Our Time as Expats in Ireland – Where to Live

In my last post I wrote about the process of getting to Ireland. I’d like to take a brief flash back now, to our house hunting trip a few weeks earlier.

This was another example of the benefit of having a company to help with this process. We were connected with Irishrelo, an employee relocation service, who assisted with every aspect of our move. I’ve relocated for work nine times over the course of my career and the people at Irishrelo were among the most competent, and certainly the friendliest and most pleasant people I’ve worked with. Having a real estate agent help with finding an apartment made it a whole lot easier.

Though my workplace was out in the suburbs, we wanted to live in Dublin proper. If we were going to move all that way, we wanted to be where the action is! I quickly found myself embroiled in heated controversy amongst my co-workers – the great divide between the North and South Dubliners. Apparently there’s a long standing rivalry between the two, and I got an earful about why one was better than the other. In reality we found that, while there are great neighborhoods on either side of the Liffey, more American expats seem to settle on the south. If you’re interested in reading more about the various neighborhoods, here’s a link to an article on the best places to live in Dublin.

We landed ready for a full week of exhaustive apartment hunting! When we met our agent however, she had some disappointing news. First of all, the real estate market in Dublin is extremely challenging. A byproduct of the city’s economic success and growth, there’s a ton of competition for quality, affordable housing. Second, because we had a dog, she was only able to find five apartments that allowed pets. Two of them were both too far from town and too far from work to be in consideration. One we loved, high up in a beautiful suburb called Howth, with an amazing ocean view. Since I was already nervous about driving, the idea of navigating the very narrow winding road up and down that hill every day was a dealbreaker. Plus, while Howth is very nice (and well worth a day trip!), we really wanted to be closer to central Dublin.

We took our lunch break in a wonderfully named town, Castleknock. My husband Dennis and I were leisurely finishing our pints when our agent yelled out “skull it, lads, we have another appointment to get to”. I wasn’t familiar with what “skull it” meant but in context we figured it meant drink up and get moving! We then looked at a nice, large apartment that was temptingly both close to work and just east of Phoenix Park. However, we ended up deciding on the last one we looked at, a much smaller garden apartment in Rathmines, a nice neighborhood in Dublin 6.

We loved Rathmines. It has a nice central area with lots of shops and pubs we could walk to, with a Luas stop close by for a 10 minute ride to St. Stephens green. We were right on the border with Ranelagh and I’ll admit that I loved the shops and restaurants in that neighborhood even more. If you find yourself in the area make sure you grab a pint at Mother Reilly’s, try the surprisingly delicious wings at TriBeCa, and treat yourself to a great steak dinner at The Butcher Grill. If you’re looking for neighborhoods to settle in as an expat, you’d do well with either of those. We also had expat friends who settled in Ballsbridge (arguably the poshest Dublin area), another in a northern neighborhood called Portmarnock and a third in the suburb of Malahide. All of them loved living in these areas as well.

St. Stephen’s Green

So we settled in to our little Rathmines apartment. Our next hurdle was getting our GNIB cards. When we landed, Immigration only authorized a three month stay. To stay longer we had to get permission from the Garda Naturalisation and Immigration Board (note, that has changed since we lived there and for greater Dublin this is handled through the INIS, link below). Compounding our challenge, we were trying to do this at the same time thousands of foreign students were returning to the country, which seemed to completely overwhelm the system.

Luckily we had our Irishrelo agent to the rescue. She was spectacular, setting everything up for us and telling us to just meet her at the GNIB headquarters at 6 am. She warned that there would be tremendous queues and that they only processed a limited number each day. Everyday when the doors opened, they’d count as people walked in, and when they reached capacity they’d turn away hundreds that had been waiting for hours but were still too far back in line. There was no reservation system at that time, and the problems this caused, with daily queues winding around and around the building were decried as a disgrace. Eventually that outcry did create change and a reservation system was put in place.

We dutifully show up at 6, coffees in hand, to find our agent about a third of the way down the line. There are hundreds of people in line already, snaking around the building and then spiraling over itself again like some giant snake eating its tail. It turns out our agent got there at 3am in order to get that place in line. If she hadn’t, we would have certainly been too far back and been turned away. We could never repay her, but Dennis was kind enough to give her his coffee as a small token of gratitude.

Finally they open the doors and we get in, and sit and wait for several hours until we’re called, separately, up to the little processing windows. We didn’t know that we’d be separated so we only brought one copy of our marriage license. The clerks had to shuffle it back and forth between them to complete the process. Luckily Dennis got a gay agent who became Chatty Cathy once he saw we were married. Ireland had just recently passed their same sex marriage initiative so he was thrilled for us, and helped ensure the process went smoothly.

One setback though, and a word of caution for those that might be heading over. While I had a work visa valid for 2 years, our passports only had 16 months remaining on them. We were only issued GNIB cards good until our passport expiration date and had to come back and do it all over again when we renewed our passports. If I’d have known, I would have renewed my passport before we left the US to ensure it was valid for the entire time we planned to stay in Ireland.

At least we were good for now, and so we headed back to our little garden apartment ready to settle in to our new expat life.

Disclaimer: this post is about my personal experience as an expat in Ireland and is not a guide on how to emigrate. Rules and policies change all the time so if you want up to date information please refer to the Irish Immigration and Naturalization website.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s