Health services when you return to Ireland


In Ireland, you can choose between private and public health services.

You can get public health services directly from the Health Service Executive (HSE), and from HSE-funded organisations. Many public health services are free, but you may be charged a fee for others.

You can get private health services from individual health professionals and healthcare companies. You must pay the full cost of private health services unless you have private health insurance.

Can I access public healthcare after living abroad?

You can access public health services if you have been living in Ireland for at least a year, or if you intend to live here for at least one year. This is called being ordinarily resident in Ireland.

Your entitlement to public health services in Ireland is not based on tax payments or social insurance contributions (PRSI).

If you are still living abroad but are visiting Ireland for a short time, you may be entitled to free or subsidised public health services.

Bring your medical records home with you

Before returning to Ireland, ask your doctor for a copy of your:

  • Medical records
  • Prescriptions
  • Immunisation records

It will be easier to access the healthcare you need if you have all the necessary medical documents from the country (or countries) you lived in.

If you have been seeing a consultant or specialist in a hospital abroad, ask them to send a copy of your records to your GP (doctor) in Ireland. If you are not registered with a GP in Ireland yet, you can have these records transferred after you have come back and registered with one.

Find a GP (doctor) in Ireland

In Ireland, your family doctor is known as a GP (General Practitioner). A GP is usually the first doctor you will see about non-emergency illnesses and health issues. They can also refer you to hospitals and other medical services if you need urgent and specialist treatment.

If you had a GP in Ireland before you moved abroad, you should contact them to see if you are still registered with them, or if you can re-register. You can also use the HSE’s online search tool to find a local GP.

Paying for GP appointments

In general, you must pay to see your GP. The costs of GP appointments can vary, so check with your local GP practice directly.

However, you can see your GP for free if you have a GP visit card or medical card – see more below.

Medical card and GP visit card

Medical card

If your income is below a certain level, you might be eligible for a medical card. With a medical card, you can get certain health services (including GP appointments) free of charge.

The HSE will do a ‘means test’ to check your income, assets and savings.

Some people can qualify for a medical card without a means test, including people with an EU entitlement.

GP visit card

If you do not qualify for a medical card, you may qualify for a GP visit card instead. With a GP visit card, you don't have to pay to see your doctor, but you will have to pay for medicines and other services.

If you are aged under 70, the HSE will check your finances are below a certain limit using a ‘means test’.

You can get a GP visit card without a means test if you are:

Other supports to help with medical expenses

If you have a medical condition covered by the Long-Term Illness Scheme, you can get free drugs, medicines, medical and surgical appliances for the treatment of that condition.

You may also be eligible for other schemes and tax reliefs to help with medical expenses, such as:

Maternity care when you return to Ireland

If you are pregnant, you can get free public maternity care if you have been living in Ireland for at least a year, or if you intend to live here for at least one year. This is provided through the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme.

Under the Scheme, you do not have to pay for any GP visits or hospital visits related to your pregnancy and the birth of your baby.

You may also want to read about semi-private and private maternity care in Ireland.

Find more information in our page, Returning to Ireland and having a baby.

Do I need private health insurance?

Private health insurance in Ireland is optional. When you are ordinarily resident in Ireland, you can get public health services for free or at a reduced cost, so you don’t need to pay for private healthcare if you don’t want to.

You can choose to get private health services from individual health professionals or healthcare companies. If you have private health insurance, it may cover some or all private medical expenses (depending on your policy). If you don’t have private health insurance, you will have to pay for private health services yourself.

Before you buy private health insurance

If you are returning to live in Ireland and plan to take out private health insurance, be aware that:

  • Your insurance company may not recognise the health insurance you previously held abroad
  • You may have to pay age-related loadings (also known as a Lifetime Community Rating) if you are aged 35 and over
  • New customers must wait up to 26 weeks before your cover becomes active (or 52 weeks for maternity cover)

Read more about returning to Ireland and buying private health insurance.

Medical card and health insurance

You can have a medical card and hold private health insurance at the same time. If attending your GP for a referral, or if you are admitted to a public hospital, you must decide if you want to be treated as a public or private patient.

Nursing home costs

If you return to Ireland and need financial support for nursing home care, you can apply for the Fair Deal scheme. You must be ‘ordinarily resident’ in Ireland and need long-term nursing home care.

Under Fair Deal, you make a contribution towards the cost of your care and the HSE pays the balance. The scheme covers:

  • Approved private nursing homes
  • Voluntary nursing homes
  • Public nursing homes.

You can also apply for the Nursing Home Loan as part of this scheme.

More information

Read more about the healthcare system in Ireland. You may also want information on:

You can also read about claiming tax relief on your medical expenses.

If you feel unwell

If you (or a family member) are feeling unwell, you can find advice on The HSE also has a useful A-Z of medical conditions and treatments.

Parents can visit the HSE website for information on the National Healthy Childhood Programme. You can also get advice from

In emergencies, contact the emergency services by phoning 999 or 112. All calls are free.

Other supports

If you are thinking about returning to Ireland, you may want to contact Safe Home Ireland. This emigrant support service specialises in advice for older Irish people returning from overseas.

Page edited: 7 February 2024