Retirees who relish the pleasure of watching the seasons change, and love the special energy of winter, should consider these five affordable countries that feature colder winters and offer residency visas. 

Key Takeaways

  • Many people want to retire to a warm, sunny beach— but not everybody. Some prefer the allure of winter.
  • Avid skiers and snowshoers will appreciate the snowcapped mountains and pristine slopes of the Alps in Italy, France, and Switzerland.
  • If you prefer to spend your summer where it's winter, try the southern hemisphere and the mountainous landscapes of Chile or New Zealand.

1. Italy

Fine art, delicious food, and rich culture make Italy a desirable retirement destination among European countries. While the Italian coast is best known for miles of sandy beaches, Italy's inland is a winter lover's dream. The Abruzzo region, in particular, is remarkably well suited to retirees who enjoy skiing.

While the summers are often hot and dry, winter brings plenty of snow to the interior regions, covering the section of the Apennine Mountains found in Abruzzo. If you prefer cooler summers, try northeastern Italy instead, where the Dolomites wind their way through the countryside.

Retirees can apply for an elective residency visa through the Italian consulate, which allows you to remain in the country but does not permit you to work. To apply, you’ll need detailed documentation of your retirement income, proof of health insurance that covers 100% of your medical expenses, and a lease contract or purchase agreement for your place of residence in Italy. After five years, you’ll be eligible to apply for a long-term resident visa.

2. New Zealand 

New Zealand’s dazzling landscape was made famous by the films of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic trilogy “The Lord of the Rings,” and it's become an increasingly popular spot for expatriate retirees. The northern island has a warmer, more temperate climate, but the southern island sees its fair share of snow come winter. Just be prepared for the reversal of seasons, as you’re likely to see snowfall between June and October.

Unless you have children who live in New Zealand, you’ll need to apply for a temporary residency visa, which is renewable every two years. If you want to live in New Zealand permanently, you'll need to apply for a resident visa.

To qualify, you must:

  • ​Be age 66 or older
  • Have adequate medical and travel insurance
  • Have an annual income of approximately NZ$60,000 ($41,881 USD)
  • Invest at least NZ$750,000 in New Zealand over the two-year visa period ($523,515 USD)
  • Have at least NZ$500,000 in separate maintenance funds ($349,010 USD)

The financial conditions may be difficult to meet for the average retiree. High net worth individuals, however, may encounter fewer obstacles.

3. France

France is beautiful all year round, but especially in winter, when snow blankets the ground in many regions. There are a number of places to hit the slopes, including the Northern and Southern Alps, the Pyrenees and Massif Central, Europe’s largest volcanic site. The overall cost of living in France is slightly higher than in the U.S., but the cost of renting an apartment or a home won’t break your retirement budget.

Retirees can apply for a long-stay visitor visa through the French consulate. This visa is good for one year, and if you wish to stay in France after that you’ll need to apply for an extension through the French local authorities. The application requirements are similar to those in Italy: proof of medical insurance, documentation of your retirement income, and a copy of your rental agreement or deed if you’ve purchased a home. Like the Italian visa, this one doesn’t allow you to work while you’re in the country.

4. Chile

Chile is geographically diverse, and the southern part of the country is a skier’s paradise during the winter months. The Portillo Ski Resort is world-renowned, and there are nearly two dozen skiing destinations stretching along the Andes. You’ll also find a vibrant culture, a modest cost of living, and the kind of infrastructure you’d expect in a country with a developed economy.

The Chilean government issues temporary visas for retirees, which are good for one year. Visas are renewable for an additional year, at which point you must apply for “definitive residence” or leave the country. The primary requirement for a temporary visa is proof that you’ve been receiving retirement income for at least three months. If you plan to apply for permanent residence, you’d also need to provide documentation for bank accounts, stocks, and other assets owned during the previous year.

5. Switzerland

Low taxes and outstanding healthcare are two great reasons to consider retiring in Switzerland. Though skiing is a favorite pastime in winter, that’s not the only way retirees can enjoy themselves. Curling, snowshoe hiking, and even a sight-seeing tour by camel round out the list of things to do when the weather turns cold. Switzerland’s central European location makes it convenient for winter weekend getaways to Germany, France, or Italy.

To retire here you’ll need to apply for a visa through the Swiss consulate. You must be age 55 or older, have a health insurance policy that includes accident coverage, close connections with the country (such as family members living there, frequent stays of your own or past residency), and enough income to ensure that you can sustain your standard of living. You won’t be able to work there, and Switzerland discourages foreign nationals from applying for public benefits, so it’s vital that you have sufficient assets to support yourself once you move.

​The Bottom Line

Retiring overseas is a big step, but it can be extremely rewarding in many ways. As these five countries demonstrate, heading to a new place doesn’t mean that you have to give up cozy winter nights by the fireside. Just be sure to calculate what retiring abroad will cost to determine whether it’s a good fit financially.