Accessing health services when you return to Ireland

Introduction

This page includes what you need know about accessing healthcare when you return to Ireland.

Both private and public health services are available in Ireland.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) delivers public health services in Ireland. Sometimes the HSE provides these services directly, and sometimes the HSE funds other organisations to provide these services.

Private health services are provided by individual health professionals or healthcare companies. You usually have to pay the full cost of private health services unless you have private health insurance.

Can I access Irish public health services when I return home?

You are entitled to public health services free of charge or at a reduced cost if you have been living in Ireland for at least a year or 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 payment of tax or pay-related social insurance (PRSI).

Certain visitors to Ireland may also be entitled to free or subsidised public health services. People from other European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) member states, the UK or Switzerland who are visiting Ireland temporarily (for example, on holiday or on business) are entitled to public medical care if they become ill or have an accident.

Bring your medical records home with you

It will be easier to access the healthcare you need if you have all the necessary documents with you from the country or countries you lived in abroad. Before returning to Ireland, ask your doctor for a copy of your medical records, prescriptions for drugs and medicines and immunisation records for you and your family.

If you have been seeing a consultant or specialist in a hospital abroad, you can get a copy of your records sent to your GP in Ireland. If you are not registered with a GP in Ireland, you can have these records transferred to your GP when you come back and register with one.

Find a GP (General Practitioner)

If you don’t already have a family doctor, also known as a GP (General Practitioner) in Ireland, you can start to look for a GP before you come home. A GP is usually the first doctor you will see about non-emergency illnesses and health issues. They can also refer people to hospitals and medical services for urgent and specialist treatment.

Find GPs in the area you plan to live in using the HSE’s Health Atlas.

You can see a GP free of charge if you have a medical card or a GP visit card. If you (or a member of your family) are entitled to a medical card or GP visit card, you need to register with a GP who accepts GP visit cards or medical cards. You will need to wait until you are in Ireland and applying for your card to register with a GP.

If you do not have a medical card or GP visit card you will have to pay a fee to visit your GP, and fees can vary. If you go directly to an Emergency Department without a GP referral, there is a charge.

Can I get a medical card or GP visit card?

If your income is below a certain level, you might be eligible for a medical card. If you do not qualify for a medical card, you may qualify for a GP visit card. If you have 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, your eligibility for a GP visit card is means tested.

Anyone over 70, children under 6 and people who get Carer’s Benefit or Carer’s Allowance can get a GP visit card without a means test.

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

Other schemes and tax reliefs are also available to help with medical expenses.

These include:

Pensioners

You may qualify for a medical card without a means test if you are ordinarily resident in Ireland and you are getting a social security pension from another EU/EEA country, Switzerland or the UK. You must not be getting a contributory Irish social welfare payment or be working in Ireland and liable to pay PRSI.

Can I get public maternity care when I return to Ireland?

If you are pregnant, you are entitled to free public maternity care if you are ordinarily resident in Ireland.

If you or your partner are pregnant when you return to live in Ireland, you can access maternity care in the public health system under the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme. Under the Scheme, you are entitled to free GP visits and hospital visits related to your pregnancy and the birth of your baby.

Do I have to buy private health insurance in Ireland?

Private health insurance in Ireland is optional. If you are ordinarily resident in Ireland, you are entitled to get public in-patient and out-patient hospital services. This means you do not have to take out private health insurance to access public hospital services.

Private health services are provided by individual health professionals or healthcare companies. If you have private health insurance, it may pay some or all of your medical expenses, depending on the level of cover you have.

If you are returning to Ireland to live and plan to take out a private health insurance plan, there are a number of issues you should be aware of.

  • There is no recognition of health insurance previously held abroad
  • There are age-related loadings (also known as Lifetime Community Rating) for people aged 35 and over
  • New customers must wait 26 weeks before your cover becomes active (or 52 weeks for maternity cover)

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 need to decide if you want to be treated as a public or private patient.

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

How do I apply for the Fair Deal Scheme?

If you, or a family member return to Ireland and need financial support for nursing home care, you may be able to apply to the Nursing Home Support Scheme (NHSS), also known as the Fair Deal scheme.

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 and public nursing homes. Anyone who is ordinarily resident in Ireland and who needs long-term nursing home care can apply for the scheme. You can also apply for the Nursing Home Loan (Ancillary State Support) as part of this scheme.

The HSE also has useful information in their NHSS information Booklet (pdf).

Further information

Read more about the healthcare system in Ireland.

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

If you are thinking about returning to Ireland, you can get information and advice from Safe Home Ireland.

Page edited: 20 May 2022