Living in Ireland: Practical Advice for Americans
I realize most of my readers are not expats, but I have to get this information out of my head before I forget! If it saves just one person a tiny bit of anxiety about their move to Ireland, it is worth it. On with the show…
We spent two years living in Ireland.
I don’t say this lightly. It was the opportunity of a lifetime!
People say about our experience, “That must have been amazing. Ireland is so beautiful.”
Yes, it was. Yes, it is.
However, this is real life and real life under normal circumstances can be freaking hard at times. Throw in a foreign country and you’ve upped the ante a bit. For all the help we had from my husband’s company with the move, there was PLENTY that we did not know and had to figure out on our own.
As we bumbled our way through adjusting to expat life in Ireland, we quickly figured out that the absolute best part about Ireland is the people. They were incredibly gracious in helping us figure things out. In that spirit, I want to pay-it-forward by sharing the practical, random advice we picked up along the way. Maybe it will help you adjust to your new life in Ireland!
No one told us this until after we arrived and almost by accident, so maybe no one told you either. If you have children and you move to Ireland, you are eligible for a monthly child benefit payment from the Irish government. At the time we were there in 2016 – 2018, this was 140 euros per month per kid.
Even if you aren’t citizens, you are eligible for this benefit. You do need to have a PPS number (Irish Social Security #) for you and your kids. Be prepared to fill out a big long form too. The good news is if you put off this task for several months like I did, you will be paid retroactively. Oh, and we never received a notice that the child benefit was approved. One day a deposit just showed up in our bank account.
Learn more here.
NEED SOMETHING NOTARIZED?
If you happen to need something notarized (like your Child Benefit form) while living in Ireland, you can always go into your local Garda (police) station and ask someone there to do it. They didn’t even charge me!
RENEWING YOUR VISA
Ireland now has an online appointment scheduling system for renewing your visa. This is much better than the old system of getting up at the crack of dawn to wait in line. However, the new system has its quirks.
My first bit of advice is start applying for a renewal appointment as soon as they say you can – 10 weeks before your visa expires. Go check now and see when you are eligible to get an appointment. Set a reminder in your calendar.
Then don’t be surprised if you go to renew and there are no appointments available for when you need one. This happened to us two years in a row and it is nerve-wracking! You read about so many immigration problems around the world and now, suddenly, you have an immigration problem. It’s a very unsettling feeling.
Now, this is Ireland and if you’ve lived there long enough to have to renew your visa then you’ll know the Irish can be a little laid-back about things. More appointments will open up. Set more calendar reminders to check every. single. day. at 2 p.m. when they release additional appointments. You should eventually have good luck securing an appointment.
The stress of not having one is just a little perk to keep you on your toes!
If you are in Ireland by yourself, you need a single appointment. If you are in Ireland with your spouse, you will need a ‘family’ appointment.
Also, you don’t have to take your young kids with you to renew the visa. The immigration folks don’t care about seeing them.
One last thing. Double check well in advance with your company’s HR department that you have all your documents lined up for your renewal appointment. You do not want to be caught off guard and not have something you need.
LEAVING THE COUNTRY?
Always travel with your Irish visa. You need it for reentry back into Ireland along with your passport. Technically, you should carry it with you for identification purposes too while in Ireland. I didn’t have an Irish driver’s license (more about that here), so I carried my visa with me (it’s a card, not a piece of paper) to use for photo ID.
SETTING UP A BANK ACCOUNT
At the time we moved to Ireland, Permanent TSB was the easiest bank to establish a checking account with when you are brand new to the country. Their rules are a little more relaxed in terms of having a permanent residence, etc. Just stay on top of changing your address when you do find a home.
Permanent TSB was fine to work with as far as banks go. I wouldn’t say we LOVED them, but we didn’t have any problems with them.
Get used to not having checks. While you’ll end up doing most things online, we ended up carry more cash than we did while in the U.S. Small coffee shops and businesses appreciate it if you pay in cash for small purchases.
Also, get a coin purse. Even if you’re a dude. You’ll end up with so much change since they use coins for one and two euro notes.
KEEP YOUR BANK ACCOUNT WHEN YOU LEAVE IRELAND?
Our goal when we left Ireland was to keep our Irish bank account. It just seemed like a good idea to have access to an European account. Plus, we still had Irish tax returns and my husband’s pension that were tied to that account. Although, those things could be changed.
To change our mailing address to one in the U.S., before we left Ireland both my husband and I had to physically go into the Permanent TSB branch to change our address. Even though we had a joint account, each person on the account was an individual record. Yes, this was a pain! If you have a different bank, you might have a different situation.
Here’s the rub. Once we were in the U.S. (contrary to what they told us) we couldn’t change our contact information online. We also could not call Permanent TSB and change things over the phone.
We wanted to cancel our Irish cell phone numbers, but many online transactions (money transfers, etc.) require two factor authentication, which were tied to our Irish cell phone numbers. To change our contact information required mailing a bunch of notarized documents to Ireland. It was a pain. A huge pain. And one that we will potentially have to deal with for years to come if we want to keep that account.
Bottom line. Some banks may be easier to work with than others. Ask your bank a ton of questions when you set up your account and when you move so that you know what to expect.
Or mobile phones as they call them in Ireland.
First, cell plans are much cheaper in Ireland than they are in the U.S. Ridiculously cheap, almost.
Pay-as-you-go plans are super common in Ireland. You’ll find the Irish are very savvy about saving a euro, so this works for them.
We started out on a pay-as-you-go plan. Tesco Mobile is one of them. We used Three.
I’ve had friends with Tesco Mobile who had coverage issues. We didn’t have too many coverage issues with Three, but we did notice them throttling our data speeds. If you have a significant other who works in a techie field, like I do, you’ll know this won’t fly for very long.
We ended up switching to Vodaphone‘s red plan. That meant we had a contract, but we could also easily roam wherever we traveled in the world. I think it was free in Europe, but there was a small daily charge in the U.S. Be aware that if you are in the U.S. with Vodaphone, you will be roaming on the AT&T network.
Also, we noticed Vodaphone seems to actually care about customer service, which was mind-blowing for us. What kind of alternate universe have we stepped into? Ha!
One last thing regarding cell phones. Remember how I mentioned the Irish are very savvy about saving a euro? Well, this comes into play with data and messaging rates too. The vast majority of people in Ireland are using WhatsApp to send text messages to each other.
USING PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
First, get the apps for Dublin Bus, LUAS (light rail) and Irish Rail (Dart and Commuter train).
Second, get a LEAP card which can be used on all three of those services. That way, you don’t have to have cash. If you have kids, get the child LEAP card. Kids ride for half price or thereabouts. Kids 5 and under ride for free and don’t need a card. You can also order a LEAP card through your employer that has some sort of tax savings.
Third, using a LEAP card on the train or LUAS is fairly intuitive. You have to tag on AND tag off to get the lowest fare and usually to get in and out of the station. It is easy to forget to tag off on the LUAS if there isn’t a machine right when you exit the platform.
However, no one told us how to use our LEAP card on the bus. Yes, you tag on to pay your fare, but you DON’T TAG OFF. If you tag on using the machine as you board the bus, you will be charged the max amount. It’s 2 euros and change. If you are going less than 13 stops, then it makes sense to tell the driver where you are going and he/she will charge you the per stop fare, which is less than the full fare. If you are going more than 13 stops, it is one rate, so just tag on.
If you don’t know your exact stop name, then just tell the driver what town or grocery store or museum you are going to. They’ll figure it out.
Buses won’t stop unless you flag them down. Hang your arm out there – it’s quite fun. Buses also won’t stop to let you off unless you press the stop button. You can press the stop button at any point between stops. It’s a good idea to move down to the door while the bus is still in motion though because they won’t wait for you to climb down from the top of the double decker to disembark.
Last, there are some days when public transportation isn’t going to work for you. My advice is to take the time to set up the MyTaxi app on your phone. It makes calling for and paying for a taxi easy in Ireland.
NEED TO RENEW YOUR U.S. PASSPORT?
You’ll need to renew your passport IN PERSON at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin. You can’t just walk up and do this like you might expect in the U.S. You need to make an appointment online first.
We renewed our children’s U.S. passports at the embassy. Our experience was super fast. They say it takes a few weeks, but our kids had their passports back within one week. Since I know the applications have to go back to the U.S. for processing, I found this to be exceptionally fast and perhaps a fluke?
NEED A WALMART?
Well, there isn’t one. However, if you need the household stuff you might find at a Walmart or Target, then I recommend trying Argos.
Argos will look like it is NOT a store. You’ll walk in and they will have a few old-fashioned catalogs and some computer kiosks. Their inventory is in the back warehouse. Find what you want in the catalog, write down the item number and take that to the cashier. Then you wait for that item to be sent to the front.
You can also order online and pick up in the Argos store. That’s easier than dealing with their paper catalogs and potentially a line of customers.
I’ll also recommend ordering from a company called Next. They have clothes and some household decor items (pillows, duvets, lamps, etc.). I also ordered school uniform basics from them. Next has really fast shipping for Ireland – sometimes next day.
Oh, one last thing. If you buy a TV you will have to pay a tv license to the government. It is 160 euro per year.
WANT TO USE AMAZON?
If you are like us and heavily rely on Amazon Prime, you’re going to sorely miss America after you move to Ireland. Amazon UK is just not the same.
Many items will not deliver or not deliver free to the Republic of Ireland (where you live) because it isn’t a part of the United Kingdom.
Here’s the work around that EVERYBODY uses. You need to set up a Parcel Motel account. Parcel Motel gives you a Northern Ireland address. Your Amazon order gets delivered there. Parcel Motel takes receipt of it and then either delivers it to your house or to a locker. Yes, there’s a small fee for this. Yes, it’s going to add time to your delivery. But what else are you going to do? We need our Amazon!
Our first year in Ireland, our tax preparation services were paid for and handled by my husband’s company who used KPMG. They were a little pricey for normal use, so our second year we used an online service called Taxback.
I’m not an accountant and I can’t give you tax advice. I can tell you that our U.S and Irish taxes were pretty straight-forward and we didn’t have any problems using this company.
I would recommend asking your coworkers who they use, but when all else fails, look into Taxback.
Your ear will tune to the Irish accent fairly quickly. Give yourself some grace as you power through those first few months in Ireland. I swear it gets better!
The Irish can tell which part of the country another Irish person is from by their accent. Generally speaking, the accents from Northern Ireland are much thicker and were harder for me to understand.
Now, for specific verbiage that I had to get used to…
If someone is going to ‘call around 5’ or ‘call for you’ they aren’t using the telephone. They will show up at your house at 5. If they are going to call you on the phone, they will ‘ring’ you.
If someone asks how you are ‘getting on’ that just means how are you doing.
Craic, which is pronounced ‘crack,’ means fun.
French fries are chips. Potato chips are crisps. Although, the Irish do know what fries are if you use that word. Also, they seem to really love their cheese and onion potato chips. Hope you do too!
Mail is called post. Someone might say, “the post is usually delivered by 10 a.m.”
If you are going to pick up your kids from school, you will actually be “collecting” your kids from school. That word does make more sense if you think about it.
A vacuum is a hoover. I thought Hoover was a brand of vacuum, but they will commonly refer to all vacuums as hoovers. It is sometimes used as a verb too.
It is a source of great debate, but as of 2018, household water usage remains free in Ireland. That’s right, you won’t pay for the water you use in your home. The government installed meters a while back and people protested being charged. Let’s call the issue “unsettled” (and probably unsustainable) for now.
In terms of garbage, there are a few things to know. Garbage cans are called bins. You’ll also hear the rolling cans called wheelie bins. That’s pretty great, right?
Almost all your packaging in Ireland is recyclable. There is a small fee (less than a euro) every time your recycling can is emptied. This was implemented recently after China stopped buying so many recyclables.
Your regular garbage can be minimized if you compost (they have a bin for that!). We did not compost and I still only had about one bag of garbage per week for our family of 4.
In Ireland you will pay for the weight of your garbage and the frequency of which it is collected. If you want to save a few pennies/euros, my advice is don’t pull your garbage bin out to the curb unless it is full.
If you need any sort of basic over-the-counter medicine, you’ll probably end up at a pharmacy.
Tylenol is called Paracetamol or Panadol. Children’s Tylenol is called Calpol.
Ibuprofen is called Nurofen.
Both of these pain relievers are sold in blister packs with 10 pills. I once tried to buy two packs of Paracetamol (at a Tesco grocery store not a pharmacy) and was told that was not allowed.
Acne products with benzoyl-peroxide are banned in the U.K. and as a result are also not sold in Ireland. If you need a product like that, you can order from Amazon UK or bring extra with you.
Pharmacies also sell toothpaste, contact solution, makeup, toiletries, etc.
My last bit of advice it to take every opportunity you have to go explore Ireland. If you are in Dublin and not sure if you are liking it, you will feel better about your decision if you go explore. Take a train and head to a different city. Do an overnight trip. Do all the touristy things. Go on a hike. Visit a museum. I can’t explain why, but doing all of these things helped us feel more connected to the Irish community and our new home.
Alright, that was a random list and I hope it is helpful to someone out there.
If you have any helpful for advice for expats going to Ireland, PLEASE add it in the comment section of this post. Let’s keep a running list. No advice is too small!
If any of this information becomes outdated and needs to be corrected, please let me know that too! I’ll fix it straight away.
I know life is full of ups and downs, but I do hope you will have as happy a time in Ireland as we did.
If you want to know more about our experience of moving to and living in Ireland, check out these posts:
Living in Ireland: When to Move Back to the U.S.
Living in Ireland: Surviving a Snowstorm
Living in Ireland: Life Without a Car
Living in Ireland: Inside My Kitchen
Living in Ireland: Christmas in Retail 2017
Living in Ireland: Storm Ophelia
Living in Ireland: That Time a Tree Came Down
Living in Ireland: Pediatric Emergency Medicine
Living in Ireland: Back After A Month in the United States
Living in Ireland: As Seen On My Commute
Living in Ireland: A Trip to the Hardware Store
Living in Ireland: Spring Flowers In Our Yard
Living in Ireland: Grocery Shopping
Living in Ireland: What to See my Hot Press?
Living in Ireland: Merry Christmas 2016
Living in Ireland: Christmas in Retail
Living in Ireland: Exploring Our New Country
Moving to Ireland: Grocery Item Look Alikes
Moving to Ireland: Primary School 101
Moving to Ireland: First Week of School
Moving to Ireland: A Day Out and About
Moving to Ireland: The Great Purge
Moving to Ireland: Human Kindness is Overflowing
Moving to Ireland: House Viewing #1
Moving to Ireland: House Viewing #2
Moving to Ireland: House Viewing #3
Moving to Ireland: Temp House First Floor
Moving to Ireland: Temp House Second Floor
Thinking about visiting Ireland? Read on!
Visiting Ireland: Book of Kells
Visiting Ireland: Kilmainham Gaol Museum
Visiting Ireland: St. Patrick’s Day
The Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands with Kids
Our Favorite Irish Castle Tour with Kids
Kissing the Blarney Stone and Blarney Castle
Thanks for sharing this information. I probably won’t make it to Ireland even for a visit but it was useful and interesting.
I also loved seeing the pictures you posted.
I’m looking forward to some of your experiences in the U.S.
Notes from a newbie in Ireland, Day 37 if I’m counting…
Banks: I worked with Bank of Ireland, who has a “Welcome to Ireland” group that works with immigrants / ex-pats. Having my account set up was one of the first things I did–before I even landed permanently. The downside was having to change address / mobile after that: like your experience, there is still a lot of mailing. I even had the one-time pin for my new Irish mobile mailed to my old US address! I probably could have saved some frustration by just going to the branch, but I generally did everything online, so I was just following the process.
By the way, that’s another important difference: you don’t just have a bank, you have a branch for these things. Whether you pick one near your home, or near your work, think about what is most convenient for you *during bank hours*. No such limits for ATMs, of course.
Notary: I wish I would have known this! Had to get a notary and followed “official” information, which led me to a solicitor’s (lawyer’s) office. Wow, it smelled formal! My company still paid for it, but when it’s a free perk at my US bank, it hurt. Wish I knew the Garda were an option.
Thanks for the advice with taxes. I had heard of taxback, but I do dread year 2. There are so many dire warnings about international taxes!
And finally, for those old enough, Argos = Service Merchandise. Definitely more expensive than Amazon, but the most convenient place for “whatever.” At least until Ikea finds a location for their second store, either in Dublin City Center or South Dublin…
That’s great info to add! Thank you! And, we did take that expedition to IKEA once. It took so many buses and I swore we’d never do it again! Good luck with Day 38 and onward!
Thanks so much for this info! We are contemplating a move from Atlanta to Ireland and I really appreciate the glimpses of real life and practical tips.
You’re welcome! Good luck with everything!