Retired Life in Europe: Here’s Where Retirees Are Moving – Retiring in a beautiful town in Europe is the dream of many, but that doesn’t mean it’s far out of reach. For those about to enter their retirement years, the process of retiring in Europe can feel quite daunting at times. Many countries in Europe have a lot to offer, but the wide range of laws and requirements stretched across the continent can make decisions somewhat difficult.
To better help you find the perfect European country for your retirement, we have come up with several of the biggest concerns and needs for retirees. Between high rates of English fluency, finding the right retirement visa, the cost of living, standard of safety, and proximity to home, there is plenty here to help you start on the right path. You can get started today by researching different potential countries to move to through our Countries Tool!
A Common Tongue: High Rates of English Fluency
Knowledge of either the local language or a widely used international language is a key requirement for expats. The amount of time and dedication it takes to go beyond the basics of a new language is not something that many retirees want to worry about. For this reason, the ease of getting around in English is an important criterion for many retirees searching for a foreign country to settle down in.
English is the most commonly taught and spoken second language in European countries, followed by French, German, Spanish, and Russian. While the other languages are traditionally used in the regions closest to their mother countries, English is used all over the European continent as a connecting language.
European countries all over have been teaching English in schools beginning at a young age. This has resulted in the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Norway, and Belgium being the countries with the highest number of fluent English speakers. The Netherlands is the highest, with up to 93% of the population being fluent in English. Other expat-friendly countries with a high rate of English fluency include Portugal and Croatia.
Retired Life in Europe – Accommodating Retirees: Which Countries Offer Retirement Visas?
While all countries in Europe issue long-stay visas that have the potential to lead to permanent residency, only around a third of them offer visas that meet the needs of retirees who want to settle down there. Of course, the standard work or study visas won’t apply to retirees, so you’ll have to find another path. The ideal visa type for retirees has a wide range of different names including Retirement Visa, Passive Income Visa, Non-Lucrative Visa, and more. Some other countries also have the so-called Golden Visa or Investment Visa, which usually require committing a significant amount of capital to purchase real estate, invest in government-backed securities, or support a variety of other government programs. You can explore passive income visas, golden visas, and much more using our Visas Tool!
The European countries that have installed a type of retiree visa have instead looked at retirees as an opportunity to diversify their population, bring in investments, and spread the word about their wonderful way of life. The two most common categories of retiree visas differ in terms of their required financial commitments and both of them exempt the holder from any sort of work requirement.
- Investment, Property, or Entrepreneur Visa: This type of visa requires either a large deposit of capital in a local bank account, the purchase of local real estate, or the establishment of a company which will create local jobs. Most countries in Europe offer these types of visa to bolster their local economies.
- Passive Income Visa: This type of visa enables retirees to establish long-term residence while either receiving proven income from investments abroad or a pension from a foreign government such as Social Security in the United States. For those without the necessary capital or desire to make a large deposit, buy a home outright, or start a business, these types of visas are the way to go.
In particular, Portugal’s well-known D7 (Passive Income) Visa is quite flexible for retirees of all sorts. Portugal’s minimum income requirement for this visa is only around $13,000 per year. Meanwhile, Bulgaria and Cyprus have even lower requirements, at $6,000 and $10,000 per year, respectively. The remainder of European countries have either higher income requirements or very rigid visa systems, such as those in Scandinavia.
Saving Money: A Lower Cost of Living
In general, the daily cost of living is higher in Northern and Western Europe and lower in Southern and Eastern Europe. An average budget for a married couple in Norway is upwards of $4,000 per month including rent. The same couple might find that Bulgaria is much more affordable at an average of $1,300 per month including rent. Most retirees prefer somewhere in the middle due to potential disparities in quality of life and healthcare in countries that are on the lower end of the cost of living spectrum.
Combining a relatively low cost of living for Europe with a favorable tax system for foreigners, Portugal is a wonderful medium. The average budget for a married couple in Portugal remains around $2,000 per month including rent. Better yet, Portugal has a tax program called the Non-Habitual Tax Residency. This program allows foreigners to reduce or even potentially avoid paying income tax in Portugal for up to 10 years on a variety of income sources if they could be taxed in another country. Even though more recent legislation increased the minimum tax rate applied to pensions to 10%, this tax program has certainly benefited retirees, digital nomads, workers, and entrepreneurs from all over the world.
Staying Safe: The Lowest Crime Rates
Retired Life in Europe – sometimes even the most attractive destinations have some troubling circumstances in daily life. Simply put, you don’t want to be worrying about your belongings or your safety during your retirement. Europe as a whole has very low crime rates, but still, some countries are considerably higher than others. A combination of crime statistics by the European Commission showed that the three safest countries in Europe in 2019 were Iceland, Portugal, and Austria. These three countries had the lowest reported crime rates not only on the continent of Europe but in the entire world. The only other countries that came close were New Zealand, Canada, and Singapore.
Common Ground: Finding Established Expat Communities
Retired Life in Europe – living in another country can feel quite exciting and liberating at first. However, many expats soon find that making friends and building social circles is quite difficult with even the friendliest and hospitable of cultures. To help their social lives stay active while they enjoy what their new home has to offer, most retirees tend to settle in established expat communities. We can attest that some of the longest-lasting and most fulfilling friendships have come from expats helping each other to settle into a new environment.
Among the largest retiree expat communities in Europe are:
- Croatia: Dubrovnik
- France: Nice/Côte d’Azur
- Germany: Bavaria
- Greece: Athens, Kefalonia, Rhodes, Corfu
- Italy: Florence, Tuscany, Genoa
- Portugal: Lisbon, Porto, Braga, Algarve, Azores
- Spain: Valencia, Alicante, Málaga, Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastian
- Turkey: Antalya, Bodrum
Only a Short Flight Away: Proximity to Your Home Country
For European retirees, a visit to their home countries is often only a short flight away. However, American and Canadian retirees may soon find that flying home can be expensive and exhausting. This is especially true for those living in Turkey, Greece, or even Italy. From these countries, flights to the East Coast can be upwards of 9 or 10 hours. If you’re headed to the West Coast, it can be up to 12 hours for a nonstop flight. Of course, adding in connecting flights can dramatically increase that number. Even a few more hours can make a big difference.
For this reason, many American and Canadian expats have chosen Portugal and Spain as their preferred countries to retire in. A flight from Barcelona to New York, for example, can be under 8 hours. Lisbon is even closer at around 7 hours. The Azores are an island chain that is part of Portugal and is situated in the middle of the Atlantic. A flight between Ponta Delgada and Boston is only 4 hours on average. With a flight like that, returning home for the holidays or expecting family to visit doesn’t seem like such a huge ask!
Analyzing and Strategizing: Finding The Right Country for Your Retirement
It’s no secret the amount of love we at Expat Empire have for Portugal. Our founder David has made the country his permanent base after living in multiple other countries around the world. With a great climate, favorable visa situation, relatively low cost of living at a European standard, proximity to the United States, low crime rate, established expat communities, and wonderful food and wine, we can say that Portugal is an incredible place to retire.
That said, no place is perfect for everyone. Making the right choices for where to live always involves looking at data and understanding your expectations and requirements. At Expat Empire, we build our consulting services on data so that you can make the most informed decisions in your move abroad. We offer several in-depth consulting services that can help you make the right decisions. Let us know how we can best help you to achieve your international retirement goals!