When emigrants return: ‘I really wonder if I made the right move’

Irish abroad face so many barriers coming home they often stay put

“Cost of car insurance is gonna force us back to Australia”... “Getting social welfare was impossible”... “Work experience abroad disregarded”... “Applying for mortgages has proved borderline impossible”...

Reading the responses to a new survey of more than 1,000 emigrants on the challenges they face on returning to Ireland, there are no big surprises for those who have been through the process in recent years or followed the progress of others in these pages or online.

A 139-page report on the survey, commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and carried out by independent research company Indecon, highlights a range of administrative barriers which cause problems for emigrants returning to live in Ireland, from something as simple as trying to open a bank account, to applying for visas for non-EU partners, accessing third-level education for their children, or getting their no claims bonuses recognised in order to receive a half-reasonable car insurance quote.

“There was a lot of nodding heads as we were reading it,” says Marie-Claire McAleer of the National Youth Council of Ireland.


A conference held by the organisation back in September 2014, attended by the then minister for diaspora Jimmy Deenihan, discussed many of these issues, and how they were affecting young people who were beginning to return to live here as the economy was recovering.

The Government’s own Global Irish Diaspora Policy, published the following March, had a section dedicated to addressing the barriers facing returning emigrants, and established an inter-departmental working group which was supposed to meet four times a year to work on them.

Several other surveys in the three years since by agencies supporting returning emigrants like Crosscare and Safe Home Ireland, raised the same concerns.


Another year, another similar report. This one from Indecon contains 30 specific recommendations for actions Government should take to alleviate the difficulties returning emigrants face, but given how little has been done so far to tackle these issues, how confident can returning emigrants be that anything will change?

"This is the beginning rather than the end of a substantial process to make coming home easier," Minister of State for Diaspora Ciaran Cannon, who was responsible for commissioning the Indecon report, told The Irish Times this week.

One might wonder why it is only the “beginning” given the government said three years ago it was working on these issues, but emigrant representatives are confident of change now.

“The report reaffirms these barriers to return migration, and provides tangible solutions to address the challenges,” says McAleer. “It is vital that this report is followed up with a detailed action plan.”

Many of the recommendations put forward by Indecon focus on providing more information to returning emigrants on existing services, in addition to technological solutions which would allow them to apply for things like PPS numbers, visas for returning spouses, and social welfare payments online in advance of coming home.

The only legislative change that may be required is in relation to discriminatory policies among insurance companies, which warrant more detailed investigation, Indecon recommends.


Cannon told The Irish Times he would prefer to work with motor insurers, particularly the "more delinquent ones", rather than use "the sledgehammer of legislation" to stop unfair pricing for returning emigrants.

The report will now be sent to each Government department mentioned in it, and a plan of action set for each recommendation. Cannon hopes for a progress report to be returned to Cabinet in three months.

With an estimated 500 Irish citizens returning to live in Ireland every week, campaigner Ciaran Staunton of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform in the US said there was a sense of urgency now that deadlines needed to be set and adhered to so it was not too late for this wave of returning Irish.

“For a long time there was a denial of the obstacles,” he says. “But these are concrete recommendations that the Government cannot ignore. There was a lack of empathy for returning emigrants in previous times. You cannot legislate for that, but you can put the message across that things need to change Let’s not leave it too late.”

The Irish Times asked a number of emigrants to share experiences of living abroad and moving home. Here is a selection of their responses.

Rónad Stanley, Kildare

Moving back to Ireland has been very different from what we expected and not without stress. Health insurance and car insurance were things we hadn’t considered being an issue, but resulted in a lot of expense.

We had the foresight to get Irish passports for our children, but even getting a social security number, a doctor that took children and a place in a nursery took a very long time. We were at the bottom of every waiting list for schools, our nursery/crèche was 14km from where we lived, and we only started receiving child benefit 16 months after arriving.

It was harder to pick up on some older friendships we had made in Ireland before we left in 2007, as giving the friendships the time they deserved while living so far away became harder.

Slowly we started to settle in. We have been so lucky in our new town Maynooth; the people there are warm and friendly. My husband still works in the UK, and flies to London every week.

But there are relatives to help us out, and my sister and family live 10 minutes from me, which is worth more than any sandy Australian beach or fancy London cocktail bar.

Peadar Redmond, Dublin

Moved back from from New York after 25 years so my folks would get to know their grandkids and I could help out in their later years. As much as I love this little country, I know why I left. The cost of living is out of control. My car insurance is €2,400, the price of running a car is outrageous, and my rent is €1,910. I have two kids and my take home pay is €2,400 per month. Same job in New York: $3,900. I’m really wondering if I made the right move.

Mary Duggan, Cork

I came home last September with my Aussie husband and two small kids. I’m so tired of reading the negativity from people. The fact is most of them waltzed back to Ireland without doing an ounce of research.

I did the same thing 10 years ago when I moved home from England. It took me a long time to settle in Ireland back then because I wasn't prepared.

This time I was ready. I had every last piece of paperwork in a folder which I carried in the car, so, for example, when I needed to get my kids’ PPS numbers I took the folder with me and had passports, birth certs, utility bills, all to hand. It was such an easy process this time, and we were sorted in a few weeks.

I’m still finding it hard; a lot of it though is down to having a newborn and the cold weather. I wouldn’t go back to Australia though. Ireland is my home and we are better off in Ireland than we ever were in Sydney.  We have the opportunity to save for a house here. We would never own a home in Australia. The massive rent and price of living would never allow us to save for a deposit.

Ireland is a beautiful country. I miss Sydney sometimes, but it’s an overcrowded city. I prefer the quiet rural life we have here in North Cork.

I think it’s down to the person really to get their life set up in Ireland. We all decided to move away. We had to do the same when we went abroad. I know people complain a lot about car insurance but we had no trouble; our insurance cost is €1,100 for our car and van for the year. We shopped around, I was rejected by a lot of insurers and some quotes were over €2,000 so I kept trying.

I know people struggle in cities in Ireland with childcare and schools, and higher rents. We don’t have any of those problems here. We’ve been very lucky to both get jobs, we have cheap rent and no waiting lists for schools. Country living isn’t that bad.

Laura Colleran, Galway

I moved back to Ireland from Turin in Italy. After four years in Galway, we are still in a state of transition, paying ridiculously high prices for car insurance and little advancement up the property ladder.

However, the biggest challenge we now face is keeping the family together as my husband has moved back to Italy to work, not having found anything suitable in Galway.

My return to Ireland was one of ease, renewing old relationships, understanding quickly how things work, such as the health system, banking and social security. For my husband it has been different matter, trying to navigate a completely new country as a father, with a significant language barrier and not having the support network that a job outside of the home can provide.

John Moran, Dublin

Emigrated in my 20s, returned in my 30s, having spent several years in France, Switzerland and the US. I love being home, but a few things took me by surprise:

1) Taxation vs benefit. I've paid high rates of tax in Europe and lower rates in the US. In Europe you get a return on what you contribute. In the US you pay for things yourself, but personal tax rates are low. In Ireland personal taxation rates are similar to Europe, with benefits equivalent to the US.

2) State schools, largely administered by religious institutions and able to discriminate on those grounds in terms of entry criteria, was another shocker to see.

3) How inefficient Dublin is to get around. Living abroad in places with excellent public transport, you get used to being to move around without a car quickly, regardless of the time of day. Not so here.

If Ireland and Dublin want to compete in a global environment we have some way to go to be best in class.

Emma Deignan, Canada

I am not a returned emigrant but one that is seeking to return. I have spent the last two years working as an engineer in Vancouver, Canada. It had always been my plan to travel and work for a while before returning to Ireland to undertake a Masters.

I have been shocked to discover that after a mere two years abroad I no longer have eligibility to pay EU fees for a post-graduate education. I am now facing a bill in excess of €20,000 to complete a Masters in Ireland.

In a culture were we have such a high proportion of diaspora and moving abroad in your 20s has almost become a right of passage, this seems particularly unfair.

As for me, my two years in Canada are likely to become a lot longer as I begin looking at my further education options here.

Leanne Conley, Co Cork

We returned to Ireland in December 2017 after living in New Zealand since 2003.  I am an Irish citizen and my husband is a New Zealander, both of our children (aged 13 and 10) travelled on their NZ passports.

We have found it incredibly difficult to:

1. Open a bank account. We weren't able to open a joint account and at the moment our only bank account is in my name only.  One bank in Fermoy would not accept a print out from the Fermoy social welfare office showing my PPS number, address and date of birth as this print out was handed to me across the desk at the office and not posted to me.

2. Find a place to live. We owned our own home in New Zealand since 2004 but the banks will not even discuss a mortgage with us until we both have permanent jobs that have passed the probationary period of at least six months, even though we have enough savings to cover a 20 per cent deposit.  Luckily our landlord was willing to consider renting to us without references, as it is not possible to get a reference for renting when you have owned a property for over 13 years!

3. Get PPS numbers for the children. We both had to take time off work and take the children out of school to visit the office in Cork.

4. Get my husband's card to allow him to work in Ireland. We applied to our local Garda station once we arrived home in early December and he didn't get his card until early February, during which time he had to turn down work.

5. Get insurance for a car. We both have 14 years plus no claims bonus records in New Zealand and I had been driving in Ireland since 1995. We waited five weeks for our insurance to be approved even though we had a car to buy three days after we arrived back home.

6. Get paid properly.  I was not paid on the first pay day because I didn't have a P60 (I was asked by HR if I had kept any from when I was last in Ireland 15 years before??).  I then had to contact Revenue Ireland and register with them (which was, surprisingly, one of the easier things to do online) and wait a certain amount of time before I could download and print a Tax Certificate to give to the HR department (I had =worked for the same company for six years before I moved under the same PPS number). I then was on emergency tax until the HR department received the same notification from Revenue Ireland that I had provided weeks earlier.

I would definitely agree with the recommendations put forward in the report to make it easier for Irish people to return home. It was an extremely frustrating and stressful time for my family and I which I wouldn't wish on anyone.  I had a lot of persuading to do with my husband and children not to get on the first available plane back to New Zealand.

Hopefully we have made the right decision by returning home but if I had known beforehand what the barriers and road blocks would be we probably wouldn't have moved at all.

Daniel  Malone

I returned to Ireland after 16+ years living away. My Bolivian wife and our young family have had many positive experiences. The school is so good, and the staff are so helpful. While we were lucky with finding our rented house, we have had difficulty selling our old home in Bolivia.

Our biggest issue has been the driving licence for my wife. I work away at sea and now, even with her international licence, we were unable to get her insured because I could not get open insurance having no no-claims bonus. She has passed her theory test and now must wait for the practical test, even though she knows how to drive having driven in Bolivia for over six years. It’s frustrating for her not having the mobility she had, and especially with the poor existing bus service.

Overall we are happy we moved back and are really looking forward to great possibilites for our children.