Living abroad is a popular option for today's retirees. By retiring abroad, you can enjoy a change of scenery, new experiences (which help keep your mind and body active) and meeting new people. You may even have a lower cost of living and access to more affordable—yet still excellent—healthcare.
While you can undoubtedly retire for less in more remote parts of the world, Europe offers outstanding and diverse scenery, rich history, excellent food and wine, outdoor recreation (think skiing in Chamonix or swimming in the Mediterranean), stunning architecture, and some of the finest art collections and historic monuments in the world.
- Many people retire overseas in search of a lower cost of living, a change of scenery, and new experiences.
- Europe isn't the cheapest place in the world to retire, but many European countries are more affordable than the U.S.
- It's always a good idea to take an extended vacation first before moving to a new country.
To find the best countries for retiring in Europe, we started by analyzing the 2019 Global Peace Index (GPI), an annual study from the Institute for Economics and Peace. The GPI is a measure of the relative peacefulness of 163 independent states and territories. It covers 99.7% of the world's population, using 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators that measure:
- The level of societal safety and security
- The extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict (including crime rates)
- The degree of militarization
Europe maintained its position as the most peaceful region in the world for 2019. It's held that distinction for every year of the Global Peace Index.
Next, we scoured the rankings from a 2019 report from GOBankingRates.com that identifies the 50 cheapest countries in the world to live during retirement. The study uses four key affordability metrics, measured against what you'd find in New York City:
- Cost-of-living index
- Average rent
- Groceries index
- Local purchasing power index
The study also factors in quality of life metrics for each country:
- Healthcare index
- Safety index
- Average temperature
Finally, we assigned points to each of the 25 highest-ranked European countries from each list to come up with the best countries for retiring in Europe. Here are the top five.
Czechia (the Czech Republic)
Global Peace Index: 10/163
Cost-of-living index: 45.12
Average rent: $627.77
Retirement visa: No retirement visa scheme, but a long-term Residence Permit is awarded in certain situations. You’ll need proof of health insurance regardless of trip length.
Czechia (also known as the Czech Republic) is centrally located in Europe between Poland, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany. Czechia's landscape consists of beautiful rolling hills, colored with wildflowers in the summer and snow-capped in the winter. The country has 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the historic center of Prague and the Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc.
Czechia is known as the castle capital of the world. There are more than 2,000 castles here, and Prague Castle, located in the country’s capital city of Prague (Praha, if you’re a local), is the largest medieval castle in Europe. You'll need at least a day or two to explore its cathedrals, palaces, alleys, gardens, and the Daliborka Tower—the castle's dungeon.
Getting a retirement visa in Europe is never easy, no matter where you go. Start planning early--it can take at least a year to get all the paperwork in order.
Global Peace Index: 8/163
Cost-of-living index: 52.51
Average rent: $571.36
Retirement visa: Expats can apply for a permanent residence permit after legally staying in the country for at least five years.
Ljubljana—Slovenia's capital city—is the 2016 European Green Capital winner. The award goes to a European city with a record of achieving high environmental standards and sustainable development practices. Despite being the country's largest city, Ljubljana is cozy. A highlight is to enjoy a coffee or beer at one of the outdoor cafes along the Ljubljanica River Canal through the Old Town.
Expect to be wowed by incredible scenery everywhere you go in Slovenia. You'll enjoy the impressive Julian Alps, crystal clear lakes, emerald-green rivers (be sure to check out the Soča River in Bovec), and fields of sunflowers. Plus, there are plenty of medieval castles—including one on a small island in the middle of Lake Bled.
Global Peace Index: 2/163
Cost-of-living index: 50.39
Average rent: $817.64
Retirement visa: You can apply for a temporary residence permit for five years, after which you can apply for permanent residency. The "Golden Visa" retirement scheme is available if you invest at least 500,000 euros in Portuguese real estate, spend at least 350,000 euros on a rehab property, transfer at least 1 million euros to the country, or create at least 10 jobs.
Portugal's capital city, Lisbon, won the 2020 European Green Capital award. In addition to other green initiatives, retirees will appreciate that Lisbon restricts car use and prioritizes walking, cycling (there's an excellent bike-sharing program), and public transportation.
The country has consistently landed at the top of numerous "Best of" retirement lists—and with good reason. Portugal is one of the most affordable countries in Europe, the food is terrific, and the temperate climate never gets too hot or too cold.
A low cost of living attracts expats from around the world to Portugal’s sunny shores. The country might be the right choice if your ideal retirement includes relaxing on the beach, dining on fresh seafood, and drinking wine—especially port, the country’s signature spirit.
The number of payments the Social Security Administration sends each month to overseas residents.
Global Peace Index: 26/163
Cost-of-living index: 37.17
Average rent: $340.61
Retirement visa: You can apply for a long-stay permit to retire as a non-economic active resident. You'll need to show proof of income, proof of residency, and proof of medical insurance.
Bulgaria may not be the first European country that comes to mind, but its low cost of living, beautiful scenery and friendly locals offer a welcoming environment for expats. It doesn't have the year-round sunshine that some other countries offer, but if you like four seasons—with sunny summers and snowy winters—Bulgaria might be a good fit.
Most expats live in Sofia, the country's capital city. Here, you'll find plenty of history and a variety of architectural landmarks, including the ancient Roman catacombs under the Saint Sophia Basilica. Expect lots of outdoor activities, live music, culture, parks, and nearby hiking—plus contemporary cuisine serves up traditional Balkan fare with a fresh, Mediterranean flair.
Global Peace Index: 3/163
Cost-of-living index: 71.79
Average rent: $987.06
Retirement visa: You can apply for a settlement permit, provided you don't plan to work in Austria. You'll need to show proof of income, proof of residency, and proof of medical insurance, as well as German language proficiency.
Austria is a German-speaking country that's bordered by Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Italy—which makes it an ideal base for exploring other parts of Europe (even as a day trip). Considered by many as the “Swiss alternative,” Austria offers all the stunning natural beauty of Switzerland at a fraction of the price. There are four seasons, so you can enjoy alpine hikes in the summer and skiing all winter. In general, the farther west you go, the more moderate the climate.
Depending on where you are in Austria, you can find small, alpine villages (with colorful flower boxes on every window) and culturally vibrant cities brimming with history, palaces, museums, music, and Baroque architecture. While it's the most expensive country on our list, Austria offers an excellent infrastructure with a high standard of living. Just remember the language requirement and start preparing early to fulfill it if you plan to retire in Austria.
The best candidates for retiring abroad are people who have a strong sense of adventure and who are excited to learn about a new country—including its language, culture, and cuisine.
The Bottom Line
Rounding out the top 10 countries on our list are Romania, Croatia, Denmark, Hungary, and Serbia.
Europe may not be the cheapest place in the world to retire. But you will find beautiful and diverse scenery, a rich (though often dark) history, delicious cuisine, and endless opportunities for enjoying the arts. Another perk: It’s easy (and usually cheap) to travel from one country to the next, so you’ll have even more things to do and see.
As with any move overseas, it’s a good idea to “test the waters” with a vacation or two and a longer-term rental to make sure the area suits your needs, budget, and retirement goals.