Crossing the Irish border: what you need to know!
Ireland is a country divided in two: in the south and west, the nation of Ireland (often referred to as the Republic of Ireland to avoid confusion), and in the northeast the province of Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom. Both have plenty to do and see, and it would be a crime to make a trip to Ireland and not cross the border. But what does that entail? Here is everything you need to know about crossing the Irish border!
Locals take for granted the free movement they have between north and south, and it’s true that you can flit across the border with barely a care in the world. But Ireland and the UK are two separate countries, and for non-locals, there are a few things you would be wise to bear in mind when crossing to Ireland or from it.
- Do I need a passport to travel to Ireland/Northern Ireland? What do you need to cross the border?
- Can I take my rental car across the border?
- Do the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland use the same currency?
- Do both countries drive on the same side of the road? What about traffic signage?
- Is the language the same? I have heard that there is an Irish language?
- What will it be like actually crossing the Irish border?
- So why should I visit both sides of the border?
Do I need a passport to travel to Ireland/Northern Ireland? What do you need to cross the border?
There is no passport control between Ireland and Northern Ireland – there are not even any border posts. This means that crossing from Ireland to Northern Ireland is possible without any documentation; however, you should consider what happens if you encounter problems across the border and need to prove your right to be in the country. It is therefore important to always carry a passport or national identity card with you if you are crossing from one country to the other.
If you need a visa to visit the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom, you need to make sure this has been secured and is in your passport prior to crossing into the new country. Again, if you don’t have a valid visa you are unlikely to be stopped, but this is not legal and it only takes an incident or accident outside your control for you to find yourself in trouble. Don’t put yourself in that position.
Finally, if you hold visas for both the United Kingdom and Ireland, and you intend to arrive in one and depart from the other, note that there is no opportunity to get your visa stamped at the border between the two countries. You may need to visit UK or Ireland immigration separately to avoid problems on departure – seek advice from the visa section of your consulate.
Can I take my rental car across the border?
In short, yes – but you will need to pay for additional insurance and breakdown cover in the other country. This is generally not expensive, but shop around and check before you book. It is very important that you do declare that you will take the car outside the country you rented it in, otherwise you will be faced with a huge bill in the event of a problem. Note that you can pick up a car in one country and return it in the other, but you will be charged a very high fee to do so, so it is always best to return the car in the country you hired it in.
An international drivers permit is not a requirement to drive in Ireland or the United Kingdom, but may be helpful if your licence is not written in English.
Do the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland use the same currency?
No, they don’t. Northern Ireland is part of the UK and uses the British Pound, and the Republic of Ireland uses the Euro. The two currencies are generally not accepted on the other side of the border, so you will need to change money or use an ATM as soon as possible to get cash in the right currency.
Do both countries drive on the same side of the road? What about traffic signage?
Both countries drive on the left, and all cars in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have the steering wheel on the right. However, south of the
Traffic signs are slightly different on either side of the border, but other than miles/kilometres, in all other respects, the differences are easy to understand.
Is the language the same? I have heard that there is
an Irish language?
The predominant language in the whole of Ireland is English, and everyone speaks it – most as their first language. The Republic of Ireland also has Irish, a Gaelic language similar to Welsh or Scots, as an official language, and you will see it on signage. Irish is also gaining in popularity in Northern Ireland, although you will not usually see it written north of the border.
There are small areas of the Republic of Ireland designated as Ghaeltacht, or fully Irish-speaking areas. In these
Do the two countries share a cellphone network?
No, the two countries maintain separate networks. However, in most cases, if you have a contract with a UK or ROI network you will be able to use your phone in the other country at no extra cost – confirm with your provider before travelling. For anyone else, roaming rates will generally be the same for both countries, but again, check before travelling.
Phones will automatically switch networks close to the border. Note that your phone may transfer to the other country’s network before you actually cross the line!
What will it be like actually crossing the Irish border?
Underwhelming! Driving from the Republic to Northern Ireland is no different to driving from one Irish county or US state to another. If you are lucky, there may be a sign saying “Welcome to Ireland”, or simply “Northern Ireland” as you head north. On other roads, the only indication will be a sign giving the speed in kilometres/miles, and it is easy to cross without noticing!
So why should I visit both sides of the border?
The differences between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland can be fascinating, but so can the similarities. Both parts of Ireland share stunning landscapes and friendly people, and there are some great experiences to be had wherever you go. So arm yourself with the information in this post, and go out and explore the whole of this great island!
Where is the Irish border, anyway?
Check out the Ireland/Northern Ireland border map below, or click View larger map to explore on Google Maps.
Inspired to discover a little more about Northern Ireland? Check out my other posts for top tips on where to go
in Northern Ireland and the Republic!
Ulster travel: Discovering the highlights of the nine counties of Ulster
County Meath: Exploring Ireland’s ancient east
Slemish: Discover St Patrick’s Mountain in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland: Discover the highlights of Derry/Londonderry
5 Reasons you will love Northern Ireland…
Discover Northern Ireland’s beautiful Causeway Coast
Portrush to Castlerock: Discover Northern Ireland’s northwest coast
The Mourne Mountains: Northern Ireland’s beautiful southeast
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Hi! I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 65 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!