Retiring in Italy vs. France


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A successful career has provided the resources for you to retire early. You start imagining what life overseas would be like; however you find yourself facing a rather challenging choice. When it comes to dreamy, culturally rich European destinations, which would be the best country to retire to: Italy or France?

Italy and France are both exciting and historically rich destinations that provide excellent health services. Italy offers a specific visa for retirees, while France offers a general long-term visa. Both countries require evidence of income and extensive documentation to live there.

Entertaining the thought of retiring in one of these beautiful locations might bring up a host of questions about the logistics. In this article, I’ll equip you with all the knowledge you’ll need to make a well-informed decision.

Factors To Consider

There are a few factors to consider before retiring in Italy or France:

Hiring an Immigation Lawyer

It would be beneficial and recommended to hire an immigration lawyer to make sure you meet all conditions and are equipped with the necessary documentation before starting an application. The services of these professionals might be costly, but they can help you better navigate citizenship requirements. 

Hiring a Financial Advisor

Consulting with a financial advisor may also be beneficial as you convert money to a foreign currency. A financial advisor can assist you in evaluating the projected longevity of your investments in conjunction with any retirement savings and benefits. 

If you need a financial advisor, consider checking out this free tool from SmartAsset that helps match you up with and interview potential advisors to assist you in this stage of life.

Social Security Income

Since both Italy and France require evidence of income, you may wonder if you can still collect your social security if you don’t live in the US.

Yes, you can! Some overseas countries and locations have restrictions and conditions about getting the money, but France and Italy don’t. If you’re a United States citizen, you can still receive payments. Social security defines a person as living out of the country if they have lived outside the U.S, and its territories, for a minimum of thirty consecutive days. 

However, to ensure that this applies to your situation, you should contact Social Security at the Office Of Earnings & International Operations. The recipient’s age and other factors will determine how often the person needs to fill out a questionnaire to continue receiving payments. Your payments will continue to be calculated in U.S. currency and not the currency rate of the country you are in and are often done via direct deposit.

Monetary Conversions

Please note that when you see monetary conversions for the U.S. dollar, it is based on when this article was written and is subject to some variations.

These conversions are rounded mathematically, and your lawyer will be able to tell you exact costs at the time of your move. “€” represents Euro, and “$” represents the U.S. Dollar. There may be banking fees for international transactions and deposits, so inquire about those as well.

Hidden Costs

Keep in mind that hidden costs, such as moving your belongings, purchasing or renting a home, purchasing a vehicle or mode of transportation, and so on, are necessary when moving to a new country.

Consider making a monthly budget spreadsheet for the costs of daily living in the area you want to go to to make a general outline of the expenses for groceries, health insurance, utility bills, rent/mortgage, and so on.

You may want to consider this book from Amazon.com called, Retirement Without Borders: How to Retire Abroad by Barry Golson. The author talks about living aboard, including in Italy and France, and his experiences settling into the countries with low hassle and maximum enjoyment.

Retiring in Italy

Italy is a popular choice for those looking to spend their golden years in a dreamy, enjoyable destination. It is thought to be one of the top countries to retire and live in due to its mild weather, beautiful scenery, and delicious cuisine.

There are several government-imposed requirements and conditions under which a person can retire in Italy. Interestingly, these conditions are relatively lax compared to those imposed by other countries. 

Conditions and Requirements To Retire in Italy

You must be retired with a minimal income of 31,000€ ($35,000). For married couples, the minimum amount is 38,000€ ($43,000). Additionally, any dependent children coming along with a retired parent or couple will require an additional 20,000€ each ($23,000).

These funds can be presented as coming from sources such as savings, pensions, and investments. These financial requirements show that the people coming to the country won’t burden the social care system.

Retirees must apply for an elective residence visa, only issued to people with the income requirements mentioned above. This visa is only for individuals over the age requirement for employment in the country, and this visa is not for those wishing to work.

It is considered a long-term residence type of visa for relocation of non-EU residents to Italy. The youngest age for an elective residence visa is 18. 

Therefore, if a loved one coming along with you doesn’t meet the age or retirement status or wants to work, your immigration lawyer will advise you on how to best proceed when it comes to their paperwork. Elective residence visa needs to be renewed every year. 

However, you can obtain long-term residence visas with a 5-year validity before renewal is necessary. After ten years of living in Italy, you can apply for citizenship if desired. 

Another option is the Golden Visa Program offered to those investing in the Italian economy in start-ups, business ventures, or government-approved bonds, which require financial contributions ranging from 500,000€ – 2,000,000€ ($564,000 – $2,250,000).

To obtain an elective residence visa, applicants will first need to contact the Italian Embassy in their home country and make an appointment for an interview at least three months before moving. The whole process can take three to six months. 

In the United States, this institution is called the Embassy of Italy and is located in Washington, D.C. The applicants will need to gather and bring the required documents to the Embassy. Each applicant must go through individual applications (and associated fees).

These documents include: 

  • The visa application form from the Embassy of Italy.
  • Two recent passport-sized photographs of themselves
  • A valid passport that is not about to expire soon
  • A recent bank statement (and other statements such as investments) to show qualifying income.
  • A lease contract, or other documentation showing you have obtained housing.
  • Valid health insurance coverage that indicates annual validity for coverage of expenses minimally of 30,000€ ($34,000) accepted in Italy. (Once you are a resident, you can apply for Italy’s nationalized healthcare.) Medicare cannot be used in Italy, so you need private insurance. 
  • Marriage and birth certificates.

Lastly, if you’re aiming to apply for a permanent citizenship, you’ll need to take classes over time to help you develop an adequate understanding of the language and civil structures, which you will be tested on.

The Best Places To Retire in Italy

Many foreigners come to Italy for various reasons, but there are several cities they tend to gravitate towards living in. The most influential factors that affect their choices include living near friends or family already there, the number of resources and opportunities found in big cities, or an area’s beautiful landscape. 

Ultimately, a retiree should consider their budget, lifestyle choices, and benefits of living in a city that caters to their needs. Overall, housing costs in Italy are noticeably lower than their U.S. counterparts, with day-to-day expenses similar to those of the U.S. However, lower housing costs leave more money in the budget to enjoy the local culture.

Here are some of the most popular destinations for retirees in Italy:

  • Sicily: Sicily offers lower living costs compared to other areas in Italy. Retirees can enjoy a relaxed lifestyle in a sunny location with beautiful white-sand beaches. 
  • Abruzzo: This region is ideal for those who prefer living in a quiet and relaxed mountainous area.
  • Tuscany: Tuscany offers a rich culture and is appreciated by wine lovers due to its broad and wide green hills and vineyards. Additionally, there’s no shortage of gorgeous architectural pieces and clean beaches to enjoy.
  • Lazio: This city offers an energetic urban environment and high-quality medical services, ranked globally at second place. The general living costs of living here are higher.
  • Lombardy: This costlier region brings a world-class cultural environment and historic architecture paired with leisure and luxury. 

Consider housing costs by calling and obtaining some general information for the area you wish to live in. Here are a few approximate calculations:

  • Sicily: Renting an apartment approximately costs €270 – €390 ($300 – $440), while the purchase of one will set you back 1,280€ – 3,050€ ($1,440 – $3,440) per square meter.
  • Tuscany: An apartment will cost about 500€ – 650€ ($560 – $730) per month.
  • Lombardy: A rented apartment here is approximately 660€ – 850€ ($740 – $960) per month. The purchase of property can range anywhere from 3,000€ – 8,700€ ($3,380 – $9,810) per square meter.

According to the Global Peace Index, Italy ranks as the 32nd safest country out of 163 nations, and therefore safety is not a significant concern for those living in Italy.

Retiring in France

France is also an excellent option for those looking to retire overseas. France consists of a temperate climate with regional variations, with winter averaging 32°F to 46°F (0°C – 8°C) and summer 61°F to 75°F (16°C – 24°C).

The Midi, or southern part of France, has mild winters and very hot summers. France’s north and central regions have cool and rainy winters with hot summers. Winters are much harsher in eastern and mountainous areas.

Conditions and Requirements To Retire in France

France doesn’t require a particular visa just for retirees like Italy. However, the process is relatively simple to live there. 

First, you will need to contact the Embassy of France, located in Washington, D.C, where you will apply for a visa de séjour temporaire (a long-term residence visa). To obtain this document, you’ll be required to prove that you have the financial income to retire by showing statements from a pension plan, banks, investments, and so on. 

You will also need to purchase a health plan covering you in France. Generally, you should be able to afford 1800€ – 2200€ ($2,100 to $2,500) per month.

For your application, you will also need:

  • A current passport signed and valid for at least three months after your last day of permitted stay.
  • One passport-size photo.
  • Proof of living accommodations in France.
  • A letter stating you will not work in France.
  • Marriage and birth certificates.
  • Evidence of a ticket or reservation showing departure to France.
  • A recent bank statement (and other statements such as investments). 
  • Notarization of the long-term residence form.

The Embassy of France and your immigration lawyer will inform you of fees and anything else that may be required for residence in France.

It may be beneficial to consider living in France for a few months before deciding where you want to settle in. Paris, for example, is one of the most expensive places to live, and you may want to explore and consider other locations in the French countryside or cities where rent, real estate, and daily living costs are cheaper. 

France offers lower costs for many day-to-day purchases compared to the United States, such as cheese, wine and beer, and baguettes. Supermarkets in France are not permitted to discard food, so bargains can always be found. 

Bottled water is not needed in France since they have an extensive setup for potable water everywhere. 

Other than Paris or some resort towns, France offers affordable real estate. A small townhouse can cost 30,000€ ($34,000), while a house with a garden can cost 82,000€ ($92,000).

France offers a rail system with discounts for those over 60 years old and provides accessible transportation for all to the U.K. and Europe.

According to the World Health Organization, France has the best healthcare system globally with fixed fees from hospitals and specialists. Prescription costs are less than half of what they cost in the U.S. Medication is free for those suffering from long-term illnesses.

The Best Places To Retire in France

Some great cities and towns to consider for retirement in France include the following:

Lyon

This location is full of 18th-century buildings and is the third-largest French city with large and open venues, beautiful streets, parks, museums, mouth-watering food, cafés, and an extensive transportation system.

A one-bedroom apartment will cost about 800€ ($900) per month, and a two-bedroom 1,200€ ($1,400) per month.

Montpellier

This city is located in sunny southern France between the Cévennes mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a historic university town hosting the famous first medical school. It has an excellent transportation system, is bike-friendly, and has many galleries and museums. 

A one-bedroom apartment can be rented for 680€ – 940€ ($765 – $1,060) per month and a two-bedroom starts at 975€ ($1,100).

Sarlat-la-Canéda

This location is a small southern town with big-city resources and rich cultural exhibitions, arts, and entertainment. This town showcases caves with prehistoric paintings and castles nestled in forested valleys and hilltops. 

Homes in the village can cost over 177,000€ ($200,000) to purchase, and a two-bedroom rental is about 500€ ($565) per month.

Bordeaux

This ancient city in southwest France offers a rich historical site with excellent wine, sunny beaches, and a freshwater lake with mild and pleasant weather reaching highs of 79°F (26°C) in July and lows of 43°F (6°C) in December. 

This area has a higher cost of living with 700 square feet furnished rentals for around 1600€ ($1850) per month.

Pau

Pau is about 50 miles (80 km) from the Spanish border with beautiful villas and mansions and views of the Pyrenee mountains. It’s an excellent place to access ski resorts and the Atlantic beach and is great for hiking, cycling, and golfing. In the summer, temperatures range from 68°F – 86°F (20°C – 30°C), while winters hover around 54°F (12°C). Pau offers excellent health services and an airport system. 

Pau is a bit more expensive than other cities of comparable size, with homes costing about 2000€ ($2400) per square foot and rentals at 16€ ($18) per square foot.

Taxes

Now that you’re settled in, it is important to note that some (not so pleasant) customs will translate overseas, and paying taxes is one of them. Even though you’re not working, you’ll need to file taxes as a resident of Italy or France. 

Tax rates for foreign income tax are generally low. The percentage you may have to pay can vary depending on which city you will live in. You will also have to file taxes in the U.S. if your status is an American citizen living abroad. 

A financial or tax advisor can help you navigate this area best. You can avoid U.S. taxes only if you renounce your U.S. citizenship. 

France also has laws that determine assets for those who permanently live there regardless of what your will might say. Therefore, it’s best to look into how this may affect your estate before moving there.

Conclusion 

Retiring in Italy and France can be a wonderful experience. Italy requires a few more specific requirements with a visa designated just for retirees. France has a general long-term residence visa that applicants can obtain. Both countries offer comparable prices, cultural and historical experiences, and excellent health care services. It may be worth taking a few trips to see which place feels like home to you.

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