Accessing healthcare on your return to Ireland


This document outlines what you need know about accessing public healthcare as a returning Irish emigrant. It covers maternity care, financial support for medical costs and accessing nursing home care for you or your relatives. It also gives information about taking out a private health insurance plan in Ireland.

Both private and public health services are available in Ireland.

Public services are supported by the State. The Health Service Executive (HSE) is responsible for the delivery of public health services. Sometimes the HSE provides these services directly and sometimes the HSE funds other organisations to provide these services. You can find information on the services offered by GPs, hospitals, health centres and pharmacies in our healthcare overview.

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

Accessing the Irish healthcare system when I return home

You are covered by public health services 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 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. 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.

Read more about your Entitlement to public health services.

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 doctor, known as a GP (General Practitioner) in Ireland, you can start the process of finding one before you come home. You can find what GPs are available in the area you plan to live using the HSE’s Health Atlas. Read more about GPs and private patients.

If you or a member of your family is 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 in this case.

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 or a GP visit card. In any case, all adults over 70 and children under 6 are eligible for GP visit cards, which allows them to visit the GP free of charge.

A number of other schemes and tax reliefs are available to help with medical expenses. These include:

Can I access public maternity care in Ireland after living abroad?

All pregnant women who are ordinarily resident in the State are entitled to free maternity care. Ordinarily resident means that you plan to live in Ireland for at least one year.

Therefore if you or your partner are pregnant when you return to live in Ireland, you will be able to 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?

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

Private health services are provided by individual health professionals or healthcare companies. You usually pay the full cost of private health services but you can take out private health insurance to help meet the cost of medical expenses.

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.

  • Private health insurance in Ireland is optional
  • There is no recognition of health insurance previously held abroad
  • There are age-related loadings for people aged 35 and over
  • New customers must wait 26 weeks before their cover becomes active (or 52 weeks for maternity cover)

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

How do I apply to the Nursing Home Support Scheme (NHSS)?

If you, or a family member, plan to return to Ireland and are in need of nursing home care, you may be able to apply to the Nursing Home Support Scheme. The scheme, also known as the “Fair Deal”, gives financial support to people who need long-term nursing home care.

Under this scheme, you make a contribution towards the cost of your care and the State pays the balance. The scheme covers approved private nursing homes, voluntary nursing homes and public nursing homes. Anyone who is ordinarily resident in the State and is assessed as needing long-term nursing home care can apply for the scheme.

Read more about the Nursing Home Support Scheme (NHSS). The HSE also has useful information in their NHSS information Booklet (pdf).

Where can I find out more?

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

If you are aged over 57 years of age and thinking about returning to Ireland, you can get information and advice from Safe Home Ireland.

Page edited: 20 August 2020