Freedom of movement and access to services for EU citizens

Your Rights

Fact sheets

Citizens of member states of the EU (as well as citizens of Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) have the right to freedom of movement within all EU states. This means that EU citizens have the right to live and work in any EU country, and be treated the same as citizens of that country, subject to certain conditions.

As an EU citizen, what are my rights of residency in Ireland?

Freedom of movement means that citizens of a member state of the EU can live in Ireland or another member state for three months without restriction. This is increased to six months if you are looking for a job. All you need is a valid ID. You can also bring your family members to live with you for this period of three or six months without any further conditions.

However, to stay in Ireland for over three months (or six months if you are looking for a job), you must meet one of the following conditions:

  • You must be working or self-employed in Ireland.
  • You must have enough funds to support yourself and your family members so you will not burden the Irish social welfare while you are here – and you must have comprehensive sickness insurance.
  • You must be enrolled in a course of study, which can include vocational training – and you must have comprehensive sickness insurance.
  • You are a family member accompanying an EU citizen who meets one of conditions above.

How do I qualify for residency as an EU worker?

To qualify for residence in Ireland as an EU worker, you do not need to have a specific level of income or to work a minimum number of hours per week.

You will be considered an EU worker if:

  • You are working or self-employed in Ireland, or
  • You are temporarily unable to work due to illness or accident, or
  • You lose your job involuntarily (without intending to lose it) and register as a jobseeker after working for more than a year, or
  • You lose your job involuntarily and register as a jobseeker after being in a fixed-term employment contract of under a year or becoming unemployed during the first 12 months of a contract

Do my family members have a right to freedom of movement?

Family members accompanying you also have freedom of movement if you are an EU worker, student or have sufficient means to support yourself. Any family members who are not EU citizens will need a residence card (see next section).

The family members must be:

  • Your spouse or civil partner, or
  • A child under the age of 21, or an older dependent child, or
  • Dependent parents or grandparents of either you or your spouse

Other family members may apply to reside in Ireland and may be granted a right to reside by the Irish Government, however this is decided on a case by case basis. For example, if you are the primary carer for a member of your wider family who has an illness or disability, that person may be allowed to remain.

What if a family member is not an EU citizen?

Family members from outside the EU will need to apply for a residence card.  This card allows them to live here for up to five years, or for as long as you remain here if you expect to stay for under five years. Their residence card will continue to be valid provided they spend at least six months a year in an EU member state.

What are derivative rights?

The rights of family members are based upon your right as an EU worker or student to reside here. As a result, they are often called ‘derivative rights’ because they derive from the family members’ relationship to you, not from their own independent status. If the relationship changes between you and your family members, the family members may still be able to keep their right to residency.

Can a person with derivative rights keep their right to residency in Ireland even if I am no longer there?

A family member who is an EU citizen can apply to keep their right to residency if:

  • You die or leave Ireland, or
  • Their partnership with you ends (for example, in divorce or annulment)

A family member who is not an EU citizen can apply to keep their right to residency if:

  • You die, and they have lived in Ireland for at least one year before your death, or
  • You die or leave Ireland, and they have custody of children who they had with you and who are in education In Ireland, or
  • They were married or in a registered partnership with you for at least three years, including one in Ireland, before the marriage or partnership ended, or
  • They were married or in a registered partnership with you before the marriage or partnership ended, and they have kept custody of the children from this marriage or partnership, or
  • They were married or in a registered partnership with you and they suffered domestic abuse while within the marriage or partnership

In addition, family members who are not EU citizens who want to keep their residence card must show that they:

  • Are employed or self-employed in Ireland, or
  • Have sufficient funds to avoid being a burden on the Irish State

Can a carer claim derivative rights of residence?

The primary (main) carer of an EU citizen may be able to claim derivative these rights of residence, even if the carer comes from outside the EU. This is to enable the EU citizen to stay within the EU.

For example, the Court of Justice of the European Union has found that a non EU national family member who is the primary carer of a EU citizen child can claim a right of residence here for as long as the child is in full-time education.

Former workers, whether EU or non-EU citizens, whose right to reside was based on their worker status, can claim derivative rights even after losing their job – if they are also the primary carer of an EU child in full-time education. For example, a Austrialian parent forced to leave their job may be able to claim a derivative right to stay in Ireland for as long as their child remains at school here.

As an EU citizen, can I claim the right to permanent residence in Ireland?

You can claim the right to permanent residence in Ireland in the following situations:

  • You have lived here lawfully for five years continuously. After five years you no longer have to prove that you have enough funds to avoid burdening the social assistance scheme. During the five years, you can spend a certain amount of time outside Ireland:
    • Up to six months each year;
    • Over six months a year if you are enlisted in military service;
    • One absence of up to 12 months for pregnancy /childbirth, serious illness, study or an overseas posting
  • You have reached pension age, or taken early retirement, after living here for between three years and five years. You must have been employed or self-employed for at least the previous 12 months.
  • You have lived in Ireland for two years and then stop work due to ‘permanent incapacity’. This means a doctor certifies that you are not, and will not be, capable of working again. You may be able to claim a full or partial state pension or other benefit.

What are my rights under EU law as an EU citizen living in Ireland?

Equal treatment: While lawfully resident in Ireland, you have the same right to equal treatment as Irish nationals. This right also covers your family members, including family members who are not EU citizens.

Social assistance: EU workers in Ireland – and Irish workers in any other EU member state – have the same rights as nationals to get social assistance. This applies only from the day you start work. During your first three months of residence, you can get social assistance only if you are in employment.

Healthcare: You are entitled to receive the same medical care as an Irish citizen.

Other services: You are entitled to the same social and economic advantages as national workers, such as legal protection, voting rights (European and Local elections only) or minimum wages.

Can my children be educated in Ireland?

The children of EU workers in Ireland have the right to take part in general and vocational education, including apprenticeships, on the same terms as Irish children. Your children have the right to join a class of the same age and educational level as their class in their country of origin, regardless of their language level. They can also have free English language tuition to help them adapt to the Irish school system.

What about grants for higher education?

If your children have lived in Ireland for three years out of the last five years, they can apply for the Free Fees Scheme and the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant.  They can also apply for the grants that are available to Irish children to study abroad, even if they wish to study in their original member state.

Can I apply for social housing?

As an EU worker, you can apply to join the social housing list in Ireland on the same basis as Irish people.

Under Irish law, EU citizens can apply for social housing if they are:

  • Currently employed in Ireland, or
  • Unable to work due to illness or accident, or
  • Registered as a jobseeker after working here for over one year
  • Have derivative rights to reside as a family member outlined above.

Under the EU rules on freedom of movement, you have the right to equal treatment regarding social assistance in general after being lawfully resident in a member state for three months.

Can I get social welfare support in Ireland?

In general, an EU citizen working in another member state enjoys the same social and tax advantages as national workers. In Ireland, the social welfare system is also divided into two main types of support.

Social security: This aims to protects all EU citizens against certain risks or lifetime events by providing them with an extra or substitute income. In Ireland, these are called social insurance payments. For example, you can get a state pension when you retire, maternity benefit for childbirth, Jobseeker’s Benefit if you lose your job, or sick pay if you become too ill or disabled to work. When you are working, your social security insurance contributions (known as PRSI – or pay-related social insurance – in Ireland) help to pay for your social security benefits.

Social assistance: This support aims to deal with need or poverty. Social assistance payments are means-tested (so your income is assessed) and they are intended for low-income households.

In Ireland, you are not entitled to social welfare assistance for your first 90 days’ living here. You have the right to live here for those three months provided you do not become ‘a burden on the social assistance system’. This means you must support yourself without claiming state welfare benefits. (In cases of exceptional need, you may get single payments or a supplementary allowance.)

To qualify for most forms of social assistance in Ireland, you must be ‘habitually resident’.

What is the habitual residence condition?

To qualify for most means-tested social welfare payments (social assistance) and Child Benefit, you must be habitually resident in Ireland. This means you must be lawfully resident and have made it your primary home, centre of interest, place of work on a long-term basis, and intend to stay here.

Example: An Estonian citizen who has been lawfully residing full time in Ireland for several years can satisfy the Habitual Residence Condition, which enables them to access social assistance, such as housing benefit. However, an Estonian citizen who lives mainly in Estonia but is in Ireland for a couple of months a year, may not be able to access social assistance.

What social welfare assistance can I claim without proving habitual residence?

You do not need to prove habitual residence if you are an EU worker and you want to claim Supplementary Welfare Allowance or the following family supports:

You claim these benefits on behalf of your dependants, whether the dependants are resident in Ireland or in another EU state.

What assistance can I claim if I am habitually resident but not currently employed?

You may qualify for:

You can use social insurance contributions you have already paid to the social security system of another EU country to qualify for social welfare payments in Ireland. However, the most recent contribution must have been paid in Ireland.

As an EU citizen, what unemployment benefit can I get in Ireland?

The type of unemployment benefit you are entitled to depends on:

  • How long you have worked here, or
  • If you can use your social security insurance contributions from another EU country

You may be able to claim the following types of social welfare if you are unemployed:

  • Jobseeker’s Benefit and Illness Benefit if you worked in another EU country before you came to Ireland and have paid enough PRSI (social security insurance contributions). The most recent contribution must have been paid in Ireland.
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance if you are habitually resident here. This payment is means tested, so your income will be assessed.
  • Means-tested Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) for up to six months if you lost your job involuntarily (you did not choose to leave your job) after working in Ireland for under a year. You can claim SWA for as long as you need to if you worked in Ireland for over a year before losing your job and you are now looking for work again.

When can I start getting a pension?

In Ireland, you can start receiving your state pension when you are 66.  If you are long-term sick or disabled, you may be able to get an Invalidity Pension before you are 66. The rate of Invalidity Pension depends on the number and type of PRSI (or equivalent) social security contributions you have paid while working in Ireland or another EU member state.

Health: Can I get a medical card?

A medical card entitles you to get certain health services free of charge. It is means tested and is available only to people on a low income. You may qualify for a medical card if you live in Ireland and:

  • Receive benefits from another EU member state but have not paid into or taken benefits from the Irish social security system, or
  • You work in another EU country and pay social insurance contributions in that country, or
  • You are the dependent spouse or child of someone living in another member state

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) also entitles you to healthcare in Ireland or any other EU member state, if you become ill or injured while visiting that country. The EHIC does not entitle you to travel abroad with the aim of getting free healthcare.

Where can I find more information?

The Citizens Information website has detailed up-to-date information for people moving to Ireland, covering residency, social welfare, tax, health, education and more.

  • Moving to Ireland
  • Residence rights of EU/EEA Citizens and their families in Ireland
  • Social Welfare System in Ireland
  • Habitual Residence Condition
  • Migrant Workers and Unemployment

Last updated December 2023