Living In Ireland As An Expat – The Essential Guide

Discover what expat life on the Emerald Isle is like and everything you need to know to plan your move here.

Ireland calls to people and then pulls them in by the heartstrings. It is the land of a hundred songs, a thousand shades of green and almost five million people waiting to say hello. 

In this guide, we will talk about all the things you need to make your move to Ireland as smooth as possible.

Is Ireland a safe place to live?

Yes. In line with its hospitable reputation, Ireland is a safe place to call home. Either side of the border, violent crime rates are well below the European average. Robbery and burglary rates are also low, although there are a few places where vehicle theft is a nuisance. 

Dublin and Belfast record more crime per capita than the rest of the country, as you might expect from the capital and second city, but they are still very safe. To put it in context, residents of both Dublin and Belfast report feeling safer than locals in London. 

What is the safest county in Ireland?

Neighbouring counties Roscommon and Longford compete to be named safest in Ireland. Amicably, of course. Nearly two hours drive from Dublin, they are outside the commuter range, but not completely isolated.

The pros of living in Ireland

1. History

In Ireland, the past is not a foreign country. At any moment, you can find yourself looking at and even touching an ancient Ireland.

Even in central Dublin, just dip into Phoenix Park and let the modern bustle fade as you watch the wild deer.

Strike out and there’s the stunning Stone Age burial site at the Hill of Tara, Skellig Michael on the West Coast and Newgrange Neolithic burial grounds.

Ireland boasts many of Europe’s most enigmatic ancient sites, but they don’t need their mystery to feel magical. 

2. Landscapes 

The majestic Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare have defied the Atlantic winds since time beyond memory, and human visitors love to join in for a few precious moments. 

For slightly less blustery beauty, Western National Park in Connemara summons a constant flow of admirers from every corner of the globe.

The unworldly Giant’s Causeway reaches out in the North, a stone’s throw from White Park Bay and not far from the beautiful Bundoran.

Not forgetting, the enchanting Glendalough or the Slieve Bloom mountains. Ireland’s wildness resonates with visitors, but for those lucky enough to live there, it’s a lasting bond. 

3. The way of life

 Even the slickest denizens of Dublin will not live without a breath of fresh air, time to slow down and the chance to enjoy a bit of craic (fun).

Ireland fosters a love of life in its people. It’s not that life in Ireland is without competition, it just includes trying to have the best time.

In Ireland, there is still such a thing as ‘an unseemly hurry’ and that can offer opportunities to smell the roses and find some balance. 

4. Music

Your ears will thank you for making this move. There is a lot more to Irish music than listening to fiddle music in a pub, but there’s nowhere better to listen to do just that.

The energy and skill of Irish folk musicians are unmatched, and here, there is nothing fusty about traditional music. Folk festivals are a fixture everywhere in Ireland, packed with exquisite music and dancing for all ages. 

The cons of living in Ireland 

1. Prices

Expats from most of North America and Western Europe won’t save by moving to Ireland.  It is affordable but not cheaper than Canada or the United States.

The cost of living in Ireland is slightly higher than in most of the United Kingdom. There are roughly 300,000 British citizens living in the Republic of Ireland, and plenty of them have noticed that everyday items like bread and milk are around 10-20% more expensive. 

2. Regional variations

Ireland is a country of contrasts, and contrasts breed surprises. Regional diversity is often wonderful, but Dublin can be a very different place to Donegal.

Ireland is home to cities that never sleep and bright young things who see themselves as citizens of the world.  As in every country though, away from cities, there are places where change takes time to filter through and same-day deliveries, ride-share apps and global influences are discussed more than seen. 

Retiring to Ireland 

From those answering the call of their roots to adventurers looking for a new lease of life, Ireland is a tempting retirement destination for many. The question isn’t so much ‘Should I retire to Ireland?’, as why not? 

Should I retire to Ireland?

Ireland is also a practical retirement option for many expats. No language barrier exists for English speakers, just the charm of the accent. Ireland also has inclusive rules about citizenship by descent, links with the United Kingdom through the Common Travel Area and is a member of the European Union. 

Ireland offers reams of legends, enchanting landscapes and culture with a pleasant climate, a robust healthcare system and good transport links for European travel. It is for anyone who wants rich experiences, without taking leave of their senses.

Residency and visas in Ireland

Can I legally move to Ireland?

Ireland has dozens of reciprocal agreements with nations around the world, which allow their citizens to travel short-term to Ireland without a visa. To move long-term, though, most prospective expats need a visa. The exceptions to this rule are EU and UK citizens. 

Ireland visa options

1. Work visas

Work permits come in two main categories, a general employment permit and a critical skills occupations permit. The central requirement is that applicants need a job offer that pays at least €30,000 per annum.

There are some special exceptions to this threshold for shortage industries. The job offer must cover two years, the usual length of a first-time work permit. 

Critical skills permits are similar to general work permits but with more flexibility on earnings and a faster route to permanent residence (a Stamp 4). 

2. Study visas 

Irish Universities welcome thousands of international students every year. Students who need a visa to join their course need a few basics to apply.

These include evidence that they have paid their course fees, have access to funds to support themselves (around €7,000 per year), the level of English required to study successfully and evidence of their health insurance. 

For Northern Ireland, expect most of the same criteria, but with different currency requirements and fee levels. 

3. Retirement visas

If you do not come from a country with an automatic right to enter Ireland and reside, you will need to apply for a Stamp 0 to retire in the Republic. To qualify, you need to evidence an income of €50,000 per person, per year as well as comprehensive health insurance. 

Retiring to Northern Ireland is currently only possible through ancestry citizenship claims, for those already in possession of indefinite leave to remain or dependants of U.K. residents. 

Ireland residency & visas for US citizens

US citizens moving to Ireland usually need to make formal visa applications. For those with Irish ancestry, start going through your Irish grandparents’ attic for their birth certificates. The ancestry route is straightforward if you are eligible. 

For working adults without Irish ancestry, it’s best to start looking for a job.

Most U.S. citizens benefit from the absence of significant cultural differences when it comes to applying for roles in Ireland. Check you aren’t eligible for a Critical Skills Permit, but otherwise, set your sights on suitable roles and a General Employment Permit. 

Retired adults or those retiring on arrival will need to check whether they meet the criteria for a Stamp 0 Permit, which covers individuals of independent means. 

Ireland residency for British citizens

If you are a UK citizen, then the Common Travel Area clears most obstacles. British citizens are entitled to live, work and study in Ireland.

Living in Ireland - nature
Slieve League, a mountain on the Atlantic coast of County Donegal.

British citizens aren’t eligible for all state support, however, and their families can’t necessarily live in Ireland without a visa.

For example, a British student can apply to an Irish university and qualify for domestic fees, but not necessarily any grants or subsidies. 

Residence permits – do I need an Irish Residence Permit? 

Citizens and permanent residents of countries within the EEA and Switzerland can arrive in Ireland without a visa but need to prove their nationality using a valid form of national ID. 

Retirees from Switzerland or the EEA need to prove that they have the means to support themselves and health insurance to stay longer periods.

New arrivals should head to their nearest Immigration Department Office to make their first application using their personal identity documents, but renewals can be done online where needed. 

If you are a citizen of Australia, New Zealand or Canada, then it is worth checking whether you have an Irish-born great-grandparent. These were common destinations for Irish émigrés during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and you might just be lucky.  If you can find suitable evidence, you could be eligible for citizenship by descent. 

The cost of living in Ireland

What is the average cost to live in Ireland?

It all depends on where and how you live. For a family, somewhere between €3,500 and €6,000 per month. For a single person, between €1,500 and €3,500. 

On average, a family of four in Ireland needs around €5000 per month. A single person needs about €2,700, including housing. 

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Ireland?

Dublin is undoubtedly one of the most expensive areas to live in Ireland. For a family of four, living comfortably in Dublin is likely to cost at least €5,500 per month. That translates to a gross household income of €95,000. 

For a single person, the premium is higher at around €3,400 per month, requiring a €65,000 annual salary. 

Take that spending power to Galway and a €5,500 monthly budget will stretch to luxuries, even with a family to support. Costs in the region are around €3,900 for a family of four and €2,000 for a single person. 

Is it cheaper to live in Ireland or the U.S.?

Living costs here in Ireland are similar to the U.S., but where the money goes is different.

Housing can be slightly cheaper in Ireland, although this depends heavily on which area of the U.S. you move from.

Fuel and vehicles are a cost that American expats will notice immediately. Fuel in Ireland can cost twice as much as in the U.S. Cars are also substantially more expensive. 

Rent in Ireland

The average monthly rent in Ireland is €1516,  according to the popular property website, Daft, but that’s only half the story. For example, a one-bedroom flat in Dublin starts at €1200 per month. A similar flat in Leitrim, the cheapest county, could start at €500 per month. 

A 3 bedroom family home starts at around €850 per month in cheaper counties like Leitrim and Roscommon. In Dublin, a 3-bedroom house starts at €1,800 per month and climbs quickly. 

At a glance, here are some rough guides to where monthly rents start in cities; 

Dublin- €1,200 (1 bedroom),  €1,800 (3 bedrooms)

Belfast- £850 (around €1000) (1 bedroom), £800-1200 (3 bedrooms)

Cork – €1,150  (1 bedroom), €1,500 (3 bedrooms) 

Limerick – €1,000 (1 bedroom), €1,600 (3 bedrooms) 

Galway- €1,100 (1 bedroom), €1,600 (3 bedrooms) 

Pets are not usually welcome in rental properties, so make specific arrangements if you have a furry friend joining your family. 

Where to live in Ireland 

Where do most expats live in Ireland?

In Ireland, expats tend to land in big cities first. Expect other new arrivals in Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Galway. As these new arrivals get settled, they often drift out into quieter and wilder spots. 

Where is the best place to live in Ireland?

The best place to live in Ireland is different for everyone, but here are some places to start. 

1. Dublin

Dublin is the biggest and best-known city in Ireland. There is plenty here that you would recognise from any modern capital. People looking for fun, looking after themselves and looking to eat well. Historic architecture and a literary personality work to keep Dublin unique.

 The centre bubbles with life. The economy is strong with a healthy supply of job opportunities, good schools, universities and some sophisticated stomping grounds. No cravings for the finer things go unsatisfied here.

A drawback for the fair city is that Dublin is an expensive place for a growing family. For those working in the capital who need more room, Greystones and Maynooth are pleasant towns within commuting distance. 

2. Belfast

Above a Lough and beneath Cave Hill is an immensely underrated city, Belfast. 

The food scene is experimental, the pubs are storied and live music is eternally in demand.

For those with a sweet tooth, the main goal in Belfast is to get some heavenly honeycomb ice cream from Maud’s. 

For everyone else, there is a thriving financial services industry, investment from the tech sector and a steady job market. Housing in Belfast is cheaper than the national average for the United Kingdom and significantly cheaper than in Dublin, with similar cosmopolitan benefits. 

Trendy areas around Stranmillis and the Botanic Gardens are favourites with young professionals. If you have more to spend, the Malone Road area and Holywood are attractive choices. 

3. Cork

Cork’s colourful streets are famous for their charming architecture and the city offers a warm welcome. It’s a small city, more relaxed than Dublin and more budget-friendly with good access to stunning coastal paths. The university keeps things lively and the city has its own cultural pulse.  

Cork is very liveable with short commutes, and many locals take advantage of the mild weather to walk or cycle to work. 

Central Cork is ideal for young professionals, but families often prefer Douglas or Ballincollig. 

4. Galway

Galway’s history began thousands of years ago, but its latest chapter feels thrilling. International festivals for the arts, food and theatre crowd into this beguiling little city every year.

Galway is home to many students and acts as a hub for a large part of the West Coast. It is also home to a healthy population of Irish Gaelic speakers. Expats don’t need to learn it, although interest is welcome. 

House prices in Galway are appealing compared to other cities, but the job market is less buoyant. For city life, apartments around Eyre Square or Salthill are a good bet. Families are spoilt for choice, torn between the idyllic rural life in Ballinasloe and Oranmore, or staying in the easygoing city. 

Highlights elsewhere

For anyone who needs to potter around a fairy tale, Carlingford and Kilkenny are ideal. Their medieval bones show, with narrow, cobblestoned streets to be explored in their centres and historic castles on hand. Both occupy a sweet spot with good amenities but without the occasional problems of a city. 

Remote workers wanting splendid isolation should take advantage and delve into the Wicklow mountains or the Ards peninsula. Both are stunning and loved by artists for their tranquillity. 

Healthcare in Ireland

Healthcare in the Republic of Ireland is a mixed public-private system with high standards of care. If you are a citizen of the U.K. or EEA and you meet the criteria for being ‘ordinarily resident’, you will be eligible for public healthcare. 

An important reminder for British expats is that being eligible for public healthcare doesn’t mean that healthcare is free. GP visits for most adults in Ireland cost around €50 and an Accident and Emergency visit costs around €100. 

New arrivals from outside the EU or the United Kingdom need private health insurance. The average annual cost of private insurance in Ireland is between €1,500 and €2,000 per person, although this varies with personal circumstances. 

Or you can opt for international health coverage. To make sure you get the best value for money, compare international health insurance options from various providers to find the best deal. 

In Northern Ireland, the NHS is available to Irish citizens, but for other expats a surcharge is applicable. 

Bank accounts and banking in Ireland

Most Irish banks ask for an Irish proof of address and identity documents to open a bank account.

Living in Ireland - Kinsale
Streets of Kinsale, famous for their colourful streets, rich history and beautiful landscapes.

Bank of Ireland will allow U.K. and European citizens to open a non-resident account in advance. Application documents need to be certified by a notary, solicitor or relevant official, but a functioning bank account is a very helpful head start when settling in.

AIB, Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland are all popular retail banks in Ireland, with other international players available. Many current accounts are free and others have modest fees. Most cards are chip and pin, with convenient ATMs outside banks and in many local shops. Contactless payments are very popular in cities and spreading elsewhere. 

Schools in Ireland

Throughout Ireland, school years begin in September and long summer holidays cover July and August. Children typically start school at 4 or 5. They stay at primary school until 11 or 12, depending on when their birthday falls. External exams are concentrated in the final year. 

Secondary schools have two phases in most of Ireland, the junior cycle and the senior cycle. Education is mandatory until 16, but most students stay on after this point to finish their leaving certificate. In some areas and schools, the students take a self-directed transition year between the two cycles, with no standardised tests.

In the Republic of Ireland, most state primary schools are run by the Catholic Church. Non-Catholic children can opt out of faith-based classes at their parents’ request.

Some schools have preferential admissions policies for Catholic children, but being Catholic is generally not a prerequisite. The Irish state is making an effort to introduce more multi-denominational schools across the country. 

In the North, schools are part of the British system. The key skills developed in the Primary curriculum have significant overlap with the rest of Ireland. The focus is on solid literacy, numeracy and basic Science skills. Comprehensive secondary schools are common, with some church schools. 

In the North, academically selective grammar schools are also a noticeable part of the system. To attend a grammar school, children must pass the 11 Plus exam at the end of primary school.  

Top tips for moving to Ireland

1. PPS numbers

These are essential for working, buying property, using health services and paying taxes in Ireland. They are like a British National Insurance number but with a few more uses. To get one you will need an official job offer or if you are buying property, a letter from your solicitor. 

2. SIM cards

Buy an Irish Pay-as-you-go SIM card to get up and running. You can find a suitable contract later, but a domestic phone number is handy to make other arrangements. 

3. Movers

Irish removals companies tend to be more experienced at getting your possessions through import procedures. They are often a more seamless choice for international house moves.  

4. Politics

The Troubles are part of living memory in Northern Ireland, particularly parts of Belfast and Derry / Londonderry. History can make people less likely to casually discuss politics or religion. Take your cues from the person you’re talking to. It is always worth being sensitive to the emotional legacy that Irish history leaves, not so much for safety reasons, as to be considerate

5. Snacks

Accept now that Tayto crisps are better than whatever type of potato snack you knew before. It saves time. 

6. Food

Don’t overlook traditional Irish foods. Ireland does things with carbohydrates that are so addictive they ought to be legally controlled. Potato farls, Wheaten bread and Champ elevate starch to perfection. 

Living in Ireland – summary

From the literary streets of Dublin to the medieval magic of Waterford and the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland is an ancient country looking towards a bright future. It’s a popular destination for working expats, families and retirees.

An urban lifestyle, a quiet country retreat and everything in-between are on offer here.

With its rich history, mild climate, stunning nature and slower pace of life, Ireland is a perfect destination for you if you seek a better work-life balance or a more candid and reflective lifestyle in retirement.

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Hannah Morby

Hannah is a freelance writer based in picturesque Carmarthenshire, the UK. After winding her way around the world, living in New Zealand, Yorkshire and the Home Counties, she is now settled closer to her childhood home in Wales.

Having left a career working in higher education, she now enjoys life as a copywriter, mother and chief zookeeper to a small menagerie of cats, dogs and chickens.

You can contact Hannah on LinkedIn: Hannah Morby

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