Retiring in Europe: The Pros and Cons

There are so many great things about retiring to Europe and, the great news is, you don’t have to be rich to do it. A modest budget can provide you with a fabulous lifestyle here.

Imagine exploring ancient castles and cathedrals and walking in the footsteps of Richard the Lionheart, Joan of Arc and El Cid…

You can do it.

I’ve been living the European dream for a few years now, so I’ve compiled a list of the great benefits of a European retirement. For balance, I’ve also looked at three reasons why life in Europe may not be for you and a bonus—two things which, depending on your point of view, could go on either list.

First let’s look at the pros of a European retirement…

1.  Food and Drink

It doesn’t matter where you travel in Europe, you will find exceptional prices and quality on supermarket and restaurant food. My wife Lorraine and I retired to France but recently spent two months on a road trip through Spain and Portugal. We have a fixed income and limited budget but can still afford to eat out regularly.

Most French restaurants have a fixed menu with a few choices of entree, main course and dessert for around €15 to €20 ($23 to $32). A standout was when we were checking out the Dordogne region when we stopped for lunch at a cafe with a five-course meal including bread, a glass of wine and coffee for €12.50 (under $20)! The thick bean soup was brought to the table in the saucepan to eat as much as you want, as was the cheese plate. We waddled back to our car.

Everywhere we travel we look for places the locals eat and always try the regional specialities. When not eating out we buy cheese at ridiculously low prices. A 250-gram round of home brand Camembert or Brie costs €1 ($1.60). Brand names start around €2 ($3.15). There are more than 1,000 different cheeses in France, so you can try a different one every day.

A supermarket baguette can be bought for as little as 35 cents while you can get an artisan baked baguette from the boulangerie for €1. There are literally hundreds of different wines on the supermarket shelves and you can get a good quaffing Bordeaux for €3 to €4 ($5 to $6).

2. Cheap Housing

Compared to Australia, most of Europe is cheap to buy and rent but don’t think you’ll get a spacious Paris apartment in the 6th Arrondissement, a Provence farm or a Mediterranean Sea view unless you’re prepared to pay top dollar.

If you are like most retirees and want to live in a picturesque village or town or in a lovely country retreat, there are some serious bargains to be had. You can get a fully renovated town house or apartment for as little as €30,000 ($47,223) while €80,000 ($125,929) will buy a really nice place where you can have a vegie garden and space for the family to come and visit.

For €150,000 ($236,092) or more there are a massive range of properties available. Naturally, the closer you get to the more popular places, the more expensive property becomes, with prices of around €400,000 ($629,557) down in some parts of southern France. But that’s for a beautiful home which could cost you double the price in Australia.

Rents are commensurate with house prices. You can rent a great apartment for less than €500 ($786) a month in a beautiful town or village with all services.

3. Healthcare

France has the best health system in the world (according to World Health Organisation figures). After three months you can get your Carte Vitale (like a Medicare card) which gives you refunds on a range of services.

For example, a visit to the GP costs €25 ($39), a fee set by government and you get 70% refunded. Prescription medicines are less than half the price you pay in Australia and again you get a government refund. Specialist fees are also set by the government, so a lot cheaper than Australia. Also, if you develop an illness which requires ongoing treatment, such as cancer or diabetes, all treatment and medication is free.

All that sounds terrific—and it is. But there are some downsides you may wish to consider…

Here are some “cons” of European living.

1. Language

Not being able to speak the local tongue can be really challenging for many people. In the tourist spots you can get by, but if you want to live like locals in small villages, chances are most people won’t be able to speak English. It becomes an issue if you have to discuss a problem with the local doctor or have to deal with government departments.

Help is usually at hand and there are plenty of interpreters who, for a fee, will accompany you to the doctor, hospital or any one of the government departments and utilities you will be dealing with. You will be amazed at how many people will be able to speak some English if you try and speak to them in French.

Use Google translate or any one of the online translators before heading out, so you have a few words to say.

2. Bureaucracy

France is very bureaucratic and public servants cannot be sacked. All government departments demand piles of paperwork so make sure you have all your documents copied, notarised and translated into French, (copied and notarised). You will need things like your birth certificate and marriage certificates in French as well as the original over and over again, for all sorts of things from opening a bank account to getting on the French health system.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that different people and different prefectures can interpret rules, well, differently. It often depends on who you get and if they are having a good day. It took two years for me to get my Carte Vitale while Lorraine got hers in three months. You can ask three people in the same office, the same question on the same day and get three completely different answers.

Also, practically the whole of France goes on holiday in August and dealing with government departments and doing business then becomes almost impossible.

3. Family

One of the toughest issues facing people retiring to Europe is that they are leaving family. It means for many they will miss out on seeing their children or grandchildren on a regular basis. For others it means leaving their siblings, cousins and friends. We know people who would love to live the dream in Europe but have decided family to stick closer to family. It is a huge consideration, but with travel getting easier and cheaper and so many ways to stay in touch when overseas, it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker.

BONUS: Pro / Con

There are a couple of things which could go on either list…


Depending on your personal preference, weather in Europe could be a pro…or a con. There is literally something for everyone.

Lorraine and I prefer a warmer climate with distinct seasons and maybe a light flurry of snow in the winter. We love to see the distinct seasons here. You may prefer a warmer, dry climate and so southern France or even southern Spain or Portugal may be for you. But, if you are like many Australians I know, and skiing and winter sports are important you can head to the French or Italian Alps—although house prices will be higher. There are some terrific beaches in Europe but be warned, they are hugely popular in summer and you have to fight for space.

Cultural Differences

The French take two to two-and-a-half hour lunch breaks and shops close. This can be frustrating if you want a bottle of milk at lunch-time but on the other hand, it means everyone has some down time in the middle of the day.

The French are very protective of their family and home time and take lots of holidays and time off. It used to frustrate us when we arrived in France but now we relish the town being quiet. In Spain for example, there is still the siesta with shops closing in the afternoon but, on the upside, when they reopen they stay open until 9 p.m.

The French don’t do take-away food like we do in Australia. There are plenty of ham and cheese rolls and croissants but that’s about it.

Workers who can’t go home go to a restaurant and take a leisurely two-hour lunch (often with wine!) You won’t find a sausage roll, bacon and egg sandwich or a pie anywhere. If you want a Chiko Roll, you’ll have to import it!

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