American, Sarah Nuttycombe shares her story of moving to Ireland on the Working Holiday Visa. She shares handy tips on finding accommodation and work and a great insight on Ireland and Irish people. Sarah is passionate about the transformative power of international experiences, especially for women. She began Brave, Bold and Borderless as an online resource and encouraging space for girls and women to go after their dreams abroad without limitation or fear.
After college, graduates face a vast unknown called “the real world”. For many, this means getting a job close to home and settling down – for the rest of their lives. For me, the “real world” looked like packing my life into a 36L backpack and going to live in a country where I had no job, no place to live and no friends. I get how it doesn’t sound appealing. But to me, it sounded like perfection.
I had no idea what I wanted to do after college, except for one thing: I wanted to live abroad. My degree was in International Studies, and I had studied abroad in Italy. Through both the education and the travel, I had fallen in love with the world pretty hopelessly. The “real world” I wanted was the literal, real world. I was determined to build an international life. This is why when I found the Working Holiday Visa, I felt like I found my golden opportunity. It could be the first building block of my dream life abroad.
Through this visa, I was able to make Ireland my home within one year of graduating college. My year living and working in Ireland through the Working Holiday Visa was one of challenges, but also immeasurable personal growth. Taking the leap to move away on my own changed me completely. I firmly believe that a working holiday is an unmissable opportunity for young people who are hungry for international experience.
In hopes of helping others who are interested in this visa, I’d like to share some stories, insights and links to resources that can help you design your own “real world” abroad.
About the Irish WHV and getting your visa
The Irish Working Holiday Visa is available to citizens of 10 countries and allows young people to live and work in Ireland for up to one year.
This program is one of five working holiday programs for U.S. citizens, and it does come with pretty specific criteria to qualify. You must be over 18 and enrolled in post-secondary education, or have graduated from post-secondary education within the past year. The window to qualify for the visa in Ireland is narrower than other WHV programs, so it worth considering as your first working holiday if you’re still in school or have just graduated.
The application process may seem daunting at first glance, but it’s worth navigating on your own because you learn so much in the process.
You may also be interested in our blog specifically on Working Holiday Visas
Getting to know Ireland and the Irish
The best thing I did upon moving to Ireland was to engage in local experiences and create a network. I would recommend this to anyone who’s starting from scratch in a new place. I started with Couchsurfing in Dublin and Cork so I could get to know the cities and at least one person in each place. I signed up for HelpX and organized some work for myself in hostels around the country. Meetup was also a great way to find people with common interests.
Prioritizing meeting people helped me in many ways. Most importantly, it allowed me to find support when I really needed it.
I would be lying if I said I had complete faith in myself when I decided to move to Ireland. I knew it was right for me, but I was still scared. I’d also be lying if I said I had complete support from my family, friends and colleagues. I desperately wanted everything to go well to prove to them - and to myself - that I could do this.
When I first arrived to Ireland I had about a month’s worth of bookings and help exchanges organized. After a week in Dublin, I was meant to volunteer in a surfers’ hostel in a remote part of the country. Only a day before I was supposed to leave to stay there for three weeks, my host told me they wouldn’t be able to host me. I felt like I had already failed by getting stranded after only seven days. I had no idea what to do, and that didn’t help my level of panic. I called my mom, and she cried because it confirmed her fears that something would go wrong.
Four hours later, through a series of connections I had made on HelpX, I found myself onboard a seven-hour bus to Donegal to nanny for someone’s sister. It was organized quickly, and I was essentially operating off the belief that my new host mom had to be a nice person since she sent me a text with a smiley face in it. I nervously wondered if I’d made the right decision as the bus pulled into Donegal Town.
When my new host mom picked me up and I told her the story about my previous host falling through, she was upset. I had only been there ten minutes, but she looked at me and said definitively, “Well, you’re here now. You’re family. Never be stuck.”
That moment has stayed with me. For me, it encapsulates the Irish. They are some of the kindest, most open people I have ever met in my travels. Going from being stranded to being adopted as a new family member in a matter of minutes is one of my most treasured memories from Ireland.
From that moment on, I never felt stuck again.
Making Galway Home
After a month in Donegal, and another month working in a hostel on the Aran Islands, I settled in Galway.
Some Irish joked that Galway is where ambition goes to die. There is an element of truth to this – not that the city lacks ambitious people, but that the slower pace makes you want to stop whatever you’re doing to have a pint and listen to the music drifting into the pub from the ever-present buskers outside. If it’s sunny, the entire city will likely have stopped work anyway, as there was always a mass evacuation on bright days to sit by the Spanish Arch and have a drink (I believe the unofficial verb for this was SPARCH’ing).
It’s the sense of community that made Galway such a great place to live. I began to see the same faces around town. And with the uncanny ability of the Irish to remember names, it wasn’t long before I started to feel known, too. It was an easy place to establish a sense of home. For a newcomer hoping to find somewhere to belong, it was perfect.
Setting up a Life in Ireland
In terms of finding a hometown, my best advice is to not settle down right away! By spending my first two months hopping all over the country through short-term HelpX volunteering, I had a chance to decide which place felt best for me. I really valued the chance to explore Ireland before I committed to a job and didn’t have as much time to travel.
This exploration time also gave me time to adjust, something I hadn’t even considered. It’s often overlooked, but adding an adjustment buffer to your timeline can really be helpful. Ease into this new life by trying new experiences and new cities for a couple weeks at a time.
The two most obvious challenges were finding a job and an apartment, and both required a healthy level of determination.
I was fortunate to find an apartment within a weekend. But for a job, it took tons of applications and more than a month before I landed something. Everyone on this visa has their own experience with these elements and how easy or difficult they were, but I would give the same advice to everyone: persistence is key!
You’ll need to drop off more CVs in person than you could ever imagine. You may need to open your search to online-based work as well. Keep an open mind about the kind of work you do, and something will come through.
As for apartments, you’ll have to scour sites like daft.ie, rent.ie, and classified ads on Gumtree, and act quickly to line up viewings and interviews because of the high turnover rate. Once you find a good place, trust your gut and put down a deposit.
Why you should do a Working Holiday
One of the most beautiful outcomes from a working holiday experience is a permanent connection to the country you lived in.
You’ll gain a deeper understanding about a culture and a way of living. I felt like I had finally “made it” when I could understand most Irish accents - Irish slang and all. And when I realized that complimenting the Irish makes them uncomfortable (tough lesson for an American to learn). And when I understood that wearing un-ironed clothes out in public is unacceptable. And when I was able to let go of my American mindset that I was the total sum of my work and outcomes and finally adapt to the Irish ability to just “be” and enjoy life.
It may be difficult to articulate these lessons to someone who has never done this. After all, you built a new home, a new life, a new self in this place.
But what you will have learned, unquestionably, is that you're capable of taking a big, scary, meaningful, life-altering leap.
This ability is something you’ll always be able to return to - something totally worth leaving home for.
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