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… Here we explore the five best low-cost options for enjoying your perfect European retirement.
Here you’ll find properties to rent for less than $600 a month or to buy for under $110,000. A filling three-course meal in a local restaurant can be had for $10, while a bag of fresh produce grown locally can be got for under $6.
In all these countries you’ll find fabulous beaches, idyllic rural retreats, and cities where history is thickly layered with stunning architecture and grand museums. Our experts have nominated an area they think is particularly worthy of your interest, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide what type of lifestyle you’re after.
Not surprisingly, Europe delivers strongly on healthcare; in each of our picks, you’ll find healthcare professionals and facilities of a world-class standard. But perhaps more surprisingly, the care on offer in these countries won’t leave you counting pennies. Many of these nations benefit from universal coverage and strong public healthcare systems, and even their private healthcare can be accessed for a sliver of the cost in the U.S. Doctors’ visits, for instance, can run well under $100, and other services are similarly reasonable.
You’re guaranteed to find an ideal place for yourself in Europe. Though a small continent, it packs in so much diversity that the perfect retirement for you is bound to be hiding somewhere. Read on to find it…
Whether it is golden light diffused on the undulating hills, crystal alpine lakes, or dramatic seacoast with towns improbably perched on the steep hills above the water, Italy’s scenery inspires a desire to stay and enjoy the dolce vita full-time. A relaxed pace with an emphasis on good food and human interaction, with excellent wines, cultural riches, and a lyrical language—there’s a lot to love about Italy.
The appealing lifestyle and gorgeous scenery draw many expats to the peninsula, and offers each their own tailor-made dream because Italy has it all, from art cities to ancient hill towns to modern suburbs, in any geographic preference you desire. The plentiful seacoasts appeal to beach lovers while the many mountains satisfy outdoorsy types and those who love to live all four seasons in their turn. The Mediterranean climate is fairly mild, but don’t expect endless summer here; there is a cooler winter, though just how cool depends on your desire. Want snow? The Alps. Want it milder? Sicily. And Italy offers everything in between.
Many people have the impression that it is expensive to live here. It’s understandable why; a cultural and historical powerhouse that draws millions of tourists each year seems like it would have a hefty cost of living. But tourist prices are one thing; living costs are another. You can easily find a place that will fit your budget; the key is to look outside the primary tourist destinations.
IL Italy Correspondent Valerie Fortney Schneider says, “The relaxed lifestyle in a glorious hill town can be yours, and it can be more affordable than you think. I paid just €30,000 for my small 300-year old home in the pedestrian lanes of a southern village.”
Nicely furnished apartments on a cobbled street in a perfectly preserved medieval town can run just $500 a month, and in some cases even less. There are ready-to-go homes for sale for less than $70,000, even within an hour of Rome. Go south and find even better bargains.
Many expats in Italy are drawn to the low-key lifestyle of small towns; others opt for the cultural opportunities and amenities of the cities. In between are the medium-sized cities that offer a bit of both.
Expat Jacqueline Sinatra and her husband, Enzo, are living in Spoleto, Italy, in the center of Umbria—pretty much in the center of Italy.
Jacqueline says, “Spoleto is a beautiful city of about 40,000 people. We live in the historic center, where the narrow cobblestone streets are lined with medieval walls over 800 years old. There is history at every turn and some of the most impressive and grand architecture. It gives me chills to think about who has stepped on these very cobblestones, and lived in these ancient dwellings.
“Our weekly grocery bill is typically under $50, and we buy a lot of organic and unusual food items. A bottle of wine can be had from $2 and up, with a great bottle costing as much as $7. Our apartment costs $480 per month, but you can purchase a beautiful home with some land for well under $200,000.”
Aside from housing costs, the living expenses in Italy are fairly consistent around the country. In the right spot, a couple can live well for as little as $1,830 per month.
Castles, cathedrals, and cobblestones. White stucco houses laced with bougainvillea, crowned with terracotta tiles. Grilled fish glistening with olive oil. Ruby red, award-winning wines. Calm, turquoise waters lapping golden sands in a secluded bay, and a coastline coaxing an 80-foot wave from an underwater cave.
This is Portugal.
Each year more visitors are coming to take a bite of the feast offered by this small Iberian country. For many years it has been a vacation destination for the British, French, Dutch, and others—even the Spanish—who came to love it so much, many became expats.
IL Portugal Correspondent Tricia Pimental moved overseas to experience a different lifestyle: one with the charm of Old-World Europe, where the pace was slower and the cost of living more affordable.
“I’ve discovered everything from the breathtaking beauty of the Minho’s fertile countryside in the north to the schist villages—communities of houses made of crystalline, metamorphic rock—in its center, to the miles of golden-sand beaches in the southern region of the Algarve.”
In addition to its rich history and natural beauty, Portugal offers something for everyone in its big cities. Lisbon is elegant, trendy, relaxed, and electric. It just depends on which district you’re in, which time of the year, which day of the week, and whether it’s day or night. Take public transportation or hoof it. Shop in chic boutiques or a glitzy mall. Attend a live concert by Diana Krall in a major arena, or head to a stone church tucked away in a residential zone to hear a string quartet. It’s all at your fingertips.
The same holds true for the country’s “second city” of Porto in the north, smaller ones like the university town of Coimbra in the center of the country, and locales like Lagos and Albufeira in the warmer, beachy south.
All this sounds wonderful, but if it comes with a hefty price tag, who can enjoy it? That’s another lovely part of life here: the cost of living.
Tricia says, “My husband and I had lunch with friends on a Saturday afternoon. A three-course lunch with beverage at a modest eatery still runs about $10 per person. But we were celebrating an occasion, so opted for an upscale restaurant. Even there, the average main course was $34. Two bonuses were typically Portuguese: the restaurant was built into an atmospheric stone cellar, and it was family-run, a smoothly operating group with an obvious love of food and their clientele.”
Rents average from $450 a month for a furnished, two-bedroom apartment in a small town to about $1,500 in the city with lower and higher options. In most regions $100,000 or less for the purchase of a house would be a “fixer-upper,” but jump to $250,000 and you can enjoy a home that would cost two or three times as much in the U.S. In locations like Los Angeles, the sticker price would be 10 times as much, or more.
Including rent, a couple can live comfortably in Portugal’s interior, or in small cities, from about $1,700 a month. A couple’s budget in Lisbon starts at about $2,100 or $2,200 a month…though you can, of course, spend more. Singles should plan on a budget of about two-thirds that of a couple.
You didn’t expect France to be on this list, did you? Many people can never believe the land that gave the world the likes of Versailles, Chanel, and the term haute cuisine could be anything other than prohibitively expensive.
Don’t let France’s glittering reputation blind you. France is a wealthy, First-World country, but the average French person only makes about $30,000 per year. Outside of high-glamor zones like Paris, Provence, and the sun-soaked towns of the Riviera, the cost of living and real estate can be surprisingly reasonable…yet the quality of life remains high.
How? You see, for most French people high-quality living does not necessarily translate into spending huge sums on large houses or fancy gadgets. Here, “the good life” is about simpler things: laughing with friends over a carafe of red wine, finding that perfect sweet melon at the market, or even sitting alone on a café terrace in the sun.
“Sure, if you want to live in 6th Arrondissement in the center of Paris or in a Mediterranean resort town, it’s going to cost. But there are also hundreds of properties in beautiful country towns and villages with all the work done at very affordable prices,” says IL contributor Stewart Richmond.
“While many items are a similar price to items in North America, many are much, much cheaper. France has a thousand different cheeses and they start off at a tiny $1.15 for a home-brand camembert or brie. You can try a different cheese every day of the year without breaking the bank.
“Wine, beer and spirits are ridiculously cheap. You will find a red or white from the hundreds in the local supermarket that suits your individual palate for around $3.50. You can get a supermarket baguette for 40 cents or an artisan baguette from the boulangerie for $1.15. French supermarkets are not allowed to throw food away, so there are always plenty of bargains.”
France itself makes it easy for you to enjoy life. A land of immense geographic, climatic, and aesthetic diversity, it 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. It’s hard to be bored here, even if you tried.
A couple can enjoy all France has to offer for $2,200 per month including rent.
Warm, sunny days by the glittering Mediterranean, cool nights at an outdoor café, lingering over dinner until the wee hours, mouthwatering paella, mounds of fresh seafood, succulent roast lamb (and flavorful wines to accompany them), rich, ancient culture, hilltop castles, and vast stretches of countryside just 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.
And these days, that appealing lifestyle is very affordable. Spain has long been one of the least-expensive countries in Europe. Of course, the cost of living varies by location and lifestyle. Barcelona and Madrid are the most expensive cities. Prices are also high in San Sebastian, the north coast of Catalonia, and the Balearic Islands. Malaga, Alicante, and the Canary Islands are among the most affordable areas. Valencia, Granada, and Seville fall in the mid-range.
Food prices are reasonable. Spain’s warm climate means lots of locally-grown fruits and vegetables are available. Olive oil and wine are plentiful and inexpensive. Near the coasts, seafood is fresh and affordably priced. $100 a week would provide ample groceries for a healthy Mediterranean diet.
But, ultimately, Spain’s appeal is not its low cost. It’s the friendly, helpful, and life-loving people that are its most seductive asset. Although speaking Spanish makes life easier, most Spaniards speak some English and are delighted to practice. You can easily get by with only English, and since most expats in Spain are from the UK or Germany, North Americans have the advantage of being a bit exotic.
IL Spain Correspondent Marsha Scarbrough moved to Spain in 2017, at the age of 70. She had visited the country for the first time the year before and spent six weeks traveling around on her own. She had been searching for the perfect, affordable retirement destination for some time.
Marsha says, “As a single woman, one of my concerns about retiring in a foreign country was my need to build a network of new friends. The friendliness, welcoming warmth, and helpfulness of the local people made Madrid my first choice. If you want to include other expats among your friends, that’s easy too. Thousands of expats from all over the world live in Madrid.”
Madrid may be a bit more expensive than other places in Spain, but it still offers a lot of bang for the buck. Wine and beer are about $2 per glass. A generous gin and tonic will be about $7 to $9. Three-course menu del dia lunches run from $8 to $16 including wine or beer. In Chamberi, a hearty menu is $10 to $14. Most restaurants also offer a single plate at around $8. Prescriptions and medications are a fraction of U.S. prices.
“For me, the greatest savings come from not needing to own a car. As a senior resident, I have unlimited access to the efficient metro and bus system for $13.80 per month. If I splurge for a taxi, it’s usually around $11.”
The best place to retire in Spain depends on what you like and how you want to live. You may want to settle in an expat beach community on the Costa del Sol, or integrate into Spanish culture in a major city, or find bucolic isolation in the countryside.
A couple could live in a mid-sized city like Alicante for $2,409 per month. So if you’ve ever dreamed of living affordably in Europe—whether it’s for a few months at a time or for the rest of your life—take a look at Spain now.
The art of European living can be mastered in the Mediterranean country of Croatia. Sip coffee next to the ruins of an ancient Roman temple in the morning, swim in the royal blue waters of the Adriatic Sea in the afternoon, and explore the once gas-lit cobblestone streets of a hilltop town in the evening.
Every day in Croatia is to be savored. From nibbling on jade-colored olives and tasting ruby-red zinfandel, to inhaling the fresh sea air and laughing around an open fire, life on the western coast of the Balkan Peninsula is invigorating. And, it can be enjoyed part-time.
Croatia has long been a favorite destination for European vacationers. For decades they flocked to its beaches and walled towns when it was a part of the former country of Yugoslavia. In recent years, Croatia has become increasingly popular, thanks to many of its landscapes being featured in the HBO series Game of Thrones.
Split is Croatia’s second-largest city and home to the 1,700-year-old palace built by Roman Emperor Diocletian. Unlike ruins elsewhere in Europe, Diocletian’s Palace is still home to many locals—a legacy of the security the palace walls offered after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Split also boasts a sizeable university, a large hospital, and a thriving expat community. These characteristics have made the city increasingly popular with foreigners, meaning that rental costs have risen in recent years. For this reason, you might want to base yourself in a community just outside of Split, something that part-time expat Beth Hoke has done three times.
“I stayed in Podstrana once (just south of Split) and Okrug Gornji (just north of Split) twice. Split was easily accessible from both locations via public transportation, but the housing costs were a bit lower [outside of Split],” Beth says. “In Podstrana, I was right on the beach and in Okrug Gornji, I was within a 10- to 15-minute walk from the beach. I stayed in Okrug Gornji in late spring/early summer and Podstrana in late autumn/early winter. I paid the same for both two-bedroom apartments— between $475 and $500 per month.”
A couple can live well here for between $2,050 and $2,840 per month.
Ask any expat why they upped sticks to relocate to the tiny Mediterranean island nation of Malta (all 122 square miles of it—not a whole lot bigger than Nantucket) and the same three reasons keep cropping up: sea, sunshine, and the friendly and welcoming population of English-speaking locals.
In Malta, you’ll find abundant sunshine even at the height of winter. Valletta, the nation’s scenic capital and adorned with historic buildings, is renowned as the warmest capital in Europe—and with less than 7,000 inhabitants, a highly manageable one, at that. Even in January, you’ll still find temperatures in the 60s F, rising to the 80s F during the glorious summer months.
And even on islands as small as these, you’ll have no shortage of ways to enjoy this magnificent climate. Towns like Valletta and Sliema remain lively throughout the year and boast some of the best restaurants in the Mediterranean. And you don’t have to be a millionaire to enjoy everything Malta can provide.
Rent for a one-bedroom apartment—even those just a short walk to the seaside—averages around $750 to $800 per month. Groceries are inexpensive, with basic items such as bread costing around 35 cents. Dinner out for two at a nice mid-range restaurant, including a glass of wine, can cost about $50.
The country itself comprises a number of different islands, only three of which are actually inhabited. The second-largest of the three inhabited islands, Gozo is known for its quiet, idyllic, country lifestyle, which has already seen it become a favored destination among expat retirees in Malta.
“The reasons so many retired couples choose Gozo are multiple: everyone speaks English, prices for food and accommodation are reasonable, medical facilities are excellent, and the weather is superb all year round,” says IL contributor Kevin Flanagan.
“There is also easy access to Malta, just half an hour away on the ferry, if you want the bustle of a major European hub. But when I do visit the main island, I find that I always look forward to getting back to Gozo and the easy-going island vibe.”
Milk, bread, and other groceries can be got for $1 apiece, while a bottle of quality wine can be had for $6. Victoria, Gozo’s largest town, is the place to go for a bit of shopping. It’s also where you can sample some high culture in the town’s two opera houses or savor local organic produce in one of its excellent restaurants.
Malta has something for everyone— from ancient walled cities and breathtaking coastal trails to countryside farmhouses and delightful restaurants.
Cost of living will vary depending on where you want to live and your lifestyle, but a couple could live in a one-bedroom apartment in the small seaside village of Marsaxlokk for $2,331 per month.