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COMPARE: Which country in Europe is the easiest to retire to?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
COMPARE: Which country in Europe is the easiest to retire to?
Retirees on the beach at La Plage de St-Laurent-sur-Mer in northern France. Photo by MYCHELE DANIAU / AFP

Finishing work and heading off to a glorious new life as a retiree in Europe is the dream for many, but just how easy is it to do in reality? We compare the rules in 9 countries in Europe.


Whether it's for adventure, joining family members or just seeking out better weather - moving to Europe is a popular option for many retirees.

But from Sweden to Switzerland and from France to Spain there are big differences in how easy each country makes it for people wanting to move there to retire.

This article refers to people who are already retired when they move, the situation is different for people who move to these countries and then retire. 


France is one of the more generous countries in Europe for retirees, and it has long been a popular destination for pensioners - especially Brits - due to its combination of a high quality of living, warm weather (in the south) and excellent healthcare. 

Visa - if you're from a non-EU country such as the UK, USA or Canada you will need a visa and for most retirees the most appropriate option will be a long-stay visitor visa.

EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do I need?

In order to get this type of visa you will need to prove that you can support yourself financially and will not become a burden to the French state - the guideline amount used for this is French minimum wage, known as the SMIC. At present this is €1,747 per month gross. You will therefore need a pension or other income of at least this amount. If you don't have a pension, you can provide evidence of having at least €20,947 in savings - equivalent to a year's worth of minimum wage. These are guideline amounts and applications from people on lower incomes will be considered in certain circumstances - eg people who have a French home that they own outright.


You will also need to give an undertaking that you will not work in France, and provide evidence of health insurance (for Brits, the GHIC is sufficient for this).

Once in France, you will need to apply for a carte de séjour residency card, which must be renewed annually for your first five years, after which you can switch to a long-term card.

One important thing to note is that you cannot work on a visitor visa. Traditionally it was common for Brits to semi-retire to France - they might quit the day job and move to France to set up a gite or B&B, for example. However if you intend to run a business you will need a different type of visa, and will need to register as a small business. 

It's also usually not possible to 'retire' to France and carry on working remotely for a few days for your company back home, although there are some exceptions


Reader question: Can I bring an ageing parent to France?

Healthcare - if you're coming to France on a visitor visa, you will need to show proof of health insurance (which for Brits can include a GHIC or EHIC card). However, once you have been resident in France for three months you are entitled to register in the public health system and get a carte vitale, which means the state refunds some or all of your healthcare costs - full details here.

READ ALSO Checklist: How to retire to France


Ask many Europeans or even Americans which country they’d most like to retire to and there’s a high chance they’ll say Spain. 

Freedom of movement means that for EU nationals retirement in Spain is fairly straightforward. Registering as a resident and other paperwork will be necessary but there’s no need to apply for a visa.

However, it isn’t that hard either for non-EU retirees wishing to relocate to España, as long as they have the financial means. 



The best options for third-country nationals such as Americans and Britons who want to enjoy their retirement in the Spanish sun are the non-lucrative visa (NLV) and the ‘golden’ visa.  

The NLV doesn’t allow applicants to work but rather to live off their savings or passive income, therefore it’s a suitable choice for pensioners. The savings you have to prove you have to obtain this visa in 2023 are €28,000 a year for an individual, €36,000 for a couple

READ MORE: The pros and cons of Spain’s non-lucrative visa

The golden visa on the other hand is available to people who buy a Spanish property upfront worth €500,000 (other types of investments are available). 

READ MORE: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain's golden visa



You’ll also have to take out comprehensive private health insurance for either of these visas, with the same coverage as public healthcare (something more challenging for those with serious pre-existing conditions), although after a year of residency in Spain you can apply for the pay-in convenio especial scheme which gives you access for public healthcare for €60 a month if you’re under 65 and €157 if you’re over 65.


Although Sweden may not be the obvious retirement destination - the Nordic country is hardly known for its sun, sea and sand - there are still many foreigners looking to retire to Sweden to be closer to family members who have settled there.

Permits or visas

For EU citizens, the process is relatively straightforward, with retirees covered by the EU's freedom of movement rules if they can prove self-sufficiency.

For non-EU citizens, it's a bit more complicated. There's no visa or permit available for self-sufficient non-EU immigrants, meaning you can only move over if you fulfill the requirements for one of the other non-EU residence permits. As most retirees are by definition not studying or working, this essentially means you can only move over if your partner is Swedish or an EU citizen, or otherwise has the right to live in Sweden, for example by already holding a residence permit in the country.

EXPLAINED: What's the best way to bring an ageing parent to Sweden?

There are some exceptions - you can move to Sweden if you have a long-term residence permit (EC/EU permit) from another EU country, and you might qualify for a residence permit if you have previously held a permanent residence permit in Sweden - but there's no specific route for those planning to live off their savings, pension or invest a specific amount in the country.


EXPLAINED: How can I retire to Sweden?

Non-EU citizens who don't qualify for any of these residence permits can still visit Sweden, of course. People from visa-free countries can visit Sweden for 90 days in every 180 days, if they don't spend any other time in Schengen countries.

If you're planning on staying for more than 90 days, whether you're from a visa-free country or not, you will need to apply for a visitor visa. People who are no longer professionally active can be granted a visitor visa for up to a year in order to visit family. 


As far as healthcare is concerned, it varies depending on the type of permit you'll be on. EU citizens, non-EU family members of EU citizens and holders of EC/EU permits who are in Sweden under self-sufficiency rules will need comprehensive health insurance, as will non-EU citizens in Sweden on a visitor visa.

Non-EU citizens in Sweden as the partner of a Swede do not need to take out private health insurance.


You must be 55 years of age or older to move to Switzerland from abroad in order to retire. The Swiss retirement age is 65. 

You’ll need to demonstrate a close link to Switzerland. 

This can be past residency, family ties, frequent holidays in Switzerland or real estate. This is then a decision for cantonal authorities and is often highly discretionary, with simply owning property not necessarily enough. 


Whether or not it is possible to retire in Switzerland depends on nationality.

If you are a citizen of a EU / EFTA nation, you must have adequate financial resources to cover the cost of living in Switzerland after retirement — the exact amounts are determined on cantonal basis; you can check out what conditions apply in your region here.

A little-known article of the Swiss law — Article 30 of the Federal Aliens Act — allows wealthy foreigners from outside Europe to move to Switzerland — if local authorities deem that there is a “significant fiscal interest” in such a move.

These people receive the so-called 'golden visas' to live in Switzerland, which is actually a B permit, which will be renewed automatically as long these wealthy retirees have enough money to remain in the country, as required by their cantons of residence.

What exactly does “significant fiscal interest mean?” 

This term is defined by each canton.

For instance, the lowest annual tax rate for a non-EU foreigner is 287,882 francs in Valais, 312,522 francs in Geneva, and 415,000 Vaud. 

As part of the deal, you'll need to transfer the bulk of your financial interests to Switzerland. You can transfer your pension to Switzerland provided there's a bilateral arrangement with your country of origin. More information is available here. 

Like everyone else living in Switzerland, these people must also purchase a Swiss health insurance.

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Switzerland's residents are required to purchase a basic insurance coverage (KVG / LaMal), regardless of their nationality.

There are several exceptions to this rule; however, pensioners don't fall under the exemption category.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about retiring in Switzerland


Italy is a dream retirement destination for many people attracted by the warm climate, lower cost of living and relaxed pace of life - as well as offers such as a flat tax rate for pensioners.

For EU nationals, retirement in Italy is fairly straightforward. Registering as a resident and other paperwork will be necessary but there’s no need for a visa.

READ ALSO: What to know about Italy’s flat tax rate for pensioners

But those coming from outside of the EU often find that the road to retirement in Italy is not an easy one, mainly because of stringent visa rules and other bureaucratic processes.

Visa – If you’re from a non-EU country such as the UK, USA or Canada you will need a visa and for most retirees the most appropriate option will be an elective residency visa (ERV).

The ERV doesn’t allow applicants to work or run a business but rather to live off their savings or passive income, making it a suitable choice for pensioners - full details here.

In theory, the minimum required income for the ERV is around €31,000 per person per year, though experts warn that requirements vary enormously by consulate and are getting stricter.

READ ALSO: Five expert tips for getting your Italian elective residency visa approved

Residency – Once in Italy, you will need to apply for a permesso di soggiorno residency card. This permit will be valid for one to two years, after which you can renew it. After five years, you become eligible to apply for a long-term residency permit.

Residents are liable to pay Italian income tax on all worldwide income, though pensions may not be taxed under Italy’s bilateral agreements with the US and other countries.

Italy has a seven percent flat income tax rate for people moving to certain regions with a foreign pension, but anyone planning to take up this offer may want to seek professional advice as it is subject to restrictions and a complex claims process.

Healthcare – When applying for an ERV, you will need to show proof that you already have health insurance that will cover you in Italy.

In the past many British citizens used their EHIC (European health insurance card) to cover them in the gap between arriving and getting residency status, but this is no longer allowed.

Once resident in Italy, you can choose to register with Italy's national health service by paying a fee in proportion to your income, ranging from €387 to €2,788 per year.


Denmark doesn’t have a retirement visa, so moving is dependent on other visas available for those not studying or working.

For EU citizens, retirees are covered by the EU’s freedom of movement rules which means they can move if they can prove financial self-sufficiency. This will provide a a temporary EU residency permit, which can be turned into a permanent residency permit after five years.

You can also get temporary EU residency as an accompanying partner of an EU citizen, however your residency will be dependent on your partner’s status. 

READ MORE: What’s the difference between temporary and permanent residency in Denmark?

For non-EU citizens, it’s much harder. There’s no visa or permit available for financially self-sufficient non-EU immigrants, so you have to fulfil the requirements for one of the other non-EU residence permits.

As most retirees are by definition not studying or working, this essentially means you can only move over if your partner is Danish or an EU citizen, or holds a residence permit in the country. However family reunification rules in Denmark are notoriously strict and expensive, with several criteria needing to be met including language skills.

A permanent residency permit for non-EU citizens is usually granted after 8 years.

Non-EU citizens who don’t qualify for any of these residence permits can still visit Denmark, of course. People from visa-free countries can visit Denmark for 90 days in every 180 days, if they don’t spend any other time in Schengen countries.

READ MORE: How the dizzying cost of family reunification keeps Danes and foreign partners apart


When you become a resident in Denmark, you receive a social security number (CPR), which gives you access to the country's free healthcare system. The basic principle of the Danish welfare system is that all citizens have equal rights to social security. The majority of healthcare services are financed by general taxes and mainly provided free of charge. 

For those visiting Denmark, you will need to show proof of health insurance, which for Brits can include a GHIC or EHIC card.

READ MORE: What foreign residents need to know about Denmark's pension rules


Permits or visas

You need to qualify for residence or have the right of residence to live in Norway. The country doesn't have a retirement visa program.

Things tend to be quite smooth if you already have a permanent residence permit or are a Norwegian citizen.

However, if you have to qualify, you'll need to meet several requirements as a European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) citizen, including proof of sufficient income. A full list of requirements for getting a permanent residence permit in Norway can be found on the webpage of the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI).

If you don't have a permanent residence permit but are an EU country citizen, you'll have to register under the EEA registration scheme and prove that you meet the set requirements.

READ MORE: Can you move to Norway to retire?

The process is more complex if you're not an EU/EEA state citizen. As there are no specific residence permits for this group of people, they will need to choose between the available options. Some often pursued ones include family immigration or getting a work permit in Norway and holding it until they meet the permanent residence requirements.

The circumstances and requirements for moving to Norway from a non-EU/EEA country vary based on your country of citizenship, so if you're not an EU/EEA state citizen, you should reach out to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) and ask for more information on the rules that apply in your case.


Norway has universal health coverage, and its healthcare system is financed through taxes, income-related employee and employer contributions, and out-of-pocket payments.

Everyone living in the country is entitled to essential medical and care services. ​Although you are entitled to medical services, you must pay a user fee for many services, and there's an annual deductible.

Note that you will also need to have a valid EU Health Insurance card or be covered by private insurance to live in Norway.

READ MORE: When am I eligible for a Norwegian pension?


Although Spain or Italy might have beaches and sun, Austria has plenty to offer someone looking for a place to spend their Golden Years.

READ ALSO: Five reasons to retire to Austria

For EU nationals, retiring in Austria is fairly straightforward. You just need to register as a resident and complete some other paperwork, but you won't need a visa or residence permit.

The process is even relatively simple for non-EU nationals - as there is a type of retirement visa. You will need to renew it relatively frequently though.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Austria

Visa and Residence Permit – If you’re from a non-EU country such as the UK, USA, or Canada you can travel to Austria for up to three months without a visa and apply for your residence permit within three months of arriving in Austria. If you are from a country that doesn't have visa-free travel with the EU, you will need to apply for a visa first and then your residence permit when you get to Austria.

The visa and residence permit you need to apply for is a "Settlement permit - gainful employment excluded". This particular permit is popular with retirees as it allows people to live in Austria, but not to work.

There are some downsides, however. For one, Austria has a quote that limits the number of these permits that are given out each year. Second, the permit lasts for only a year and thus has to be renewed regularly. After five years of continuous residence in Austria, you can apply for permanent residence.

EXPLAINED: Do your pension contributions abroad count in Austria?

Self-employment - even if working for a company that's based abroad - is not allowed under this permit. All your income must come from passive sources. These can include foreign pensions, rental income, or investment income. Singles must make at least €2,220.52 and couples a combined €3,503.12 per month from these passive income sources to qualify for this permit.

If you have dependent children - for example, perhaps grandchildren you may be taking care of full-time - you'll need to have an additional €342.62 per child.

You'll also need to prove that you have German skills at the A1 level. Luckily, this is the most basic level.

COMPARED: How to get a visa to settle in either Germany or Austria for retirement 

Healthcare – When applying for a settlement permit for Austria, you'll need to show that you have health insurance that covers you for at least €30,000 in costs. This is typically done through a private plan.

Once your residency is confirmed, you're eligible then to enrol with Austrian public health insurance, typically through the ÖGK fund. You can, of course, retain additional private health insurance on top of this. But all residents of Austria mush have public insurance - with your payments calculated as a proportion of your income.

READ ALSO: What kind of insurance do I need to have in Austria?


The high standard of living in Germany is a big pull for expats looking to find a spot for retirement. 

Visa - Germany does not have a visa specifically for pensioners like some EU countries, but it is possible to retire there.

Retirees need to apply for a general resident’s permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) under which it will be possible to select retirement as a category. 

This is the same permit for those looking to work and study in Germany - but if you would like to do either after receiving a residency permit, you will need to explicitly change the category of the visa.

Applicants from certain non-EU countries (such as the US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Canada, and New Zealand) can first come to Germany on a normal tourist visa, and then apply for a residency permit when in the country. 

However, for anyone looking to spend their later years in Germany, it’s still advisable to apply at their home country’s consulate at least three months in advance to avoid any problems.

To apply for a visa in retirement, you’ll need proof of sufficient savings (through pensions, savings and investments) as well as a valid German health insurance.

One thing to note is that in Germany, pensions are liable to tax. 

Healthcare - If you have previously worked in Germany for at least five years, you could qualify for Pensioner’s Health Insurance.

Otherwise you’ll need to apply for one of the country’s many private health insurance plans.

READ ALSO: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?


Comments (1)

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Paul Holt 2023/11/23 12:00
I think the "Kathleen Poole" case is a sobering example of how retirement can go wrong for an expat residing in Europe.

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