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5 Reasons to Retire in Florida … and 4 Reasons to Think Twice

Come for the sunshine, low taxes and endless golf, but be prepared for hurricanes, roof rats and tourist hordes

spinner image john and marva tetting pose for photos with gold clubs on a putting green near their home in florida
Jon and Marva Tetting live at Arlington Ridge, a 55-plus golf community in Leesburg, Florida.
Zack Wittman

Trisha Torrey and her husband, Butch Kritsberg, took a well-trodden path when they retired in 2016, relocating from the chilly Northeast (in their case, central New York state) to balmy Florida (the Orlando area). For the most part, they haven’t been disappointed.

“Winters are wonderful, especially for golfers and anglers and those of us who enjoy fair-weather sports,” says Torrey, 72. “It’s sunny every day. Even on the days we get a lot of rain, with few exceptions there are at least a few hours that are sunny.”

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That upbeat outlook reflects the Sunshine State’s perennial status as the top landing spot for retirees seeking a post-career reboot. In 2021, about 78,000 more people ages 60 and older moved into Florida than moved out, according to personal finance site SmartAsset’s annual “Where Retirees Are Moving” study, which is based on U.S. Census Bureau migration data — more than the next four most popular states combined.

But is retirement in Florida all sunshine and oranges? Of course not. Older adults mulling the move must leaven their dreams of endless days on the beach or the golf course with a heaping helping of reality. Even the fabled weather has a dark side, as Floridians were reminded in late August when Hurricane Idalia, fueled in part by rising ocean temperatures, slammed into the state.

Any interstate move involves carefully weighing the pros and cons, especially when the target is a state of such extremes. Here are five big benefits of jumping on the Florida bandwagon, and four reasons to consider getting off.

Pro: The weather

They don’t call it the Sunshine State for nothing. Florida’s climate — subtropical in the northern part, tropical down south — has long been a major draw for retirees, especially winter-weary Northerners.

With an average annual temperature around 72 degrees, it’s the warmest state in the continental U.S. Winters in southern Florida are downright balmy, with January highs in the 70s around Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Sarasota. Summer, as defined by the National Weather Service, typically lasts from mid-May all the way to mid-October. Miami, Tampa and Key West rank among the sunniest cities in the U.S.

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Destroyed buildings in Horseshoe Beach, Florida, in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia
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Con: The weather

Be careful what you wish for, sun-seekers. Florida summers are simply “hot, hot, hot,” Torrey says. “I used to tell my friends that at least we don’t have to shovel 90 degrees! But even that begins to wear thin in that kind of heat.”

Add in the humidity — with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, this is the most humid state in the nation, according to the Florida Climate Center at Florida State University — and the reality for many retirees is limiting outdoor activity to early mornings and evenings.

It isn’t merely a matter of discomfort. Older adults are at greater risk for heat-related illness and death, making them particularly vulnerable to health impacts from climate change, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says. Aging bodies are less able to notice temperature changes or feel thirsty, increasing their susceptibility to dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, according to the University of Central Florida College of Medicine.

Hurricane season runs half the year, from June 1 to Nov. 30, with an average of three major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5) per year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Hurricane Ian, which slammed into the Gulf Coast in September 2022, was the third-costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, causing nearly $113 billion in damage and 152 deaths.

Pro: Taxes

Let’s start with state income taxes — as in, there aren't any. Your 401(k) distributions, Social Security benefits, earnings from that post-career consulting gig — none of it goes to Tallahassee.  Snowbirds who stay for the shoulder months may be able to establish residency and take advantage of Florida’s tax-friendliness.

In addition, state law allows Florida cities and counties to offer a homestead exemption — a fancy way of saying they reduce the taxable value of your home — of up to $50,000 for residents who are 65 and older. You may qualify for additional property tax breaks based on income, length of residency or veteran status. Check with the property or tax office in the county where you plan to live for details.

And while the state sales tax rate is a relatively high 6 percent (7 percent when you factor in local levies, according to the Tax Foundation), Florida exempts a wide range of common goods, including groceries, household remedies and oral hygiene products. In recent years the state has had multiple sales tax holidays for back-to-school and disaster-preparedness seasons.

Con: Homeowners’ insurance

A side effect of those punishing hurricanes is that insuring property in Florida can be daunting. Florida has the most expensive homeowners’ insurance in the nation, averaging $6,000 a year, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), an industry research organization.

“Consumers face a difficult task finding affordable insurance with a private insurer and have experienced skyrocketing insurance premium renewals,” says Mark Friedlander, the institute’s director of corporate communications.  More than a dozen private carriers have gone out of business or left the state in recent years due to hurricane-related costs. 

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Homeowners who have difficulty getting coverage on the private market may have to opt for the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. Established in 2002 to be an insurer of last resort, Citizens is now Florida’s largest carrier with more than 1.1 million customers at the end of 2022, a 50 percent increase from the previous year, according to III.

Citizens will insure properties private providers won’t, but typically with higher costs and more limited coverage, according to insurance comparison-shopping site PolicyGenius. Customers can face premium surcharges of up to 45 percent if a major storm strains Citizens’ ability to pay claims, and the carrier is phasing in a state requirement that policyholders also purchase flood insurance.

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Aerial view of the trendy South Beach neighborhood in Miami Beach, Florida
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Pro: Entertainment and recreation

Florida famously has loads of stuff to do and places to do it (and all that sunshine to do it in). Like 825 miles of publicly accessible beach. More than 1,200 golf courses, the most of any state. Hundreds of state and national parks and forests. Not to mention the urban pleasures of Miami’s South Beach and Tampa’s Ybor City and, oh, two of the world’s most popular entertainment attractions, Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.

Those hot spots are far from the only leisure-time options. Many of the state’s more than 500 55-plus communities offer recreational amenities that make it easy for new arrivals to find fun (and avoid the tourist hordes — see below), from swimming pools and fitness centers to social clubs and pickleball courts. The biggest and best-known of these developments, The Villages, bills itself as “the largest golfing community in the nation,” with more than 50 courses and country clubs.

Con: Tourists

Did we mention tourists? You might have heard Florida gets a lot of them. Bouncing back from the pandemic downturn, the Sunshine State drew a record 137.6 million visitors in 2022, according to Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism marketer.

That might be great for the local economy, but as a resident you may find fighting the crowds trying, especially in the high season (mid-December to mid-April), when traffic-clogged roads leading to theme parks and beaches can make it difficult to even run errands.

There aren’t many tourists in Leesburg, Florida, where Lavern Wiebe and his wife, Ellen, moved from suburban Chicago in 2016, but they still must plan activities around the influx, avoiding popular areas in July, August and the holiday season and never, ever using their Disney World passes during spring break.

“To some extent, tourist traffic cancels out the snowbirds. Tourists are here in summer, snowbirds are away in summer,” says Wiebe, 62. “Now both are here Christmas–New Year’s, so they do not entirely cancel each other out.”

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The Tampa, Florida, skyline. Tampa International Airport is located approximately six miles from downtown.
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Pro: Accessibility

A byproduct of all that tourism is that it’s easy to get into and out of Florida. There are 19 commercial airports from the Panhandle to the Keys, including three of the country’s busiest hubs (Orlando, Miami and Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood). That’s a happy fact for older residents who put travel at the top of their retirement agenda and/or anticipate regular visits by the kids and grandkids.

If you want to take your car with you on vacation, Amtrak’s Auto Train runs from Sanford, near Orlando, to the Washington, D.C., area. For more traditional road trips, Interstate 95 rumbles from Miami all the way up the East Coast to the Canadian border.

spinner image a young alligator next to a pond on a florida golf course there are two golfers in the background
An alligator suns itself at Arlington Ridge Golf Club in Leesburg, Florida.
Zack Wittman

Con: Critters

Let’s talk about the alligator in the room (and in the lanai, the backyard pool and on the golf course).  Then we can move on to the Burmese pythons, palm rats, panthers, giant iguanas, poisonous snakes and many, many bugs. As a Florida resident, they’re your problem now.

Gators? The state has more than a million, and while they very rarely attack — the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission registers about 10 reports a year of alligators biting people — their dramatic presence is cause for pause. “Especially in the spring, we see alligators on the golf course frequently,” Torrey says. “They keep their distance, but it’s no less intimidating.”

Insects? “We’re regularly being bitten by flies and mosquitos,” she adds. “We have to watch where we walk while on the grass so we don’t step on nests of fire ants, which will react with very painful stings and bites.”

Florida critters can sting your wallet as well. Miami tops Orkin’s 2023 list of the most termite-ridden U.S. cities, with Tampa at number 3 and Orlando and West Palm Beach in the top 15. Termite treatment can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on the size of the house and the extent of infestation, according to home-repair site Fixr.

And roof rats? They’re a thing, too. Prices for a “rat job” generally start at around $600, according to Orlando Rats, a Central Florida pest-control firm.

Pros: Community connections

You’ll find plenty of peers in Florida, home to more than 4.8 million people ages 65 and up — making up nearly 22 percent of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census. That can ease the transition of leaving a longtime home and perhaps moving away from loved ones.

“We have a group of friends that treat us like family because we are all away from our families,” says Jon Tetting, 70, who lives in the Leesburg retirement community of Arlington Ridge. Tetting and his wife, Marva, both Wisconsin natives, first bought a house in Florida in 2007, six years before they fully retired, and are now snowbirds, splitting time between the two states.

“The majority of the people are in the 55-85 age bracket, share many interests and abilities, capabilities,” says Jon. “We play golf, boccie, cards, attend events.”

Busy with jobs and raising their own children, “our kids are at points in their lives where they don't have time for us, and I'm saying that in a positive way,” he adds. “Our children know our friends in Florida and know we have a different type of ‘family’ here, but one that cares for us and helps.”

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