We’re top of the list in terms of EU living costs but three Irish expats tell Molly O’Connor and Aoife Breslin they’re hardly high on the hog away from it
A recent report from Eurostat revealed Ireland, with Denmark, is the joint most expensive place to live in the EU.
People here pay far more than the EU average for food, drink, energy, transport, communications and restaurants.
The Irish Independent spoke to three Irish people who have made other European countries home and found that the cost of living crisis is not an Ireland-only affair.
Jack Ryan (42) moved from his hometown of Ratoath, Co Meath, in 2007 to a small island in the Stockholm Archipelago.
He moved to Sweden while working on a project with Greenpeace in 2007, and now runs a coffee business.
“I never had the intention to emigrate. What started as a six-month trip turned into a year, and here I am 15 years later,” he said.
He said that while Sweden is constantly evolving, generally pleasant, and very tolerant, that it is “not the perfect Nordic ideal”.
Mr Ryan explained that in Sweden, average salaries are not as high as in neighbouring countries. The average salary is about €3,500 a month and roughly a third of that income is taxed. If a person is earning over €10,000 a month, they can be taxed around 50pc.
You pay around €200 a year out of your own pocket for medical care, and if it costs more, it’s covered by taxes
He described the Swedish housing situation as “a headache”. The renting system is managed by official authorities, and is based on a queuing system. An average person could be waiting up to 10 years for a property to become available to them.
For this reason, parents often put their children’s names on waiting lists for these properties from a very young age.
Sub-letting is a matter of supply and demand, and a typical two-bedroom home would be priced at €2,000 to €3,000 per month.
“It’s quite pricey to be a car owner at the moment, with petrol costing about €2.30 per litre,” he said.
This is despite a temporary tax reduction on the price of gas introduced by the Swedish government in March of this year.
He said that car repairs are also quite expensive. “Even just getting a tyre fixed can cost around €50, which seems like a lot.”
Mr Ryan explained groceries had recently “shot up” in price, with a typical one-litre carton of milk costing around €1.40, a loaf of bread costing €3, and an artisan loaf of bread in a bakery costing €5 to €6.
Despite these recent increases, it would still be cheaper to eat in than dine out. He said eating lunch in a restaurant costs about €11 to €12 per head.
For dinner, these prices rise to about €30 to €40 “excluding drinks”. If someone wanted a drink with their meal, it costs around €6 to €7 for a pint, and €13 to €15 for one glass of wine.
Sweden’s exceptionally high tax rates allow for a myriad of benefits, including free school meals for primary and secondary school children, free university fees, reduced public transport expenses, and discounted medical care.
“You pay around €200 a year out of your own pocket for medical care, and if it costs more, it’s covered by taxes. Even for medicine, you pay about a maximum of €400 at the start of the year, and the rest is covered.”
Aine Mullins (21) moved to Luxembourg for her Erasmus year as part of a global business degree in Dublin City University.
She has been in Luxembourg for several months now, working in a bank for her college internship.
With Luxembourg being in the top four of most expensive countries in Europe, Aine said, like Ireland, it has its pros and cons in terms of prices. She said rental prices are quite high in the city centre, there isn’t a big difference compared to Dublin.
“In Luxembourg, there is very high rent, with most of the people that I know paying between €800 and €1,200 a month,” she said.
What is shocking here is that food costs more than alcohol
“Myself and my two housemates, we live a 20-minute bus journey away from the city centre, purely because any three-bedroom apartments in the city centre were way too expensive, so we are currently paying €816 a month, which is cheap for Luxembourg.”
The biggest shock Aine encountered while living in Luxembourg was the price of alcohol and cigarettes compared with food.
“In the shops, alcohol and cigarettes are surprisingly cheap here compared to Ireland; they obviously have higher prices in Ireland to discourage people from buying it. I would say it is half the price here for alcohol and cigarettes.
“I also find that meat is very expensive here in the shops, compared to Ireland. What is shocking here is that food costs more than alcohol, which is kind of bad, you can get 1kg of chicken for a tenner but then you can get a 70cl on Smirnoff vodka for €8 in the same shop.”
She explained the biggest benefit is that public transport is completely free in Luxembourg, which is a huge bonus.
“Trains are free, and buses are free so it’s so easy to get around just hopping on and off because a lot of the routes are quite short, you always have to switch buses and trains, so you don’t have to pay every time.
“The only downside about transport here is that taxis are super expensive so when public transport finishes at night-time, taxis just know they can get you to pay whatever.
“Taxis are like €30 for a 10-minute drive whereas I know in Dublin if you were going from DCU accommodation into town which is a 15-minute drive, you would only be paying maybe €15 or €20.”
Eoin O’Shea (42) is a psychologist who moved to Denmark after his ex-wife, who is originally from the Scandinavian country, wanted to move back with their son after their separation.
Initially he planned to move for a year to see how their son Emil would settle into the education system.
Eoin says the schooling system in Denmark is different to that in Ireland, with all education, as well as school materials, being completely free.
“Education over here is completely free, there are private schools as you would expect, but they are few and far between. My experience of the local schooling is that it is very high quality – it probably focuses more on the child’s socio-emotional development, as well as their academic development.
“They even supply some of the basic materials, such as, pens, pencils, crayons, whatever the child needs to be using in school is nearly entirely provided for free.
I live in an apartment that has two bedrooms. That costs about €1,600. I gather a comparable property in Dublin might be over €2,000
“University education is free as well. People that do go to university here get a thing called an SU and that is a student payment. It amounts to about €650 a month, so pretty much everyone that is on SU gets a student job where they would work for between 10 and 20 hours to make up the difference.”
Eoin explained how Denmark’s rental costs are similar to Ireland, however, in terms of buying property, Denmark may have a better system.
“The property prices here in terms of what you would get for X amount of money, would in my opinion be favourable. For example, I live in an apartment that’s about 85 square metres, and it has two bedrooms. That costs about €1,600. I gather a comparable property in the city centre in Dublin might be over €2,000 at this stage.”
He explained how he was surprised after enquiring about a mortgage to find out that placing a down payment on a property in Denmark is considerably cheaper than Ireland.
“I am a customer of Danske Bank over here and I decided to ask them about mortgages because for quite a while, I have been hoping to get a mortgage at some point rather than paying some landlord’s mortgage.
“I sort of assumed it would require about a 15pc to 20pc down payment of the value of the property, but [the bank manager] seemed a bit surprised when I said this.
“He said, ‘No, you wouldn’t pay that much, it would probably go for 7pc.’”
Eoin also believes that for separated or divorced parents with children, Denmark has a better system put in place, giving parents equal access to the child.
“Separation and divorce are probably more frequent over here than they are in Ireland, so it’s very common over here to have a ‘seven and seven’ arrangement.
“In Ireland, what you would normally see would be a father gets to see his children maybe two of seven days a week, whereas legally over here it is an initial assumption that both parents would have equal access.
"Children will spend a seven-day full week with one parent and the next seven-day full week with the next.”