From visa queues, to work, housing and drink; expats' verdict on living in Ireland
Ireland tops the league in attracting foreign direct investment, and its not just money that comes. Along with financial investment, for decades thousands of expatriate managers and professionals have quietly taken up residence here, our reporter asks what they really make of us all?
Had you known much about Ireland before you came?
Anshika Pandalai: "I had visited twice before for holidays. I absolutely loved it. It's a very friendly country, small, English-speaking … so it was easy to assimilate. The work environment was friendly and open. I had worked for the same company in India. My experience has been extremely positive. I've got Irish citizenship now. I've been here 10 years, the family [including a young son] are settled here. This is home."
Tom Moran: "I had close ties to Ireland before I moved here. I used to lead tours of retirees. I taught Irish history and literature in the United States, just as a hobby. I was working for the company at that time. We purchased an Irish company called Cooper Industries - a lighting manufacturer - and we decided to form a new company here in Ireland and, because of my ties, they said, 'Would you go and open the office?' They originally asked me to stay for 18 months and that was four years ago, so now I'm hoping to stay permanently and get citizenship in a year or so."
Jeff Landry: "I had been once to Ireland, in 2003, for a three-week stint with Pfizer who have well established operations here. It was during the boom and Dublin was very different. When I returned, 10 years after, I got the sense that things were slowly beginning to turn in Dublin but not so much the rest of the country. I came over just myself, single not married, as my company's first ex-pat, first employee in Ireland. I embraced the adventure but there were a lot of unknowns."
Is Ireland a good place to do business?
Anshika Pandalai: "We [HSBC] deal with the larger PLCs. We've been here since 2006. During the Crash, you did see the pain around. But the PLCs were steady enough and HSBC were open for business. In the past few years, you've seen the recovery. Most of the businesses are doing well. Look around, the cranes are up, they're building again. Ireland is an open economy, being English-speaking is an added advantage."
Tom Moran: "I agree with all that. When I came over I was the only employee, but now we have 50 sales staff in Maynooth, Co Kildare and 42 in Dublin. We purchased a building and renovated it. We've not had any trouble hiring with the sole exception of purchasing staff, but that's very specialised knowledge, as you're working with Nafta [North American Free Trade Agreement]. It's hard to find someone who's good at that. Otherwise we've had no trouble in hiring, especially because of the lack of borders between the European countries. We've had great support from the IDA. The Irish economy seems robust, so no complaints."
What could we do better?
Tom Moran: "GNIB - the Garda National Immigration Bureau. No arguments with the intent behind the process, but is extremely time-consuming and when you have to go every six months and spend most of the day there and it's not an easy process. You get there at 6am - on the river [the Liffey] - and you're waiting around the back of the building for the line to come in. That process needed work, and it's had work recently. I understand they take appointments now - I haven't been in a few months - but the whole process could be further improved."
Anshika Pandalai: "I haven't had to go there now that I have citizenship, but it is a painful process. You're just standing outside for hours - and that's not fun in winter, especially."
Jeff Landry: "In some areas, it feels that Dublin has grown up really quickly, in terms of the number of companies and who it's attracted - people from other parts of Europe, Asia, the States - and you have an expectation that the city, the planners and so on, can keep up with the growth, but I feel they're lagging behind a bit. You see it in different ways - whether you're trying to get through the city, or if you're looking for housing or education. They're common themes you hear from other expats. Dublin, unlike much of Europe, bounced back rather quickly from a true global recession. In some ways, the city feels like it wasn't designed for such an influx.
Is the housing shortage a worry?
Tom Moran: "It has been difficult. My wife and I have been looking for a house for two years and it's not that we couldn't find a house for two years, it's that we were a little shocked by the prices. But then, we had come from northeast Ohio - we hadn't come from San Francisco or downtown Boston. We just recently found a house in Dalkey near the Dart tracks so it would be an easy commute."
Anshika Pandalai: "We've been fortunate when it came to finding a house, but you do hear about the shortage especially for people coming in. There is a paucity of places to rent and if you're looking to buy you're waiting for quite a while to find the property you want. There's a tightness in the supply as well as the price of property. Dublin is an expensive city and housing is at a premium here."
Jeff Landry: "I moved here from downtown Manhattan and while it's tough to compare the cities, after an initial two-month stint in corporate housing I found an apartment in Ranelagh that I'm still in today. At that time, I felt there was very limited choice and it's become increasingly difficult. I've heard plenty of tough stories for others, who are either looking for rentals or houses to buy - and it's definitely a consideration, because, if you're growing your business and considering other employees to come here on assignment, you want those employees to be able to settle in here quickly on the personal side with their families.
Tom Moran: "The mortgage lending process is different here than in the US. There are medical appointments that you need to attend. They peel apart your entire medical history, at least that's been our experience with our particular bank. They'll only lend up to a certain age - I've never seen that before. I realise the reasons for that, the bailout and the recession and so on, but the whole process is much more cumbersome than back home. It would be nice if Ireland adopted title insurance, like we have in the US, where they handle all the paperwork and you don't need to engage solicitors if you don't want to."
Have you been surprised by the number of expats in Ireland?
Anshika Pandalai: "It's really increased in the past couple of years since the recession. When I initially came here, I did not think it was as cosmopolitan as it is today. There's a lot of people coming in here now, which is refreshing. It's a sign that Ireland is an extremely attractive place for people to move here to on a permanent or temporary basis."
Tom Moran: "For a country with a population of 4.5m, the number of folks who were born outside the Republic surprised me - until I started thinking about my own staff. Because of the free rules about where you work and where you live in the EU, we get applicants from all over Europe. Our workforce is about half indigenous Irish-born and the other half is from all over Europe."
Jeff Landry: "My first experience of Ireland in 2003 was one where the environment felt very Irish. Coming back 10 years later, and being here for four years now, there definitely is that diversity. Much of that from other Europeans. When there is that diversity, it certainly can lead to stronger teams when it comes to doing business in a European context. Is the city fully prepared, or staying on top of all that, or is it something that maybe planners are grappling with again?"
Is Ireland welcoming?
Anshika Pandalai: "In my experience, certainly. In all the time I've been here I've had no negative experiences. Wherever you go, people are very welcoming especially when you go to the smaller towns. They're very curious - and curious in a good way - about where you've come from and your culture. The Irish love travelling and you've a lot of people either having gone to India or wanting to go to India."
Tom Moran: "People have been extremely welcoming. My wife ended up retiring in a new city. She tied in right away with the International Women's Club in Dublin - she's playing golf for the first time in her life.
Jeff Landry: "I'm still single and receive quite a bit of slagging from my Irish colleagues about finding an Irish wife … it hasn't happened yet! There have been some challenges socially. Coming from downtown Manhattan with all my family back there and to a role that required a lot of hours and travel, it has made it lonely to a degree. But, in general, there's a familiarity that most Irish seem to have with Americans. I spent a year in Tokyo and that was 'foreign'; Ireland is by no means foreign."
Are there aspects of the Irish that you find unusual or strange?
Anshika Pandalai: "The Irish sense of humour. They're very self deprecating, which is refreshing when compared to some cultures, where it's very pompous. And you have a very dry sense of humour. It can be difficult to get used to certain colloquialisms, though. I remember early on being asked 'How's the craic?' and to me 'craic' was 'crack cocaine' and I was flummoxed. It was like, 'what are they asking me'?"
What about Ireland's relationship with alcohol?
Jeff Landry: "I've seen more the positive side of it as well. I know that historically the whole family would go to the pub on a Sunday and you'd have all generations there represented. Here, in a business context, if often precedes the main agenda of an event - it can relax the crowd and encourages openness. It captures the openness of the Irish culture. And yet, it seems that for many people, pub culture really just happens at the weekend. If you step into a local establishment and sense that for many of the patrons, that's their pub, there's something special about that. Of course anyone can abuse something, but generally it's been a positive."
How good is the work-life balance in Ireland?
Anshika Pandalai: "The work-live balance here is fantastic. In Asia, we work for six-and-a-half days a week. When I came here, that was a pleasant surprise. If you've expected to work over the weekend, everyone is apologetic about it. But back home that's part and parcel of the job. I think work-life balance here is protected. You're expected to switch off, at least in my sector. The Irish guard it and that might go back to how family oriented it is."
Tom Moran: "Our work-week is 37.5 hours and I think in the US we were 40 hours a week. One thing that did surprise me was the amount of vacation time people start with in Ireland - it's 25 days with our company. When I first started out, I got seven days vacation in my first 12 months and then you built on that, but then you capped out at about 21 days. I think the Irish have it about right."
Jeff Landry: "It's refreshing to see. I've spent most of my career in New York-based companies and the culture there is largely about work. But yet the balance is important, and Americans lag behind in that area.
What do you miss most about home?
Anshika Pandalai: "Family, for one, especially with us having a child. You miss that family support. It's a big negative. But you work around it and to have that support network you really have to assimilate."
Jeff Landry: "If you're coming from outside of Europe, the family/friends component is something you miss. I might be able to jump on a flight for work, but loved ones don't find it as easy to get a seven-hour fight across the Atlantic due to the time and cost involved."
Tom Moran: "My parents are elderly and they're in Florida. My wife's parents are elderly and they're in California and that's the hardest part of living here, although, we were living in Ohio, so it was a long plane flight to either of those locations. One thing I didn't miss was being in the United States in the run up to this election - it was just crazy. I do miss good dill pickles, though!
Anshika Pandalai is Corporate Banking Manager at HSBC. An economics and psychology graduate of the University of Delhi, with an MBA from the same institution, she moved to Ireland initially for family reasons as her husband was studying medicine here. She assists the country’s largest PLCs with local and global transactions. She moved to Ireland in 2007.
Jeff Landry is the General Manager of Regeneron’s European business operations, focused on strategic partnerships and finance. He spent 10 years in finance roles at Pharmacia, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, including Japan, Italy, Canada and Mexico. He previously worked at Merrill Lynch and Dow Jones. He moved to Ireland in 2013.
Tom Moran is Senior Vice President of Eaton PLC where he is responsible for corporate governance, securities law and oversight of Eaton’s European HQ in Dublin.
Tom served as an Assistant Secretary and Managing Counsel of Dow Chemical from 2002 to 2008 after joining in 1989. He moved here in 2013.