Money & costs
The collapse of the economy in the space of six short months over late 2008 and early 2009 has left the country in a state of flux: prices are coming down in many areas, but they’re coming down from such a height that to many visitors Ireland remains a pretty expensive destination. For a decade, Irish wallets were at the mercy of a rip-off culture that stung everybody, including visitors, who felt it most when it came to bed and board.
In Dublin, the bare minimum to survive is about €50 a day: €20 to €25 for a hostel and €20 for sustenance, which leaves enough for a pint. If your purse strings are a little more relaxed, you can get a decent bed for around €80 in the capital, €60 outside of it. For €120 you can sleep pretty luxuriously most anywhere except those very special places. Outside the capital things are a little better, but not much: if you’re in a tourist hot zone, it’ll be reflected in the prices, which are only marginally better than in Dublin.
Although restaurants are closing down all over the country, the new economy hasn’t resulted in a marked decrease in the price of food. For less than €10, don’t expect much more than soup and what comes between two slices of bread. Very ordinary meals will cost €20 or more; the better restaurants won’t blink twice when charging €35 for fish in a fancy sauce.
In Northern Ireland, the bite isn’t as deep. The ‘rip-off Republic’ tag that for so long dogged the south wasn’t as much of an issue north of the border, but it certainly hurts them if they go south: exchange rates make the eurozone very expensive for anyone using pounds sterling (as they do in Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK).
Once in the north, though, you can get by on £35 a day without too much bother if you’re on a budget and limit yourself to hostels or self-catering accommodation. Accommodation costs generally mirror the Republic, but you’ll find real savings in food – you can get excellent two-course lunches in lots of good restaurants for £10 or less, while main courses in Belfast’s best eateries range from £14 to £18.
Car rental is costly throughout the island. Be sure to check your car-insurance policy back home before accepting the exorbitant insurance policies offered at car-rental agencies. If your credit card usually covers car-rental insurance, confirm that the policy applies in Ireland.
Tips of around 10% in metered cabs and in restaurants where the service charge isn’t included are expected.
Cash & travellers cheques
Nothing beats cash for convenience – or risk. It’s still a good idea, though, to arrive with some cash in the local currency (both euros and sterling, if travelling to the North) to tide you over.
Amex and Thomas Cook travellers cheques are widely recognised and they don’t charge commission for cashing their own cheques. Eurocheques can also be cashed in Ireland. Travellers cheques are rarely accepted outside banks or used for everyday transactions (as they are in the USA).
Take most cheques in large denominations. It’s only towards the end of a stay that you may want to change a small cheque to make sure you don’t get left with too much local currency.
The most practical way to receive money from overseas is by telegraphic transfer. There are two ways to do this. The first can take up to eight days through the banking system. Your bank sends money to an Irish bank nominated by you. You will need identification, most likely a passport, before the money is paid to you in euros, minus the transfer commission.
The quickest way to receive cash from home is to transfer it through Amex, Thomas Cook or Western Union.
It is not practical to receive money by bank draft. Irish banks are notorious sticklers about drafts and won’t allow you to cash them unless you first open a bank account, a small bureaucratic nightmare. Even then, it can take three weeks to clear. If you’re not planning a long stay, stick to telegraphic transfers.
Taxes & refunds
Value-added tax (VAT) is a sales tax of 21% that applies to most luxury goods in Ireland, excluding books, children’s footwear and second-hand clothing. Visitors from non-EU countries can claim back most of the VAT on purchases that are subsequently exported from the EU within three months of purchase.
Most shops in the Republic and Northern Ireland operate a taxback scheme – the most popular are Cashback and Ireland Tax Free – which operate roughly as follows: if you’re a resident of a country outside the EU and buy something from a store displaying a Cashback or Ireland Tax Free sticker, you’ll be given a relevant voucher with your purchase which can be refunded directly on to your credit card or in US, Canadian or Australian dollars, British pounds or euros at Dublin or Shannon airport; one advantage of Ireland Tax Free is that you can reclaim your tax at the nearest Travelex office, usually Thomas Cook.
If you reclaim more than €250 on any of your vouchers you’ll need to get the voucher stamped at the customs booth in the arrivals hall at Dublin or Shannon airport before you can get your refund from the Cashback desk.
In Northern Ireland, shops participating in the Tax-Free Shopping refund scheme will give you a form or invoice on request to be presented to customs when you leave. After customs have certified the form, it will be returned to the shop for a refund.