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When Vibeke Arentz and her husband, Jeff Kacirk, decided to move from the San Francisco Bay Area to the south of France four years ago, it was a chance for the couple to immerse themselves in a place that fascinated them. They have not been disappointed.
“The culture, the history, the cuisine, the scenery, the affordability, exploring the variety of France’s many different regions, learning and speaking French, how friendly and helpful people are here and the amazing community of friends that we have developed here in such a short time are all thrilling,” says Arentz, 58.
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They bought a home in Carcassonne and converted it into three apartments, living in one and renting out the other two to supplement their retirement income. “We love exploring France and also are happy to have all of Europe just a short distance away,” she says.
While several Caribbean and Central American countries have programs specifically geared to attract U.S. retirees, older Americans are increasingly looking to relocate to Europe, according to Kathleen Peddicord, founder and publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, which produces books, newsletters and online guides on moving and doing business abroad.
These days, “Europe makes a lot more sense, as the dollar is stronger versus the euro,” she says. “The other thing is that in the past five or seven years, Europe also has begun to make residency easier.”
If you’re weighing such a move, you’ll need to know the ins and outs of establishing legal residency, buying property as a foreigner and obtaining health insurance, as Medicare generally doesn’t cover care outside the U.S. “You have to prepare, and you have to come with full knowledge of what the challenges are,” Peddicord says.
Lief Simon, Live and Invest Overseas’ real estate editor, recommends hiring an immigration lawyer in your target country, preferably one who speaks English and has worked with other Americans, “to make sure you don’t miss any steps that can end up costing you.”
You’ll want trustworthy advice on how money moves such as buying a home could affect your tax situation. “The number one thing is to talk not to your own tax guy back in the States but to find a tax guy in the country,” says Doris Speer, president of the Association of Americans Resident Overseas.
Here are the basics for establishing yourself in eight popular European destinations for American retirees.
French culture, history, fine cuisine and world-renowned wine are major attractions, as are landscapes ranging from mountains to medieval villages to glitzy beach towns.
Residency: “The best visa category for an American retiree is a long-stay visitor visa,” which is required if you plan to be in the country for more than 90 days, says Daniel Tostado, an immigration attorney in France. You’ll need to show proof of retirement income that’s at least equal to the French minimum wage, which was a little less than 20,000 euros a year in 2022, according to Expatica, a resource site for English-speaking expatriates.
The French government website has information in English about long-stay visas. One such visa, called a VLS-TS, doubles as a residence permit and is validated by French immigration authorities within your first three months in the country. With other visas, you may need to obtain a residence permit within two months of arrival at the prefecture, or government office, in the area where you live.
Buying property: There are no restrictions on foreign retirees buying property, according to the online real estate marketplace Properstar. However, obtaining a mortgage from a French bank may be complicated for Americans.
Health care: Once you’ve established residency, you can sign up for France’s national health insurance system, L’Assurance Maladie.
Dotted with ancient landmarks, scenic villages and sunny islands, and boasting the longest coastline in the Mediterranean Basin, Greece offers “a Mediterranean lifestyle at a low cost,” according to Live and Invest Overseas.
Residency: Go to the nearest Greek consulate in the U.S. to apply for a long-term visa, which lets you stay in Greece for up to a year. Once in the country, you can apply for a residence permit, which requires proof of at least 2,000 euros a month in income.
Buying property: Foreigners can buy real estate. The Golden Visa program allows anyone who buys property worth more than 250,000 euros to apply for residency without having to come to Greece first.
Health care: Foreign workers who pay social insurance contributions can join the public health care system, but as a retiree, you’ll need to purchase private coverage.
Many Americans feel an ancestral connection, but the Emerald Isle’s picturesque rural villages, spectacular rugged coasts and deep musical and literary traditions are draws no matter your heritage.
Residency: Ireland has financial requirements for people who want to settle there, to ensure they’ll be able to support themselves. You must provide documentation, certified by an Irish accounting firm, that shows an individual income of at least 50,000 euros per year and access to additional emergency savings, generally at least 100,000 euros.