Life in UK vs life in Ireland: which is cheaper?

‘Irish Times’ readers familiar with London help us calculate the costs of living

City life: public transport costs in the London region can be high but very good value given the vast distance covered.

Brexit’s dark cloud looms large over us all as we wait for a bit of clarity as to our future relationship with our nearest neighbour once its tortuous break-up with the EU is done and dusted. However there are fewer Irish people more in the dark than the 300,000 or so actually living across the Irish Sea.

The decision to stay or go is not one to be taken lightly and many Irish passport holders in the UK are clinging to the promise that the “special relationship” between the two countries will be untouched.

But how much does it cost to live there compared to here? If people in the UK decided to relocate to the old sod, would they be pleasantly surprised by all the bargains or horrified by the state of our rip-off Republic?

We asked Irish Times readers who live or have lived in London to help us work out whether they'd be better or worse off. On the plus side, they highlighted the central London buzz – the bustling streets, the nightlife, ample career opportunities and exceptional public transport. Against that, there was the higher rent and the longer commutes to and from work each day.


But even though London is famous for its high rents, Dublin is threatening to take its overpriced crown. There is no denying that Dublin is now "booming" again, but with the boomier times comes skyrocketing rental prices. Laura Tully, an occupational therapist living in London for the past 12 years, said Dublin's "crazy" rental prices are not justified. "People don't have the luxury of choice because there aren't necessarily the job opportunities outside of Dublin."

Originally from Dublin, Tully moved to London as a graduate working as a marketing assistant but changed career paths after nine years. Tully said travel expenses are the biggest outgoing for her.

"Nine months ago, I moved out to Essex and I now commute into London. This costs me £430 (€467) a month which includes the train fare plus the underground/bus. When I was living in London this was about £130 a month which was covered by the company I worked for."

Travel costs

Claire Brennan, a journalist with the BBC, originally from Donegal, said it's hard to directly compare travel costs in the two capitals.

“There’s definitely more value for money in London. My monthly card gives me unlimited travel on the tube and buses. You can travel long distances, quickly and cheaply.”

Brennan believes that it is about value for money at the end of the day. “Yes, London is expensive but it’s a huge international city with great work opportunities and links to the rest of the world. There’s also loads to see and do, you’re honestly never bored.”

The Irish weekly household expenditure figures show that we spend an average of €124 a week on transport, including petrol and diesel. The inner-city bus fares from Bus Éireann cost an average of €2.20, with Dublin Bus costing an average of €2.70.

While bus prices are quite similar in both capitals, you can go further for your pound in the UK, with a faster, more reliable and efficient transport system categorised by zones, with zone one being home to most of London’s iconic landmarks and tourist attractions.

Business development executive Shane Hickey moved back to London in 2013 after 10 years at home, his advice is to "live in zone three and try not to work in zone one".

"When you hit a certain point, the rail fares become so much, you're negating the savings you have," he explained. "If you wanted to work in Dublin, you'd have to live far-out in places like Kildare for it to be affordable."

A one-bedroom apartment in Dublin’s city centre costs an average of €1,300 per month compared to a two-bedroom unfurnished apartment in London costing an average of £1,950 per month.

While the cost of accommodation in both cities is exceptionally high, figures show that London is in fact more affordable for day-to-day living. In the UK, you’ll save on things like groceries, alcohol and toiletries.

Supermarket shop

Tully told us she was shocked at how little she got in her basket for €90 during a trip home recently. "Honestly, I had to double and triple check my receipt. To spend the equivalent here [London] in Aldi, I would get about two weeks' worth of food for two people."

Despite the uncertainty of the Irish in the UK post-Brexit, some graduates are making the move regardless, in a bid to secure better jobs.

"It has always been a dream of mine to live and work in London," says Paul Daly, who made the move this summer. "I've always wanted to live in London but even if I didn't, what option do I have? I'm a media graduate and it just seems that jobs in this industry are few and far between in Ireland. "

For London-born firefighter Paul Knapp, however, looking at long-term education and quality of life for his family meant leaving the UK.

"I couldn't live in London on a firefighter's salary without taking a second job working 90-100 hours a week," he explains. Knapp is now part of the Limerick Fire and Rescue Service and he says his "biggest outlay" coming here was "our mortgage and with one salary just going to childcare, one [of us] worked for nothing."

More affordable luxuries

Weighing up the cost of living in London versus Dublin does depend on your income, rental prices and expenses. However, those who have made the move across the water agree that London offers more affordable luxuries.

Dublin-born journalist Niall Swan explained that London has far more high-quality "cheap-eat" spots than Dublin, so it's more affordable to eat out. "London is monstrous compared to Dublin, so it does have an unfair advantage."

For those who prefer a night in by the fire, Netflix and a bottle of wine is relatively cheap in the UK. While your TV licence fee works out about the same in both countries, the pounds-to-euro exchange rate shows that the standard Netflix package works out 18 per cent cheaper in the UK. A bottle of Black Tower white wine from Tesco will set you back just £5.75 in the UK compared to €11.99 in Ireland.