Although we've only been here six weeks, we've learned so many things about moving to Ireland (which no one told us about before we left the States), so I thought I would share some of our tips to make the transition easier for fellow Americans moving to Ireland:
I'm not sure if this exact process applies to everyone, as we are only here for one year and my husband has a work VISA. But you will most likely have to visit both of these offices and should learn from our mistakes.
The GNIB (GARDA NATIONAL IMMIGRATION BUREAU) office in Galway opens at 7:30 a.m. We talked to other Americans there who had been to the office three times before trying to figure out when they could come and not wait four hours. We arrived at 7:25 a.m., and there were already 20 people in line. We left with our registration cards at 11 a.m. There is usually only one person working, and he/she goes on break a few times, so everyone just waits. The lines might be shorter in the middle of a semester in Galway, as this is a college town. (We went in mid-September.) There are a list of important documents you must bring, including a local utility bill in your name, so you cannot go to immigration until you have that. You can pay the 100 euro fee per person with cash or credit card. http://www.inis.gov.ie/en/INIS/Pages/WP07000031
Social Welfare Branch Office:
Once you have a GNIB number and card, then you need to get your PPS number at the local welfare office. The Personal Public Service number (PPS) is the new name for the RSI number. It's a ID number that helps you access benefits and information from public service agencies more quickly and more easily. This includes services such as Social Welfare, Revenue, Public Healthcare and Education.
Here's the trick at the SWBO in Galway: you will arrive and see a sign that says, "DO NOT pull a number if you are coming to get your PPS number. Proceed straight ahead" - or something like that. This is total bull. The line moves very fast; we maybe waited 25 minutes one afternoon, but once you get to the front of the line, tell them you are here for your PPS number and they check all your documents to make sure you have followed the rules, they send you over to get a number and wait. Then we waited for about an hour. If we would have known this, we would have pulled a number when we walked in, just to save ourselves that 30 minutes. Items you need to bring (don't forget the local utility bill):
PPS number offices by region:
UTILITIES - overall
If moving into an apartment, the electricity and heat will most likely already be on, and you just have to have them moved over into your name. (Not sure about houses.) This is our experience in Galway city. The utility bill is used for proof of residence for EVERYTHING here - don't throw your first one away and always keep a recent one! You'll need it at the immigration office, PPS number office, to sign up for a membership at a DVD rental place, etc.
UTILITIES - best services
There is a new bundled phone-wireless internet-TV package with NTL that everyone is moving toward. You can't just get the phone and internet like we wanted - it's all or nothing. We opted for NTL package over eircom phone and wireless and are very happy. NTL's top internet service is as fast as U.S. service, and twice as fast at eircom's best wireless service. Locals in bars were suggesting it to me - not just our relocation agent.
UTILITIES - installing/timing
It takes 10 business days AT LEAST to get your phone, TV, internet once you contact NTL (or eircom - same timeframes). This timing cannot be moved up. It's probably one of the most frustrating things when you first move here and feel totally isolated from everyone back home. Here's a tip: If there is an old phone on your wall in your apartment when you arrive, pick it up and dial 1901. (No one told us about this until it was too late). These old phones are typically eircom phones. You can dial 1901 and get to an operator straight-away. She/he can tell you if the phone line is active, and if it is, it can be turned on within 24 hours WITHOUT having a technician visit you. Then you can turn off the eircom phone service in two weeks once you get your NTL installation completed. This will at least give you a "life line" to get you by until you get your TV service and internet. This would have saved us so much time, money and headaches when we were using a U.S. cell phone to deal with all the typical moving-in calls and questions with the landlord - and most people are hesitant to call back a U.S. phone number because it costs them more money. NOTE: if you do this, you MUST ask eircom for your customer ID/account number during your installation call to them. You will need this as proof of who you are in order to turn off the phone in two weeks. (No one told me this either.) ANOTHER VERY IMPORTANT THING ABOUT INTERNET: check the apartment/house you are moving into right when you confirm your lease to see IF it ALREADY is broadbrand wired. There are lots of old buildings, and apartment units are not wired for internet until a tenant comes along and asks for it. IF YOUR APARTMENT IS NOT wired, YOU MUST HAVE WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM THE LANDLORD to drill into the walls and run wires outside (whatever it takes) to complete the installation. We didn't know this. The technician could not do the installation after two weeks of us waiting, and then we had to get the permission letter, and call NTL for another appointment - TWO WEEKS LATER!!!!!!! No exceptions. Luckily, we used our relocation agent's relationships to get the technician back out two days after the original appointment, but what a headache!
UTILITIES - licensing
A VERY IMPORTANT THING ABOUT TELEVISIONS: If you are going to have a television, television licenses are required here - about 130 euros, I think. I guess that's how the television industry stays afloat since advertising revenues aren't as big here? If you wish to have a TV, you need a license. Some locals told my husband that the license is a joke and it's not enforced, but if you are here on work assignment, make sure your company knows they need to pay for your TV license fees.
Most apartments have radiators on the walls for heating. It's not as warm as you might be used to in the U.S., so definitely bring a couple blankets with you.
It's important that Americans understand what "furnished" means over here - and that some staple items in apartments or houses here are different than back hom. If you're on work assignment, your company may say that EVERYTHING you need will be in the apartment, so you don't need to bring much with you except for clothes and other personal items. This isn't necessarily true. Every apartment we looked at was different - Some had a full living room set, others didn't; some had a TV, others didn't. Same with dishwashers - not always included. Most of the kitchen utensils you will need are here, but if you like to cook, bring your own knives. The knives in furnished apartments are worthless. But one thing we wish someone would have reminded us in advance: YOU WILL NEED TO BRING OR BUY ALL BEDDING AND ALL KITCHEN AND BATH TOWELS. We did not do this and were really bummed. Bedding and towels are really expensive here. Also, the mop is usually the old-fashioned kind that you have to ring out by hand. And vacuums are not stand-up. There are only two stand-up vacuums available in town here, I'm told, and they cost 399 and 500 euros. They are Dyson, and only the 500 euro one works on both hardwood and carpet. A friend of mine I just met from Minnesota had to shell out the cash for the 500 euro vacuum since she is 6 months pregnant and doesn't want to deal with the tiny floor vacuum.
Most buildings don't have ventilation ducts for the dryers, so most electric dryers here are designed so that the moisture is captured in a water pan under the dryer that you have to empty every week. You really have to keep up on your dryer maintenance here: clean the filter after EACH load, empty the water pan once a week, clean the other filter (haven't figured this one out yet) regularly. The previous tenant NEVER maintained the dryer, and it was broken when we got here, and it took two weeks to get someone to fix it. The ovens here have several settings, so it's best to read the manual BEFORE trying to cook a particular dish. I ruined a pizza by cooking it on the standard oven setting, like I would typically do back home. Also, the ovens are VERY small, and a standard baking sheet from back home does not fit. Same if you had a big iron skillet you used to put in the oven back home for pan-roasting fish - it won't fit.
There are typically NO electrical outlets in bathrooms here. They are a little too cautious. This means you cannot dry your hair in the bathroom without an extension cord. There are also red safety switches on every electrical outlet that must be flipped on before the outlet will work.
If you are only here for one year like us and getting paid in U.S. dollars, you should still consider getting an Irish bank account, so you can get a lazer card (see previous post) and will be able to pay most - if not all of your bills online. ATM fees at AIB banks and 365 ATMs are minimal, only $1.50, which is surprising to us. ATMs don't give receipts here unless you ask for them - it's that "don't be wasteful" mentality that so many Americans could learn from.
The Post Office plays a big part in lives here. It's where you pay all your bills (if you don't have a lazer card), buy your TV license, send mail, etc. The green Post buildings are everywhere. Since we don't have a lazer card, I have to walk there once a month and pay all the bills in cash. They don't take credit cards at the Post - only cash and lazer cards.
This is so confusing, and there's no information provided to new residents (at least in apartment buildings) to know what you are supposed to do. Looking back, now it seems pretty simple. At our apartment complex, we have two colors of bins - green and black. Our inside trash can is even broken into two bins to make the dividing of trash within the apartment easier, but it took us a few days to figure this out. Green is for ALL PAPER and PLASTIC - washed - NO FOOD particles. Black is for your food waste and FOOD only - scraps, etc. You must have a separate bin for glass and tin. You then have to transport your glass bin to the recycling center YOURSELF in town. These are typically located near a grocery store, so it's not that big of a deal. And there are different bins at the recycling center for different colors of glass. (This is also where you take old clothes you want to donate or throw out - there's a bin there for that too.) I'm told that in houses, there are 3-4 different colors of bins - black, brown, green, blue - something like that. That means houses may not need to go to the recycling center with glass - not sure.
Shopping carts aren't free here, and neither are bags - paper or plastic. You have to put a EURO coin into the trolley (cart), so you can remove it from the trolley bay and use it. This is basically a refundable deposit, as you have to return the trolley to the bay, and when you put the chain back into the trolley to lock it up, your EURO pops back out. I learned the hard way that plastic bags at the store ARE NOT FREE. How is that for a wake-up call, Americans? We could learn a thing or two from the Irish to reduce our wastefulness of paper and plastic. It costs 20 cents per bag on your bill if you don't bring your own. Needless to say, getting ready to go to the store is a big deal because we now know to pack up all of our cloth bags to make sure we have enough bags to carry home the groceries. The Dunnes store sells big cloth bags, which are great. With one of those and two medium-sized canvas bags I brought from the States, we can get all of our groceries home. There are a few grocery stores here: Dunnes, Tesco and Joyces are the main ones. Dunnes and Tesco are chains. We shop at Dunnes, as it's not too far from our apartment, and the prices seem to be the best. You'll need to get a club card (free) at Tesco or Dunnes once you get settled. At Dunnes, we've found that it's best to shop during the day, earlier in the week. Whenever we go on Friday nights, everything is picked over. In Galway, I've found a nice fish market down on Quay Street where the prices aren't too bad, and the fish is wonderful. I'm told the best butcher in town is in the shopping center across the hall from Tesco's. There is also a great butcher for pork next to the Ryanstore by St. Nicholas' church.
The whole driving on the right side of the car, on the left side of the road, is actually pretty easy to adjust to. Your brain is already trained to know that your body will be sitting next to the center lane of the road, so it only takes a week or so to get used to it. The big thing is to TEACH YOUR BRAIN to look right FIRST, left SECOND when crossing a two-lane road. This was hard to get used to. It's actually just easier to look twice, both ways, before crossing the road - and safer. Also, most country roads in Ireland are VERY skinny. And there are lots of tour buses on them, which hug their shoulder and still hang over into your lane. Don't take it personal. They aren't trying to run you off the road because you're an American. (This is what a couple of tourists from San Diego we met at one of the forts thought.) Drivers just yield to the tour buses here, which requires you to get over into the shoulder/grass/whatever. It's just the way it works. No biggie.
If you own a budget drycleaning business in the U.S., please come here now. There is a business opportunity for you to fill a void. Drycleaning is the biggest rip off here. I think I was quoted 5 or 6 euros for a shirt. It's better to just bring non-dryclean clothing with you, or if your company requires you to wear business attire that needs to be drycleaned, write that cost into your contract while on work assignment here. (Workplaces are much more casual here, and my husband typically wears jeans here but wore slacks and a button-up shirt back home.)
Living in another country, such as Ireland, is an incredible experience. All these little bumps in the road and differences make it all the more charming.