A flower-bedecked cobbled street winding down to the river. A heron lazily flapping towards its nest at sunset. The reflection of yet another fairytale chateau shimmering on the water. Forming a geographical border between northern and southern France, the Loire river transports you on a journey through one of the country’s most fascinating regions.
Europe offers rich culture, history, sophistication and—with today’s strong dollar—affordable living as well. The InternationalLiving.com report points to the five best-value countries for a European retirement today.
In November, I was in Paris—just the latest in a long line of visits. My first night of that trip, I was invited to an international Thanksgiving celebration. The hostess, an American expat who has been in that city for many years, had made turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and had invited her international friends to join her for a celebration of gratitude. The room was full of people from all over the world—Parisians, of course, but also Australians and Venezuelans and Italians and Portuguese. The hum of languages was beautiful and unusual. And the joy of the gathering was universal.
For Hani and Roanne, living part-time in Europe was a long-time dream. After talking about it for many years, in 2008—on their third visit to the French Riviera—they took a spontaneous plunge. “We were on vacation and had some extra time on our hands, and we thought ‘Why not start looking at properties?’” says Hani.
As we move into May, the northern hemisphere continues to warm up, affording you more and more opportunities to get out and explore this weird and wonderful world. The Swiss Alpine town of Le Gruyère is renowned for its cheese, and the town celebrates this heritage with its annual cheese festival. As you’d expect, the world-famous cheese to which the town lends its name will take center stage. Unpasteurized, and still produced in the high Alps using methods honed over centuries, Gruyère cheese is known for its fruity flavor when fresh before developing a more earthy taste as it ages. You can also see traditional Swiss cheese-making techniques for yourself and explore a range of Alpine handicrafts, including exquisite crocheting and lacework. The event takes place on May 3.
Gene and Patricia have been escaping harsh Canadian winters in Cancún for about 15 years now. They are among a large number of couples who have chosen the life of a “half-pat,” preferring to spend four to six months a year in their second, much warmer, home here on the Caribbean, without committing entirely to the life of full-time expats. The Rousseaus usually leave their Canadian home in early January, enjoying about five months in Cancún before returning in late April or May, depending on the Canadian weather.
Imagine the smell of freshly-baked croissants wafting through the air, or the satisfying swallow of wine made from grapes grown just down the road. Perhaps you muse about living on a sun-drenched Mediterranean beach or tucked down a cobbled lane savoring the cosmopolitan delights of a history-rich city… A retirement in Europe is a dream for many folks. And it can easily be a reality. If it’s culture, history, and variety you’re after, Europe has it all, and at a cost much lower than you may think… Over the next few pages we explore the five best low-cost options for enjoying your perfect European retirement.
As my nephew Jason prepared to begin his first year of college, his thoughts naturally turned to potential careers. “What would you really love to do?” I asked. Jason thought for a moment before replying, “I’d just like to get a job I don’t hate too much.” After a little auntie-to-nephew pep talk about the importance of shooting higher than “one notch above misery,” we talked about his love of baseball.
You know those moments where you see, hear, or smell a quick flash of something, and you’re suddenly reminded of another country or city that you’ve visited…a memory that fills you with an intense longing to return there? One of those moments happened to me the other day here in Paris. It was a beautiful, bright, late winter day—cold but so sunny I could feel the warm breath of spring. I was crossing a bridge, looking at the Seine river swirling below, when I was gripped with a memory of walking across a different bridge, in a different city, feeling the same cheerful anticipation of warmer weather ahead. The city I was drawn back to was Lyon in the Rhone-Alps region of southeastern France; the bridge was the Pont Bonaparte, spanning the Saone River. I had spent three days in Lyon last year in late winter, and my sudden longing to return was so intense that it surprised me.
Even though I live in Paris, I still look through my monthly issues of International Living carefully, keeping an eye out for intriguing spots in the world that make me think—“What if…?” Tempting occasionally…but when it comes down to it, I still prefer the idea of retiring in France to anywhere else. Naturally, this feeling partly comes from the fact that France has been my home for nearly 14 years, so I feel comfortable here. But comfort isn’t what makes me seriously consider spending my golden years here. What does? It comes down to four things: Practicality, beauty, location, and way of life…though not necessarily in that order.
Back in the 1980s, Terresa Murphy arrived in the City of Lights. “I came with my guitar,” she says. “I played for money in the metro to begin with, then in cafes. Then in the ’90s, after much back-and-forth between Paris and the States, I got a job at the city’s International Cinematography Festival through a friend.” But it was food that really drew Terresa’s attention. “I fell in love with French food culture, particularly the artisan approach to both ingredients and cooking. It wasn’t considered artisan at the time,” she says. “It was just the norm.”
Spiraling healthcare and insurance costs are a thing of the past for thousands of North Americans who have found their dream retirement haven abroad. If you’re still mulling your overseas options, then the availability of quality and affordable healthcare is likely a primary concern. Over the next few pages, we explore five countries hand-picked by our expat experts for the exceptionally high quality of their healthcare. All five destinations have become expat hubs, and the North Americans who now call them home—including our correspondents—can attest to the high level of care they’ve received there.
After years of trying to find a way to travel and getting nowhere but frustrated, I was struck by inspiration. Maybe, just maybe, I could create a business that paid me to travel. The more I played with that idea (which seemed outrageous at the beginning), the more determined I became. Gradually, it started to happen. I wrote motivational articles and, after a while, invitations to speak at seminars began to come in. That, of course, meant traveling.
For as long as they could remember, Doug and Diane Jones’ retirement dream had been a small organic farm in the Oregon wilderness… So it came as a surprise when, nearing retirement, they realized that they were tired of working sun-up to sundown on the farm and a new and unexpected retirement dream—of living in sunny, rural, authentic southern Italy—had taken its place. “We worked most of our lives because we didn’t come from money and we had to work for it. We always spent our vacations visiting family—you know, the guilt-trip thing. We never took trips abroad. We were too poor in both vacation time and money.”
Paris has always attracted artists. It’s also justly famous for its food and markets. While it was her artist’s heart that brought Los Angeles-native Terresa Murphy to the City of Light, it was food that unlocked the funds to living there full-time. Back in the 1980’s, Terresa says, “I came with my guitar; I played for money in the metro to begin with, then in cafés. Then in the ‘90’s, after much back-and-forth between Paris and the States, I got a job at the city’s International Cinematography Festival through a friend.” But it was food that really drew Terresa’s attention. “I fell in love with French food culture, particularly the artisan approach to both ingredients and cooking. It wasn’t considered artisan at the time,” she says. “It was just the norm.”
Panama, Ecuador, Belize and France offer the best retiree benefits in the world, according to International Living’s just-released annual Global Retirement Index 2015. In a bid to entice expats, these countries have assembled attractive benefits packages, which offer huge savings for foreign retirees on everything from travel to utility bills to medication. Topping the “Retiree Benefits and Discounts” category in the Index is Panama, which offers the best incentives for retirees in the world.
It’s no surprise that many people considering a move to France are eager to know more about France’s universal health care program. The World Health Organization has recognized France as having the best overall health care system in the world. Health care costs are low, the quality of care is high, and nobody can be rejected for a pre-existing medical condition. What’s not to like? Expats usually gain eligibility for insurance benefits from the national health care system (known as Couverture Maladie Universelle or “CMU”) in either of two ways. First, you can become eligible by paying into the French social security system.
Recently, I was sitting on a French beach. The sunshine was warm on my back and bathing suit-clad locals and tourists splashed happily in the surf in front of me. A gentle sea breeze blew over the water, as couples strolled the promenade behind me with their small dogs and young children. It felt just like the middle of summer. The funny thing? It was actually November. In fact, that day, Biarritz—the French beach town where I was staying—was officially the warmest city in Europe. It beat even southern Spain and always-temperate Malta to claim the title. And everyone was celebrating the early winter sunshine with a dip in the Bay of Biscay.
For most of history, home was simply where you were born. It was your tribe. Your family. Your community—big or small. It wasn’t really something you chose. But today, you have more freedom to go your own way. You can—more easily than ever—travel the planet and find a place you’re always glad to come back to. In short, in an increasingly-globalized world, home really can be where the heart is—not just where you end up by default. I could delve into the reasons for this—air travel, the Internet, globalization. But you already know the world is getting smaller, easier to travel, easier to navigate.
Shaking as much from the cold as from my barely contained excitement, I set up my tripod on the edge of the pier and pointed my camera towards the sky. The Northern Lights were silently dancing, dressed in green and purple silk above Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. Moments like these are what make me pursue my passion…traveling around the world and capturing the beauty of different environments and cultures through my lens. I had always been told that following a passion or a hobby and making money online was difficult. I had to be a responsible person and have a good job, which in my case, was in the human resources department in a big company in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Do you dream of spending time in the Old World? If you’re not ready for a full-time commitment to Europe but would like to give its medieval market towns and historic cities a try than I have a hop-in/hop-out solution. Maybe you don’t want to give up ties in North America and prefer to live abroad only part-time. Some folks don’t want to take on the tax burden that can come with residence in some European countries like France and Spain. Still others just don’t want to fill out the paperwork. But part-time living in Europe, on a simple tourist visa, is pretty much obligation-free for North Americans. The only trick: You can’t overstay your welcome. So like other North Americans who spend part of the year in Europe, I’ve learned to count how many days I can legally stay, and I plan out my trips like a battle marshal.
The original Riviera (from the Italian word for “seashore”) sprang up in southern France and the bordering region of Italy. Upper-crust Brits, northern Europeans, and—later—well-heeled Americans flocked here for the beach resorts, casinos, and parties. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald had a villa here in the Jazz Age, although it’s said he was a horrible party guest. The term riviera has been adopted by regions all over the world, in places where the sun, surf, and vacation vibe live on. And when we hit the new-school rivieras in the developing world, expect to get a real bang for your real estate buck.
This summer, I got an email from a stranger offering me a free stay in a gorgeous French countryside cottage. I was welcome anytime, the kind and excited woman told me, and so was my world-traveling dog, Luna. Her cottage, which was spacious and beautifully appointed, was in the Loire Valley—a part of France known for its castles and sweeping landscapes. A well-traveled friend of mine told me it was the perfect place for leisurely bike rides and warm croissants. Similarly, a month or so later, a restaurant in Italy reached out. They would love to have me come for dinner and they wanted to know if I was planning a trip to Bolzano—the intriguing Italian-German part of northern Italy—anytime soon. A few weeks after that, another restaurant, this time in my favorite European capital—Paris—sent me a fancy invitation to a VIP tasting event.
Although world-renowned for its idyllic Caribbean beaches, Belize has a lot more to offer than just sun, sea, and sand. For a country smaller than most U.S. states, it harbors incredible diversity. Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker define the words “island paradise.” You can explore the exotic jungles of the Cayo District or relax in the thriving expat hub of Placencia. Plus, the country’s growing expat communities makes it easy to make new friends. Other factors play their part: The low cost of living ensures comfort on a budget, daily flights from North America make it easy to get back home, and Belize is English-speaking, meaning there’s no problem mixing with the welcoming locals.
For seven years, I commuted 90 miles a day to my job in a Fortune 200 company. It was a great company, with great co-workers, and a really great salary to boot. There was just one problem. I was miserable. But with a mortgage and a car payment…well, you know how it is. Then July 31, 1993 I got the worst news of my life. That’s the day my mother died unexpectedly of a heart attack. She was only 61 and just five months shy of her much-awaited retirement.
Culture takes in far more than the arts, the architecture and the history of places. Sure, Rome is outstanding for antiquities and churches and Paris has the Louvre. But whether it’s watching an afternoon cricket match on an English village green, going naked in a German sauna, or riding a bike through the Dutch tulip fields, Europe has a multitude of fascinating cultural experiences. And when you can combine city thrills with good food, so much the better. For a different take on “culture” as well as delectable taste sensations, add these five cities to your European wish list.
Imagine sleeping to the gentle bob of the tide or of a river current, then waking up to cast off the moor lines and set out for adventure. Or, more often, to stay at anchor, enjoying the lull of the water while having a fixed address and access to onshore services. That’s the life that houseboat living offers.
This morning, I awoke to bright blue skies, crisp autumn air, and the slow, muted clanking sounds of cows wearing big metal cowbells and moving down the street just outside my window. You see, today I am living in a small town in the Swiss Alps. It’s October, which means the farmers are bringing their cows down from the high altitudes and into the low fields and warm barns for the winter. The air smells faintly of fields and campfires. And aside from the bells, all is quiet.
At 5.45 a.m., the Paris Metro is nearly deserted and we have our pick of open seats. Across from me, Marisa is hunched over, her forehead teetering on the top of her tripod. Sleepily, she lifts her head and opens one eye to survey me in my bright red, 1960s prom dress. “One more stop,” I say, and she goes back to napping on her tripod. She’s not a morning person. But she knows this is going to be good.
Owning a French vineyard is the ultimate dream for many expats—and it’s easy to see why. From Burgundy to Bordeaux, France’s vineyards lie in some of the most beautiful areas of the country and have produced extraordinary wines coveted throughout the world. To live in such an idyllic setting, drinking wine from your own grapes and playing some small role in wine’s ancient story, is a concept that’s both thrilling and gratifying.
“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself,” said the poet Maya Angelou. I suppose she’s right…we all aspire to a certain comfort in our own skin. I’ve always felt travel encouraged it, in fact.
Douz, in south Tunisia, hosts the International Festival of the Sahara on October 1. Taking place at the gateway to the great desert, the event was founded as a camelracing festival in 1910. But you can expect horse races, poetry contests, and Bedouin weddings, as well.
Paris may be the darling of pretty much everyone, everywhere, but many French people aren’t quite as impressed. In a number of polls, the French have said “non” to Paris as their favorite city. Instead, they point to Lyon, an absolute stunner of a city in the Rhône-Alps region, as the best place to live in France.
Certain images are fixed in my mind of the French town of Montpellier. When I think of it, I remember cobblestone streets filled with students and a cheerful energy. I remember riding a sleek tramway entirely painted with bright, intertwined flowers. And I remember eating one of the most extraordinary meals of my life there at the charming Lozèrois restaurant, Cellier & Morel.
More and more baby boomers are taking their retirements overseas, report experts at InternationalLiving.com, who say they’re seeing a significant increase in demand for their research and services. Today more than half-a-million retirees receive their Social Security benefits abroad. According to International Living editor Dan Prescher, that likely under-represents the actual number of Americans retired overseas.
For more than 150 years, well-heeled Parisians have descended upon the golden shores of Deauville each summer, earning it the nickname “the 21st arrondissement” of Paris. And who could blame them? The small town is a mere two-hour train ride from the City of Light, on lower Normandy’s lovely Côte Fleurie (Flower Coast). And the natural, open beauty of Deauville’s beach effortlessly holds its own against the prettiness of beaches in France’s south.
Are you passionate about traveling and sharing your experience with others? Perhaps you already have a smartphone or camera…and you frequently share images and perhaps even a short video with people on Facebook and email. Well, what if you could make money doing it?
It’s a quiet day in late June on the beach in Deauville. As I walk along the water’s edge, golden sand crunching beneath my toes, it almost feels as if the mile-long beach is all mine. Tranquility reigns right now, but a change is coming. Near the boardwalk, row after row of multi-colored beach parasols, elegant as Ralph Lauren models, are standing as ready as soldiers.
Like so many from the U.S., when I daydream about traveling through Europe, I always imagine myself on a train: speeding quietly through the countryside, over the mountain passes, past charming, ancient towns, or along the shores of a massive glacial lake. Other forms of transportation—with their two-hour pre-flight check-ins, their bumpy, uncomfortable buses, and their too-close-for-comfort seating arrangements—always feel like a hassle.
La vie française. Imagine relaxing in the garden of your own French home, a pretty stone cottage set among orchards, vineyards, and flowery meadows. The sun is shining, there’s not a cloud in the sky. The only sound is the drone of honeybees and the blissful strains of one of Satie’s Gymnopédies playing in the background. You’ve just returned from the market, and now you’re savoring the thought of lunch. It’s such a perfect day, you decide to dine picnic-style, spread out over an old oak table under a shady canopy of trees.