Irish University Fees for Expatriate Children

This is something that I get asked about all the time by concerned Irish parents so I thought it would be useful to put some relevant information down in a blog post. Most universities around the world charge more for international students (as opposed to domestic ones) and Ireland is no different but it can be tricky to work out the rules which apply to expatriate children. Will you pay domestic or international fees for your child if they wish to study for a degree in Ireland?

Firstly a caveat: for the purposes of this article I am talking about a first, standard undergraduate degree for a student aged 23 or younger. Different conditions may apply for other circumstances such as mature students.

The term EU throughout shall indicate EU/EEA/Switzerland.

Those wishing to study in Ireland will fall into one of the following three categories:

  • Free Fees Initiative – those who are eligible, including applicants from within the EU, get their fees paid by the Irish government although many students are required to pay an annual Student Contribution Fee, capped at a maximum of €3,000. This pays for the provision of student services including exam entry fees, libraries, computing, clubs and bars and the amount varies from one institution to another. For a full list of conditions for the Free Fees Initiative, have a look here.
  • EU fees – for applicants from the EU who do not meet the requirements for the Free Fees Initiative. This might include someone repeating a year because they failed it first time, someone who has already been to university, or someone who has been tax resident in the EU for a number of years but is not an EU national/ nor a family member of an EU citizen with permission to reside in Ireland. Or again if someone does not meet the Irish Nationality criteria yet has done 5 years at either post primary or primary level education in the EU they can qualify for EU fees.
  • International fees – for non-EU students and basically anyone who does not qualify for either of the above two categories.

You can work out which category your child will fall into by going to the website of any of the major Irish universities and using the eligibility reckoners or flow charts. University College Dublin’s is here for example.

In summary, there are three conditions that must be fulfilled to qualify for the Free Fees Initiative:

  • Irish residency
  • Irish nationality (or be a family member of an EU citizen)
  • Course requirements

Whereas in order to qualify for EU fees you only need Irish Residency OR Irish Nationality (or be a family member of an EU citizen) plus obviously the course requirements.

The most common misconception that I come across is that being an Irish passport holder alone will qualify an Irish national or the child of an Irish national living outside Europe for the Free Fees Initiative. This is not the case. Having Irish nationality (or being a family member of an EU citizen) is just one of the three conditions which come into play.

And the difference can be significant, which obviously has a huge impact on family finances. I looked at the numbers taking the example of an Engineering Degree at the National University of Ireland Galway for the academic year which is about to start (2019/2020). Fees for the three categories are as follows:

Free Fees/Student Contribution Only: €3,000 p.a.

EU Fees: €7,492 p.a.

International student: €16,750 p.a.

With a difference of nearly €14,000 between the least and most expensive categories for this particular course, it is obviously important for Irish parents to clarify which of the three applies to them. Note that some courses have much higher fees than this. International medicine undergraduates starting at University College Dublin this September, for example, will pay fees of €54,060 per year – ouch!

University might seem a long way off for your sons and daughters but those years will fly by. Bear in mind too that this article discusses mainly tuition fees, it does not delve into the living costs needed to sustain a typical Irish student for a year in college. That figure for reference is about €10,000 per annum, rent included. Furthermore the average inflation rate for university fees across the world is around 4% per annum. So the costs can really begin to mount. That’s why I always recommend that my clients who have children start a college fund as early as possible. It means that they can plan ahead, spread the cost over a decade or more and benefit from compound annual growth.