Retirement Planning, Elder Law, and Senior Finance

11/15/2023 | By Sandra Block

Many older Americans dream about traveling in retirement, but a growing number of intrepid retirees are taking their wanderlust to another level. Instead of visiting a country outside the United States, they’re moving there. They’re retiring abroad.

At the end of 2021, about 450,000 people received Social Security benefits outside the United States, up from 307,000 in 2008.

The pandemic was a wake-up call for retirees and near-retirees who had contemplated living overseas but had put it off because of family and work obligations, says Kathleen Peddicord, founder of Live and Invest Overseas, a website and newsletter publisher. “Tomorrow is not guaranteed, so if you have a dream of a lifestyle you’ve wanted to pursue and you’re healthy enough, act on it when you can.”

While expats have long been drawn to Central America for its low cost of living and mild climate, Europe has become increasingly popular with retirees in search of culture and high-quality health care. Many countries are eager to attract U.S. expats, but retiring to Costa Rica or Portugal is more complicated than buying a condo in Florida.

Here’s what to know in considering retiring abroad:

Countries in Central America have long promoted relaxed residency requirements for expats. For example, Panama’s pensionado program offers residency to expats with a valid passport and income of at least $1,000 a month from Social Security or a pension.

Man by pool with Hawaiian shirt on. He's one of many Americans retiring abroad.

But in recent years, European countries have relaxed their own residency requirements to help attract foreign dollars and shore up declining populations, says Ted Baumann, with International Living, a magazine that covers overseas retirement and investment. “They need wealthier retirees who are in the spending stage of their lives and who aren’t going to compete for jobs,” he says.

Portugal, which has become a haven for expats from around the world, provides a one-year residency visa to retirees from outside the European Union who have retirement income of at least €760 a month (about $828) and proof of a place to live. The visa can be renewed twice for up to two years, and after five years expats are eligible for permanent residency.

Italy offers a similar elective residency visa, also known as a retirement visa, if you have retirement income of at least €32,000 a year (about $34,880), a valid passport, and proof that you have health insurance and a place to live. Greece, France and Spain have their own versions of retirement visas as well, Baumann notes. In most cases, the income requirements are modest, he says. If you receive Social Security payments, you probably qualify.

Prospective expats who have vacationed in Europe and are accustomed to the higher prices that tourists typically encounter may be surprised to discover that the cost of actually living there can be quite reasonable, says Peddicord.

Chip Stites, who retired to Rieti, Italy, in 2017 with his wife, Shonna, says their cost of living is about 60% lower than it was when they lived in the United States. “To a tourist, Europe is expensive,” he says. “But Italians live on about $24,000 a year.”

Sandra Block is a senior editor at Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit

©2023 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Feeling inspired? read similar articles on Seniors Guide:

Retiring Overseas

Sandra Block

Sandra Block is a senior editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit