While there are thousands of Irish folks emigrating each year, it seems our fair isle still tempts many to move this direction and occasionally people ask me for my thoughts on moving to Ireland. Whether it’s a life-long dream or a spontaneous whim, and regardless of how long you plan to stay, there are a few important things you should know.
I’ll tell it to you straight, based on my own experience, just as I would say it to a friend.
1. Do not show up broke and unemployed.
This is a given, but in all seriousness, I worry about students just out of college who imagine they can show up with a backpack and barista skills and think they’ll be grand. It doesn’t work that way, believe me!!!! If you plan to move to Ireland, you must have one or more of the following – a large chunk of savings, a job already promised (one where the employer has paid to sponsor you) and/or an Irish spouse. If you do not have the latter two of these, it may be extremely difficult to find work and when you do, it will probably be cash-in-hand. This means you can be deported for breaking employment law but it also means you won’t be earning any “stamps” or social welfare credits in the event you are injured, become unemployed, or even want maternity leave!
*Note – this mostly applies to people outside the E.U., like Americans. If you’re an E.U. citizen or an Australian, the legalities are much simpler and you can work pretty much as soon as you hit the ground.
I came here in January 2008, before the worst had hit, and I had a reasonable amount of savings. I had housing when I got here, so I didn’t have to pay the crazy rent (which can range from 300 – 1000 euro per month for 1 bedroom!). Even living frugally, I blew through my money in a matter of two months or so, and went to sporadically using my American credit cards to get me by, believing that, with my excellent qualifications, I’d soon have a job as good as the one I left behind.
I was so so so wrong. That’s my sidenote piece of advice to this section – do NOT move here with a lot of debt on your back, including college loan debt. Even if your bank/credit cards are cool with you living abroad, as mine were, the fees for transferring funds to the USA are outrageous. Say you pay $200 in monthly credit card bills in the States. If you want to do a wire transfer from an Irish bank to your American bank, it will cost 15 euro each time to send, plus a receiving fee on the US end (my bank, Chase, charged $15). Add to that miscellaneous fees in transit and currency exchange, and it ends up being between $40 – 50 in fees every month to send money. The other way you can manage this is to have a monthly bank draft issued for the amount (which costs 4.40 euros) and send it to someone who can put money into your bank. This is what I’ve done, with the help of my mom, but not everyone has this option and you still pay currency exchange fees. The dollar is also low, as you know, so where I used to get about $140 for every 100 euro, now it’s nearly equal after the small charges and exchanges. This is a killer!!! Add to that sometimes the banks here are not great at making these kinds of regular transfers and forget or send them late… I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to scrape together enough money to pay my bills and all the charges only to have it arrive late and have to pay multiple late fees on my credit cards as a result!!! Ask Frank – I have cried bitter tears over this on more occasions than I’d like to count.
But back to the employment thing – I did not get gainful proper employment here until March 2009, and that was answering phones in a doctor’s office. I had an “in” because I knew a friend of a friend. Even still, my job was not waiting for me when I came back from my unpaid Maternity Leave in March 2010. I worked for about a year then at Traders, and finally got another professional position at my current solicitor’s office last autumn. I still remember when I’d been here just a few months, literally walking into every shop on every street in Drogheda, handing in my CV and mostly being told quite rudely to take a hike. I had a few off-the-books positions (hope I wont’ get in trouble for saying so now) in local places and I was very thankful for them as they were all that kept me afloat until I got married and had a proper stamp of approval in my passport.
Through all this Frank was a huge support and did as much as he could to look after us both financially speaking, but his work comes in waves so it was never dependable, particularly when I still had bills to pay overseas.
That’s enough on the money thing. 🙂
2. The people really are lovely.
When you’re moving anywhere in the world, it’s hard to make new friends. I’m a bit of an introvert, so I find it even more difficult sometimes and it can be quite lonely when I think back to people I miss in the States. The good thing is that people here do tend to be quite talkative and always interested when they know you’re American. I made a few good friends when I first moved here via Frank, but the large part of my acquaintances here come from the different places I’ve worked. I always laughed before when Frank and I would walk down the street and he would say “hello” to nearly half of them. I don’t laugh anymore though, because after 4 1/2 years, I probably know nearly as many as he does!
I don’t have as many good friends as I did back home, and there’s no replacing them anyway! But it’s nice to feel known nevertheless, and since Evelyn, I’ve found even more ways to chat to men and women in passing on our small town streets. So my advice? Be friendly, try not to be difficult or demanding when things don’t go your way, and above all, be genuine. Integrating into Irish society takes work, and there are always a few “bad apples”… but there are many lovely folks well worth getting to know. Generally speaking, the real Irish people I know are colourful, funny, brashly honest and incredibly giving.
3. The weather can get you down, if you let it.
If you’re moving to Ireland from sunny Las Vegas, you’re in for a shock (in more ways than one, haha). It really does rain a lot and is often overcast, especially this year, and the temperatures never rise much higher than mid-70s F. I think I’ve finally acclimated to this enough that I rejoice when it hits 60 and I break out the skirts and flip-flops. I don’t complain of the heat as much as the locals, in fact I remind myself that I used to live in humid Indiana where it often went into the 90s in summer! The winters, as well, don’t drop too far below zero, but let me tell you, they are freezing!!! I’m better equipped now and understand the importance of layers, hot tea and blazing fires, but the chill can go straight to your bones if you’re not used to it. It’s mostly the constant grey and rain that depresses people, though.
Easiest solution is travel – even if you can’t get out of the country, for some reason I find that grey and rain 50 kilometers away isn’t as desperate as the grey and rain at home. 🙂 But ideally, it’s best to travel somewhere sunny as most people do – Spain, Italy, the south of France, Turkey, Bulgaria, Morocco and the USA!
4. These things take time.
When you move abroad, you can check everything you know as “normal” at the door. You’re living somewhere else now, and you’ve gotta play by their rules. Get used to it. Someone once said to me that I should set up an American Club here in Drogheda so I could hang out with all the other Americans, but to be honest… I didn’t want to. Some of the Americans I’ve met who are living here are perfectly respectable, nice people. But others… others are snobbish and rude and can only complain about how much better things are in America. Don’t get me wrong – I have my moments! But I feel a certain mix of pride in my new home and annoyance that my countrymen can’t be better guests in our host country. If you can enter these gates with respect and a sense of humor, you will fare much better.
Some things here just take a lot longer. I feel like I stand in a lot more queues for a lot more time. Papers I have to fill out or letters I send go unanswered for a long, long time. I may not get a response at all. If you’re calling a public service office, you may not get to talk to anyone, and you may not get answers to your voicemail. I’ve talked before about the health care here… great doctors and nurses, but long, long wait times for specialist appointments.
If you’re getting married, you will have to declare your intent and then wait 3 months before you can make it legal. If you’re getting divorced, there is a minimum 4 year waiting period before it even goes to Court.
To the Irish, all this waiting is sort of ingrained in their psyche. You need to talk to someone in the social welfare office, take a number and wait. Probably 45 minutes or more. You need to get one of those international bank drafts I mentioned before, you go to the bank and wait in line. Probably 30 minutes or more. You need to see an orthopaedic surgeon, you’ll have to ask your doctor for a letter. Wait a few weeks for a letter with an appointment date, and wait a few months for the appointment. On the day of the appointment, wait a few hours to be seen.
I find it very odd that more people don’t read or knit or something. They just sit, quietly, hands folded, and wait.
5. Get a car.
This is not a must, but it certainly helps. We can survive perfectly well living in a town the size of Drogheda with no car, but our quality of life does suffer. The train and bus fares have both recently jumped in price, so our travels to Dublin and such are significantly curtailed at this stage. Plus, in recent years the face of small Irish towns has changed and shops and amenities are moving further and further out of the town centre. We have to rely quite heavily on Frank’s family and the bus system to go out to say, a garden centre or discount grocery store, and that has been a burden on us all. When we do rent a car for short vacations, it’s amazing the sense of freedom we feel, just to go wherever we like and get a change of scenery.
So there you are… just a few of the most important things I think people should know when they move here. I really do love Ireland and all that she has to offer, and I wholeheartedly support people who want to give it a go and live here. You will love it in so many ways and maybe you’ll never want to leave! Just do your homework and come prepared and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration.