Whether you are from the UK, the US Uruguay or anywhere else, there are many reasons to pursue your third level studies in Ireland. International students in Ireland have many reasons to come, and plenty more to stay.
As well as having some of the most prestigious universities in Europe, Ireland is also home to a range of innovative institutes of technology that produce thousands of skilled graduates each year. Moreover, the relatively affordable cost of tuition for students in Ireland, combined with its diverse and expanding economy, make studying in Ireland an attractive proposition for students looking to begin their career quickly upon completion of their studies.
However, before you start picturing your life as a student in Ireland, you need to learn more about the application process for studying in Ireland, as well as identifying what your options are.
Application processes and tuition fees for International students in Ireland
Like many facets of life in Ireland, the country that you are arriving in Ireland from is often one of the most important factors that will determine what you are and are not entitled to once you get here.
Ireland’s membership of the European Union and, by extension, its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) means that the free movement of people is a right afforded to all citizens from fellow EU/EEA member states. This is a benefit that also extends to students wishing to study in one of the institutes of technology or universities in Ireland.
Undergraduate students from EU/EEA member states can apply for third level courses in Ireland through the Central Applications Office, or CAO as it is more commonly known. This is the same process that almost all Irish students will pursue and you can learn more about the CAO here. CAO applications can be made online, and there is also a very useful handbook.
However, to be considered an EU/EEA applicant, and avail of the more straightforward application process that goes with that, a student must be someone who:
- is ordinarily resident in an EU/EEA member state and has completed full time post-primary education there or is ordinarily resident in an EU/EEA member state and has worked full-time in the EU/EEA for three of the five years immediately preceding admission to an Irish third level institution; or
- holds a passport from an EU/EEA state and has received all full-time post primary education in an EU/EEA member state; or
- has official refugee status and has been granted humanitarian leave to remain in Ireland;
- has been ordinarily resident in the EU/EEA for three of the five years immediately before admission to an Irish third level institution.
A student’s registered status cannot be changed from EU/EEA or non EU/EEA or vice-versa during a programme for which he or she is registered. Finally, for students aged under 23, the student’s parent(s) must also live (their principal residence for the purpose of taxation) in an EU/EEA member state for three of the five years prior to student’s entry to an Irish third level institution in order for the student to be considered as coming from an EU/EEA country.
Free Fees initiative
Not only is it easier for international students from EU/EEA member states to enroll for courses in Irish universities, but once they do so, they are generally able to access the Free Fees initiative as well.
This means that eligible undergraduate EU/EEA international students are exempt from paying tuition to attend a university or institute of technology in Ireland, although a mandatory student contribution fee of approximately €3,000 exists for all students, even those from Ireland and other EEA countries. Again, to be eligible for the Free Fees Initiative a student must have been resident in an EEA member state or Switzerland for at least three of the five years before starting their course. Generally speaking, you must also be a citizen of an EEA member state or be a family member of an EEA national and have permission to live in Ireland.
However, if you are hoping to study in Ireland but are not a resident of an EU/EEA member state, then the rules, application process and tuition fees applied are very different.
Do Non-EU/EEA students need an Ireland student visa?
The short answer to this question is maybe. Unlike EU/EEA students, non-EU/EEA students are faced with significantly more stipulations when it comes to studying in Ireland. In fact, international students from certain non-EEA countries will require an Ireland study visa before being permitted to study in Ireland, as well as evidence that they have access to at least €7,000 when they come to Ireland.
In addition, regardless if you’re a resident of a country which requires a visa to study in Ireland or not, all non-EEA nationals coming to study in Ireland must be enrolled in a full-time course on the Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP). In addition, all non-EEA students, including those who do not require an Ireland study visa, must register with their local immigration officer to get permission to remain in Ireland for more than 90 days. Students who do not require a visa must have at least €3,000 when they first register with their local immigration officer, if they are coming to study for more than six months.
Finally, If you are attending a course on the Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP) you will have stamp number 2 placed in your passport when you register with your local immigration officer. This will allow you to partake in casual employment of 20 hours per week during the academic year and for up to 40 hours per week during designated vacation periods, specifically from June to September inclusive and from December 15 to January 15. Once your Stamp 2 permission to remain expires, you will no longer be entitled to take up employment in Ireland unless otherwise authorised to do so.
Third level application process for non-EU/EEA students in Ireland
The vast majority of non-EU/EEA international students applying for undergraduate courses in Ireland should do so by applying directly to the third level institution of their choice. As a non-EU/EEA applicant, you should contact the Admissions Office or International Office of the relevant university or institute of technology that you wish to attend for information on the application process, as each third level institution has its own application procedures and closing dates.
Much like Irish and other EU/EEA students who apply through the CAO, entry requirements for international students may vary from year to year, depending on the number of places available and the number of applicants. In addition, all applications are assessed individually and even the completion of the International Bacculaureate (IB) Diploma does not guarantee admission, as individual institutions may stipulate requirements additional to the minimum required.
In terms of tuition fees for international students, those from outside the EU/EEA are almost always deemed ineligible the Free Fees initiative and instead have to pay either EU or non-EU fees to study in Ireland.
Generally, EU fees tend to be cheaper than the non-EU option, but are not as low as the free fees enjoyed by Irish or EU/EEA-based students who can prove the requisite residency conditions outlined above. Since 2014, Irish, EU, EEA or Swiss students who have spent five years in primary or secondary school in Ireland can qualify for EU fee rates regardless of where they have been resident in the previous five years.
Both EU and non-EU fee rates are set by individual third level educational institutions. If you are interested in pursuing either route, then you should contact the university or institute of technology that you are interested in attending and find out about their respective fees and whether you qualify or not.
Typically, international students who qualify for EU fee rates tend to be EU/EEA citizens who cannot satisfy the eligibility criteria for the Free Fees Initiative. By contrast, the more expensive non-EU fee rate is most often pursued by those with no direct link to Ireland or another EU/EEA country.