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Best Places to Retire Abroad

Spain

Along the beautiful Costa del Sol, the savvy retiree can find quaint villages and quiet beaches.

Best Places to Retire Abroad (SPAIN)

From left: A typical Costa Del Sol beach; arch on the Puente Viejo, town of Ronda. — SIME/EStockTravel

Spain boasts some of the most fabled cities of history: Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Toledo, Valencia, Bilbao. It also offers a mix of attractions that’s hard to match, even in Europe, with snowy mountains, a beautiful Mediterranean coastline, ancient hilltop towns, fantastic cuisine, and near-perfect weather. But here’s another reason to seriously consider retirement in Spain: The economic slump has slashed housing prices in many areas, sometimes by as much as 40 percent. Spain is awash in irresistible deals.  

The Costa del Sol—150 miles of Andalucian coastline that starts near Gibraltar and stretches eastward along the southernmost edge of Spain—is a major vacation destination with its share of crowded resort towns and tourist traps (think Malaga and Marbella). Yet it is also home to quaint villages and quiet, undeveloped beaches that the map-wielding masses have yet to find. Best of all, expats report that they can live in Spain more affordably than in the United States.

"There’s no sales tax, and our property tax is very low compared with the States," says June Whitton, 76, who lives with her husband, Phillip, 74, in a three-bedroom condo in the town of Fuengirola. "Phillip is paying only $230 a month for the best medical insurance, and prescription drugs are one-third the price back home." The couple moved here from San Francisco 17 years ago after falling in love with the Costa del Sol on holiday. "There are social clubs, golf courses, hiking clubs, just about anything you could desire," she says. "The expats are very friendly and helpful. We make it one big happy family." As for the real estate scene, "it’s a buyer’s market right now." Of course it's not all about the money. There’s the "Sol" that comes with Costa del Sol. The skies are almost always bright and blue, making umbrellas almost as superfluous as winter coats. June Whitton calls it "heaven."

Christopher Carnrick, 54, has found his bit of bliss here as well. After retiring from a pharmaceutical company job in Seattle five years ago, he and his partner, Arthur Knighton, 43, moved to a "little whitewashed village" called Torrox on the eastern end of the coast. "It’s like stepping back in time," he says, describing how they purchase wildly inexpensive, farm-fresh produce from the village kids. The couple live in a 300-year-old, two-bedroom home that they bought for $180,000. "We didn’t think we could afford anything," marvels Carnrick. "And we told the real estate agent that we wanted a garden and an orange tree and a lemon tree." They got what they wanted, plus "an amazing terrace with this view of the sea, where we do theme dinners during the summer." And, as a sideline, they’ve started offering culinary tours (and published a cookbook, Dinner for Six at 8:00) for Americans who want to learn Spanish cooking and culture. Says Carnrick: "You can have a very nice life here."

What to Expect in
Costa del Sol

Climate

Idyllic, with more than 300 days of sunshine a year, and an average winter temperature of 55 to 60° F. July and August can be quite hot.

Expat Community

At least 1,000 American residents, whose numbers are dwarfed by a vast community of sun-seeking Brits.

Cost of Living

Though it depends on the town (Marbella is very pricey), expats report they can get by on $20,000 a year frugally, $25,000 a year comfortably. Dinner for two: $35 to $50.

Housing Costs

Two-bedroom upscale houses go for $200,000 and up, and property taxes are low. Rentals: $700 to $2,000 per month, depending on location. 

Health Care

Quite good. Most expats buy private insurance, which is considerably cheaper than in the United States.

Culture and Leisure

At least 70 golf courses, sailing, nature reserves. Extraordinary cultural excursions—to Gibraltar, Seville, Granada’s Alhambra palace, and even Tangier, Morocco—are mere day trips.

Access to the U.S.

Good. There’s a major regional airport in Málaga—considered “the gateway” to the Costa del Sol—where you can catch one of many buses, trains, or flights to Madrid and Barcelona, then hop a nonstop flight to major cities in the United States.

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