Why Our Retirement Journey Led Us to Italy

How do you travel if you can’t afford the trip? That was the dilemma I faced back in 2010, when, after spending over 30 years working in the financial services industry, I decided I needed a change.

But I needed to figure out what that change in retirement was going to look like. I knew I wanted to travel, and so I took two trips, of three weeks each, to Spain and Portugal, for inspiration.

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It didn’t take me long to figure out that I couldn’t afford to travel as much as I wanted. Not from my home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at any rate. I figured the solution was to move to somewhere that would provide a new base from which I could travel less expensively.

It didn’t happen right away…between work, selling my business, and meeting Shonna, the wonderful woman who would become my wife, it was three years before I resumed my quest for the perfect retirement spot.

Thankfully, Shonna also loved to travel and we started reading International Living magazine. Our discussions began to shape the places we wanted to visit or live in. In 2015, we took the next step and attended our first International Living conference, in Cancun, Mexico.

Before the conference, we had compiled our list of criteria: We were looking for four seasons, mountains or ocean, a place with good healthcare, a stable government, fresh food locally produced, a low cost of living, ease of travel, a small town, and a society that would be welcoming. We found nine countries fit that description and made our not-so-short list—some we had already traveled to, some we had not. The conference was the perfect answer at the ideal time.

We attended every session, talked with the speakers and expats, and got as much information as we could on our initial list of countries. After the conference, our list of nine had narrowed to four: Ireland, Portugal, Italy, and Uruguay. For one reason or another, we then eliminated every country except Italy. As a child, I had lived near Lake Como for a couple of years, but I hadn’t been back to Italy since then. So in the fall of 2016, we went exploring.

We started our trip in Venice, and then rented a car to drive to Rieti where we met the family of a friend from back home in Albuquerque. From there, we headed south to Massa Lubrense on the Sorrento Peninsula (we stayed in a wonderful farmhouse, Torre Cangiani: see: torrecangiani.com/it) and then onto Paestum, the home of the best-preserved Greek temples anywhere. We also explored Puglia, Conversano, Alberobello (and checked out the famous trulli homes), and Bari before heading home to the U.S.

We’ve saved $100,000 in healthcare costs.

On that exploratory trip, we fell in love…with the people, the food, and the wine in every town we visited. We had purposefully visited small towns to see if these were places that could become our overseas retirement home. The answer? Yes…we were retiring to Italy.

It took us about a year to organize our visas, healthcare, rental agreements, and our codice fiscale (the Italian equivalent of a Social Security number). Plus we were bringing our beloved dog Frankie so needed to get his passport in order. But, it was all worth the effort.

After our north-to-south tour, we decided to settle in the medieval town of Rieti. It checks all our retirement boxes— affordable cost of living, proximity to good healthcare, and it’s a place where we feel we fit in.

Check out our Guide to Retiring in Italy here.

Located on a hill, overlooking the Velino River, it’s about 58 miles northeast of Rome, right in the center of Italy. After renting an apartment for two years, we found the home we now live in—also a rental—just outside Rieti. High on a hill, it overlooks a peaceful farmers’ valley, with a panorama that is a joy to wake up to. The house itself is 2,200 square feet, with five bedrooms, three bathrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, and a rec room. We are surrounded by forest, close enough that we see wild boar and deer. With over 30 olive and fruit trees, harvesting in the fall is hard work and great fun.

Our life here is less expensive. Had we stayed in the U.S., our finances would definitely have made life much more restrictive. I would probably still be working. Shonna estimates we have saved nearly $100,000 in health insurance and healthcare costs alone in the five years we’ve been living in Italy.

If there is a drawback, it is the rising cost of the heating (up 40% from last year), but when you consider our rent is €700 ($701) a month and the fact that solar panels heat the water most of the spring and summer, it is still less expensive than our home of almost the same size in the U.S. Back there, we paid $1,600 a month in rent alone, plus all utilities.

It’s a slower pace of life here and one filled with joys we have found nowhere else. Our mornings are filled with reading, watering the plants, admiring the views, and a coffee and pastry (or some seasonal fruit if I’m feeling healthy) at the local café. Afternoons are for writing and shopping. And evenings are for TV, catching up with friends, and being together.

Our time is filled with experiences and relationships the likes of which we didn’t have in the U.S. After five years here, traveling Italy, and making wonderful friends, I can tell you unequivocally: We did the right thing retiring here. n “We’ve saved $100,000 in healthcare costs.”

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