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Sunny paradise for seniors

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Retiring abroad is a growing trend. People relocating abroad can enjoy their senior living at its best: in a warm climate, by the sea, and with quality healthcare. Here is an overview of European locations for retirement with living costs and a roadmap for choosing your place in the sun.

Portugal was ranked as the best country for retirement

Portugal is a country with a rich history and magnificent resorts and ranked as the best place to retire in 2020. Portugal boasts of quality healthcare, favorable climate, and high security. Prices here are twice as low as in France and Germany. €30,000 — or even €20,000 on a trimmed budget — is enough to live in Portugal for one year.

Many seniors from Europe and North America live in Cascais, a Portuguese city on the Atlantic coast 25 kilometres away from Lisbon. Real estate prices are €5,200/m² in central Cascais and €2,600/m² in the suburbs. The rent for a three-bedroom apartment in the centre is €2,100 per month.

It is not difficult to live legally in Portugal as a retiree. Portugal has a simplified residence permit procedure for retiring expats. Seniors that buy or rent housing for a long term and have passive income exceeding the subsistence line (€635 in 2020) are allowed to obtain a residence permit.

Seniors that buy or rent housing for a long term and have passive income exceeding the subsistence line (€635 in 2020) are covered by a simplified residence permit procedure in Portugal.

Experts note that it is easier to buy than to rent housing in Portuguese resorts as homes are mostly leased out for a short term to tourists who come to spend their vacation here.

Many seniors prefer to buy real estate in Algarve, a province in southern Portugal. Algarve has a high standard of living, lovely climate, stunning nature sceneries, numerous beaches, and about 30 golf courses. The sun here shines for 12 hours a day, and a fresh breeze blows from the ocean onto the land.

Greece offers sea and sun together with tax benefits

Greece has a wonderful location in a sunny and warm climate and with clean beaches of the Mediterranean, Ionian and Aegean seas. People in Greece are optimistic and friendly, and Greece’s culture is one of the world's richest and most interesting.

An apartment in Athens sells on average for €1,770/m². It costs €630–750 per month to rent a three-bedroom apartment in Athens. The monthly rent for a three-bedroom apartment outside the Greek capital, e.g. in Patras, is €380–470.

The cost of living in Greece is not high. A three-course meal for two costs €40 in Athens and is cheaper in smaller cities. A couple would need about €20,000 to live in Greece for one year.

Seniors may obtain a residence permit in Greece in exchange for buying real estate for at least €250,000 under the golden visa programme. The programme does not require the applicants to prove minimum passive income or provide a bank statement to show the availability of the minimum amount of money sufficient to live in Greece.

Although the golden visa programme is not the only option for retiring expats. UK, US and Australian citizens may legally stay in Greece if they show that they have enough income to support themselves during their retirement. Greek government requires seniors to provide proof that they have an income of at least €2,000 a month.

The Greek government launches new stimulus measures to attract foreign investors and announced tax benefits for foreign retirees in 2020 entitling them to a 7% income tax rate if they shift their tax residence to Greece and prove that they receive a state or private pension abroad.

France is the country with the best healthcare

Life expectancy in France is 82 years, which is one of the longest in Europe. According to the World Health Organisation, France has the best healthcare in the world.

Real estate prices in Paris are high, so most seniors prefer to buy homes outside of the metropolitan areas. South Pyrenees and Languedoc-Roussillon are especially popular.

The South Pyrenees region lies in the south-west of France. Seniors are attracted above all by the gentle pace of life and mild climate.

The 65-year old American Jack Herman and his wife Lauren moved to France in 2004. They sold their home in suburban Washington for $385,000 and bought a house for $118,000 (€136,880) in the French town Cassagnes Comtaux. The building built in 1842 was originally a barn built in 1842 but then was restored. It has four bedrooms and two bathrooms.

“I spend my time doing exactly what I feel like. I cook and make several types of jam each year. The lifestyle is much slower. People take their time to enjoy a good meal and stop and talk to friends. A neighbour stops and gives me eggs from her hens. Pastures surround us, and some days we see sheep grazing there. Their milk is used to make Roquefort cheese,” says Jack.

Prices in France are relatively high: a meal for two in a restaurant would cost about €70, and a comfortable life would cost approximately €39,000 a year.

Many senior expats from the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, and the USA, prefer to live in Languedoc-Roussillon, a region along the Mediterranean Sea coast.

Real estate prices in large cities here, such as Nîmes, Montpellier, and Perpignan, are higher than in the rural locations far away from the sea. Home prices in Montpellier start from €3,300/m², and it would cost on average €1,100 per month to rent a three-bedroom apartment.

France has well-developed entertainment infrastructure with many museums, diverse annual festivals, tours for tourists. Seniors in this country would not feel left out.

Spain is the sunniest country in Europe

Spain is one of the most popular destinations for senior expats. The sun shines here for 300 days a year, and the dry and hot climate is good for the health of those who have asthma and arthritis.

Many seniors who opt for Spain prefer to settle in the coastal areas of Costa del Sol, Costa del Azahar, Costa Brava, and Costa Blanca.

There are senior living communities (urbanizaciónes) in Spain with mature infrastructure that are home to senior expats from various countries. The elderly here do not feel lonely as they can meet other people and socialise. Amenities in such senior living complexes include a pool, gym, and various clubs where a resident can do everything — from playing a game of bridge to belly dancing.

The 76-year-old American June Witton and her 74-year-old husband Phillip live in a three-bedroom condominium apartment in the city of Fuengirola, Spain. Having visited Costa del Sol 17 years ago, the couple decided to stay here forever.

“Here there are special interest clubs, golf courses, tourist clubs — all you might want. The locals are very friendly and always ready to help. We live as one big family,” shares her impressions June.

Another couple from the USA bought real estate in Costa del Sol for approximately €210,000. An 18th-century two-bedroom home with a terrace and sea view is surrounded by an orange and lemon orchard.

Senior expats moving to Spain may obtain a residence permit without the entitlement to work if they buy or rent housing and have funds in the amount of at least 400% subsistence level for the main applicant and 100% subsistence level for each family member. The subsistence level in Spain is €565 per month in 2021. 

The average price of an apartment in central Malaga or another city in Costa del Sol is €3,100/m² or higher, and it costs from €800 to €1,200 per a month to rent a three-bedroom apartment, depending on its location.

Many people prefer to buy property seized by banks collecting debts, as such property is cheaper.

Prices in large cities in Spain are rather high. Life in Spain would cost about €25,000–30,000 per a year.

Italy offers  dolce vita for seniors

Seniors moving to Italy especially favour Tuscany and Sardinia. Tuscany is renowned for stunning nature and rich cultural heritage, and Sardinia is one of the best regions for health with 300 sunny days a year.

In Tuscany, houses in the countryside cost on average €350,000. An apartment close to the sea will cost €300,000-400,000. Houses in Sardinia cost between €300,000 and €800,000, while villas by the sea cost from €1M.

A cost-saving option is to buy real estate in the region of Marche, Italy. It would cost €700 per a month to rent a three-bedroom apartment in Ancona, the capital of Marche. The prices of housing by the sea start from €350,000, and the prices in rural areas are twice as low at approximately €175,000. Cheaper apartments by the sea can be found for €130,000–150,000.

In general, the cost of living in Italy, especially in the south and rural areas, is lower than in France and Spain. It would cost about €23,000–29,000 to live here for one year.

The 62-year-old American John Williams bought a house with land in the region of Marche on the Italian Adriatic coast. His housing is very close to the beach. John and his family grow olive trees and make oil. “I came here six months ago but decided to stay forever,” says John, “I can hardly imagine living anywhere else.”

Many seniors moving to Italy start a new life here. There are many entertainment facilities in Italy: museums to admire Renaissance art and wineries for wine-tasting, wonderful beaches and ski resorts.

Bulgaria is cheap but with flair

Buying housing in Bulgaria is a frugal option for seniors willing to move abroad. However, healthcare here is not so good as in Western Europe, and infrastructure is not so well-developed as e.g. in Spain.

Rather low real estate prices is the main reason why seniors opt for Bulgaria.

Pre-owned homes in Bulgaria cost much cheaper than the same in France or Italy. The price of a house or an apartment in Bulgaria is as low as €30,000–50,000, and real estate in landlocked towns is even cheaper selling for €20,000–25,000. Homes in ski and spa resorts are more expensive costing on average €130,000.

Home prices in southern resorts, such as Nesebr and Slanchev Bryag (Sunny Beach), range from €700/m² to €1,100/m². However, these are touristy areas not suitable for seniors looking for a quieter and peaceable life. The coastal towns of Ravda, Pomorie, Elenite Sveti Vlas would be a good choice for those willing to settle down far away from hustle and bustle.

Many senior expatriates come to Dobrich’s town in the east of Bulgaria that lies approximately 40 kilometres away from the nearest airport and the sea, which is not a setback as Dobrich has good transportation infrastructure.

Life in Bulgaria is not so expensive as in the other European countries. To illustrate, €6–10 is the price of a meal in a café, and it would cost about €6,000–8,500 to live here for one year.

Bulgaria is one of the locations for a senior to get value for money and more retirement savings than in Western Europe where a senior expatriate needs to have an additional income source.

In general, Bulgaria is considered to be one of the cheapest countries to live in. Those who value comfort and safety first should choose France. Purchase of real estate in Spain, Italy or Portugal has many advantages, as these countries have mature infrastructure and a social security system.

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    Anna Boyarchukova
    Anna Boyarchukova
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