Germany vs. Switzerland: Which Is Better To Retire To?


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By 2030, all 76 million baby boomers will reach or pass retirement age. Many retirees may look to spend their golden years in European countries that offer a higher quality of life. If you’re in this situation, you might be torn between retiring to Germany or to Switzerland.

Germany could be a beneficial retirement destination for retirees looking to enjoy a temperate climate and a low cost of living (compared to the U.S.). On the other hand, Switzerland could be better for retirees eager to enjoy low-cost universal healthcare and an expansive expatriate community.

This guide will explore the factors you’ll need to consider before retiring in either Germany or Switzerland. I’ll discuss cost of living, real estate values, healthcare, expatriate communities, and more to ensure you choose a retirement destination that suits your needs, preferences, and budget.

Retiring in Germany

The retirement age in Germany will soon be 66 years old, and it may continue to increase in coming years. U.S. citizens looking to retire in Germany can purchase property and move to Germany as soon as they’re financially able.

However, it’s crucial to note that retirees won’t receive full retirement benefits until they’re age 66 (born in 1943 to 1954) or age 67 (born after 1954). Still, retirees can access these benefits while living abroad.

That said, retirement benefits may not cover your total cost of living while in Germany. Retirees will also need to prove financial stability to enjoy a long-term stay in Germany. 

As such, it’s crucial to have plenty of available funds in your retirement savings account before moving to Germany.

How Easy Is It To Retire in Germany?

It’s easy for Americans to retire in Germany, but they must prove they won’t be a financial burden. Generally, retirees will need $540,000 to $750,000 (approximately €489,000 to €678,00) in their retirement savings account to retire in Germany.

This range will ensure that retirees have a monthly budget of $1,800 to $2,500 (approximately €1,600 to €2,300). Naturally, it’s crucial to consider the cost of living in Germany when determining whether this amount is enough to live comfortably. 

Cost of Living in Germany Is Comparably Low

The average cost of living in Germany is lower than the average cost of living in the U.S. As such, retirees may be able to make their retirement savings and Social Security benefits last longer when living in Germany.

Germany offers lower food expenses and mortgage interest rates. Germany also has a higher life expectancy than the U.S., and a higher quality of life rating. The average life expectancy in Germany is 80.9 years. In the U.S., it’s 78.7 years.

Germany’s Cost of Living Varies Based on Location

Still, the precise cost of living varies throughout Germany. For example, large metropolitan areas tend to be the most expensive places to retire, while rural towns and villages are often affordable. To better understand this dichotomy, let’s look at two examples: Berlin and Bingen.

The monthly estimated cost of living for a single person living in Berlin is about $1,700 (about €1,550). But in Bingen, a somewhat rural town with a much smaller population, the average monthly costs are only about $1,300 (about €1,200). 

So, if you’re looking to spend the least amount of money on groceries, utility bills, and transport, you may want to choose a rural or small-town destination. 

Still, moving to a small German town can be challenging, as residents living in small communities typically don’t speak fluent English. In addition, properties in these locations may also be in low supply, making it challenging for retirees to purchase a home.

Real Estate Values in Germany Vary Based on Region

In Germany, renting a home or apartment typically costs between €550 and €800 ($600 and $970) each month. Naturally, prices vary depending on the region. Major metropolitan cities like Berlin and Hamburg tend to have the highest rent prices.

Retirees who choose to rent a living space while living in Germany will likely spend €6,600 and €9,600 (about $7,200 and $11,650) each year on rent. Over 25 years, the total amount spent on rental could be €165,000 to €240,000 (about $180,000 to $291,250), not including utility costs. 

The average home in Germany costs between €2,800 and €7,300 per square meter (approximately $310 and $810 per square foot). So, those who’d like to purchase a 1,000 sq ft home can expect to spend between $310,000 and $810,000 (about €280,000 and €732,200).

Consider Buying Instead of Renting

Consequently, retirees may be able to reduce their initial spending by opting to rent a home instead of buying one. However, investing in property guarantees home security. 

After all, a landlord can decide to increase rent or terminate a lease, leaving you without a living space. For this reason, retirees should consider buying a small, manageable home before or immediately after moving to Germany. 

Climate in Germany

Before buying property in Germany, you’ll also want to consider the climate. After all, some areas in Germany are pretty mountainous, while others are below sea level. These varying elevations significantly affect the weather you’ll experience while living in Germany.

Generally, Germany enjoys a temperate climate. Summers are warm, with the highest period of rainfall occurring in June. Winters are cold, with moderate snowfall in February. 

Retirees that would like to escape the harshest weather conditions (including heavy snowfall) will want to move to Frankfurt or Mannheim. 

These cities lie in the southernmost regions of Germany and have a relatively low elevation, making them some of the warmest places in the country. For example, the average temperature range in Frankfurt is 31 ℉ (0 ℃) to 79 ℉ (26 ℃).

Healthcare in Germany

Germany employs a universal health care system, and a significant majority of the population (approxmately 86%) is enrolled in a health insurance policy. It’s also crucial to note that while health insurance is optional in the U.S., it’s mandatory in Germany. 

As such, retirees will need to enroll in a private health insurance plan upon moving to Germany. The monthly cost for such a plan varies, but retirement-aged individuals tend to pay more than college-aged individuals.

How Much Does Health Care Cost in Germany?

Consequently, you may need to pay between €500 and €1,500 (about $550 and $1,660) each month to maintain your health insurance. Fortunately, this cost covers most healthcare services, including dental treatments, surgeries, and prescriptions. 

Co-payments for doctor’s visits and medications are typically low, averaging about €10 (about $11) per service or item. Overall, this makes healthcare in Germany far more affordable than healthcare in the U.S. 

Expat Communities in Germany

Transitioning to life in a new country can be challenging, especially if you don’t speak the local language. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, confused, and homesick when you can’t easily communicate with the people around you.

So, if you don’t speak German but want to retire in Germany, you’ll likely want to establish friendships with expatriates in your new community. Some German cities and towns have a large population of English-speaking expatriates, but smaller villages may have no foreign residents.

Retirees that don’t speak German (or are unwilling to learn German) may want to move to one of Germany’s larger cities to ensure they have contact with other English-speaking residents. German cities with a comparatively high population of American expatriates include the following:

  • Munich (München)
  • Berlin
  • Frankfurt am Main
  • Hamburg

Things To Do in Germany

There’s almost an endless list of things to do while in Germany. Still, the activities you can look forward to enjoying throughout your golden years vary depending on your chosen destination. 

Let’s say you choose to move to Stuttgart. In this case, you’ll be able to view flora and fauna at the Wilhelma Zoological-Botanical Garden, take a sunny stroll through the Killesbergpark, or do some shopping along the expansive Königstraße. 

Suppose you opt to move to Esslingen, a much smaller town. In that case, your recreational activities will include touring Gothic churches with towering spires, exploring the historic Esslinger Castle, and enjoying the scenic views along the banks of Klein-Venedig (Little Venice).  

Best Places in Germany for Retirees

If retiring in Germany appeals to you, you’ll want to start browsing retiree-friendly towns and cities. That way, you can begin preparing for your move. 

Looking at for-sale properties, considering local attractions, and reaching out to expatriate communities in your chosen destination are excellent ways to prepare for your retirement in Germany.

Generally, the best places in Germany for U.S. retirees are larger cities with expansive expatriate communities and a high percentage of English-speaking residents. So, you may want to consider retiring to:

  • Berlin
  • Munich (München)
  • Düsseldorf
  • Aachen
  • Hamburg
  • Frankfurt
  • Stuttgart 

These cities offer plenty of housing, restaurants, entertainment venues, museums, and historical sites. In addition, due to the comparatively high number of English-speaking expatriates living in these areas, retirees are also likely to find like minded communities that are easy to integrate into.

Still, living in major metropolitan areas tends to be pricier than living in rural or suburban towns. Consequently, retirees who are comfortable learning German (or are already fluent speakers) and looking to make their money last may opt to move to:

  • Bingen
  • Esslingen
  • Bietigheim-Bissingen

Retiring in Switzerland

Switzerland is much smaller than Germany, with a 41,285 km² (15,940 mi²) surface area. Compare this to Germany’s 357,021 km² (137,847 mi²) surface area and you’ll understand how much smaller it is relatively. It’s also crucial to note that Switzerland shares a 348 km (about 216 miles) border with Germany. 

Due to this shared border (and shared history), Switzerland and Germany feature similar climates, languages, and social policies. Therefore, choosing between these countries when considering a retirement destination can be challenging.

Still, Switzerland does have a few key differences that distinguish it from its northern neighbor. Understanding these differences is one of the best ways to choose between retirement in Germany or Switzerland.

Let’s discuss what to expect when retiring in Switzerland.

How Easy Is It To Retire to Switzerland?

Retiring to Switzerland can be challenging. Retirees will need to prove that they’re financially self-sufficient, ensuring that they won’t become a financial burden. Generally, you’ll need at least $787,000 (CHF 734,000) in your retirement savings account.

With this in mind, having $1,050,000 (CHF 979,000) is preferable and can increase your chances of being accepted into the country.

Secondly, retirees moving to Switzerland will need to show proof of retirement status. They’ll also need to purchase Swiss health and accident insurance within 90 days of arriving in Switzerland.

Close Ties Are Required For Foreign Retirees

The final requirement is one of the most challenging for U.S. retirees. Retirees looking to gain acceptance as foreign residents in Switzerland will need to prove a close tie to the country. 

While owning Swiss real estate can bolster your claim, having family members who live in Switzerland is a far stronger tie. Evidence of past visits to Switzerland can also reinforce your claim, though it’s not a guaranteed method of proving a close connection.

For these reasons, retiring in Switzerland is more challenging than retiring in Germany.

Cost of Living in Switzerland

The cost of living in Switzerland is higher than in most countries, including the U.S. or Germany. The average monthly cost of living in Switzerland (for one person) is about $2,500 (CHF 2,330).

Consequently, retirees will need a minimum of $750,000 in their savings account to afford a 25-year stay. Still, this higher cost of living does come with a few benefits.

For example, the average life expectancy in Switzerland is 83.7 years, higher than in Germany or the U.S.. Quality of life is also better in Switzerland than in the U.S. or Germany. So, if you’ve saved the funds to live in this unique European nation, you may enjoy a more fulfilling retirement.

Real Estate Values in Switzerland

Property in Switzerland tends to be more expensive than property in Germany, partially because there’s less land available for homes and apartments. Additionally, there are strict rules about which foreign nationals can buy property in Switzerland.

Retirees who have a Swiss C Permit (for long-term stay) can buy property in Switzerland. Generally, apartments in Switzerland cost about CHF 13,500 per square meter (about $1,450 per square foot). That’s about 61.4% pricier than property in Germany.

You’ll also need to budget for additional costs like the Real Estate Transfer Tax, property registration fee, and notary fees. These can account for about 3.5% of the home’s total value. 

Depending on the location and house size, you can expect to spend $200,000 to $20,000,000 (about CHF 187,000 to CHF 18,700,000) on a home in Switzerland. This price range doesn’t include taxes and other fees.

Climate in Switzerland Is Mild

Switzerland is a mountainous country home to two ranges: the Alps and the Jura. Still, the average climate throughout Switzerland is relatively mild, with highs of 82 ℉ (27.8 ℃) and lows of 28 ℉ (-2 ℃).

Cities and towns in the southernmost regions tend to enjoy the warmest weather, making them prime destinations for most retirees. 

Those who can afford it may want to choose Locarno as their home city, as it sits only a few miles from the Swiss-Italian border and enjoys comparatively warm temperatures throughout the year.

Healthcare in Switzerland Is Reasonably Priced

Like Germany, health insurance is mandatory in Switzerland. However, unlike Germany, health insurance plans are relatively inexpensive, even for retirement-age individuals. 

Retirees can expect to spend between CHF 300 and CHF 400 (approximately $320 and $420) each month to maintain their health insurance. This cost is far less than the average health insurance premiums retirees in Germany pay. 

This mandatory health insurance covers many services, including inpatient treatments, pharmaceuticals, home care services, and long-term care. As a result, Swiss health insurance is slightly more comprehensive than German health insurance.

Expat Communities in Switzerland Are Notably Diverse

The people in Switzerland generally speak more languages than those in Germany. For example, the languages spoken in Switzerland include Swiss German (Schwyzerdütsch), French, Italian, and Romansh. 

Consequently, retirees who speak French or Italian (but not German) may feel at home in Switzerland. Additionally, Switzerland is home to an astounding number of foreign residents, with more than 2,000,000 foreign nationals living throughout the nation’s many cantons.

As such, Switzerland is home to several diverse expatriate communities. Therefore, retirees may be able to find and join such communities quickly when moving to Switzerland. Zurich has the most prominent English-speaking expatriate community in Switzerland.

Things To Do in Switzerland

Like Germany, retirees will find that there are various fun and exciting things to do while living in Switzerland. Of course, the specific activities and entertainment options available to you depend on where you live!

For example, suppose you decide to move to Zurich (Zürich). In that case, you’ll be able to take a stroll next to the picturesque Lake Zürich, learn more about Switzerland’s history and culture at the Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum Zürich), and view exotic animals at the Zurich Zoo (Zoo Zürich).

However, if you’re planning on moving to a small village in Switzerland, you’ll have a different array of activities to try. For example, retirees who move to Interlaken will want to enjoy the colorful flowers at Höhematte Park, take an adventurous tour of the St. Beatus Caves, and listen to the calming sounds of the Giessbach Falls (Giessbachfälle). 

Be sure to research the activities available in your chosen retirement destination before purchasing property or buying a plane ticket.

Best Places in Switzerland for Retirees

The best places in Switzerland for expatriate retirees are those with a high number of hospitals, thriving expatriate communities, and mild climates. Some of the best Swiss destinations for retirees include:

  • Zurich (Zürich)
  • Lucerne (Luzern)
  • Zug
  • Solothurn
  • Herisau
  • Lausanne

Germany vs. Switzerland: Which Location Should I Choose?

Both Germany and Switzerland are fantastic places to retire. However, the better option for you depends on your budget, climate preferences, and current living situation.

Germany could be a better retirement destination for retirees who would like to enjoy a lower cost of living, simpler entrance requirements, and affordable housing. On the other hand, Switzerland could be a better choice for retirees who already have close ties to Switzerland and prefer low-cost healthcare. 

Conclusion

Retiring abroad is an excellent way to expand your horizons and spend your golden years exploring new locales. Many European countries make for top-notch retirement destinations, but when choosing between Germany and Switzerland, several key factors can impact your decision.

Still, Germany is the better choice for retirees on tighter budgets and with few ties to Europe. Switzerland is the better choice for retirees with plenty of funds and family members currently living in Switzerland.

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