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Retirement in Ireland
by Hilary Shannon

It is a well known fact that if you ask an Irish man or woman where they are from, they will tell you where they were born! The fact that they haven't lived in that place for most of their lives, indeed the fact that they haven't lived in Ireland for most of their lives is, to them, irrelevant. They seem to have mastered the art of "living in two places at once" as the Irish psychologist Maureen Gaffney says. And it was the fervent wish of every Irish emigrant to return to live in Ireland.

An ever increasing number of people are opting to spend their retirement in Ireland, and not all of them have any family connections here. They may give many reasons for this - the relaxed pace of life in many parts of this country (particularly away from the cities and large towns), the low crime rate in the more rural areas, and the fact that it is cheaper to live in Ireland with a fixed income for many of them.

These are valid and prudent considerations when contemplating a move to retire to Ireland, but there are other important considerations which must be taken into account as well. Most people who work outside the home have up to 80% of their acquaintances there and on retirement these will disappear - a fact that may cause us great joy! The other 20% are family, close friends and the people we interact with in our social life.

Before you move permanently, ask yourself the following questions:-

* How often will you see family again?

* Will you miss too many of the great family occasions?

* Will your grandchildren have children of their own by the time you return or meet them again?

* How good are you at making friends? We Irish have a reputation for being friendly, but there's a big difference in being friendly and making friends.

* Do you know anyone in Ireland - other than relatives?

If you hesitate about the answers to any of these questions, you must be careful about making a permanent move. TRY IT OUT FOR SIX MONTHS FIRST. Then if everything is working out, make the move permanent; if not, think again. Many people who transfer to Ireland do so for the better months - April to October - and change to warmer climates for winter months.

Here are some important considerations you have to take account of in making your decision:

CITIZENSHIP
As far as the Irish government is concerned, you can hold dual citizenship if you wish. However, your own government may take a different view so it is vital that you check with them before you do anything to start the process of taking out Irish Citizenship. You would not want to lose your own citizenship in the process.

What are the benefits of taking out Irish Citizenship?

* You can vote in all Irish elections and Referenda, i.e. Presidential elections, various referenda, elections to the Dail - the Irish parliament - to the European parliament and in local government elections.

* You have all the privileges enshrined in the Constitution and all the duties of citizens listed there and in law.

* You can have virtually unrestricted travel to any part of the world - the Irish government places no obstacles in the travel plans of its citizens so much so that you will probably bump into an Irish person in the most unlikely places.

TAX
No one likes paying taxes, but just like the weather they are always with us. Details of the treatment of people residing in Ireland and their tax liability are covered in "Leaflet RES 1" from the Revenue Commissioners, at +353 1 8780100.

The following conditions apply to you if you set up residence permanently in Ireland:

* All income arising from sources in Ireland except for certain exempt government stocks is liable to Irish income tax:

* No part of a visitor's income from sources outside Ireland is subject to income tax unless that person is deemed to be resident in Ireland, i.e. they spend 183 days in the State in a tax year or 280 days in the State, combining the number of days in the current tax year and the preceding tax year. The tax year starts on 6th April each year (but it is changing to run with the Calendar year in 2002; i.e. it will start on 1st January from 2002).

* You would do well to consult an accountant or a lawyer versed in tax law if you feel you might have problems with this. This would be particularly important in the area of inheritance tax.

* Ireland operates a double taxation agreement with many countries and you will receive a tax credit on the tax paid in your country of origin when calculating your tax liability in Ireland. You should have proof of the tax deducted from your country of origin.

PENSIONS
Most of us will live on pensions of one sort or another when we reach retirement age. Most countries allow their citizens to transfer their pensions to where they are living. Company pensions can normally be paid into a bank and transferred to you without any trouble.

USA Pensions
Social Security pensions from the USA will suffer a 15% withholding tax from the IRS, but can be paid outside the USA. Just give three to six months' notice of your intention to move.

Australian Pensions
If you are entitled to a Social Security pension from Australia, you can have it paid in Ireland. The pensions are distributed from England to addresses all over Europe and are posted on a monthly basis.

If you are entitled to a pension from Veterans Affairs it must be paid into an Australian bank first, and then transferred. PAYE ("Pay As You Earn tax") will be deducted at source on all Australian Pensions.

Irish Pensions
Ireland has reciprocal agreements with several countries including Austria, Canada, Australia and the United States. These agreements protect the pension entitlements of Irish people who go to work in these countries and they protect people from those countries who work in Ireland. They cover pensions only, i.e., Old Age Contributory Pension; Retirement Pension; Invalidity Pension and the Widowed Person's Contributory Pensions. They allow periods of insurance and or residence which were completed in one country to be taken into account by the other country so that the worker may qualify for a pension. It is even possible for some people to qualify for payments from both countries at the same time.

Free benefits
The good news is that if you do qualify for a payment under any of these Social Security schemes, you may also qualify for the following free benefits in Ireland from the Irish Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs when the pensioner reaches age 66:

* Free electricity allowance (1500 units per year) or you can opt for an equivalent Natural Gas Allowance or a Bottled Gas Refill allowance

* Free Television licence, worth 70 per year

* Telephone Rental Allowance (120 per year)

* Fuel Allowance

* Free Travel (Open to everyone resident in Ireland...see explanation below)

For these you must be residing permanently in Ireland and fulfil the conditions. For further information and to see if you would qualify write to: International Operations Section, Department of Social, Community & Family Affairs, Floor 1, O'Connell Bridge House, D'Olier Street, Dublin 1, Telephone: 353 1 874 8444

Free travel: Everyone residing in Ireland is entitled to Free Travel within the state if they are over the age of 66. It entitles you to travel, without charge, on all the trains and buses of the state transport companies; some private bus operators are also involved in the scheme. There are some restrictions. You must use the commuter buses and trains outside rush hour times and during specific hours. One downside: if you live in a remote area there may be no bus/train available to you. Application forms are available from post offices or local Social Welfare Services offices. One other benefit of the Free Travel Pass is that you can use it for reduced entry charges to race meetings, cinemas and theatres on specified occasions. Always ask!

REGISTERING WITH THE ALIENS OFFICE
If you are a citizen of Ireland you do not have to register. If you were able to obtain Irish Citizenship because either you, one of your parents, or one of your grandparents was born on the island of Ireland before 1921, or in the Republic of Ireland if born after 1921, (great-grandparents no longer count since the law was changed in 1984), but your spouse does not qualify, then it will take your spouse some years, currently four years, before he or she can apply to become a citizen.

If you are not an Irish citizen then you must register during office hours with the Aliens Office, Harcourt Square, Dublin 2, if you are living in Dublin. If you are living outside Dublin you must register with the local Garda Station. You must register after three months to seek permission to stay longer, then on a yearly basis.

Can I hire a car in Ireland? Yes, if you are under 75 years of age. If you are older you will not be able to buy car insurance and will be unable to drive legally. Remember to bring an International Driving licence with you.

Can I bring my dog or other pet with me? Yes but it will be subject to six months quarantine at your expense (see snippets in this issue). There are no exceptions and if you arrive without the necessary arrangements made, you will be sent back at your own expense. Recently a lady made arrangements to set up a private quarantine kennel near her own home for her dog, but it was costly. You must contact the Department of Agriculture, Kildare Street, Dublin 2 before you come to find out the necessary requirements and obtain a licence to bring the animal into the country. The reason for the strictness on pets is that Ireland and the United Kingdom are free of rabies. The U.K. has introduced a Pet Passport scheme, but the Department of Agriculture (which deals with these matters here) says that it does not intend to introduce this in Ireland.

Can I get free medical attention in Ireland? The short answer is yes. Emergency treatment is free in all hospitals; however, non emergency treatment could mean a very long wait, sometimes months. Private medical insurance is a virtual necessity.

Medical Insurance
If you have medical insurance now, check if you can transfer it to one of the health care insurers in Ireland (VHI or BUPA). VHI (the Voluntary Health Insurance board - a semi-state company) will continue to give you medical cover after the age of 65 (there is no upper age limit for EXISTING subscribers), but will not take on NEW members if they are aged 65 or over. BUPA International - the other main medical insurer operating in Ireland - has similar conditions. There is a new Medical Health Insurance Bill in preparation which will legislate for the over 65s, but it is likely that the premiums they will pay will be at a higher rate.

Normally you pay for all visits to your doctor, and for all prescribed drugs. But if your total income is less than 140 per week in Ireland, and you are residing permanently here, you may qualify for a medical card which will entitle you to free medical treatment in Ireland. This means you would not have to pay for any prescribed drug, visit to a doctor on the medical card panel, or a consultant's public hospital clinic. Contact the Health Board in your area to learn the current earnings limits and for an application form. If you come to Ireland from another European Union (EU) country, and have a Social Security pension from that country, you will receive a medical card as of right.

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Useful Addresses:

Inspector of Taxes, Attn: Forms and Leaflets, 9 - 15 Upper O,Connell Street Dublin 1.

Voluntary Health Insurance Board, Lower Abbey Street Dublin 1.

BUPA Ireland, Mill Island Fermoy, Co. Cork.

Department of Health (for addresses of various health boards around the country) Hawkins House Dublin 2.

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