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Living in Ireland

A practical guide to the way of life in Ireland

Living in Ireland as an expat has undergone an unprecedented boom in the past decade. Even after the global crisis of 2008/2009, Ireland remains a popular expat destination. The InterNations GO! Guide on Ireland provides you with info on education, healthcare, and daily life.

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Life in Ireland

  • Ireland has a strong education system but you won’t find many international schools.
  • When driving in Ireland, be aware of the laws unless you want to receive penalty points.
  • Ireland has a good healthcare system, however, unless you choose private healthcare, you may experience long waiting times.

Before moving to the “Emerald Isle”, most expats have a mental image of Ireland that includes green meadows, lots of rain, rough — but cordial — conduct, and moderate pace in all things imaginable. While you will find all of these aspects to some extent, you will quickly discover that the Republic of Ireland is strikingly similar to many other industrialized nations. Still, even as the highly globalized and technophile nation that it is today, life in Ireland has retained that special flavor that gives it a distinctive touch.

There are only about 4.7 million people living in Ireland, a number most would expect from a medium-sized metropolis, rather than an entire nation. The low number of inhabitants means that the country is a social one, acquaintances and contacts are very important in your everyday life. When you encounter problems, there is probably someone you know who knows someone who can help.

A Large Amount of Fog, but You Will See Some Sun

Those green meadows you dreamed of come at a price. As an expat living in Ireland, you will have to come to terms with rain and fog. Of course, that is not all you are ever going to see, otherwise life there would be unbearably grey and dreary. Just keep in mind that Ireland is not a popular tourist destination because of perpetual sunshine. However, the maritime climate of the island makes for warm summers and mild winters, bestowing Ireland a moderately tempered climate all year round.

A Country with a Long History of Immigration and Emigration

During the days of the Celtic Tiger, working and living in Ireland was not only an attractive prospect to expatriates, but also for the Irish who had left the country years before, as well as their decedents. However, with the collapse of the Irish economy during the global recession, life in Ireland hasn’t been so easy in recent years. For this reason, there has been a trend of emigration with less Irish nationals returning to their home state.

Things are starting to slowly change, though. The number of Irish nationals leaving the country decreased by just over 30% between 2013 and 2015, while the number of Irish nationals returning to their home country increased by 4.3% between 2014 and 2015, although the level is still not anywhere near pre-crisis levels. 

Indeed, with its long history as an emigrant nation and the dramatic increase in expatriation over the last few years, it seems fitting that the country created the new post of Minister for the Diaspora in 2014. The Minister’s main goal is to forge a connection between the homeland and those who have left life in Ireland behind. Some initial success can be seen by the creation of a government diaspora policy, which was released in 2015, and the inclusion of many people and groups in the conversation about Ireland and its diaspora. So far, the situation of Irish emigrant voting rights has not changed, however.

In the face of the economic situation and the high emigration rate, Ireland has been eager to attract expatriates to its soil alongside the emigrants it is hoping to win back. The efforts seem to be successful; about 12% of the population was foreign born in 2013. The majority of these expats came from within the EU. There are substantial immigrant communities throughout the country and with the addition of new EU member states, many people took the opportunity of their newly gained freedom of movement to begin a new life in Ireland. For instance, according to the 2011 census, Poles make up the largest migrant community in Ireland, but there are also large Latvian and Lithuanian communities.

Expats from around the World

Of course, expatriates in Ireland do not come exclusively from the abovementioned countries. Among many others, people from Brazil, China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the USA have settled here. The openness of the Irish economy towards investments from abroad and the high demand for skilled workers attracts people from around the world who have made Ireland their new home.

The largest expat populations can obviously be found in the main cities. This is particularly true for Dublin, further consolidating the city’s status as the first choice for those interested in living in Ireland. For detailed information on the capital, please read our guide on living in Dublin.

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Education in Ireland

The Role of the Irish Language in Education

Firstly, you need not worry about your children struggling with the language at school in Ireland. While Irish and English are both official languages of the country, the main language of instruction in schools is usually English. Furthermore, although Gaeilge is a part of the national curriculum, some pupils may be exempt from studying it, for example those who have spent considerable time abroad or are dyslexic.

A Strong Education System

Education in Ireland is compulsory from the age of six until sixteen, with state-funded education available at all levels. Irish schools are of excellent quality and expats can send their children to these institutions with perfect peace of mind, knowing that they will receive more than adequate instruction.


A free Pre-School Year scheme, introduced in 2010, is open to all children aged three to four years old in the year before they start primary school. While this scheme is optional, it has proved very popular, with almost all eligible children attending. There is also early childhood care available outside the formal education system from a range of private, community, and voluntary services.

Primary Education

Primary schools in Ireland come in three different forms: state-funded primary schools, special schools, and private primary schools. Although it is not compulsory for children to attend primary school until the age of six, most children start school in the September following their fourth birthday.

Primary education lasts for eight years, covering junior infants, senior infants, and years one to six. The curriculum covers a range of subjects such as Irish and English language, mathematics, physical education, and social, environment and scientific education.

Secondary Education

As with primary education, there are various institutes in Ireland that offer secondary education. You can choose from vocational schools, community schools, comprehensive schools, and secondary schools, which are actually the private schools in Ireland. Secondary education comes in two stages: the Junior Cycle and the Senior Cycle. The Junior Cycle usually starts at the age of twelve and lasts for three years, at the end of which the students take a Junior Certificate exam.

After the Junior Cycle, students progress to the Senior Cycle. This lasts for either two or three years depending on whether they take the Transition Year between Junior and Senior Cycle. The Transition Year acts as a bridge between the two cycles with a large range of topics, including work experience. This year may be optional or mandatory, depending on the school your child attends.

In the Senior Cycle, teens are able to choose between three different programs, leading to different state examinations:

  • The Leaving Certificate is considered the traditional route and has 30 different subjects to choose from, which can be studied at ordinary or higher level. Students are required to take at least five subjects, with the most common amount taken being six or seven.
  • The Leaving Certificate Vocational Program (LCVP) is a combination of the academic strengths of the traditional Leaving Certificate Program and modules with a more vocational focus on enterprise and the community.
  • The Learning Certificate Applied Program (LCA) is aimed at students who either do not intend to continue to higher education or whose aptitudes are not covered by the other two programs. This program is cross-curricular and focuses on work in a practical and learner-centered nature.

Higher Education

There are many different institutions offering higher education in Ireland, including seven different universities. Places on university courses are offered based on the Common Points Scale, which has recently been revised due to changes in the secondary education marking system, which will come into effect in 2017. Applications for university are processed through the independent Central Applications Office.

International Schools

International schools are few and far between in Ireland, not least of all due to the high quality of state education in Ireland. However, if you’d rather send your child to an international school, your chances of finding an institution are best in Dublin. Here is a list of the international schools available in Ireland:

Traffic and Healthcare in Ireland

A Different Road System

Many of our readers will be aware of this, but as it appears to be a problem with some foreigners, we’d like to explicitly point out that motorists drive on the left-hand side in Ireland. It might sound a little patronizing, but as quite a few severe crashes are caused by confused drivers using the wrong side of the road, it is highly important to keep this in mind at all times.

Generally speaking, road conditions in Ireland are on par with any other highly industrialized country. It will only take a few days for experienced drivers to get used to driving on the left and using countless roundabouts. Outside of city limits, things can get a little bit trickier when you leave the main roads and use the country roads. If you have no problems with curvy, narrow and slightly rocky roads, you will be just fine, though.

Traffic Regulations

If your stay in Ireland exceeds twelve months, you have to apply for an Irish driver’s license in order to keep driving a motor vehicle. If you are from within the EEA or one of the recognized states, you are lucky. You can simply exchange your driver’s license for an Irish one at the nearest National Driving License Service (NDLS) center. Recognized states include Australia, Gibraltar, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Japan, Jersey, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, and Taiwan. If your home is not on this list, the only option is to start from scratch and complete the process of becoming a qualified driver in Ireland.

It is important to note that Ireland works off a penalty point system. Penalty points were introduced in 2002 due to the significantly high number of traffic-related deaths. There are 62 offences which can incur points on your license. If a driver receives more than twelve points, they will be suspended from driving for six months and must submit their license to the relevant authority within 14 days of notification of suspension.

Always keep in mind that Ireland has very thorough legislation to prevent driving under the influence of alcohol. Please leave your car at home whenever you plan to consume alcoholic beverages.

A Well-Functioning Healthcare System

In terms of health and well-being, you are in very good hands in Ireland. The tax-funded Health Service Executive (HSE) is responsible for providing extensive healthcare assistance to every resident of Ireland. While healthcare is generally free, some services, such as emergency care, doctor’s visits, and hospital stays, come with fees. However, if your income and assets are below a certain limit, you can apply for a Medical Card or a GP Visit Card; then you are exempt from certain or even all healthcare fees. Up to a third of the Irish population is covered by these cards.

However, if you earn above this threshold, you will have to pay some healthcare fees in Ireland. While these fees might seem steep to some readers, they are capped. There is an annual or — as with prescription drugs — a monthly limit. Hospital expenditure for inpatients, for instance, is limited to 750 EUR annually; prescription medication will cost a maximum of 144 EUR per month if you apply to the Drug Payment Scheme. If you have certain long-term illnesses, like diabetes or multiple sclerosis, you can get the required drugs free of charge.

While the healthcare system is based on tax payments, both residency and means also play a role when it comes to the services provided. If you have decided to live and work in Ireland for more than one year, you should contact the HSE as soon as possible to confirm your status as ordinary resident. This will grant you the quickest possible access to healthcare services.

Expats hailing from within the EEA are entitled to receive certain medical services free of charge (e.g. emergency care for visitors with a European Health Insurance Card), but they might not be fully exempt from fees. Please consult your Local Health Office for further information.

Health Services: Some Improvements Still Need to Be Made

Unfortunately, despite relatively large expenditures for healthcare services and the quality standards of public institutions, there are still a few issues the HSE has to tackle. The most pressing one being long waiting times in hospitals (and sometimes also for general practitioners) and for certain non-vital treatments.

High demand for medical services and professionals was unfortunately not met with an increased number of practitioners. You are unlikely to be made to wait for months, but do not expect to be treated right away every time. If you would like to improve your personal situation, you can opt for private health insurance instead. The Health Insurance Authority provides information on the private healthcare market in Ireland.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: December 06, 2018
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