I took a calculated risk and booked my flight to Ireland without even having a visa. I had one month to gather my papers, squeeze an appointment in at the Irish embassy, and make my dream of getting a job abroad happen. One month later, I boarded my flight to Dublin by myself and that dream became a reality with an Ireland Working Holiday Visa.
Six months down the road, I settled in Cork and lived that dream. I had a stable 9-5 job working in the international office of an Irish university, the freedom to travel around Ireland and Europe on the weekends, I made friends from all over the world, and I got to experience the Irish pubs and nightlife to the fullest.
Even though I don’t live in Ireland anymore, my year in Ireland was one of the most rewarding and transformative opportunities in my life. It gave me both adventure and real-world experience. And I genuinely want to help others have the same experience.
I began writing this blog post in my head since the moment I started to apply, because I couldn’t find a lot of the information covered in this guide. Especially when it came to figuring out how to LIVE in Ireland.
Here’s a bit my personal experience moving to Ireland:
Who can apply for Ireland’s Working Holiday Visa?
University students or recent graduates with a U.S passport are eligible to apply for what is called a “working holiday visa” in Ireland. This allows you to live and work in Ireland for up to one year. You must be currently enrolled in school full-time or graduated in the past year. So, you can apply up to one year after you graduate college or graduate school. Please refer to the Irish embassy website for all details.
Americans can also travel throughout Europe and Ireland during the duration of their stay. They do not have to stay or work in Ireland the full 12 months. Participants do not need a job before entering Ireland.
Applying for the working holiday visa is done through your local Irish consulate, either in person or by mail. For example, I am from Minnesota, so I had to apply through the Consulate General of Ireland in Chicago. The processing time takes roughly 4-8 weeks.
(Note: Canadians and Australians are also eligible to apply for working holiday visa in Ireland. Please visit the Canadian embassy website or the Australian embassy website for more information on this).
What is the process of applying for the Ireland Working Holiday Visa?
There are two stages of the application process. These may be dropped off in person or mailed.
- Working holiday application found here.
- Photocopy of passport.
- 2 passport photos with name on the back.
- Resume with two references.
- University diploma or proof of enrollment in school.
- Original bank statement showing access to $4,000.
- Nonrefundable fee of around $350 for application.
- Return airline ticket showing when you will be leaving Ireland (may be to another country)
- Certificate of medical/ travel insurance valid for duration of stay in Ireland
- Original Passport
Note that you CAN fast-track your application process by sending all of this information in at once, instead of waiting to hear back on stage 1 before submitting stage 2.
I brought in all my information at once, and then picked it up when the embassy approved. The process took me about a month, but if you plan on doing this too I would plan on at least 6 weeks. I would ask your local Irish embassy with specific questions about the processing time as it can vary by office.
Health insurance: You will have to buy a separate international health insurance plan, as your U.S health insurance will not be valid in Ireland.
For example, I already had Cigna through my dad, luckily, so I purchased an international plan myself through Cigna global. I would recommend calling your current health insurance provider and see if you can add international coverage to your plan. This will most likely be a minimum of $100 a month.
Although it may seem like a lot of steps and perhaps a lot of money, it is doable, especially if you’re saving up money for a few months. Since you have 12 months after graduation to apply, I recommend working for at least six months to save up money.
Please, only worry about the visa and where you want to stay for the first two weeks in Ireland before you get to Ireland. Do NOT waste your energy on trying to find a job or apartment before you get there. Most likely, you will get scammed on an apartment doing this.
I know it seems a bit scary, but you’re going to have to trust the luck of the Irish and figure the rest of that out when you get there.
Getting to Ireland: Where to live?
So, like most foreigners, I originally wanted to live in Dublin. I liked that it is a big city filled with an abundance of opportunity. But the more I looked into it, it wasn’t going to be feasible for us at all.
So, we decided on Cork, which is the second biggest city in Ireland. Living expenses were much more affordable, but it was still big enough to find employment opportunities.
Here’s a basic breakdown of pros and cons of major cities in Ireland:
- Pros: Best job opportunities in a variety of fields, cheap flights to rest of Europe, active international community and nightlight.
- Cons: Most expensive part of Ireland, and one of the most expensive cities in Europe. Very difficult to find housing. Lots of commuting.
Cork (where I lived)
- Pros: Up-in-coming city with Apple, Amazon, and other tech companies growing. Also universities like UCC. Large international community. Cost of living is much less expensive than Dublin. Great base for many Ireland road trips along the wild Atlantic way.
- Cons: Housing can be difficult and expensive to find. Bus system is often unreliable. Might not be as many long-term employment opportunities as Dublin.
- Pros: Very young and bohemian vibe. Lots of university students, small coffee shops and restaurants.
- Cons: Town is a bit smaller and employment outside out hospitality can be hard to find.
- Pros: One of the most scenic areas of Ireland. Less busy. Many hotels and hospitality jobs.
- Cons: Not sure how easy it is to find housing. Not many jobs outside of tourism.
Setting up an Irish phone number
This is one of the first things I suggest doing, along with finding housing. I was able to pay off my phone bill in the U.S and then paid to have my iPhone “unlocked”. This way, I could easily put an Irish chip in it to have my own phone number.
If this isn’t an option, I recommend using your smart phone only for wi-fi, and then buying a cheap phone to make calls in Ireland. You can buy a cheap phone under 50 euros at Tesco with a chip to get an Irish number.
I decided to go with a “pay as you go” mobile top-up at Tesco for 25 euros a month. I bought the sim card for around 5 euros. And then each month, I would literally just go to the casher at the grocery store and ask for a 25 euro Tesco top up code.
The reason I recommend doing this first, is that you want to make sure you have an Irish number when applying for housing and jobs. I found that people seem to trust you more as soon as they see you have an Irish number. It shows commitment to living there.
Finding housing in Ireland
As I mentioned in my video, you need to tackle things in Ireland one step at a time. The first step you need to take is finding housing before anything else. I will be honest in that no matter where you go, it can be very difficult. Some listings go up at 9:00 a.m. are unavailable by noon.
You can either book a short-term rental going month to month, or sign a lease for the full year. If you are committed to staying and finding a job, that is. What we did was find a place for the first four months on a short-term lease, since I knew I probably wouldn’t stay the full year. Some people find a short-term rental for the first month on Airbnb while finding a job. After this, they decided to commit to a one-year lease.
Don’t forget that you have to register at the local garda (police) station and pay a $300 registration fee within the first three months. I worked in the international office of a university, and trust me, you will get caught if you don’t do this! Also, I forgot to go back and get my passport stamped after I registered. Don’t forget to do this either! The garda or embassy can explain this all to you in further detail.
The Best Jobs in Ireland for Americans
For me, this was the most difficult part and took me about two month. I applied to hundreds of jobs online and didn’t hear back from most of them.
So, if possible, I recommend getting in with a recruitment agency, or networking your butt off. Both of these things landed me my job at UCC working as an international academic advisor.
The minimum wage in Ireland starts at 9.25 euros an hour, but I’d expect to be paid anywhere from 10-15 euros an hour. I would say that having at least 1,300 euros a month is enough to live in Ireland, depending on where you live.
In Cork, I was actually able to save about 2,500 euros by the end of my eight months. I’m not sure if I would have been able to do this if I went to Dublin.
Getting your PPS number and opening a bank account in Ireland.
Congrats! Now the hard part is almost over. The next thing to do is get your PPS number, which you need for Irish taxes. You can visit this website here.
You won’t be able to get your PPS number until you get a job, so you will have to wait until you have a job to get this. You’ll have to fill out some information online, and then visit the local PPS office. You’ll also then get your PPS card and information in the mail.
Next, you need to open up an Irish bank account in Ireland. Depending on what bank you decide to use, you’ll need to show passport, working holiday visa authorization, your social security number (for U.S tax purposed), and proof of address.
Most banks want to see an “official” letter sent to your address with your name on it. You can either use your official lease agreement, or your PPS number that the office will send to your address.
I decided to go with AIB Bank since I didn’t hear great things about Bank of Ireland. I was overall pretty happy with my choice, as the staff was very polite and helpful.
Once you have this complete, you’ve completed pretty much ALL of the beaucracy steps! Hooray! Please note that although this does seem like a LOT to do, it is possible. It took me almost two months to get everything together, but it was worth it.
Navigating Irish culture?
From my experience, I found Ireland to have both elements of European and American culture. Many times I could have sworn I was back in the U.S if it wasn’t for the various Irish phrases that threw me off (wrote a post on that here). I also wrote a list of the 10 things that surprised me most about Ireland.
People are pretty laid back, but not as relaxed as other parts of Southern Europe. People have a strong work ethic. At the same time, they do not care about social status as much as many Americans do. So, you can expect a lot of eye rolls with any type of humble brag about your lists of accomplishments. Did I mention the Irish also have a hilarious sense of sarcastic humor?
I can attest to the fact that the Irish are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. At the same time, some people can be a bit reserved. Especially living in Cork, it took some time to get an “in” with people. But once I did, I felt at home with the locals.
I will also note that Irish people can be very non-confrontational. They rarely complain and don’t want to cause a fuss. It took me some time to realize that you have to read between the lines with many people, because they may not say what they mean directly. Coming from Chicago and Croatia (where people are very direct), I had to adjust my communication accordingly.
Also, the same goes for customer service. Depending on where in Ireland you are, it can be somewhat of a cultural faux pas to complain. Don’t be surprised if the waitress seems slightly offended when you want to send your burger back because it is under-cooked. I’d recommend just being extra nice if you have any sort of issue, and leaving the “well in America this would never happen!” attitude at home.
Where to find friends in Ireland?
It really depends on where you go in Ireland, but this step takes time. I’d recommend befriend both international and Irish friends, as there is such a mix in the country. I ended up becoming pretty close with some of my co-workers, and also became friends with a few other Irish friends through friends. Whether it’s going out to the pubs or joining some type of group or club, it’s really like anywhere else in the world in that you just have to put in a little bit of effort.
How to stay longer in Ireland?
Many Americans that come on the working holiday visa end up wanting to stay longer. Even though I left before my visa expired, I don’t blame them. However, please note that getting a visa sponsorship can be very difficult, but it’s not impossible.
I found that any sort of job in the public sector will most likely not be able to do this. For example, there seemed to be no way for me to do this for my job working at UCC, which is a public university. However, I know a lot of other people who either worked for a medium to large size private company that were sponsorship after a 6-month trial period. It appears that the majority of these opportunity were in Dublin.
I would NOT recommend staying past your visa under any circumstances though, as they do seem pretty strict about it. Ultimately, I think the best way is to network your butt off and make friends. Once you get an “in”, it’s much easier.
Thank you Ireland for all the wonderful memories. Hopefully this post will pass on the favor and help other Americans have the incredible experience I did!