(This article previously appeared on InternationalLiving.com.)
A retirement in many parts of Europe is a dream many would-be expats assume comes with a high price tag. But that’s not necessarily so these days.
Thanks to the strong U.S. dollar, Americans retiring in Europe today are finding it’s more affordable than at any time in the last decade — especially in parts of countries that aren’t tourist meccas. “The dollar has been at a 12-year high against the euro, which means these destinations now offer truly amazing value,” says InternationalLiving.com’s executive editor Jennifer Stevens.
In some places, you can find properties to rent for less than $600 a month or to buy for under $110,000 and three-course meals for $10.
Below are thumbnail descriptions of what you’ll now find retiring in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal. Each has fabulous beaches, idyllic rural retreats, historic cities with stunning architecture and grand museums plus inexpensive, world-class health care.
“Outside of high-glamour zones like Paris, Provence, and the sun-soaked towns of the Riviera, the cost of living and real estate in France can be surprisingly reasonable,” says InternationalLiving.com’s France correspondent Barbara Diggs. “Yet the quality of life remains very high.”
But there’s another reason France makes life easy to enjoy: The country treats people as if they matter. France offers universal health care to its citizens and legal residents who qualify (it takes five years of permanent residence to become eligible). Pre-existing medical conditions are irrelevant to your ability to be covered and out-of-pocket costs are extremely low.
Even if you aren’t a part of the national system, reasonably-priced private health insurance is available. For example, at the Association of American Residents Overseas, 50- to 59-year-olds can buy gold-standard medical coverage for about $5,000 a year. Diggs says expats in France she’s spoken to report paying $6 for medications that would cost $180 in the States.
A land of immense geographic, climatic, and aesthetic diversity, France offers something to please everyone: snow-white Alpine ski slopes, golden beaches and bright blue skies, rows of vineyards rippling up and down hillsides, picture-perfect medieval stone villages, vibrant cities crammed with museums, galleries, and restaurants.
“When it’s time for me to retire, I’m putting the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south on my short list,” says Diggs.
Warm and sunny, with stunning landscapes that range from rugged to rustic, the Languedoc is often described as the “untouched” version of Provence, its famous next-door neighbor. It offers the same kind of beaches, lavender fields, and relaxed vibe, but is vastly more affordable.
Best Countries in the World to Retire
In the classic Languedoc town of Béziers, you can find large, sunny, unfurnished two-bedroom apartments for about $600 to $650 a month — plus a small renter’s tax. And, recently, a charming three-bedroom house with a garden in a calm village near the medieval city of Carcassonne was selling for about $152,000.
Warm, sunny days by the glittering Mediterranean, cool nights at an outdoor café, hilltop castles, and vast stretches of countryside made for hiking and cycling — Spain invites you to wax lyrical over its many charms and its laidback lifestyle. Here, having fun is expected and hanging out is an art.
Spain has long been one of the least-expensive countries in Europe and today, with real estate prices at their lowest in decades and the euro weaker than in years, this country is a bargain for full- or part-time living.
Along many of Spain’s coasts, one-bedroom apartments sell for under $100,000. More spacious one- and two-bedrooms go for $150,000 or so. Comfortable, furnished, long-term apartment rentals run as little as $550 a month.
Day-to-day expenses are low, too. In season, many fruits and vegetables now sell for a paltry 50 cents a pound and the quality is superb. Spain’s fixed-price lunch specials — the menú del día — are famous for their good value. Two filling courses, plus beverage and sometimes dessert, a menú generally runs about $10 to $17.
If you plan to live in Spain full-time, you’ll need private health insurance to get your residence visa; plans start at under $200 a month. Once you’re a resident, you can apply to join Spain’s public health care system.
Though winters in Spain’s interior can be chilly, its many coasts are warm, keeping down utility costs. For guaranteed sun and heat pretty much year-round, head to the Costa del Sol, on Spain’s southern coast, or to Alicante, on the eastern coast.
Although Spain is still in recession, the good life definitely goes on. Bars and cafés throng with locals and tourists enjoying good company along with their drink (which, at a cost of about one Euro, hardly breaks the bank).
Venture beyond Italy’s big-ticket destinations, and you’ll likely be amazed at how inexpensive this country can be. It’s not a case of compromise either. Just like art treasures, history and luscious landscapes, good living is everywhere.
“Leaving aside hotspots like Capri and Sorrento, the farther south you go, the more prices fall,” says InternationalLiving.com’s Europe editor Steenie Harvey.
“The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Lecce, a flamboyantly baroque city in the Apulia region of Italy’s deep south is $436,” Harvey notes. Utility bills are low is this area of the country too, thanks to its long summers and milder winters, averaging around $76 per month.
Apulia is the stiletto heel of Italy’s elegant “boot,” a place of rustic beauty. With around 500 miles of coastline, the area is washed by the Adriatic as well as the Ionian Sea.
“The colors are astounding: red earth, silvery-green trees, houses dripping with purple bougainvillea, and, from many places, the glimpse of the hypnotic, blue-green sea,” Harvey says. “The upsides of living here are the low cost of living, the mild winters and the great food.” Although Apulia is relatively undiscovered by North American visitors, during summer, its seaside towns are hotspots for vacationers from Milan and Rome.
The only drawback: It would be difficult to get by in this part of Italy without learning some Italian.
Portugal is the last true bastion of Old World living in Western Europe. It’s small (no bigger than Indiana) but diverse, with each region distinct. You can loll about an olive grove burrowing your toes into daisy-strewn grass, linger in southern beach towns or travel on clattering trains into medieval towns.
In the white-washed villages and walled towns of the southern Alentejo region, time is still measured in church bells. That’s not to say Portugal is backward. You can get free WiFi in public places and you’ll find a glitzy mall or two. English is widely spoken. International Living’s Eoin Bassett says: Think of Portugal as life with modern convenience and none of the hassles, stress and traffic.
If you have $1,600 to $1,700 a month, you’ll live well. That includes rent, which can be as little as $300 a month for a centrally-located apartment in a pleasant provincial city.
For a full report on the most affordable countries to live in Europe, read Europe’s Top 5 Affordable Retirement Havens online.
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