Living in Dublin, Ireland as an American Expat

Living in Dublin, Ireland as an American Expat

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I moved to Dublin, site unseen, having never set foot in Ireland before. I had the opportunity to move to Dublin for one year on an international assignment for work and I thought “it’s for a year, how bad can it be?” And with that, my husband and I set off on an adventure that is still going strong. We are still living in Dublin 10 years later. We absolutely fell in love with Dublin and found a way to turn that one year expat assignment into a long-term life experience.

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My goal in life had always been to work abroad for a period of time so moving to Dublin was about seizing the opportunity that presented itself. I was agnostic about where I would do that international assignment, I simply wanted the chance to experience life outside of the United States. I knew very little about living in Dublin before moving here.

In fact, I applied for a variety of roles in Europe and had it in my mind that I wanted to work in London. London has a reputation for being one of the best cities anywhere in the world so anything else felt like second best.

However, landing a job in Dublin was the  best thing that could have happened. Dublin is very human-scale and livable. It is possible to walk the heart of the city from end to end in 30 minutes. At its core, Dublin has a vibrant urban culture and a world-class music scene. We enjoy frequenting a variety of great restaurants and pubs plus a huge range of craft coffee shops.

First Impressions of Living in Dublin

I came to Dublin from San Francisco, California so the first question many Dubs (nickname for people from Dublin) asked when they found out we had moved to Ireland was: “may I ask why?” They saw California as having it all: great weather, awesome food, and living the American dream.

Having grown up in Buffalo, NY, the snow capital of the United States, I quipped that weather is not the most important consideration. In fact, the weather in Dublin is not as bad as its reputation might suggest. You’ll often see bright sunshine and rain showers in a single day. There is a saying here in Ireland: “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.”

More importantly, moving to Dublin meant that I would no longer have to commute more than 2 hours a day from San Francisco to Silicon Valley in snarled Bay Area traffic. Life in Dublin revolves around the city centre and we chose an apartment within walking distance of the office.

living in dublin home sign

From American Expat to Irish Citizen

"We could go back to the U.S. someday but the reality is that Dublin is now home."

Jennifer, on life in Dublin

If you are a European Union citizen, living and working in Ireland is easy. If you are from the U.S., you’ll need to get a visa to move to Ireland. Many Americans claim an Irish passport due to ancestry. We didn’t have that option since my husband (also American) doesn’t have Irish roots and my family left Ireland many generations ago.

Instead, my company sponsored my work permit. If neither of these options is available, another avenue that many expats take is to come to Ireland to study English. A student visa holder can work while pursuing their studies. 

When we moved to Ireland, we had no expectation of staying for longer than a year. However, as time went on, we realized that we simply loved living in Dublin. I went from being an expat to a local employee at my company in Dublin after our first year. Five years later, we applied for and were granted Irish citizenship. We could go back to the U.S. someday but the reality is that Dublin is now home.

Expat Life: Living in Dublin

Dublin is a big city with a small town feel. Our downstairs neighbors introduced themselves within a day of us arriving and we’ve been friends ever since. We’ll often be walking along the Grand Canal or by the Georgian blocks around Merrion Square and bump into someone we know and stop to have a chat. I find this aspect of living in Dublin to be extremely charming. The city feels personal but not constantly in your business in the way that small towns in the U.S. can be.

Adapting to Language and Cultural Differences

Dublin was appealing to us because while English is not officially the first language of Ireland (Irish is), English is de facto the common language for all. We expected this lack of a language barrier to make things a little easier as we acclimated to our new surroundings.

Even though we speak the same language, there are some turns of phrase that take getting used to. I remember the very first time I tried to order a coffee. I walked up to the counter and the member of staff asked, “you alright?” I said something like, “I’m fine” and then we stood there looking at each other. What they really meant with that “you alright?” was “what would you like to order?”

Another example is “excuse me” vs “sorry”. In the U.S., if someone is in your way and you want to pass them, you’d say “excuse me”. In Ireland, if you are blocking a shelf at the supermarket that someone wants to reach, they’ll quietly say “sorry” a few times. What this really means is “please get out of my way”.

I find that I now say “sorry” instead of excuse me which can be problematic when I visit the U.S. If I say “sorry” there, the person will inevitably say “that’s ok” when what I really meant was “please get out of my way!” LOL.

Making Friends and the Expat Community Living in Dublin

Dublin is a hub for many tech companies’ European operations. Because of this, when you are out and about in Dublin, you’ll hear a wide range of different languages being spoken by expats from across EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa). You’ll also encounter plenty of Brazilians and people from other places in South America. Many people are just passing through.

People often come to Dublin and stay for a year or two as a pitstop on the road of life. Because of this, it’s easy to find people interested in making friends and going out for a pint after work or on the weekend. 

We used Meet-up extensively to connect with both locals and other expats when we first started living in Dublin. Meetup.com has a very active community in Dublin. New and Not So New in Dublin is the Meet-up to join with social events taking place several days a week.

Internations also has a community in Dublin and is a great resource for younger expats getting settled in Ireland. Democrats Abroad is very active in the Dublin area and is also a useful channel for getting to know other Americans living in Dublin.

Living in Dublin for 10 years, we feel like locals, until we open our mouths. As soon as people hear our American accent, they ask: “how long are you visiting for?!” Dublin is a very popular tourist destination for Americans and thus we are often assumed to be tourists. It is understandable why someone might assume this, but it can be irritating nonetheless.

Staying in Touch With Friends, Family and All Things American

I connect with family and friends back home via Skype or Google Meet. The time zone difference between Ireland and the U.S. is between 5 hours (east coast) and 8 hours (west coast) so definitely doable to keep in touch especially over the weekend.

There are a number of daily direct flights from Dublin to cities on both coasts of the United States. We have the added benefit of U.S. Preclearance at Dublin Airport. This means that every time I fly from Dublin to the U.S., I clear immigration and customs in Dublin so when I land stateside, there’s no fuss. I can just grab my bags and go as if I had flown in domestically.

I’m fortunate that my day job has global scope so I get to travel a fair bit for work. I’ll often add on some extra time at my own expense to see my family while I’m there. 

I’m a big fan of Mexican food and margaritas and my business trips to California ensure that I don’t get homesick for them. Restaurants in Dublin are great but Ireland does not do Mexican food well compared to California. I’ve also taken to making my own margaritas since a decent one is so hard to find. I once visited a bar in Dublin and ordered a margarita. I took a taste and was appalled to find that the bartender had put sugar on the rim of the glass instead of salt.

Working in Dublin

Making the Decision to Become an Expat

I am a project manager working for an American tech company. I was working for the company in California but doing something a bit different (building and running training programs). I had always wanted to do an international assignment so when the business launched a rotation program that would send a number of people abroad for the year, I jumped at the chance. 

I think it’s important to find your motivation in life (your Guiding Star). My Guiding Star is to travel as much as possible and live in cool places. I make my career decisions based on how likely it is that the opportunity in front of me will take me closer to this goal. The rotation program was well aligned with my goals and so I applied right away. I didn’t really care what I would be doing. I would have swept the floors if that was what was required to work abroad.

I took stock of my skills and experiences relative to the roles being offered and then figured out the ones where I could plausibly “sell” my transferable skills. It turns out that building and running training programs has a lot in common with project management and I was able to land an assignment in Dublin running projects for one of our customer services teams. 

living in dublin buildings

Getting a Work Permit in Ireland

It’s definitely easier to make the move to Dublin if you have a company willing to sponsor your visa. It’s also easier to do it as an internal transfer rather than a new hire abroad. That said, many tech companies are willing to sponsor visas for key roles, especially roles that require a bit more experience.

I did have to interview for my assignment. I remember being on a business trip in Sydney, Australia taking a video conference with the team in Dublin on ANZAC Day (when everyone else locally had the day off). When I got the news that I landed the assignment in Dublin, we were driving the Great Ocean Road between Adelaide and Melbourne on a post-business trip vacation.

If you are coming to Ireland with a spouse, they can generally get a residence permit to join you. Working permits are not granted automatically, at least at the time that I moved to Ireland. Your partner will need to apply and seek company sponsorship if they’d like to work.

Adapting to Work Culture in Ireland

There is definitely a difference in work culture between the USA and Ireland. Americans tend to be very direct. If something is bothering them, they will generally say something. In Ireland, people tend to suffer silently. They may be equally bothered but less inclined to say anything directly.

I remember someone cutting the queue for lunch one day and that really bothered me so I said something to the person and they moved to the end of the line. The person in line behind me said they were equally irritated but hadn’t wanted to say anything. They thanked me for doing so.

I find in general that it helps to tone down that American directness a bit while working in Dublin. As a people manager, I also find that it’s important to ask questions and not assume everything is fine if members of the team are not speaking up. If you don’t, you could be in for a surprise later.

I knew that I had adapted to the culture in Dublin when I found the words “yer man” (not my man but rather slang for “that guy”) and “thanks a million” tripping off my tongue. In the U.S., “thanks a million” feels sarcastic by default. In Ireland, “thanks a mil” is one of the key ways to show appreciation. One of my colleagues even gave me a team award for Best Use of Irish Slang. I was chuffed (that’s another word that I learned in Ireland and is way less common in the States).

Daily Life Living in Dublin

Getting Around the City

Dubin is a very walkable city and our feet are our default mode of transportation. If we’re feeling tired, public transportation works well including Dublin Bus, the DART train and commuter rail, and the LUAS tram. Taxis are abundant in Dublin and can be hailed on the street or called via the FreeNow mobile app. 

living in dublin office

Adapting to the Food in Ireland

We moved to Dublin from San Francisco, one of the foodie capitals of the U.S. if not the world. We did not have high hopes for the Dublin food scene. We were pleasantly surprised. We found a variety of international cuisines in addition to comforting local dishes.

Dublin has a world-class coffee scene. 3fE is probably the most famous. I recall ordering a coffee at a place in Sydney, Australia. The barista asked where I was from and when I said I was living in Dublin, they said, “Oh, we love Colin from 3fE!”. We especially enjoy Art of Coffee, Coffee Angel, and the Bald Barista. Every morning, we take a walk for a coffee before work; a lovely little ritual! 

During the week, we mostly eat dinner at home but will often go out for a pint during the week. I prefer a quieter pub; what locals sometimes refer to as an “old man’s pub”. Beggars Bush in Ballsbridge is one of my favorites for a pint of Guinness and a packet of crisps. If the weather is nice, you can sup on your pint outside. This is especially fun in the summer when the sun doesn’t set until nearly 11 pm. Yes, Dublin is that far north!

Where Do Expats Live in Dublin?

Grand Canal Docks at Sunrise

Many of the tech companies that are based in Dublin have offices in Grand Canal Dock thus lending the nickname “Silicon Docks” to the neighborhood. It was a priority for me to have a very short walking commute and so we decided to live close to Grand Canal Dock. Grand Canal Dock is a regenerated and gentrifying area.

You’ll find vibrant cafes, restaurants, bars, and Dublin’s largest musical theatre, the Bord Gais. The Bord Gais Energy Theatre was designed by Daniel Libeskind and presents a striking modern facade along the waterfront. Because of the tech company presence, Silicon Docks is definitely dominated by expats.

Visit nearby Ringsend, Irishtown, Sandymount, and Ballsbridge to find more locals. Apartments in Dublin City are generally compact (700 – 800 square feet for a 2 bedroom place) so you can expect to have less space than you would in many parts of the U.S. We found apartments comparable in size to what we had in San Francisco and our place is likely bigger than what we could have afforded in New York or London this close to the heart of the city. 

The Things to Love About Living in Dublin

There are so many cool ways to spend a day in Dublin! We regularly walk to Dublin City Centre including iconic Grafton Street, and the historic Georgian Squares like Merrion Square, Fitzwilliam Square, and St. Stephen’s Green. I love taking pictures of Dublin! Ranelagh and Rathmines are great for brunch, shopping, and restaurants with a neighborhood feel. Head to the Northside and edgy Smithfield to catch a movie or a gig at the Cobblestone after dinner at L. Mulligan Grocer in Phibsborough. Ireland is a compact island and it’s easy to explore Ireland by train. Cities like Galway and Cork are 2-3 hours away.

The Biggest Differences of Expat Life in Dublin

pub culture living in dublin
Only two pints, but they add up

Our life is definitely different (I think for the better) than it was in the U.S. We live in the city and don’t need a car to get around so we get plenty of exercise and fresh air from walking. We definitely go out more and because a lot of the social life in Dublin revolves around the pub, we definitely drink more since moving here. While a local might down 5 pints in a session (my liver shudders just thinking about that), my limit is generally two pints.

Ireland also has less of a consumerist culture than the U.S. does. There is plenty of shopping and unlike other places in mainland Europe, many shops are open on Sundays. Shops in the City Centre don’t stay open that late. A 6 pm closing time is common with late night shopping on Thursdays. It took some time to get used to smaller supermarkets with a more targeted selection of products. Now, when I go back to the U.S., I find the giant supermarkets and big box stores to be a little overwhelming.

The Cost of Living in Dublin

Locals complain that Dublin’s cost of living is quite high, especially relative to salaries and the higher income tax burden than in the United States. I see the high taxes (can range up to 50% if you make enough money) as the opportunity cost of living abroad and am gladly willing to pay for this opportunity to live my dream.

Dublin was recently rated the most expensive city in the eurozone driven largely by the cost of accommodation. There is a high demand for housing and a supply throttled by landlords reserving their places for tourists on Airbnb, limited new builds, and an influx of tech workers. We have found that the cost of living is on par with places like San Francisco.

living in dublin homes

Average Monthly Expenses in Dublin

  • Monthly rent, 2 bedroom apartment: 2000 EUR / 2400 USD (walking distance to city centre). Daft.ie is the go-to source for rentals if you want to check out the prices in different areas.
  • Cost of commute monthly (transit pass, car, etc): 145 EUR / 170 USD for a Dublin Bus or DART train pass.
  • Coffee from a local cafe 3.20 EUR / 3.80 USD
  • Beer from a local bar 5.00 EUR (local places) – 6.00 EUR (city centre and more touristy places). This translates to 6.00 – 7.00 USD
  • Common take-away food – expect to spend 5 – 12 EUR | 6 – 14 USD. A battered sausage and chips could cost about a fiver while higher end fish and chips will set you back at least ten.
  • Decent dinner for two (with wine) – 75 – 100 EUR | 90 – 120 USD
  • Typical grocery bill for a week of shopping – this can be quite variable. Some items (e.g., meat and dairy) are cheaper because they are farmed domestically. Other items are more expensive because Ireland is an island and they need to be shipped in (e.g., some fruits and vegetables). 100 EUR | 120 USD a week for groceries is a reasonable budget to estimate as a starting point.

Final Thoughts on Living in Dublin

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this tour of what it’s like living in Dublin. I’ve definitely enjoyed getting to know Dublin over the past decade and I’m excited to have the chance to share my experience with you!

Jennifer

Jennifer (aka Dr. J) is the voice and photographer behind Sidewalk Safari travel blog. She’s a fortysomething American expat and part-time travel blogger living in Dublin, Ireland with a busy full time ‘day job’ as a project manager at an American tech company. Jennifer aims to inspire people who have a demanding job to see that it is possible to achieve work-life balance and travel extensively, making use of every business trip and vacation day to see the great wide world.

If you’re moving to Ireland, currently living in Dublin or just curious about travel and life abroad in Ireland, leave your questions for Jennifer in the comments below.

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