Despite common assumptions about costs being high, a retirement in Old World Europe can, in fact, be affordable—indeed, it’s possible to enjoy a higher quality of life for less than a modest existence costs in the U.S. today. In a new report, the editors at Internationalliving.com pinpoint three often-overlooked places in Europe where it’s possible to live the good life for less.
Prague, Czech Republic
“I’ve seen literally half of Europe so far in my travels, and clearly there are an unending number of beautiful places,” says Jeff D. Opdyke, Editor of The Savvy Retire. “But Prague just captures you unexpectedly. It was never destroyed in the war, so you’re walking through literally 1,000 years of European history.
“It exudes that Old Europe charm so many of us seek. It’s the kind of place where you pop into the nearest neighborhood pub—and they are everywhere—and you can grab a half liter of fabulous Czech beer for $1.50 and a filling meal of goulash or schnitzel for about $7. And then you get to wander back to your apartment through this really beautiful city.
“What I think people often miss about a city such as Prague is that there’s tremendous value here. Yes, you can pay a ton of money and live in the dead center of the city, or in one of the fashionably remodeled apartments in the expat neighborhoods. But you’ll also find super-modern 800-square-foot apartments in neighborhoods just two metro stops from Old Town for as little as $1,000, sometimes less. And you can bebop around the city on trams and metros with a one-year pass that costs all of $155. Coming from the U.S., I was pleased to find how much further my dollars go living here.”
Prague is a wonderful city to call home—folks are close to so much in terms of weekend getaways or longer trips. The lifestyle is relaxing. The city is eye-candy pretty much everywhere you go. And the food is great. A couple can live the good life here on a budget of $1,900 a month.
Given its ideal placement along the French Riviera, the coastal city of Toulon in southeastern France provides an idyllic lifestyle for residents and short-term visitors. Away from the hustle-and-bustle of big “resort” towns like Nice, Cannes, and St. Tropez, unassuming Toulon lies a bit off the radar and residents wouldn’t have it any other way.
Known as one of the top naval ports in France, it can be easy to dismiss the city as a military town, but that would be missing out on this affordable city in the fabled South of France. For those who live and work in the city, the secret is already out. They enjoy an easy, laidback lifestyle for which the region is famous.
“When I left the beachside town of Ventura, California some 10 years ago to move to Toulon, France, no one would have believed the rich, gourmet lifestyle I would find in my adopted home,” says Tuula Rampont, IL France Correspondent.“Beyond the glitz and glamor of the French Riviera, the real south of France is a slow-paced, leisurely world of short work-weeks and long, rosé-filled lunches by the seaside. Throw in an exceptional universal healthcare system, and you’ve got the makings for one of the most relaxing lifestyles the world over—and for a fraction of what I was paying in Southern California. The “cerise sur le gâteau” (the cherry on the cake), the sun shines here just like it did back home.”
Toulon is made of South of France romance—whether savoring local cuisine by the Mediterranean Sea, or strolling cobbled streets at dusk, this is a place that always seduces the senses. A couple can live well here on a monthly budget of $1,986 to $2,228.
Sitges is a beautiful beach community 25 miles from Barcelona, which Colorado couple Jacki and Jay Witlen call home. They first explored Europe on their honeymoon. It sparked a lifelong love affair and a dream to one day live the good life in a sun-soaked spot there.
“I’m writing this from our bright, two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment,” says Jacki. “It’s located on a quintessentially European street of whitewashed stucco with blue shutters, which winds its way down to the sea—about a three-minute walk from our door.
“My husband, Jay, and I are from Fort Collins, Colorado, living in Sitges, on the Mediterranean, on a monthly budget of €3,000 (about $3,300). “Our dream of living in a European country began 41 years ago—on our honeymoon—while touring eight countries in 60 days using Frommer’s Europe on $10 a Day. Our love affair with travel never dimmed. But this dream became a reality four-and-a-half years ago.
“We were reading a book on living in Spain. Sitges featured in a short chapter at the end of the book, explaining that it was located on the Mediterranean, a fun place, with lots of bars, restaurants, and festivals.
“Jay’s mantra had always been ‘to follow the sun.’ Sitges sounded like a perfect fit for us. We sold our restaurant business of 35 years, sold our home, stored some belongings, gave some away, and asked friends to hang our beloved artwork in their homes for safe-keeping. Then we sailed away on a 14-day, one-way Atlantic Crossing. Having said goodbye to our home and friends in America, we are graced with new ones here.
“Finding an apartment in another country does not have to be a challenge. Realtors here are abundant and post their offerings with pictures in their windows for all to see. It’s important to note that all realtors do not offer the same properties. We shopped around and quickly found the right location within our budget of €1,200 a month (about $1,350). We don’t have a car here; public transportation is easy, cheap, and five minutes from our doorstep. A 10-trip train/bus ticket costs $30.
“We wove our way through the bureaucracy of obtaining our Non-Lucrative Residency Visa. It’s not difficult, you just need to have all your ducks in a row for their requirements—and plenty of patience. We have renewed three times and the next will be for five years. Who knows how long we will stay or if we will move elsewhere in Europe, but it is our security and peace of mind.
“We find the medical system here quite good. Our insurance runs $400 a month for the two of us, which includes seeing our local doctor at any time we need, for prescription medications and visits. EKGs, yearly routine blood workup, as well as mammograms and bone density are included. We can call in the morning and have an appointment by that afternoon (or sooner). When Jay broke his leg in a bicycle accident a couple years ago and was in the hospital for 13 days, the staff brought in a bed for me every night—the charge was $0—including ambulance rides back and forth to the hospital. Incredible.
“Our days here are fairly routine. We begin over coffee on the terrace, whip the apartment into shape, which takes about 10 minutes (there’s something to say about downsizing), take our Spanish lesson, and head to the municipal gym. Jay bikes, or some days we take walks along the playa from end to end (about five miles), with a stop in between for a glass of cava and a tapa or two (my kind of exercise). Pre-fixe lunches with soup or salad/entrée/dessert and wine cost from $12 to $20. A couple glasses of wine for each of us on the plaza before dinner is $11.
“Since making the move to Spain, we have never looked back. We are smitten with the comfortable, affordable, carefree lifestyle here. It has changed our lives and it could change yours too. Our advice: Take the plunge.”