Over 55 communities: 10 amazing European destinations for retirement in 2019

Retirement is a special time that people look forward to their entire lives. Your working days are over and it's time to relax and enjoy everything life has to offer. Before you buy a condo and pack your belongings, however, it's important to do some homework. You need to work out your finances, look into visas and taxation, create a realistic long-term budget, and think long and hard about the kind of lifestyle you desire.

Choosing where you want to retire is an important first step, with lots of great locations across the world to spend your golden years.

While most Americans and Canadians retire close to home, there is an increasing movement for people to spread their wings and retire on the other side of the Atlantic. Let's take a look at ten of the best places to retire in Europe in 2019.

Finding your ideal European location

Europe is a very desirable retirement destination, with people attracted to the culture, lifestyle, and relatively affordability of many European towns and cities. While not everyone wants to move away from their friends and family, others see expatriation as an exciting opportunity to buy a retirement condo, make new friends, and start life fresh.

Europe is a large and diverse place, with the mix of landscapes, languages, and cultures hard to resist. From the fabulous beaches of Croatia and Portugal through to the idyllic rural villages of southern France and Italy, there are so many fantastic locations to choose from.

Where you choose to live will have a huge impact on your finances and lifestyle, so it’s important to analyze each location in terms of weather, culture, affordability, and condo purchase prices.  

Large European cities are relatively expensive by global standards, with smaller towns generally much more affordable. When it comes to living in Europe, it's also pretty safe to assume that the further east you go the more affordable life will be. While some inexpensive parts of Spain and Portugal are the exception to this rule, the vast majority of eastern Europe is still incredibly affordable when compared to North America and the United Kingdom.

The logistics of European retirement

Moving abroad to retire can seem enticing, but there are some hurdles you need to overcome first. It's not all freshly-baked croissants and ocean swimming, with expats always advised to take close inventory of their finances before they leave North America. While retirees from western nations are very lucky to be able to access retirement visas from many European nations, you will need to consider your tax obligations and show proof of a state backed pension.

Access to retirement visas differs considerably across the world, so you need to do your homework first. While the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom do not offer retirement visas, retirees from these countries can get visas in France, Italy, Spain, and many other European and South American nations.

Depending on the country in question, you’ll have to show proof of citizenship, proof of pension, and possibly proof of private health care. You will also be obliged to highlight your past travel, visas, and any criminal history. Residency status is often linked to property ownership, with North Americans able to legally reside in some European nations after they purchase property of a certain value.

While people travel to Europe for the low living costs, accessible health care, and cultural opportunities, your move could have a serious tax impact. For example, some countries have wealth taxes and property taxes connected with condo ownership. Before opening a bank account in a European nation, you will need to file a report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) with the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. All foreign accounts are reported by the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

It's also important to understand the local US or Canadian tax system before you move. For example, the foreign earned income exclusion for US residents allows you to exclude up to $104,100 in overseas income in 2018. However, while there are tax treaties with many foreign nations, a country that operates on a residency-based tax system can still charge a high tax on your income. It's important to note, that your worldwide income, plus as much as 85 percent of your Social Security benefits, may be subject to federal income taxes regardless of where you live.

Top 10 retirement destinations in Europe

If all this talk of taxation and bank account regulations hasn't put you off, it's time to dig in and research specific nations and locations to find your retirement paradise. Just like anywhere else, it's important to find the perfect balance between financial freedom and quality of life.

What kind of weather do you like? Are you ready to learn a new language? What compromises are you prepared to make for affordability?

Let's take a look at 10 of the best places to retire in Europe in 2019.

Algarve, Portugal

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Portugal is a beautiful and unique retirement destination, with this western part of Europe not suffering the same high prices as many parts of France and Italy. The Algarve region on the southern coast is among the nation's highlights, with this 100 mile stretch of coast offering 3,300 hours of sunshine each year and some of the best beaches in Europe. While it's not as close as Florida, the Algarve has just as many golf courses and almost as many English speakers as many places in North America.

As the biggest and most important tourist region in Portugal, Algarve locals are used to visitors from around the world, especially during the summer months. Unlike some European locations, English speakers feel welcome and retirement condos are plentiful. According to the Live and Invest Overseas Index, a 2019 American-based study, Algarve is the world's best place to retire. In order to make this ranking, the study compared 12 different criteria, including expat communities, taxes, health care, entertainment, and cost of living.

Public healthcare in Portugal is available to legal foreign residents, as long as you're registered with the local medical center.

Along with a great public healthcare system, Algarve also has two large private hospitals, including Faro Hospital with its well-regarded cardiology unit. Portugal is also popular with retirees due to its Golden Visa program, which allows for easy residency with property purchase and provides a great pathway to a valuable European passport. Once you meet the minimum spend threshold for your condo investment, you automatically qualify for a Portuguese Visa.

Abruzzo, Italy

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Italy can be a fun place to retire, with the Abruzzo region on the southern coast a great example of everything this country has to offer. This region is divided into four provinces: L'Aquila, Teramo, Pescara, and Chieti. Perfect for people who love the great outdoors, the Abruzzo has mountains, beaches, ski slopes, and everything in between. The popular seaside town Silvi Marina is an amazing location during the summer months, and Popoli has multiple ski resorts for newbies and seasoned skiers alike.

This part of the country highlights the wonders of the real Italy, with cultural riches, fantastic food, and friendly people as far as the eye can see. In many ways, Italy offers the perfect balance between culture and nature, with the Abruzzo region veering on the side of nature due to its great climate and gorgeous scenery.

Just like in Portugal, it is relatively easy for North Americans to purchase real estate in Italy, with no restrictions imposed on foreign buyers.

According to the latest 2019 edition of the Live and Invest Overseas Index, the average cost per square meter in the Abruzzo region is just US$869, which according to them, is an "unbeatable price for what some say is the best place to retire in the Mediterranean." Prices in this region are much less than other parts of Italy, with property 30-70 percent less than in Tuscany or Umbria depending on location. Along with affordable living and property prices, this part of Italy also has great infrastructure and healthcare for your retirement needs.  

Paris, France

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If you want to retire somewhere exciting and enjoy the bustling pace of big city life, Paris is very very hard to beat. While undeniably expensive compared to many of the other locations in this list, there is a lot you get in return. Paris is a truly global city with some of the best infrastructure in the world. Internet access is fast and cheap at roughly $30 a month for 35.1 Mbps, electricity and heating is reliable and affordable, and public transportation is efficient. While it may take time to get to know its quirks, very few people who've been to Paris don't fall in love with it.  

Just like Portugal and Italy, France places no restrictions on foreign ownership, which means the only thing holding you back is the price of property itself.

Finding the perfect condo can be challenging, however, with so many neighborhoods to choose from and so many options available to you. A quiet location near parks and gardens can make all the difference in such a big city, with the building itself also a crucial factor. Valuable characteristics in a Paris apartment include original fixtures and features such as parquet flooring, moldings, fireplaces, shutters and original fixtures.

Many North American retirees are not used to the age of European cities, with some buildings older than the United States itself. While there are plenty of newer condo buildings to choose from, they may be located in undesirable parts of the city away from parks and other amenities. The 6th arrondissement is the most expensive place in the city, with the 17th near Parc Monceau and the 14th near Parc Montsouris also offering good current values in a great neighborhood setting.

Valletta, Malta

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Malta is a very popular retirement destination, with this beautiful group of three islands offering the best of Mediterranean Europe. While it might be tiny at just 122 square miles, Malta has boundless sea, vibrant sunshine, and a friendly array of English speaking locals. Malta's capital, Valletta, was recently named 2018's European Capital of Culture, which goes to prove that you really can have it all. Valletta has beautiful city plazas, an international airport, and plenty of fantastic dining venues.

Despite there being just 7,000 locals in Malta, infrastructure is just as good as any large European city. Internet is fast and reliable, most of the town is pedestrianized, and there is a strong public transportation network both in the city and across Malta. Crime rates and healthcare are also fantastic across the islands, with great medical centers and hospitals on Malta and Victoria. Malta typically ranks among the top 10 in the world by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to International Living, a couple could live comfortably in Malta on $2,600 per month, or $2,000 a month in Gozo. Private health insurance is also very affordable, with the Maltese spending 79 percent less per person compared to US residents.

While Malta does not offer a dedicated retiree visa like Portugal, Italy and France, it does have a Global Residence Program for non-EU citizens, which provides one of the best residency opportunities in Europe.

Carcassonne, France

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In a country full of postcard destinations, Carcassonne manages to stand out from the crowd. This city lies at the heart of Cathar country, as the capital of the Aude department in the Occitanie region.

If you've ever viewed a Disney movie where princesses and princes abound, then you will already have an idea of what to expect. Walt Disney himself is said to have been inspired by the towers and turrets of this amazing place. Carcassonne has cobbled streets, quirky French cafes and patisseries, and a great produce market three times a week.

Located in southeast France, Carcassonne is surrounded by many other great towns, villages, and natural attractions. There's a well-loved golf course just 10 minutes from town, Mediterranean beaches about an hour away, and fantastic skiing in the Pyrenees just 90 minutes up the road. Carcassonne has proved very popular with retirees in recent years, thanks to its picture perfect facade and fantastic location.

France comes out on top of WHO’s International Health Care rankings and has no restrictions on foreign property ownership.

When you live in France, even as an expat, you are covered by the very good public healthcare system. Paying into the French Social Security system covers most of your healthcare needs, doctors still make home visits, and private healthcare is still available if needed.

While France has a reputation of being prohibitively expensive, the average French person only makes about $30,000 per year. The good life in France is more about enjoying good food and great wine with fantastic people, which is the perfect fit for retirees who want to wind down, live independently, and enjoy everything life has to offer.

Barcelona, Spain

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Spain is a large and diverse country with some of the best weather and finest food in Europe. While most Americans and Canadians don't associate Spain with the high culture of Paris or Milan, Barcelona is a very hip and exciting destination regardless of your age. If you're looking for warm sunny days, lazy siestas by the beach, and mouthwatering paella, Barcelona is almost impossible to beat.

This city is also a cultural hot spot, with the mind-blowing architecture of Gaudi and quirky little laneways offering a fresh take on life that you'll enjoy for years. The appealing lifestyle Spain offers is still very affordable, even in large cities such as Barcelona. While prices in the city are much higher than they are in the countryside, Spain is currently experiencing some of its lowest property prices in decades.

Once you've purchased a condo, the cost of living is also very affordable on a day-to-day basis, with fruits and vegetables fresh and cheap, beer and wine inexpensive, and meals out at mid-range restaurants affordable for everyone.

If you plan to live in Spain on a full-time basis as a retiree, you will need private health insurance in order to get your residence visa.

Health insurance plans start at under $200 a month, however, so it's in reach of most people. Once you have achieved resident status, you can apply to join Spain’s excellent public healthcare system, with both the private and public systems offering fairly good service and infrastructure.

While some expats struggle with Spain's quirky and hard-to-decipher bureaucracy, the people are friendly and mostly willing to help. If you don't want to live in busy Barcelona, lots of expats from the US and UK move to Valencia, Alicante, or other Costa Blanca locations.  

Peniche, Portugal

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Peniche is a traditional fishing port and popular tourist spot in Oeste Subregion on the west coast of Portugal. While the city itself is relatively small with a population of just 15,600 inhabitants, there are a large number of expats and retirees who've made the area home. The long sandy beaches in Peniche are amazing at any time of year, with the climate in the city much cooler than the inland Alentejo region or the warmer southern region.

These idyllic conditions continue to attract people from across the world, including an increasing number of North Americans. Located on the nation's Silver Coast, Peniche promises a warm welcome and an amazing array of natural attractions. The Berlengas Islands are just six miles offshore; Superturbos beach is world-famous for its white sand and great surfing; and the town of Obidos is local, authentic, and steeped in history.

If you're interested in Portugal but want to live somewhere a bit more lively, both Lisbon and Porto are bustling urban locations without the high prices of other European cities.

As we have already mentioned, Portugal makes it very easy for retirees, with this relatively small sun-soaked nation the number one European retirement hotspot over the last decade. Portugal's Golden Visa program is very popular, and a great gateway to a Portuguese Visa and European passport. The public healthcare system is also fantastic, and prices are amazingly cheap for such a beautiful and accessible destination. According to International Living, Portugal has the second lowest cost of living in Europe after Bulgaria.

Split, Croatia

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Croatia never used to be on anyone's bucket list, but now everyone is familiar with this beautiful and unspoilt part of the world. When it comes to European destinations, Croatia is still a bargain and a friendly one at that. While retiring in Croatia is not as easy as places like France and Portugal thanks to the wonders of bureaucracy, it is very much possible and getting more popular all the time. Split is a great retirement destination, offering the history and beauty of Dubrovnik but without the summertime crowds and high prices.

Situated on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, Split is central to the coastline and region. There are some amazing islands just off the coast, including some of the most beautiful beaches in the entire world. Split is also surrounded by a lot of history, as home to Roman Emperor Diocletian’s impressive fourth-century-built palace.

Just like much of Dubrovnik, Split was widely featured the Game of Thrones TV series and has become more popular over the last few years.

Croatia has been a member of the European Union since 2013, but still feels a bit separate from western Europe. This is both a good and bad thing, with prices and crowds down but infrastructure not quite at the same level as Italy or France. While Croatia was named in the top 20 countries to retire by Forbes magazine back in 2015, there are some issues with North Americans gaining residency. Meeting the 5-year permanent residency mark is not necessarily easy, not even for self-funded retirees.

Pistoia, Italy

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For many North Americans, Tuscany embodies everything that is truly Italian. From cypress trees and hillside towns through to fields of flowers and ancient churches, Tuscany is a beautiful and diverse region that stretches along the Mediterranean coast. As the fifth largest of Italy's 20 regions, Tuscany is home to some of the most historic and beautiful places in Europe.

Amidst all this beauty is a little town called Pistoia, with this idyllic spot starting to capture the world's attention as a great retirement destination. Pistoia is nestled halfway between Florence and Lucca; between the Ombrone river valley, the Valdinievole, and the Pistoia mountains. Filled with art, culture, food and fun, Pistoia has lots to see and do while still moving at a slow and mindful pace.

Retirement condos and renting opportunities are increasingly available in Tuscany and across Italy.

Tuscany as a whole sees 90 million visitors a year, including an increasing number of people looking for their retirement paradise. Many of these people stick to Florence and other popular destinations, however, missing out on the delights of Pistoia or even the city of Arezzo.

Italy has no restrictions on foreign property ownership and great public and private healthcare systems. While it's often ruled out as too expensive, Italy has a lot to offer retirees, with Umbria another great region that encapsulates the Italian spirit.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

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Slovenia is a beautiful country that borders Italy, Hungary and Croatia and straddles western and eastern Europe. A mountainous and surprisingly affluent nation, Slovenia has a lot to offer retirees who are looking to spread their wings and embrace something a little different. Ljubljana is the nation's capital and heart of the country, with this modern and ancient city providing easy access to beaches, ski resorts, and the tranquil Slovenian countryside.

Despite its old-world facade, Ljubljana is a bustling modern city with all the amenities of 21st century Europe.

As a prominent university town, it has a very young energy and lots to offer young and old alike. Ljubljana is an affordable city for retirees, with condos relatively cheap to purchase and the daily cost of living easy to deal with for people used to North American prices. However, while Slovenia is not as expensive as France or Italy, it is a rich nation and therefore doesn't offer the same budget options as eastern Europe.

While not as many people speak English in this part of the world, healthcare standards are generally cheap and of good quality. Unfortunately, Slovenia doesn’t have a retirement visa for non-European citizens, so you have to apply for a one-year temporary residence permit before you leave home. In addition, all residents must pay for compulsory state health insurance, with expats also needing to pay for private health insurance in order to access additional services.

Retiring in Europe is a dream for many, with rich ancient cultures, affordability, and a great standard of living continuing to attract people from across the world. While healthcare standards, visas, property prices, and residency status differ significantly from place to place, there are no hurdles that can't be overcome with a little fortitude and patience. From the sunny beaches of Portugal and Spain through to the peaceful villages of France and mountains of Italy, somewhere out there is sure to suit your retirement needs.