

If you’re looking to move into a small residence, you may come across apartments and flats. However, you may not realize that there are a few small differences. Sure, the dialect can determine which is more popular, but there’s more to flats and apartments than that.


The difference between a flat and an apartment is primarily based on location. What Brits call “flats,” Americans call “apartments.” However, people will refer to high-end flats in the UK as apartments. Yet Americans may use the term “flat” to distinguish luxury apartments.


Whether you’re from the US or the UK, you may have heard one or more terms for small living options. However, they aren’t as similar as you might expect. Keep reading to learn about the differences between flats and apartments.


Many English speakers can think of a few terms that differ between American and British English. Terms for living spaces are no exception, and that’s where you might hear about flats and apartments.


Americans typically use the term “apartment” to talk about housing units that are part of a larger building. It doesn’t matter how big the building is or how many stories there are. You could find a high-rise apartment in New York City and a small apartment in the suburban Midwest.


Both are apartments, but the difference is across the pond. British people also have housing units that occur in groups in the same building. But they use the word “flat” when talking about those things.


You may also hear terms like “rental” or “unit” when talking to landlords or realtors. In a lot of cases, all of these words refer to the same type of living arrangement. You can find apartments or flats with fewer or more bedrooms depending on the units available.

Building Purpose

While location can have a lot to do with the term, the original building purpose can also differentiate apartments and flats. You typically find apartments in apartment buildings, which have the sole purpose of serving as housing.


An apartment building may have less than ten units, but you may have a building with dozens of apartments. As long as the original architects planned to make the building for apartments, the term is accurate.


However, you don’t have to create a building specifically for flats. A flat can be in a building that is for housing, but you can also convert space in a commercial building. You can even separate parts of a house and turn them into multiple flats.


An example of a flat could be a unit above a store that the owner converts so that they can live above where they work. While you may also call that an apartment, both terms are correct.


Another way in which flats and apartments differ is in their size. Because of the term, flats are almost always one level. You probably won’t find stairs or an attic or basement in a flat, but the flat may take up a lot of room on that one story.


A flat could be on the ground level, or it may be above. As long as the unit is only on one floor, then you can comfortably call it a flat.


On the other hand, an apartment can have multiple floors. While a lot of apartments are only one level, they don’t have to be. Space and other restrictions can keep some apartments from having a second floor.


But you may hear some people call part of a duplex an apartment, even if both units take up multiple levels. Some renters may also live in houses but call their space an apartment, though they may still call their home a house.


If you want a luxurious housing unit, you may want to use a different term than you think. In the United States, apartments are typically more affordable to slightly expensive. But they don’t always have a ton of special amenities, like a doorman.


However, you may find people call luxury living “flats.” That can help differentiate between more traditional apartments and more expensive living options.


On the other hand, the Brits use different terms for standard and more expensive housing. But it’s opposite the terms that Americans use. Most British people talk about flats when discussing more typical rental housing units.


When Brits want to talk about high-end flats, they will use the word “apartments.” It’s another way to separate the two different types of residences, but the countries use different terms for the same things.


You can own an apartment or a flat, but you can also rent either type of unit. However, ownership isn’t equal across the board. In a lot of cases, you rent an apartment, and you’ll have a landlord or a rental company that manages the property.


If you own a small unit of housing, you might call it a condo or condominium. Owners typically live in their condo, but they can look like apartments from the outside.


When it comes to flats, you can live in one you own or rent the unit. Flat owners can come together to own a freehold. This grants the flat owners access to the land the flats are on, but you don’t have to pay as much to own the land.


However, you’ll own your particular flat, so you won’t have to rent or lease it. Still, you may find flats available to rent or sublease from the owner.

Inside the Residence

While flats and apartments have some of the same amenities inside individual residences, there are some differences. Americans and Brits have different terms for the same things they keep in their homes. 


Here are some examples:


  • American televisions are called tellies in the UK.
  • A floor lamp is the American version of a British standard lamp.
  • Stoves in America have the term cooker in the UK.
  • The American cupboard is where people store food, but Brits have one in the bedroom to store clothes.
  • British flannels are the same as American hand towels.


There are tons of other terms that differ between the US and UK, but these are a few to be aware of, especially if you’re moving to a new country. Using the correct terms will help you avoid confusion when stocking your new home.

Why Choose an Apartment?

An apartment is an excellent option for affordable housing in the United States. You can find apartments in the largest cities and smaller areas. They’re also typically available for you to rent, so you don’t need to commit to a long-term loan to buy one.


However, if you want a more high-end home in the UK, you should also look at apartments. They’re similar to British flats, but they may be bigger or offer more features.


No matter where you are, an apartment is great for many people. You can find an apartment with enough room for you or you and a few roommates. Small families may also find apartments that suit their needs.


And if you need even more room, you can look into a duplex apartment. That way, you have about half the space of a full house but for a lower cost.

Why Choose a Flat?

If you’re moving to the UK, you may prefer to live in a flat. Outside the United States, flats are cheaper than apartments, so they’re more economical. Granted, you won’t have as much space or as many amenities.


However, many people will find they don’t need a huge living space. You can check out a few flats to find one that works well for you.


And if you decide you have a larger budget, you can look into apartments. That way, you can get the space you want.

Final Thoughts

At first glance, it can be easy to mistake a flat for an apartment or vice versa. But there are a few surprising differences between the two housing options. Keep these differences in mind next time you need to move.