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9 of the Best Places to Retire in Europe

by Staff

More and more seniors have been opting for retirement abroad in recent years. In fact, the Social Security Administration reports that more than 700,000 Americans receive their monthly payments in foreign countries. Europe is an especially popular choice, and a number of factors explain why. Some retirees want to experience the culture of their ancestors. Others may have enjoyed vacations on the continent and want to spend more time there. Depending on the country or city, European destinations may have a low cost of living, a pleasant climate, or an overall high quality of life.


Each country has different rules on visas and residency qualifications, but in general, most require evidence of a minimum income level and private health coverage. Many have restrictions on retirees having jobs or owning property, while others make provisions for both. Americans living abroad must still file a federal tax return, though some countries have treaties that prevent double taxation on retirees’ income. Keep in mind that Medicare does not pay for health care abroad, though some European countries allow legal residents to participate in their national health program.


With so many considerations, it’s advisable to obtain professional advice on taxes and to research health care, visa and residency requirements, rental costs, infrastructure, and language. The U.S. State Department is an excellent resource for anyone considering retirement abroad.


If you’re ready to make the leap, though, this list is here to help. We’ve looked into the latest policies and trends, and these are nine of the best places to retire in Europe.





Algarve, Portugal

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Gorgeous white-sand beaches, warm Atlantic waters, ideal year-round weather, and an array of outdoor activities await retirees in this region on Portugal’s southern coast. Historic towns like Silves boast beautiful Moorish architecture, while a bustling local airport and the relative proximity of Lisbon make the region easy to access. Considered one of the best places in the world to retire, the Algarve offers an extraordinary selection of golf courses, a healthy lifestyle, Mediterranean diet, and low cost of living. Best of all for monolingual seniors, English is widely spoken.


Legal residents are able to register with the National Health Service to get pay-as-you-go access to public hospitals and health centers, though it’s worth noting that obtaining private health insurance is required as a condition of receiving a residence permit. (Other requirements include a passport and proof of income.) These permits are mandatory for retirees wanting to stay longer than three months, though once a permit is issued, it remains valid for five years. Residents can also apply for a permanent permit when the initial one expires. If you want to simply make a long visit rather than moving to the country, that’s doable too: no visa is needed for stays of fewer than 90 days within a six-month period.


Income is generally taxed, but Portugal offers 10 years with no tax on retirement pensions under certain qualifications of its Non-Habitual Resident (NHR) program.



Bordeaux, France

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A lovely riverfront city in southwestern France, Bordeaux enjoys warm summers and mild winters. Conveniently situated a short drive from the Atlantic Ocean and close to a multitude of renowned wineries, the city has much to offer visitors and residents alike. Museums, galleries, concert halls, public parks, restaurants, cafes, outdoor markets, and lively nightlife are all plentiful. Getting here (and traveling once you’ve settled in) is also easy, thanks to a modern system of high-speed trains that connect Bordeaux to various cities in France and across Europe.


France’s health care system has been recognized as one of the best in the world, and, fortunately for would-be residents, it’s accessible even to noncitizens under certain conditions. If you live in the country for three consecutive months and stay for a minimum of 183 days per year, you’re eligible to apply for public health care.


A long-stay visa is required to remain in France for more than 90 days, and this must be obtained while still in the United States. To apply, you’ll need to provide your local French consulate with a passport, extra photos, and proof of financial self-sufficiency and confirmed housing, among other documents.



Budapest, Hungary

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With beautiful historic buildings, excellent restaurants, thermal baths, and friendly citizens, Budapest is becoming a popular retirement destination for both Europeans and Americans. The city developed a reputation in the early 2000s for affordability, and, though prices have risen since, the cost of living is still appealingly low — think $1,000-a-month rent and high-end dinners for $50.


Hungary is a member of the European Union, making continental travel a breeze (though remember that the country uses its own currency, the forint). A rich culture, vibrant nightlife, and a location on the Danube have attracted a large international community, which means English speakers are easy to find.


Foreigners are permitted to buy property in Budapest, and the health care system is generally regarded as good. Foreign retirees can become eligible for permanent residency after just three years of living continuously in Hungary, as long as they meet certain criteria like having a stable home in the country.



Ljubljana, Slovenia

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This capital city of about 295,000 is an emerging favorite among retirement-age expats. A former Yugoslav republic, Slovenia has been independent since 1991 and a European Union member since 2004, and it boasts a rich culture and diverse natural environment. A wide range of attractions can be found within a few hours’ drive of Ljubljana, from Adriatic beaches and Alpine ski resorts to the Italian city of Venice. Slovenia has a long history of winemaking and several UNESCO World Heritage sites, one of which is located in the center of Ljubljana. The capital also offers a charming mix of old and new architecture and a walkable urban core that’s on par with many better-known European cities — but without the throngs of tourists.


No visa is required here for stays of up to 90 days. If you wish to stay longer than that, you’ll begin by applying for a temporary residence permit. People with Slovene heritage can expedite the permit process, so fire up the ancestry test if you’re interested in relocating. Health care is considered adequate, and many people purchase private health insurance if they are not eligible for the public program. Income is taxable on residents, but double taxation can be avoided with proper IRS filing.



Split, Croatia

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Growing in popularity as a tourist destination, Croatia is also quite attractive as a retirement location. Not only does the country have approximately 3,600 miles of coastline, but warm, dry summers and mild winters create a desirable climate. The country’s second-largest city, Split, offers easy access to some of the best beaches in Croatia. The Roman emperor Diocletian built his palace here, and its remains have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Restaurants, bars, cultural and entertainment venues, and many English-speaking residents make it relatively easy to adapt.


U.S. citizens who intend to stay longer than 90 days must apply for a temporary residence permit, and once you’ve lived in Croatia for five years, you become eligible for permanent residency. U.S. citizens are also permitted to purchase real estate in Croatia. Health care is considered adequate, and English-speaking doctors are available.



Alicante, Spain

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Located on Spain’s southeastern coast, Alicante offers exquisite beaches, dynamic nightlife, and historic attractions. The climate is the most famous draw here — the warm, waterfront city has been called the sunniest in Europe — but the culinary scene is equally impressive. Reasonably priced dining options range from casual to elegant, with fresh seafood and the artisan stalls of the Alicante Central Market being particular highlights.


With a population of just over 330,000, Alicante has all the amenities of a major city, yet it maintains a reputation for being cozy and friendly. It’s well connected to destinations across Spain thanks to an excellent rail system, and the bustling Alicante-Elche Airport also helps make travel a breeze.


High-end housing can certainly be found here given Alicante’s longtime popularity with foreign nationals, but it’s also possible to rent modest homes for under $1,000 per month or to purchase them for as little as $100,000. Health care also tends to be affordable, and, as is the case throughout Spain, it’s regarded as being of exceptional quality, with state-of-the-art equipment and highly trained doctors. Non-Europeans looking to retire in Spain should contact their local Spanish embassy to apply for a long-stay retirement visa, which must be renewed annually. After five years, you can apply for permanent residency.



Valletta, Malta

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Valletta is the tiny capital city of Malta, a country composed of three islands in the Mediterranean Sea about 60 miles south of Sicily. Though the city has a population of around 6,000, this UNESCO World Heritage site punches above its weight in terms of history and culture. Appealing features include a picturesque coastal location on a peninsula between two sheltered harbors and architecture that dates back as far as the 16th century. Serviceable public transit and strong walkability add to the ease of living here.


The main language besides Maltese is English, and the country has a large population of expats from the U.K., Australia, and the U.S. Affordability is another draw: one-bedroom apartments in the capital region can rent for as low as $750 a month, and groceries and restaurant dining are also reasonably priced.


Private health care in Malta is recommended for non-EU expatriates, and is both highly rated and inexpensive compared to U.S. options. Malta and the U.S. have a treaty in place for relief from double taxation on income. Plus, residency can be established in several ways, making relocation to Malta accessible for retirees.





Kinsale, Ireland

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Situated on the southern coast of the Republic of Ireland, Kinsale is a historic town known for its colorful architecture and thriving maritime culture. For retirees who enjoy the outdoors, this could be an ideal spot. The waterfront offers beaches, fishing, and boating opportunities, while cycling, hiking, and horseback riding are all available on shore. One of the country’s most beautiful golf courses, Old Head, is nearby, and even for non-golfers, it’s the perfect place for a walk among sea breezes and stunning views.


English is spoken, of course, and foodies will appreciate the abundance of restaurants and fresh seafood. The weather is mild, and the proximity of the city of Cork (30 minutes to the north) makes rail travel and international flights easy to access. Living costs are comparable to those in the United States, though housing prices have been increasing across Ireland in recent years.


In order to stay beyond three months, visa applicants must prove adequate income (around $54,000 annually) and substantial savings. Temporary residence visas can be renewed annually for five years, at which point the duration is extended to five years per visa. Private health coverage is advised, and health care is considered good.



Prague, Czech Republic

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This unique and captivating city is particularly welcoming to foreigners — it’s home to more than 200,000 expatriates and a growing number of retirees. Nicknamed the City of a Hundred Spires, Prague was mostly spared in World War II, as evidenced by its colorful Baroque and Gothic architecture. The entire Old Town has been named a World Heritage site, yet the Czech Republic’s capital is a modern city with high standards of living, world-class art and museums, diverse cuisine, and a range of historic pubs and inventive breweries.


Affordable rents can be found just outside the city center, including in many impressively modern apartments. Centrally located in Europe, Prague is a great base from which to explore all of the continent. Plus, its health care system is among Europe’s best. Health insurance is mandatory yet comes at a reasonable cost, and there are plenty of high-quality, well-trained doctors, many of whom speak English. U.S. citizens or other non-EU residents wishing to retire in Prague must obtain a long-term visa, beginning with an application at their most convenient Czech consulate. Permanent residency can be applied for after living legally in the Czech Republic for five years.

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