Living in Northern Ireland: Daily Life

Northern Ireland Tourism

Living in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Culture


Over the last few years there has been quite a growth in the private rental market so you have a choice of public housing through the Housing Executive or various private landlords. Most houses are semi-detached (duplex) although there are a considerable number of terrace houses. A good site to find housing is which covers rented and owned properties. Purchasing is generally done via a 25 year variable rate mortgage; the mortgage market is quite complex with fixed rate, variable rate and numerous variations on discounted mortgages. Although we're in the UK not all UK mortgages are available in NI.


Banking and Finance

There are four local banks in NI First Trust (part of the Allied Irish Bank), Northern Bank (currently part of the National Australian Bank), Ulster Bank (part of the Royal Bank of Scotland) and Bank of Ireland. As a bit of an aside, the reason that the banks aren't branded after their parents is largely due to the slightly sectarian tendencies of their respective customers: no way could a Republican bank with something with Royal in the title.

Your choice of bank is rather wider than that though for there are a number of large building societies (savings & loans) that offer full banking facilities (in rough order of number of local branches: Halifax, Alliance & Leicester, Woolwich, and Nationwide) , not to mention HSBC which after having sold the Northern Bank to National Australian is now opening branches across the province.

All the above will offer you, subject to a credit check:

  • a chequebook (cheques are largely superceded by card payments these days);
  • a cheque guarantee card;
  • a debit card (normally incorporated into the cheque guarantee card); and
  • credit cards.

To acquire any of the above you need:

  • one proof of identify (eg passport);
  • one proof of address (if you have moved here from overseas some banks will, if sufficiently pushed, despatch the branch manager to where you live and will accept this as proof of address); and
  • a credit check.

Unfortunately, the credit check process does not deal with people moving from overseas no matter how good their credit may have been. If you fail the credit check you won't get an overdraft, a cheque guarantee card or a "full" debit card but you should still be able to get at least a cash card or one of the lesser debit cards such as Visa Electron or Solo (the Mastercard equivalent); these work in the same way as proper debit cards with the sole exception that they must be swiped in shops. If you don't want a credit check run, but do want a debit card your easiest option is to open a Woolwich Cardsaver account which comes with a Visa Electron card (no chequebook though).

None of the shops will accept your cheques unless you have a cheque guarantee card.

Shops that accept credit cards will take both Mastercard (sometimes referred to as Access) and Visa. A fair number take American Express but virtually none take Diners Club.

Visa comes as a credit card, a debit card (Delta) and a Visa Electron card (which can only be used in shops which swipe the card). Mastercard only comes as a credit card although you can get Cirrus/Maestro cards (currently referred to as Switch, which is being phased out in favour of Maestro).

There aren't any exchange controls.



  • Electric: essentially everyone has electric in their houses. There are several wholesale electricity suppliers but only one retail supplier (Northern Ireland Electricity)
  • Gas: natural gas is being rolled out over the province by Phoenix Gas
  • Phone: around 90% of houses have a phone. There are two phone companies, British Telecom and NTL (a cable company). Public payphones generally take either coins or phone cards (a smaller number also take credit cards)
  • Water: pretty much all the houses have mains water awnd flush toilets. It's supplied by a government owned company. All the water is drinkable.



For all but the very smallest companies it is obligatory to advertise vacancies as a result of several lots of anti-discrimination legislation (banning discrimination on the grounds on religion and sex/marital status and race). As far as I know everybody gets at least four weeks holidays but it's usually five. If you're working and get pregnant then you get three months off per pregnancy at full pay, not counting any time you might be off sick prior to the birth. You usually work about 40 hours each week for a full-time job or up to 20 for part-time (different legislation applies to part-timers). All of the larger companies have a company sponsored pension scheme but you usually need to pay around 5% towards this. Lastly, the important bit... yes, salary! Just considering full-time jobs gross (pre-tax) salaries range from about UKP 8,000 ($12,000) to around UKP 30,000 ($45,000) for most people and you end up with about 2/3rds of that after tax ("in your hand").


There aren't any metro systems in NI so you're limited to:

  • buses, run by the government owned Translink;
  • trains, also run by Translink;
  • taxis, legal and illegal; and
  • privately owned cars, bikes, etc.


You have a choice of:

  • fixed telephone though British Telecom or NTL (NTL is only available in some areas);
  • mobile telephone though Orange, Vodafone, O2, or T-Mobile (Virgin operate through the T-Mobile network);
  • post via the Royal Mail (via Post Offices) and the usual selection of courier services;
  • terrestrial TV (both analogue and digital);
  • satellite TV, via Sky


The 'corner shop' has basically bitten the dust and apart from the city centres people mainly shop in shopping centres (malls). Generally people would just shop once a week but this varies considerably. We get mainly British chains (the remaining local chains were bought out by their British counterparts a few years ago).We've food shops (like Tesco, Sainsbury, etc.) and all sorts of clothes shops as well as department stores. We don't have the likes of Harrods and Tiffany in Northern Ireland but London is full of shops like that.

Principal Public Holidays

These come in two varieties: public holidays when virtually everything closes and bank holidays where most things stay open (places like the Civil Service would also close on the bank holidays). If the holiday falls on a weekend it is usually taken as the Monday instead.

  • January: New Year's Day;
  • March 17th: St Patrick's Day (bank holiday);
  • March/April: Easter (some places close on Good Friday and Easter Monday, others on the Monday and Tuesday);
  • May: both the first and last Monday;
  • July: the "12th" ie the 12th and 13th;
  • August: last Monday;
  • December: 25th (Christmas Day) and 26th (Boxing Day).

Cultural things

We've cinemas, an opera house , and various places for shows such as the Waterfront Hall and the Odessey (home of the Belfast Giants). There's a Belfast Festival each year which attracts acts from all over the place and Queen's University hosts various things like the Belfast Film Festival. Not here but easy enough to get to is the Edinburgh Festival over in Scotland which is similar to our own but on a grander scale. London is just full of theatres. Belfast is just full of art galleries. Both of the universities host various events during the year for their students eg fashion shows. There is an excellent monthly guide available at which covers all kinds of cultural events. This is intended to give you a flavour of what's available and this topic is covered in much more detail on the NI Tourism pages.

Dangerous Animals, Plants and Diseases and Other Things

There are no poisonous insects. We do have bees and wasps that sting but they're not deadly. There are little biting midges but you usually wouldn't run across them and they're not poisonous anyway: just annoying. There aren't things like termites and the like as it's too cold for them. There aren't any snakes on the island of Ireland.

There aren't any trully dangerous plants though I'm told that nettles aren't as widespread as I'd thought. They sting but aren't lethal.

There are no deadly diseases. We don't have rabies (yet) so there are strict quarantine controls at the borders of the British Isles (you can take pets back and forth to the Republic). We've agriculture inspectors at the entrances to Northern Ireland too in the same way as you get at the California/Arizona border. We don't get things like typhoid or malaria or any of the tropical diseases. Mostly it's the flu that floors everyone! Kids get stuff like mumps, measles and all the other kiddie diseases.

It's safe to walk out during the day and at night though naturally there are areas in the city where it would be more sensible not to. Well I feel safe walking out at night, a girl on her own mightn't I suppose.

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