Returning to Ireland and buying private health insurance
Private health insurance helps you to pay for private medical care. This can be in a hospital, or from other health professionals. If you are ordinarily resident in Ireland, you can access public healthcare whether or not you have private health insurance.
If you get healthcare in a public hospital as a public patient, you may need to pay hospital charges. Medical card holders and certain other groups do not have to pay any hospital charges.
This page outlines what you need to know about buying health insurance when you return to Ireland.
Do I have to buy private health insurance in Ireland?
The main benefits of private health insurance in Ireland are:
- Cover for hospital accommodation in a private or shared room
- Cover for inpatient consultant services as a private patient
- Other cover including maternity, overseas, psychiatric and outpatient benefits
In some cases, you may have a shorter wait time for an appointment using your private medical insurance.
If you have private health insurance you can still access public health services. For example, if your GP refers you to a specialist consultant in a hospital, you can decide if you want to be treated through the public or the private system. Similarly, if admitted to hospital, you will need to tell the hospital whether you want to be admitted as a public or a private patient.
If you are a public patient, you do not have the right to choose your consultant.
Will I have to pay an aged-based loading if I'm over 35?
The cost of health insurance includes a premium (the basic price) and a loading (an additional amount which depends on your age). If you are 35 or over when you buy health insurance in Ireland for the first time, you may have to pay an age-based loading called the lifetime community rating.
If you lived outside Ireland on 1 May 2015, you do not need to pay the lifetime community rating if you buy private health insurance within 9 months of returning to Ireland.
If you moved to live outside Ireland after 1 May 2015, you can get a credit for periods abroad of 6 months or more if you take out insurance within 9 months of returning to Ireland. If you are given a credit for your time abroad, you will be assessed as if you had health insurance for that time abroad, even if you did not have any cover.
You must prove to the insurance company that you were living abroad but you returned to live in Ireland permanently in the last 9 months.
You can do this by providing:
- Copies of bank statements opened while abroad
- Evidence of accommodation lease arrangements or utility bills abroad
- Travel documents or an application for a PPS number is accepted as proof of returning to live in Ireland
You can claim tax relief if you buy private health insurance or long-term care insurance. The insurance company gives you this tax relief at source. This means they deduct it from your premium.
How long do I have to wait to be covered?
When you take out health insurance for the first time in Ireland, you may have to serve waiting periods before you are fully covered. However, some insurers will remove the waiting period when you return if you have previously had health insurance in Ireland or if you were covered by certain types of health insurance abroad.
There is no waiting period for accidents and injuries so they will be covered immediately.
The maximum initial waiting period is 26 weeks. For maternity claims, the waiting period is 52 weeks.
If you have a pre-existing condition (an illness that existed in the 6 months before buying health insurance), the maximum waiting period is 5 years before that condition will be covered by your insurance.
If you need healthcare during your waiting period, you can still access healthcare as a public patient.
What is the waiting period for maternity claims?
If you are buying health insurance in Ireland for the first time, there is a waiting period of up to 52 weeks for maternity cover.
Depending on your plan, your insurance may pay the cost of some or all of the following after 52 weeks:
- Out-patient private consultant fees, which cover the routine visits to your consultant before the birth
- Hospital accommodation in a private room or a semi-private (shared) room in a public hospital
- Delivery consultant’s fees at the time of delivery
- Other consultants' fees at the time of delivery
- Fees for a home birth
If you are pregnant and are not covered for maternity services under private health insurance, you can still access maternity care through the public healthcare system. All pregnant people who are ordinarily resident in Ireland are entitled to free maternity care. This includes antenatal visits, labour and delivery, and postnatal care.
If you have a baby, they do not have to serve a waiting period if you add them to your health insurance policy within 13 weeks of their birth.
You can read more in our page on Returning to Ireland and having a baby.
How do I choose private health insurance?
The type of health insurance you need depends on your level of cover, lifestyle, age, and pre-existing medical conditions. You should shop around for quotes from each provider and compare the benefits to see what suits you best.
The following companies offer voluntary private health insurance in Ireland:
- Irish Life Health
- Laya Healthcare
- VHI Healthcare
- HSF Health Plan (provides cash benefit plans but not in-patient health insurance)
There are also some health insurance providers that deal only with particular groups of employees, for example, Gardaí or prison officers. These schemes are known as restricted membership schemes.
Further information and useful contacts
If you’re travelling to another EU or EEA country, you can use a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access to free or low cost health care during your travel