Monday, May 4, 2009

You're Moving to Ireland. Now What?

A few years back I was flying home to Ireland, having visited my folks in California. We made a pit-stop in Boston, and with a couple of hours to kill, I wandered down to the gate intent on getting some work done.

I took a seat in the packed departures area and took out my various notes and got to work. But I couldn't help noticing a good looking gal sitting across the aisle from me. She had a map of Ireland in hand, and studied it as intently as if she was hoping to find the Lost Treasures of the Sierra Madre.

Funny thing, maps. Those small pieces of paper (and in these days, internet images) hold so much more than directions and geography. Often, they'll hold a host of dreams, expectations, and future wishes that seldom match reality. When I first came to Ireland, back in 1980, the Ordinance Survey map that I used (and which I still have stuffed in a drawer someplace) was much more than a hodge-podge of roadways. Rather, it was my key to adventure. Do I turn left or right? Do I go north or south? As some of you know, I turned north, and when I made what I felt to be a somewhat innocuous decision, my life changed forever. Therefore, and since that decision over 20 years ago, I've viewed maps with a fair bit of suspicion.

Anyway, sitting in Logan Airport, watching that good looking gal study her map with such...such...intensity, I couldn't help but feel my curiosity rise. 'Are you going to Ireland?' I asked, and felt a fool. She's sitting at an Aer Lingus gate. Where did I think she was going? But she never batted an eye. Obviously, she had been hoping someone would ask.

Bursting with enthusiasm, the details of her impending adventure gushed forth from her innocent lips: 'I'm from Toronto and I'm flying to Ireland and I'm meeting my Irish boyfriend and we're buying a house together and then in a year we're getting married, and isn't life just amazing.'

I blinked. 'Have you been to Ireland before?' I asked innocently.

'No,' she said.

'Oh,' I replied. Big mistake, I thought. And as it turned out, I was correct.

If You're Planning on Living Here, Visit the Place First

Many North Americans think that they understand Ireland, even though they've never been here before. Maybe it has to do with the fact that so many North Americans are descendants of immigrants from the Auld Sod. Maybe it's because Ireland occupies a sort of mystical, mythical, mysterious - yet comfortable - position in most people's psychie. Maybe it's because the Irish have been so successful at marketing their culture throughout the world that North Americans think they know the place.

Let me tell you something: even if you think you know and understand Ireland, you don't. Take my word for it. It's just not possible. Yes, the Irish speak English just like most North Americans do (some of them, anyway). And yes, the Irish truly are some of the most hospitable people on the planet. And yes, the Irish watch television and go to films and eat and drink just like you possibly do. But right there, the similarity stops.

Ireland is not Peoria Illinois. And if you don't believe me, then take note:
  • Ireland possesses a different culture and a different history - they may talk in English (and, if you're lucky, sing-song Gaelic), but the history of this country has influenced its people and its cultural fabric. Therefore, Ireland is different than North America.
  • They drive on the other side of the road - they drive on the left hand side over here. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but wait until you try it.
  • They have a different form of government - which can drive a person from the United States to distraction, if you're not careful.
  • They eat differently - yes, we now have McDonald's and Burger King over here, but the cullinary tastes of most Irish people are different from North America.
  • The Irish conduct relationships differently - here, if you ask someone to make a firm decision (for instance, and in business, if you ask him/her to hire you) a 'Yes' may mean 'Maybe', and a 'Maybe' might mean a 'No'.
Ireland is different. It's a different people, a different culture. The roads are different. So are the phone systems. So is the health system, and taxes, and the process of buying a house.

Therefore, when I hear about some poor person who has made the immense decision of moving here without even having bothered to visit the place first, my immediate reaction is to say: 'Hold everything! If you were going to buy a car, would you test drive it first? Then why not visit Ireland before you commit your lifetime to it?'

That's my advice, anyway. And it's based on half a lifetime of thinking about it.

As to the woman I met in Boston: as it turned out, I kept in touch with her after she arrived. She lasted just short of one year. Today, and as far as I know, she's back in Toronto, making a new life for herself.
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  1. Kudos on the advise to visit ANY place before moving there!

    And if you go, don't buy a place. At least not just yet.

    Rent is the way to go. Because you never know.

    Also, one would have to consider HOW they are going stay there, if you're not an Irish or EU citizen.

  2. Well you're going to think I'm an idiot... we're moving there, and I've never been. My husband has visited once. For a few days. He really liked it. And I'll happily go wherever he goes.

    Against all of your excellent advice, we're going to take the plunge :-) I have no idea what to expect, but I hope that living in Ireland will be a completely new and unexpected adventure after living my whole life in one town in Australia. In fact, I'll be disappointed if I'm not completely bowled over by culture shock. That's why we're doing it - to experience something new. Ireland has everything we could need (it's a first world country = you have all the same stuff that we have) so I'm not expecting any real hardship in terms of standard of living. The adventure is going to be in adapting to a new culture, learning a new way of life, trying out all the different brands of peanut butter until my daughter finds her new favourite... I know it's crazy but how often have you heard people complain about their somewhat boring and predictable life but then not do anything about it? We're doing something about it, as risky as that might be, and if Ireland is anything like North America, or Australia for that matter, then this whole experiment will be a big waste of time.

    We don't know if we'll stay for one year or ten, and I don't know if we'll stay in one country or a dozen. We'll see. It's the not knowing that is so exciting. We'll eventually come back to Australia (we don't want to emigrate) but for now we are flying by the seat of our pants and I've never felt so excited in my entire life.

    1. Hi lscrude, we are in Australia too and I have it set in my head that I want to move to Ireland, even for 5 years. I have no idea if you'll even see my comment as it's been some years since you posted on here but I'm hoping! We spent almost 7 weeks in Ireland in March and April this year, we travelled 4000km in that time and fell in love with the place. I'm wondering how you went with your move over there? I am seriously wanting to take the plunge. I am a manager in government (human services/housing) and my hubby a coal miner, we have a 9yo at home, the rest have flown the coop. If you see my message please let me know how it all went for you and if you're still there? We were thinking along the lines of not necessarily having work to go to as we are very aware of the recession, but thought if we had enough cash behind us it could be doable and I'd work in a supermarket or wherever if it came to that. I found the cost of living ALOT cheaper than here in Australia. Thanks Fi...PS if anyone else wants to comment on my post please do, I'm very interested to hear your thoughts :)

    2. I met a charming gentleman online who lives in Ireland. I was considering going to visit. I've never been out of the US before. What am I getting myself into? LOL any advice ???

  3. Hat's off to Iscrude (Iscrude? what kind of name is that?) for taking the plunge. Okay, you've never been here. But okay, you're going to do what your gut and heart tell you and take the plunge. Crazy? Sure. Madness? Possibly. Wonderful? You know it. And despite what I wrote above (I've heard of too many war stories NOT to write what I wrote), I should talk. I'd visited Ireland for exactly 2 weeks prior to moving here. And that was 27 years ago. (Mind you, I sure wish I'd visited for longer. I probably would have made a very different decision with my life...). So onward! Tom

  4. Tom, speak your mind! What is it that would have made you change your mind?

    I, too, live in Seattle. As you once did.

    So its not the weather. For all that I have seen in Ireland and here in the Pacific Northwest, Ireland is a *bit* sunnier and a little more dry.

    Data to back it up a little.



    Please share. I have been to Ireland and plan on moving there with wife and 5 month old son. End of Summer is the target.

    It's always good to here from the perspective of someone else. Especially someone having lived it.


  5. So far, gotta say that I love the ebook!

    Love the intro about "life in the slow lane".

    Sometimes we DO miss the big picture.

  6. lscrude... short for Light Sweet Crude which is the title of my blog. My friends call me Trish :-)

  7. We too are making the move to Ireland - we will be arriving at the end of May for a 2 year work assignment. We had not been to Ireland until we came for our househunting trip about a month ago... We have been ex-pats from Portland, Oregon, living in downtown Toronto for the past 3 years, and are now headed to Dublin and will be renting a great house in Malahide.

    We feel that the move to Toronto was a "baby step" in preparation for the move to Ireland - things are a bit different in Canada vs the US - currency, health care, metric, milk in bags, etc.

    We realize that moving to Dublin is going to be MUCH more challenging than moving to Toronto but a bit less than had we moved directly from the US.

    I will admit that the driving is freaking me out a bit - it's the narrow roads and roundabouts rather than the driving on the "other side" however, my partner in this adventure took to the driving pretty quickly so he will be my chauffeur for now. He thinks that he has found "home" which is something because neither of us really know how to the answer the question of "So, where are you from?" after all this moving around!

    First impressions - we're going to like it in Ireland. Are we a bit nervous? - you bet - it's a big move - the unknown is always scary. Are we going in with eyes open? Probably not as much as we should but, ready or we come! Looking for all the advice we can get!

  8. You're so right Tom - except that living in a place is different to holidays in so many ways. I'm more with Iscrude; just go for it. Speaking here as an Irish person who took off for a long overseas adventure and is now trying to re-adjust back. I still don't understand everything around me but that's part of the fun!
    Going to read more of your posts now for some advice on how to stay put here!

  9. You capture the reason I want to move to ireland beautifully.
    I think I will post it on my wall (a rreal wall inside my home in Astoria Oregon, so when i get that feeling I need to be somewhere else than where I am, I can remind myself...but ya know, I have been to Ireland and I do Love it...still want to move there...

  10. Hi Anonymous. Amazing how the grass is always greener: I always wanted to move to Oregon. For years I lived in the SFO region and now and again would wander to Ashland and the Shakespeare festival. Always thought it was a beautiful part of the world. Seems to me that Americans from the NW fit right into Ireland. Maybe it's the steady drip-drip-drip of familiar rain. Mind you, and on this August 09 day, it's bright and beautiful here, and not a drop of rain in sight!

  11. Hello Tom, I just found your blog and have to say I love it :)

    I too am looking to move to Ireland (hopefully in a year and a half. My husband and I visited for 9 days this past June (we planned for 2 years to go and get married and were quite successful I might add), however I still kinda feel that we need to visit a few more times before we plunge ahead.

    So I appreciate your advice on visiting and agree 100%! So come November/December we will be back to experience the colder climates and locales.

    I also am aware of the current economic situation and wouldn't dream of moving over there until both my husband and I have attained jobs. Luckily we are tech/programming oriented so hopefully that will help!

    Keep up the great job Tom! :)

  12. Glad you found the site. I haven't added in a few weeks - just busy! But will get to this as time allows. If you haven't, become a 'follower' and you'll be notified of any editions. Wishing you the very best of luck! T

    1. Tom, you seem to know a lot about Ireland. I have dreamed since I was a little girl, about moving to Ireland. Can you tell me if medical Assistant or medical billing or medical secretary, positions are available a lot or the same as California, in anyway? I have a fiancé and three children ages 6,7,and 15, Of course I am scared but I really want a less violent life for them. Are there a lot of violence there? Are there any websites you can recommend I look at?
      Sincerely Helen G.
      From Northern California

  13. I do agree with you that it's important to visit a place before you decide to move there. But I also think you make a mistake in assuming moving means for life. Perhaps the person in question only wants to live there a year or so. Of course they risk "culture shock" but I've found a lot of Americans are displeased with their own culture. The culture shock could either be exactly what they want - or make them appreciate what they had. I just think you make some assumptions that maybe weren't thought all the way through. Generally good article, though.

  14. I am from Seattle, and have been to Dublin Ireland five times. Three trips in the winter and two in the summer (if you could call it summer). And had a great time every trip. I have a friend in Dublin, so I had a tour guide. But now I feel more comfortable venturing our alone using the LUAS and bus. Ideally I would like to split my time between Seattle and Dublin. Two great cities so similar but so different. Can't wait till I am able to go back to Ireland.

  15. I am sick of the US government and am looking to visit Ireland and maybe move there. I have lived in the US virgin islands and NO gov and people can compair to the cruzans. I had to drive on the left side of the road there. Only time I ran into problems is when I moved back to the mainland and drive on the right side.

    Next year I will have a degree in electronics, I am a machinist by trade, and have done quite a bit of commercial construction. I was wondering how it will be to find work there. My sister has traced our roots back to the middle of Ireland which I thought was weird because the past 4 generations have grown up on the water.

    Does anyone have any advice on what might be a good place to check out in Ireland for weather conditions, scuba, little crime, and work?

  16. Apologies to all of you for my very long, long absence. But - finally - I'm back. Comments that I've received over the past few months such as 'I'm sick of the US gov't' and 'I've dreamed of moving to Ireland since young' pepper this site. Let me attempt to answer your questions:

    First and foremost: Ireland is in the middle of a profound and very deep recessions. Official unemployment numbers are running at 14%. Unofficially, that's probably more like 20%. The historic Irish 'escape valve' is again - sadly - at work. Unemployment figures would be much, much higher, but our young people are immigrating in droves, mostly to Australia. (Not the US this time - it's so very difficult for them to get a green card due to State Department Immigration Law).

    If you are NOT an Irish or EU citizen, or if you do not have Irish ancestry, getting a job - and work permit - in Ireland is now particularly tough. That said - I moved here during the 1982 recession, found work, and am still here. If I did it, you can do it too.

    But how? you ask. Start by checking out It provides basic information on the criteria for working in Ireland.

    And look for jobs that are in particular demand. Recently, I've noticed on the news that a number of US tech companies are hiring including Yahoo! and PayPal (Ireland, if you'll remember - and despite the recession - is Europe's Silicon Valley). Tech companies here are always on the look out for good software engineers. Too many have established European Customer Service Centers - serving the needs of mainland Europe - here. So if you have good European language skills (German, Spanish, Italian, etc) you could be in luck. Language-skilled customer service representatives continue to be in high demand.

    I hope this helps.... Tom

  17. Hi tom
    Im from cork. I came to america 15 years ago and im now looking to return home with two children as my husband walked out on us. Im just wondering if u have any advice for me

  18. First, I'm so very sorry for your trouble. I suspect that life for you is a roller-coaster... As to advice: I can understand why you want to come home. I'm sure you have parents / siblings / friends here, and during times of trauma instincts drive us into the arms of comforting friends and relatives. As an Irish citizen you are of course entitled to many social benefits. I'd log onto the Citizens Advice Bureau ( for more information. It's a very comprehensive site.

    Regarding employment: again, you're an Irish citizen and are certainly entitled to make your way in this dire economy as all of us are. I'll only say one thing: the government cites the unemployment rate at around 14%. I suspect that it's more like 20%. It would be even higher except for the fact that so many of our young people - the lifeblood of this country - are immigrating. So reader beware...

    My only other worry for you is to keep the Hague Convention in mind regarding the children / their father. I'm no counsellor, and certainly not an expert (so forgive my ineptitude in this area). But it's also something to consider.

  19. Its been near a full year since anything has been posted on this blog but from what I have seen you are just the man I need to talk to, so I do hope this gets heard.
    My name is CJ, I've had a long distance relationship with a girl in Ireland for three years and I've spent a deal of time with her there. I'm from America and I've researched the crap out of the topic and its really only served to confuse me. There seems to be contradictions and gaps in explanations and I don't know how to start.
    My understanding is this:
    ~ I can stay there without a visa for a period of 3 months.
    ~ I can stay longer with a Student Visa. (and work)
    ~ If she and I marry, I can apply for permission to reside in the state, which takes up to 12 months... (During which time, if I am not there as a student I cannot work and will end up overstaying the 3 month period)
    ~ After which, if successful, I get to stay another period of 12 months. During which I CAN (finally) seek employment, which under Irish law after attaining said job means I can stay as a permanent resident. (Kinda redundant.)

    Do I understand all this right? Or am I over-complicating it?
    Is there more to the laws than I know? How exactly did you do it?

  20. Hi Anonymous, and good to hear from you. First - I've been writing weekly on this blog for some time now. Check out the 'content' navigator on the right hand side of the page and you can access many other topics.

    But to get to your questions, and sort of starting backwards: Things have changed dramatically since I moved here in 1982. I had married an Irish woman, but at the time things were very simple: she had the right to have her husband support her in her own country. So...I was automatically entitled to get a work permit. BUT I still needed one and had to convince my first employer to spend the bucks (Irish Pounds back then) to buy one. As I say, things have changed.

    The best advice that I can give you is to visit Scroll down the page and it should answer most of your questions. It's a good reference guide. If you have any other questions by all means put them to me.

    Getting a job in Ireland right now is tough. But, depending on your skill sets, it's not an impossible task. The economy is finally starting to bounce after almost 7 years of recession, and the time is coming when many companies - both indigenous and international - will be hiring again.

    Do see other recent Posts in this blog written in 2013 and 2014. You'll see that opportunities to exist!

    Wishing you well! Tom

  21. How much do should I save for my daughter and I to move to Ireland and live on savings until we have lived there long enough to be able to get long term residency? also as self sufficient which visa should I apply for my daughter and II? (I’m a single american mom and my daughter has no father on her birth certificate) I am also going to be working on getting my in bachelors in nursing and would be a registered nurse. should I go for my masters? I’m thinking of becoming a pediatric nurse.

  22. How much do should I save for my daughter and I to move to Ireland and live on savings until we have lived there long enough to be able to get long term residency? also as self sufficient which visa should I apply for my daughter and II? (I’m a single american mom and my daughter has no father on her birth certificate) I am also going to be working on getting my in bachelors in nursing and would be a registered nurse. should I go for my masters? I’m thinking of becoming a pediatric nurse.

  23. Good morning, I Dream of Ireland. Ummm.... your question is rather open ended. How much should you save? That, of course, depends on weather or not you plan to live in a tent - at one end of the spectrum - or a castle, at the other end. However, Ireland is expensive, let me tell you. One of the most expensive countries in the EU. All we do over here is bitch about that fact. So if you're saving, save plenty. As to 'long term residency' - I'm not sure what you mean. As an American, you are not automatically entitled to Long Term Residency no matter how long you stay here. This Blog is full of various tips on the cost of living here and methods to seek - and perhaps obtain - a Visa. Might I suggest that you browse through the various posts. If you have other questions, go to They offer a wide range of facts and advice. Good luck! Tom