Retire in a Mediterranean Country
Mediterranean countries offer an appealing retirement option, with one of the most agreeable climates in the world. These countries share a common link to the Mediterranean Sea. Their cuisine, history, and cultures are intrinsically bound to this calm body of water. Of these exciting and beautiful lands, the most popular with American and British retirees are France, Italy, Spain, and Malta. Some other countries that attract a fair number of retirees are Croatia, Greece, and Turkey.
While these countries all border on or are surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, some extend northward into Central Europe. Our focus will be on the southern coastal areas of France, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Croatia, as the climate farther north and in the mountains can be quite cold in winter. While the climate varies from region to region, winters are generally very mild and summers are warm to hot, with plenty of sunshine in the coastal regions.
Retire in France. The country attracting the most interest for retirees is France. Among the many reasons for this are first-rate healthcare, scenic beauty, rich culture, romantic cities like Paris, world-renowned cuisine, the oldest, most respected wine culture, and the most beautiful language, to name a few. Besides being steeped in history, with medieval towns and castles, olive trees, and vineyards, the region offers picturesque mountains and the beautiful Mediterranean seashore.
The cost of living in France can be quite affordable, especially if you avoid the notoriously expensive areas of the Riviera, Paris, and Provence. The Languedoc-Roussillon region in the southwest is affordable, laid-back, and typical of graceful rural France, yet only three hours from Paris by high-speed train. Naturally, housing prices are higher right on the Sea, but drop sharply as you move inland. France is considered relatively easy to gain residency into, compared to other European countries. It generally takes only a few months to go through the approval process, with minimal documentation needed.
Retire in Italy. Italy features Renaissance history, diverse culture, and heart-stopping scenery, and is truly the cradle of European civilization. Italian cuisine is the most popular European cuisine enjoyed in the United States; in fact, American Italian restaurants often focus on just one of the regional varieties of Italian cuisine. The Southern Italy countryside boasts quaint villages with varied topography and both mountain and seaside environments are usually within 50 miles of any residential area.
Italy offers archeological wonders as well as mysterious islands and the smoldering Mount Etna. For those so inclined, the snow-capped Italian Alps are a favorite ski destination. Italy is second only to France in European wine production. The climate in Italy south of Naples is warm to hot in the summer and quite mild in the winter. Cities like Syracuse on Sicily or Cagliari on the island of Sardinia have winter temperatures similar to Central Florida and summer temperatures like the Mid-Atlantic States.
Southern Italy is still an affordable place to retire. Older homes on the Adriatic side can be found for under $100K, including renovation. Obviously, those homes are older and not located on the seashore. Otherwise, the cost of living is comparable to other European countries: more expensive in the north, less so in the south. You will pay tax on either homeland or Italian income, depending on your official residency status. Italy has a graduated tax that is higher than most middle-class Americans are accustomed to paying. Healthcare is generally excellent, although better at private hospitals.
Retire in Spain. At one time, the Spanish coastline consisted of little fishing villages where life revolved around the bounty of the sea. Today the warm and sunny coastline in southern Spain is sprouting more resorts as Europeans flock to the Costa del Sol coast for hot but dry and sunny summer days. Even in winter, with more rain, the temperature usually rises to 64° F. and rainfall is heavy at times, but brief.
Housing is typically more expensive on the Mediterranean coastline than elsewhere in Spain, but has fallen substantially with the global housing recession. Current prices are comparable to the bargain prices in Florida, especially if you are willing to look in quaint inland villages. Income tax and real estate taxes are relatively low and there is no sales tax, but Spain has an inheritance tax that is hard to avoid. Healthcare is good and insurance costs are far lower than in the U.S. In general, the cost of living in Spain is less than elsewhere in Europe, and American retirees can live there for substantially less than they can in the U.S.
Of course, Spain offers a variety of travel opportunities, including internationally renowned Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, the Pyrenees Mountains, and plenty of historic sites. Spanish wine has become much better known internationally in the last two decades, and Spanish cuisine is a unique interpretation of the Mediterranean diet.
Retire in Malta. Although not well known to most Americans, Malta has been a favorite retirement destination for Europeans, particularly the British. Malta is an island nation lying a bit over a 100 miles south of Sicily. It is composed of two larger islands and a smaller one that lies between them. Retirees are attracted by the spectacular climate with year-round sunshine, as well as low taxes, ease of residency and property ownership, and the excellent healthcare of Malta.
Housing costs vary depending on location, but are not out of line with other Mediterranean countries. Income tax is a flat 15% and there is no capital gains tax or inheritance tax. The standard of living is comparable to that in Western Europe. Maltese is the national language; however, English is an official language and it is the language in which most business is conducted.
The island of Malta itself is densely populated, with 380,000 people living on 153 square miles, but Gozo, the smaller of the two main islands, is a different story. Here, roughly 25,000 people live on an island 9 miles long by 5 miles wide, and many are European retirees. Although only a few miles from the main island of Malta, Gozo is miles away in beauty, solitude, and charm.
Retire in Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, and Croatia. Other Mediterranean countries are also appealing to retirees. Cyprus is an attractive island nation with a dual personality, having both Greek and Turkish sectors, and is a place of beauty with outstanding weather. Greece boasts a charming Mediterranean coastline, historical landmarks like Olympus and Athens, and spectacular offshore islands with whitewashed homes on cliffs, just oozing charm. Greece is going through a period of economic chaos, so all is not perfect. Turkey has always promoted tourism and is worth looking into as a unique retirement possibility. Croatia offers a fantastic climate and a wonderful coastline known as the Dalmatian Riviera, with stunning walled seaside villages. Croatia, while still relatively pristine, is beginning to heat up, with burgeoning tourism and residential development.