Certain visitors may be entitled to free public health services. In particular, people from other European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) member states or Switzerland who are visiting Ireland temporarily (for example, on holiday or on business) are entitled to medical care if they become ill or have an accident.
Some categories of people are entitled to medical cards under EU rules.
Ireland and Australia have a reciprocal health agreement. This means that Australian visitors to Ireland are entitled to receive emergency public hospital treatment subject to the normal charges for non-medical card holders in Ireland. They are also entitled to assistance towards the cost of prescribed drugs and medicines on the same basis as people normally resident in Ireland.
People who come to live, work or study in Ireland for a longer period or who retire to Ireland are likely to be regarded as living here (ordinarily resident is the legal term) and to come under the rules as described in Entitlement to health services and medical cards.
Other visitors to Ireland are not entitled to avail of free or subsidised public health services except in cases of hardship. In general, if they have to use health services, they must pay the full economic cost of those services.
Your entitlement to health services is mainly based on residency and means, rather than on your payment of tax or Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI). There are, however, some exceptions and these are described below.
Your nationality, in itself, does not determine your entitlement but there are specific rules covering EU/EEA nationals and Swiss nationals.
If you have an entitlement to healthcare in another EU/EEA member State or Switzerland, you may have an entitlement to healthcare in Ireland under EU rules.
If you are visiting Ireland temporarily you can apply for a European Health Insurance Card which covers medical care if you become ill or have an accident.You should bring your European Health Insurance Card with you when you are travelling to Ireland. If you are from the UK you can bring evidence of UK residence instead.
Certain categories of people, such as posted workers, are eligible for medical cards under EU rules – see the further information section on medical cards.
In general, if you are a national of a non-EU or non-EEA country (with the exception of Switzerland), you are regarded as ordinarily resident in Ireland if you can show the HSE that you intend to live here for at least a year. The HSE may look for evidence that you are legally entitled to live here for at least a year.
If you are here for a shorter period, you are regarded as a visitor and you do not have any entitlement to free or subsidised health services. You may wish to consider taking out travel insurance.
If you are a dependant of someone who is not a EU, EEA or Swiss national, the same rules about ordinary residence apply to you. In other words, the fact that someone who is not a EU, EEA, or Swiss national has established eligibility for health services here does not mean that their non-resident dependants are also entitled to health services in Ireland.
If you are a student from a non-EU or non-EEA country (with the exception of Switzerland), you are generally regarded as ordinarily resident if you are registered for a course of study that will last for at least one academic year.
If you are here for a shorter period, you are regarded as a visitor and you do not have any entitlement to free or subsidised health services.
Asylum seekers are given medical cards for the period during which their application for refugee status is being considered. If you get refugee status, then you are regarded as ordinarily resident and you come under the usual rules for entitlement to health services.
If you come back to live in Ireland and are working or self-employed here or if you intend to stay for a year, then you are ordinarily resident and come under the usual rules.
If you are not in this situation and you have been living and working in another EU/EEA country or Switzerland, your entitlement to health services when you return is decided under the rules applying to EU nationals.
If you have been abroad on a short-term contract, you continue to be regarded as ordinarily resident.
If you have been resident abroad for a period of up to three years but your Local Health Office of the HSE is satisfied that you did not establish an entitlement to health services in any other country, the HSE should regard you as ordinarily resident in Ireland if you require treatment when you return to Ireland. This is so that people who emigrate from Ireland do not lose their health service eligibility on residence grounds before they have a chance to establish eligibility elsewhere. This provision does not apply where someone is covered by EU regulations in another country and, in particular, it would not entitle a person temporarily resident in another EU country to have the HSE extend the European Health Insurance Card beyond the normal period.
If you are not ordinarily resident and you are not entitled to health care under any of the circumstances described above, the HSE may apply the full economic cost for any services provided. In cases of hardship the HSE may provide urgent necessary treatment at a reduced charge or without charge.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.