If you’re familiar with the phrase “Celtic Tiger,” then you’re likely also familiar with the devastating bust that followed Ireland’s boom years, which lasted from the late 1990s until 2006. During those phenomenal years, real-estate prices saw a double-digit increase each year until the market calamitously dropped between 2006–2007. It wasn’t until 2012 that the market regained its footing and began to rise, but at a more stable rate. While 2014 housing prices, especially in Dublin, made significant gains, 2015 saw a flattening of the market, reassuring to some who feared another price inflation.
Retiring in Ireland
For those who are approaching retirement and considering relocating abroad, Ireland has recently become a more economically appealing prospect, especially for those with somewhat limited savings. Of course, if you’re seeking the lowest-cost places to retire on foreign shores, strike Ireland from your list: Cheap it’s not. A main dish washed down by a pint of beer in a Dublin restaurant will cost you at least around $23 (21 euros). That’s cheaper than Stockholm but more expensive than Prague.
Yet $200,000 in savings will now go much further in the Emerald Isle than just a decade ago. With some careful strategy and a willingness to cut costs around nonessential items—consider, for instance, forgoing a car if you live in a town with good public transport—you might find that Ireland offers a higher quality of life with a cheaper price tag than where you lived in the States.
One common refrain from expatriate retirees is that the Irish pace of life, especially in villages and rural areas, is slower than what they are accustomed to at home. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that can also translate into savings. For example, walking to the village market for groceries, chatting with neighbors, and having a coffee at a local café or a beer at a local pub is not only an easy way to become acquainted with your new community, but it’s also far cheaper than using a car to run errands.
Housing prices in Ireland, like everywhere else, should be viewed through a relative lens: If you’re comparing buying a condo in New York City, even homeownership in Dublin—Ireland’s most expensive city—is an indisputable bargain. That’s especially the case now, as the euro has weakened against the American dollar. Currently, the exchange rate is a tremendous difference from just six years ago when the Euro was valued at nearly 50% more than the dollar, or $1.50 to one euro.
To economize, consider buying in a scenic rural area—Ireland is flush with them—or on the outskirts of a bigger town. To lower your expenses further, explore the rental market. While you’ll find that properties for sale in many mid-size Irish cities, such as Cork, are similarly priced to houses in mid-sized U.S. cities, rental prices are often significantly less. That’s especially true if you live in the center city, where abundant public transport makes it easier to go without a car. Take both Cork and Galway: Center city apartments (call them “flats” in Ireland) run 10% to 55% cheaper than similarly-sized rentals in Madison, Wisconsin, or Minneapolis, Minnesota, both towns with robust and stable housing markets. For example, according to the cost-of-living website Numbeo, a one-bedroom flat in Cork's city center runs around $1,400; outside the center, one costs just over $1,175.
Ireland’s healthcare system is particularly welcoming to the post-retirement set; at age 70, long-term residents qualify for the national healthcare system. However, many expatriates choose private health insurance, which, compared to the U.S. system, is still a relative bargain; figure on about $2,170 a year (2,000 euros) per individual policy.
If the price of gasoline (in Ireland, it's called petrol) doesn't make you want to ditch your plans to buy a car entirely—figure on upwards of $6 (5.50 euros) per gallon—then free bus and train transport for those age 66 and older should. Ireland is served by a long-distance train system that is supplemented by a good bus system.
You’ll find that healthy eating is more affordable in Ireland, where fresh produce, bread, and other local products are often far less expensive than they are in the U.S. And then there’s what the Irish simply call “drink.” Like most European countries, locally produced beer and good European table wines are generally more affordable than they are in the United States. Just make sure to sort out your beer terminology: In the States, ordering a “beer” could mean nearly any non-wine fermented alcoholic beverage. In the U.K. and Ireland, you need to specify whether you want ale, stout, red ale, lager, or porter (a dark beer). Guinness, Murphy’s, Kilkenny, Harp, and Smithwick's are some of the best-known Irish beers and ales.
The Bottom Line
To keep your expenses down and make your savings stretch further, dine out sparingly. It’s helpful to keep in mind that restaurant prices in Ireland run nearly 20% higher than the United States, a good reason to make the ubiquitous (and admittedly delicious) fish-and-chip shops a special occasion and cook at home.
Oh, and if you smoke and are hoping to quit, the price of cigarettes in Ireland might be enough to motivate you: A pack of Marlboro Lights costs upward of $15.00 (13.50 euros).