Now you’re ready (and anxious) to get to Ireland. You’ve made your reservations and are likely flying into Dublin, although Shannon has recently opened up again to US flights. The good news is that Ireland no longer requires proof of vaccination, a passenger locator form or quarantine. Do check with your airline to see if they have any specific requirements. Even though not required, I would take your vaccination certificate with you. You may need it for your return.
Upon arrival in Dublin you’ll follow the crowd to Immigration. Depending on how many flights are arriving at the same time, it could take 10 - 30 minutes. There are two lines…one for EU citizens which you can use if you have an Irish Passport, and one for the rest of us! You’ll exit into Baggage Claim. If you have not gotten any Euros, there is a Currency Exchange in Baggage Claim area along with an ATM.
If you are traveling to Dublin City, exit Baggage Claim and go straight across the bridge toward the parking garage. Once you go over the bridge look to your left for an elevator and escalator down to street level. There you can get the bus or a taxi into the city. The bus is efficient and cheap, €8 and takes between 45 minutes and an hour. The Aircoach kiosk will be to your left. If you arrive during rush hour (which frequently happens with US flights) it could take longer because of traffic. Check with your hotel to see which bus is the most convenient and ask at the kiosk. Also tell the driver where you want to get off and he'll call out the stop.
If you are with a group, a taxi may be easier. Again, the cost depends on traffic but it could cost between €35 and €40. Just look for the sign for the taxi queue. There are other options as well. Here’s a link from Viator, a Trip Advisor company with transportation options.
If you are traveling to Belfast, you still will likely fly into Dublin. Only Virgin Atlantic flies from the US to Belfast and that is only seasonally from Orlando. It’s easy to get to downtown Belfast by taking the Aircoach 705x (Express) bus which arrives at Glengall Street next to the Belfast Bus Station. The cost is about €17 and if you are returning directly to the Airport, get a Return. There are a number of hotels close to the bus drop, but otherwise take a taxi to your hotel. The trip is about 2 hours, but the bus is comfortable (your luggage is stored below) and has Wi-fi.
If you plan on renting a car in Ireland you need to be between 25 and 74. Some companies will rent to those older than 75, but there may be additional requirements. Don’t even think of renting a car without taking the insurance, and in many cases, that is going to be more expensive than the rental. Don’t assume your credit card will cover it as it does in the US…some high end cards do, but check to make sure. Remember you are driving on the left side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right. If you can’t drive a standard shift make sure you request an automatic! And finally, if you think that gas is expensive here…the signs you see will be in liters and there are about 4 liters to a gallon. I took the picture below in 2015 and the price of a gallon of unleaded gas was about $5.84. Today the price is closer to $7.65.
As to money, the Republic of Ireland uses Euros (€) whereas Northern Ireland uses British Sterling (£). Mastercard and Visa are accepted just about everywhere however American Express or Discovery are not universally accepted. Check your cards for how they handle currency conversion. Also be aware of how your bank handles ATM withdrawals…do they charge a fee? Also ATM withdrawals typically charge interest from the day of the withdrawal, not the date of the statement. If you pay off your credit card in full as I do each month, the interest fees can come as a surprise.
Check your Debit Card…and your bank’s policy. I use a CapitalOne Debit Card and am charged no fees. The amount is converted at the daily rate. I use this to get cash all over Ireland…euros or pounds. Take a look at this website which compares some of the fees…I cancelled my Chase card years ago when they started charging fees.
Most places in Ireland use “chip and pin.” The US was way behind Ireland in putting chips in our credit cards, but most now have them. We use signatures instead of pins and you'll be asked to sign as you do here in the US. When you’re eating in a restaurant, the waiter/waitress will bring the credit card machine to your table. If you’re in a group, they will sometimes split the bill right at the table. Do let them know that you’re paying separately.
Contactless or tap cards again have been used in Ireland for a long time. In 2019 I asked my credit card company if I could get one and they were not offering them. This year I had all of my cards converted to tap cards. They can be used for small payments…up to €50 or (just raised to) £100 in Northern Ireland.
Apple Pay and Google pay are accepted in Ireland with the same limits as Tap Cards.
A VAT (Value Added Tax) is added to just about everything but you don’t see it as a separate line…it’s included in the price. If you make a large purchase (jewelry, crystal) the store will give you VAT Tax Refund Paperwork. The minimum price is €30 per invoice. Keep all your receipts. Depending on the scheme, you will usually have to go to a special VAT Refund window at the Airport to have your paperwork stamped. This can take time so remember to allow for it at the airport. Note that VAT refunds are not for expenses such as hotels and meals.
Tipping at restaurants of 10%-15% is fine, but check to make sure that "service" hasn't already been added. For taxis it is not required, but usually just up to the next euro. Here's a guide to tipping in Ireland.
I’d be lost without a currency converter on my phone. Mine converts lots of things besides currency including distances (kilometers to miles) and temperature (Centigrade to Fahrenheit). When you hear it’s 20° out, it’s warm for Ireland…68° F.
Check with your phone carrier about their International Plans. Another option (and one I use) is to have an Irish SIM card inserted in your phone when you arrive. I've used Vodaphone in the past (they have a store on Grafton Street) and for about €30 I get an Irish phone number and enough access for 3 weeks and works all over Ireland. To do this, your phone must be unlocked by your carrier, so check this before you leave.
I have never felt unsafe in Ireland, even when walking by myself at night. Having said that, be smart. If you’re taking money out of an ATM be aware of your surroundings. If you are by yourself, do it in a well lit area with others around. I frequently use a small flat fanny pack or a purse that I can keep in front of me.
Be aware when you are walking. Pay attention to the Walk lights…don’t try to beat the light. We are used to looking left first when we cross the street. That will get you run over by a bus…take my word it’s been close for me! If you are at an intersections without a light, look down first and follow the directions! When possible cross with a group. If you’re standing on a corner and everyone starts to move, you’re probably safe.
The Luas is the light rail system that operates in Dublin…there is the Red line (primarily north of the Liffey) and the Green Line (originally south of the Liffey, but it now connects to the Red Line. For years, the center of Dublin from St Stephen's Green past Trinity and across the O’Connell Bridge was dug up, but the system is now great. It won’t take you everywhere, but it’s easy to use, especially with a Leap Card. The card can be purchased at many locations around Dublin. It is less expensive to just purchase an Adult card. It initially costs €10 (€5 for the card and €5 in value) and you can "top it up" at any of the stations. Just don’t forget to tap on AND off as that is how it knows what to charge. You can also purchase a ticket at any of the stops but the fare is lower with the card. Be aware that there are random checks for tickets so don't ride without either a card or ticket. The Leap card is good for buses and trains as well as the Luas.
Taxis abound in the major cities and although Uber isn't in Ireland, many of the taxi companies have apps that work the same way. In Dublin there’s an app called Free Now (used to be MyTaxi). In Belfast I use fonaCab and Value Cabs. There appear to be a number of new taxi apps which I haven’t used. Check your Apple App or GooglePlay Store.
At some point you need to say goodbye for now. Leaving from Dublin Airport Terminal 2 you need to plan on a minimum of 3 hours for check in, security and shopping! Returning to the US you will clear US Customs and Immigration in Dublin (which is great…your arrival in US will be considered a domestic flight).
Once you have cleared Dublin Security, done your shopping (and possibly VAT paperwork) you will wait until your flight is called for US Customs and Immigration. You fill out your paperwork and then go through Immigration screening. There’s a chance you will be pulled for additional screening…I don’t know the criteria, but I’ve been pulled multiple times. They ask additional questions and you have to open any carry-on. This will be followed by a Passport check (if you have Global Entry you can go to a Kiosk), then you will go through a second US security check. Finally you can go to your gate.
If you are going directly back to the airport from Belfast take the Aircoach (from Glengall Street). You don’t want to take the train since that takes you into Dublin City and then you have to get back to the airport.
Ireland no longer requires a COVID test, proof of vaccination, a passenger locator form or quarantine. Like the US, in many locations masks have become optional but there are still places that require masks including many research facilities. It's important to follow the rules.
The US still requires a viral type test (PCR or Antigen) within 24 hours of boarding your flight. There are test centers across Ireland including at Dublin Airport...just google Covid test for travel. The costs will vary but remember, you have to have the results to board your flight home. Below is the airport testing which requires an appointment so don't wait until the last minute.