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Expat Interview: From Housesitting Abroad to Moving to Ireland

Welcome to the Expat Interview Series! I’ve reached out to expats in different countries to hear why people might choose to move abroad, and how they do it. If you want to know more about moving to a particular country this is the place. Check out the archive of Expat Interviews for more!

I recently visited Ireland for the 4th time, and it’s a country I could go back to again and again! I love this story from Faith and Alan of XYU & Beyond, about how their housesitting adventures in Mexico led to them moving to Ireland! Read on to find out more… 

Moving to Ireland

Tell us about yourself

We (my husband and I, Alan) started our expat journey in 2015 by taking early retirement and moving to Mexico. We like to say that our kids wouldn’t run away from home so we did. We have 3 boys all in their early 30’s who are settled and happy in Canada. We had decided that we could afford to retire early on Alan’s pension if we lived someplace really cheap so Mexico it was.

We chose a little fishing village in the Yucatan called Chelem which was around a half hour outside Merida one of the safest places in Mexico.

Living in Ireland as an Expat

How did you end up living in Ireland?

We chose Chelem because it was small and it looked affordable with beachside living and a good supportive expat network. It was also (we thought) going to be warm (understatement) and inexpensive. We had dreamt of living in Mexico after visiting for many years. We had often thought of living in Ireland or possibly Spain but we never believed we could afford to do so. Mexico it was because it was easy to live there coming from Canada and a whole heck of a lot warmer.

What we didn’t know at the time was that in the Yucatan the heat is absolutely relentless. It is either hot with some breezes called the Nortes or hotter with no breezes. It was also a lot more expensive than we had thought as most rental properties are owned by N. Americans and they want US dollars with an average of $1000 a month for a rental. Way out of our league price wise and it is getting worse the expats are changing the entire way of life in areas like this because they can afford to build “American” style homes and want the big bucks to rent them.

Moving to Ireland

However, in Mexico we started housesitting for some friends and as our recommendations grew we decided to apply for some housesitting opportunities in Europe. Our first acceptance to housesit was Ireland in Tipperary where we were housesitting and minding 7 dogs. After an 8 week sit in Ireland we had another sit in the UK and from there we went to Spain, Cyprus, Ireland, back to Spain and then a 6 month sit in Northern Ireland just outside Belfast were we are today.

It was during our Irish sits that we decided we could afford to live here in Ireland and that the cost of living was much the same as Canada and in many instances much cheaper. After all you don’t have to heat your house with huge heating bills in winter and massive electric bills in summer for the air con. We were also very surprised at things like the cost of food, medications and local transportation.

We have decided after we finish our housesit in N. Ireland we are going to move to Donegal on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Tell me about the cost of living in Ireland

We have decided to live in Donegal which is considered the wild west of Ireland. For many reasons not least of which is the absolute beauty of the place. Donegal for us is home, we feel at home and comfortable and as a bonus, we have some amazing friends there that we consider family.

The average rental in Donegal is around €450 or $680 Canadian. This is for a two-bedroom house fully furnished. In Canada the same would cost us $1400. When you add in electric which averages around €50 per month (in Canada $250 inc water) and heat €50 (in Canada $150 per month averaged) the costs are staggeringly cheaper.

Moving to Ireland

A cellphone with unlimited wifi costs around €20 per month or $30 – in Canada we were paying $120 per month. TV cable is much cheaper and we don’t need a house phone and we can use our phones to hotspot our internet at home. In other words for around €40 euros or $60 Canadian a month we have unlimited wifi, and TV using an android box. In Canada we were paying $250 a month for Bell wifi, and TV satellite.

Food here is on another planet the quality is superb and closely monitored with respect to things like beef, lamb and bacon products. Here are a few basic grocery costs here in Ireland:

Staples in Canada vs. Ireland

  • Wholewheat Bread:  $4.99  vs. .60 cents
  • Milk:  $1.20 per litre vs.  .76 cents per litre
  • Butter:  $4.99 vs.  $4.07
  • Sugar:  $2.78 for 2 kilos vs.  $1.63 for 2 kilos
  • Baquette:  $1.99 vs.  .50 cents
  • Mushrooms:  $8.43 per kilo vs.  $4.08 per kilo
  • Raspberries:  $3.99 vs.  $1.60 .50 pint
  • Rice:  $3.94 vs.  $1.57
  • Eggs:  12 for $4.99 vs.  18 for $2.89
  • Cheese:  $15.99 per kilo vs.  $7.99 per kilo
  • Chicken:  $15.99 per kilo vs.  $8.99 per kilo
  • Beef: $16.99 per kilo vs.  $12.99 per kilo
  • Potatoes:  $2.99 per kilo vs. $1.59 per kilo
  • Onions:  $2.50 per kilo vs. $1.18 per kilo

As you can see in some cases substantially cheaper than Canada. The basics here tend to be much less expensive and many of our Irish friends have said to us that the cost of groceries has come down massively since Lidl’s and Aldi’s (German grocery chains) have entered the market as of 10 years ago.

Petrol or gas and diesel is around $1.80 a litre and in Canada around $1.22 so that is much more expensive. Car insurance is about half of what we paid in Canada but it has gone up a lot and the Irish are complaining about it quite loudly and the government keeps saying they are going to do something about it but we shall see.

The Irish complain a lot about their healthcare system and the wait times. It is a sort of weird system where you have to pay €50 or $75 to visit a Doctor but prescriptions are phenomenally cheap when compared to Canada. My meds in Canada cost me around $50 a month and that was with a private healthcare plan. Here in Ireland the same meds are provided free of charge if you live here and they cost me $3 a month prior to gaining residency. If you go into hospital here they call it a B&B charge of around $20 a day for your bed and board. Aspirins can be bought for around .50 cents a pack of 8 and most over the counter meds are incredibly reasonable.

How do you make a living?

We haven’t looked for work but I work online as a digital strategist helping creative entrepreneurs market their businesses through social media. I also provide help and advice for those wanting to start businesses or create a cohesive on-line presence to promote and sell their services. My husband is planning to start looking for a small job perhaps working in a pub part-time just to keep himself occupied but he is in no hurry.

Expat Life in Ireland

Do you need a visa to live in Ireland?

No, we were lucky enough to be born here in Ireland so had automatic citizenship for both Ireland and the UK. Although in many cases those who have parents or grandparents that are Irish are entitled to citizenship by descent.

What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?

Easiest thing ever here in Ireland. Everyone wants to know where we come from which is almost an automatic pass as curiosity is the beginning of most friendships. We also find the Irish to be extremely friendly and curious about foreigners and they want to know why we would come back. If the Irish aren’t taking the “mickey” and joking around at your expense you aren’t considered a friend. The Irish love them some “craic” which simply means the best fun and they want everyone to join in. The entire culture here is built on friendship, community, and family – so much different from us Canadians holed up in our houses waiting for summer.

North America is about buying “stuff” and the more “stuff” you have – supposedly your life is richer for it. Here in Europe life is more about living and having experiences like travel, nights out, friends and doing things with family. The consumer culture of many countries the Irish emigrated to like N. America, and Australia teaches you that success is about working 70 hours a week and buying a fancy car, boat, house, big TV and so on. Not so in Ireland – it’s about treating your friends to a drink down the pub and actually having a conversation with no freaking TV’s blaring away to distract you. It’s about taking a family trip to places like Dubai or just hanging out with your kids, swimming or taking long walks.

What’s the best thing about living in Ireland?

The best thing about living in Ireland is the people. They are the warmest friendliest piss taking bunch of folks ever. They welcome new people and love to crack a joke at your expense it’s brilliant. Oh and of course I have to add the food is superb, the scenery beyond jaw-dropping and the history that seeps into every pore of the land is simply staggering.

What’s the hardest thing about living in Ireland?

Nothing – well I guess some might complain about the weather it truly is 4 seasons in every day in Donegal.

How is your new home different from your old one?

Light years apart in Ireland it’s all about family, the craic, living your life and having no regrets and just enjoying yourself. The culture is based on family and friends and although they work very hard they play harder and get many more vacation weeks and days off than we do in Canada.

Living in Donegal, Ireland

If we had just one day in Donegal what should we not miss?

Oh my god there is just so much one day won’t cover it, in fact, you could stay here for months and not see it all. I would say go and hang out in a place like Donegal and drive the Wild Atlantic Way – nature at its finest and wildest.

Can you share your best local/insider tip about where you live?

Don’t go to the Cliffs of Moher, it’s overpriced and full of tourists go down the road further to the Loop Head Cliffs – it’s free and just as outstanding and wilder than Moher.

If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to live in Ireland what would it be?

Expect more from life and don’t get insulted when the Irish insult you – it means they like you and you are accepted.

You can read more about Faith and Alan’s adventures on their blog, XYU and Beyond, or follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

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