If you’ve been dreaming for years about retiring in Ireland, the deflation of the Celtic Tiger’s notorious housing bubble and the collateral economic impacts mean that your dream is likely far more affordable than it was a decade ago.
Of course, that all depends on whether you’re dreaming of buying an elegant Georgian townhouse in central Dublin or renting a one-bedroom cottage on the scenic Dingle Peninsula. You’ll find housing to be your most significant expense, and also the one that varies the most according to your lifestyle.
If you’re in the market for a luxury property, Dublin’s housing market is a good value, especially when compared with other northern European capitals, such as Oslo, Stockholm or London. In the New York Times international real-estate section, a recent listing for a five-bedroom Dublin townhouse came in at $2.78 million (2.49 million euros).
If, like most retirees, you’re seeking a more modest dwelling, you can find the best bargains outside the capital in smaller cities and rural areas. Yet even within Dublin, prices have dropped significantly since the height of the housing boom. Whatever your price range, mortgage interest rates are currently hovering at an affordable 4%.
In light of the past decade’s housing market instability, think about renting. Many retirees, some of whom saw losses of their own properties in the global recession, find renting to be the most attractive option. In Dublin, figure on $1,487 (1,300 euros) per month for a two-bedroom apartment; for a two-bedroom house, that figure goes up to about $1,831 (1,600 euros) a month. For more affordable housing, think about heading to south to County Cork or County Kerry, or to the rugged and beautiful west coast. In Galway, a charming city beloved by both natives and tourists, you’ll find one-bedroom apartments in the center of town for around $857 (750 euros); for a one-bedroom outside of town, that price drops to around $673 (577 euros). If you’re buying in Galway City, the average price per square foot is less than $202 (176 euros). (For more on housing choices, see 5 Top Places to Retire to in Ireland.)
Regardless of your budget, it will pay to learn about Ireland’s housing laws and regulations. As of this year, the Central Bank of Ireland has tightened restrictions on new residential mortgages – unsurprising in light of the boom-era housing bubble.
Here’s the good news: You can forget about a pricey air-conditioning bill because you won’t need (and probably won’t have) air conditioning. However, heating bills are another fact. Your heating bill for the chilly Irish autumn-through-spring seasons could be significant; utilities can run up to one-third more than in the U.S. Overall, figure about $171 (150 euros) per month for heat, electricity, water and phone service for an average 900-square foot dwelling. You’ll obviously pay more for a large, multi-bedroom house.
Ireland’s climate is not known for its sunshine, which means that you’ll pay higher prices for fruit and some vegetables, which must be imported from warmer climes. Yet the prices on many household staples are comparable to U.S. prices, and you’ll even find that many basic items such as cheese (don’t miss out sampling the sharp, rich Irish cheddars), bread, butter, and fish are priced lower.
Ultimately, you’ll probably find that a night out for a beer and a meal in Ireland won’t cost any more than it would back home and that many provisions to cook at home will be more affordable.
While the quality of its services compares favorably to other advanced nations, Ireland has a vastly different healthcare system from the United States, particularly when it comes to insurance and costs. For citizens and legal residents, public healthcare is free. However, many expatriates choose to spring for the higher cost of the private healthcare system. Because this system is not publicly funded, expect to buy private health insurance if you plan to use it.
If you plan to buy a car, make sure to obtain an Irish driver’s license as soon as you’re able because your insurance cost will drop significantly (see Driving Abroad). You’ll find that a small economy car makes the most sense both in cities and rural areas, where narrow roads – often lined with old stone walls, with no shoulder – make driving on the left side of the road a hair-raising proposition for even the most confident American driver.
Do consider going car-free if you’re relocating to an urban area: A monthly pass on Galway public transport is about $79.30 (69 euros), significantly cheaper than the cost of owning and maintaining a car. And don’t forget about the gas (call it “petrol” like the Irish). Whatever you call it, it’s far more expensive than per-gallon prices stateside (currently about $5.69 per gallon (5 euros)). A modest Volkswagen Golf will set you back about $30,173 (26,500 euros).
Whether your tastes run to the luxurious in some areas or to the modest in others, it’s helpful to examine how the locals live and spend as the ultimate economic measuring stick. In Galway, the average after-tax disposable income runs to $2,662 per month (2,327 euros). Except for major luxuries, you should be able to get by on a similar monthly budget.