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Checking out Spain, France and Italy for possible retirement, we need advice about upcoming trip.

My wife and I want to live in Europe for 6 months out of the year. We love Spain, France and italy, So this trip is is searching for somewhere we can spend half our lives. We live in Southern California now and we love the Mediterranean climate, We love water, Lakes, rivers and beaches but beaches.. From what we read, Italy is not an easy place to semi retire in, Visa red tape and tax stuff makes it difficult, Well that's what we read. so we are leaning towards Spain and France. A lot of blogs talk about Valencia Spain but it seems kind of big. We have been all over Spain but on this trip we are looking at Costa Brava. We don't want to live in a giant city like Barcelona but we do want to be within 20-30 minutes from a city the size of Bordeuax or San Sebastian or Montpellier or even up to 45 minutes form a Barcelona is probably ok especially if there is a train. We would probably want to live just outside in the country and walking distance to a small town or village and then 30-45 minutes to a bigger city.
So this is what we have planned so far but we havent booked any hotels except for the first 4 nights. We want to stay open and spontaneous and do what we feel like doing at each moment. Sept 22 arrive in Barcelona, get on train to Girnoa stay two nights, Sept 24 - 25, then take train to Figueras, rent a car and go to Cadeques on the beach, stay two nights, then go somewhere else not sure where? but spend the next 2 days exploring the region. Sept 28 drop car off in Figueras and take train to Montpellier, Stay one or 2 nights, (THIS IS A BIG IF FOR US) Sept 30, rent car and explore Languedoc. Oct 2, Take the same car to Provence and stay in Arles and/or Saint Remy, explore the region for a week. Oct 9, Drop car off in Nice and take train to Verona . Oct 8- Oct 17 explore italy by train and/ or by car. not sure where. places like Abruzzo and Puglia has come up. We have both been to Venice, Florence, Sienna and Tuscany, Oct 17 go to Rome we leave from Rome on Oct 20th so we will get there a few days before so we can roam around Rome.
We would love to see Croatia too but only if we zip through costa brava and the Langedoc region and end up with more time on the back end. The big questions in our minds right now is: it it worth checking out Languedoc or skip it and go to Croatia and then head back to Italy. Seems like a lot to do. maybe too much.

Posted by
6950 posts

You really need to go on Wikipedia and read about the Schengen Agreement.
The EU doesn't want North American retirees using their national healthcare and buying all the real estate--increasing home prices that are already too high into the stratosphere.
Portugal may be one of the few places to "buy" into a visa without being a full time college student.

Posted by
2212 posts

Nice, we too would like to live part-time in Europe when my DH retires. However, this forum is probably not your best resource for those questions.

Check out the blog No Particular Place To Go. A wealth of info about retiring to Portugal. As in almost step by step.

Posted by
5494 posts

There are several websites that are completely focused on expats and the different legal requirements for each country. You might find some of the more useful information on those sites.

As far as your trip goes, it sounds like fun! I think that scouting out possible areas is a great idea. You didn't really give much of a timeline for your long term plans. If it were me, I might do something like this:
1. Scouting Trip
2. Narrow the focus to one or two places. Begin research on legal requirements. Plan to stay for 1 month at a time during different seasons of the year in a rented apartment. Get a sense of the difference between visiting and living in that location.
3. Really nail down what the legal requirements would be to gain the correct visa needed to stay for an extended period of time and obtain the visa.
4. Rent for a year in that location
5 Buy if I know I like the lifestyle.

Posted by
12968 posts

Inquire at the French Consulate in LA, assuming one is there. Make an appt to discuss this or obtaining an extended visa thereby allowing you to stay in excess of the 90 days imposed by Schengen. SF has the French Consulate which I've been to

Posted by
2675 posts

Los Angeles also has a Spanish Consulate, been there several times, you probably can ask about Schengen/visas there too.

Posted by
2054 posts

The easiest way for someone from the USA to spend 6 months a year in a Schengen country is 90 days at a time. Spending 90 out of 180 consecutive days requires no paperwork other than the passport you already have.

If you plan on staying longer than 90 out of 180 days, the paperwork begins. You´ll need to supply the French or Spanish embassy/consulate your financial records, health insurance, copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses, statement from your local police department, and repatriation insurance just to name a few things. Once established in France, you can apply for PUMA but that assumes you are a full time resident living in France at least 183 days per year. It is not a simple process and can take some time and a lot of effort.

Italy, Spain, and France are all Schengen countries and residency requirements for visitors are not going to be hugely different. Choose the country whose language you speak best. Once you arrive all interaction with the government, utility providers, insurance companies, medical personnel and others will be in the language of the country you have chosen.

The Expat Forum can give you more information.

There is a big difference between visiting somewhere and living there. The romantic notion of living a Mediterranean lifestyle can take a vastly different meaning when you are living there month after month and being able to communicate with those around you becomes more and more important.

Posted by
3239 posts

Do you speak the language you would need in a small village?

Posted by
3336 posts

Honestly, it all comes down to how much money you have. For Italy, you can get a one year visa but there is a minimum requirement for liquid assets - it's around $50,000. Good luck renewing it if you have less than that at the end of your year! France is also difficult - it's possible to get a carte sejour for a year but you really need a reason to be there. They want an address, you have to register with the local police, and it's a bit of an ordeal. If you are granted one then you are more likely to be able to extend it as long as you have money so you are not a drag on the social system. Even so, after 7 years or so you fall into a new tax bracket that can be very expensive. Granted, I've never done this on my own - it's all based on the experiences of friends. These friends gave up on both France and Italy after a few years because of the difficulty of taxes and renewing visas every year. The friend in Italy was living off savings with no income and was booted after a year. The friends in France were employed but ran into the tax barrier and fled to Morocco and lived there instead.
Each country is very different. You really just need to do your research and figure out which place will be the best fit for your needs.
Personally I LOVE the Herault / Languedoc area in SW France - it's got the climate you say you are interested in, there is a TON to see and do, lots of rivers and gorges, the restaurants and villages are fantastic, and there are other British and American expats galore in that area. We spent a summer in Pezenas and thoroughly explored that area of France. Amazing. Want to go back and spend some more time.

Posted by
8832 posts

A lot of blogs talk about.....

If you plan to live in a country for more than the typical 90 day tourist limit, you should be contacting the embassy/consulate of the countries you are considering and find out what hoops and hurdles you need to negotiate. A blog may not have the info you truly need.
Falling in love with a place only to find out you can stay only 90, not 180 days may prove a significant disappointment.

A horse does a good job at pulling a plow; never seen one pushing one. Be sure you get things lined up in the correct order

safe travels

Posted by
8493 posts

I’d go to each of these places over the next few years, staying 90 days each. Only after that would I take the next step. A lovely place in summer has three other seasons that require a different lifestyle. My husband and I have been scouting for the past couple of years, but we have dual nationality, fluent French, family, friends, and belong to organizations overseas. We stay at least ten days everywhere we’re considering, checking out the associations, clubs, medical care, and I always check out ex-pat activities.

Neither Costa Brava nor Languedoc has warm beach weather until summer. Different friends who lived in Toulouse and Barcelona said it was not consistently sunny until May. A LA friend of mine wouldn’t go visit her family on the Riviera until June because she said it was too cool before then for her LA blood. You really need to check these places out in all seasons. Bad weather is when clubs, activities and social network kicks in.

Posted by
32 posts

We are considering going to Italy/France next summer and spending a month in each. Anyone have recommendations for finding monthly rentals?
Thanks

Posted by
401 posts

Your plan seems a bit vague at this point, but I'm curious: what does the all-caps parenthetical "(THIS IS A BIG IF FOR US)" mean?

As for using this website for information, there are a few residents of France who review this but you'd be better served, in my opinion, by consulting a website that specifically focuses on expats. One example is Expat Forum. I've linked to the France forum but there are forums at that website for Spain and Italy as well.

We've lived in France for five years and will be applying for French citizenship shortly after New Years day. After that, we plan to live in France for 9 months each year and the U.S. for the other 3 months to catch up with friends and family. Because of the low cost of health care here, and the affordable housing cost as long as one lives outside the hot spots of Paris, Provence, Côte d'Azur, and so forth, we've found we can live much less expensively in France than in the U.S. The ability to travel to other European destinations at very low cost and with minimal stress makes living here all the more appealing. I hope you find it to be so for you as well.

Posted by
510 posts

We did something similar to what you are doing, by checking out areas from Portugal down through Sicily, but over a period of years. We bought but are not retired, but eventually will settle part of the year in a place we purchased. We may also rent in other countries when it eventually comes to that time. The recommendation for a followup trip to your final candidates sounds like a great idea.

By all means check out the coast of France from Coulloire to Menton, including the Languedoc. I recommend keeping your Montpellier spot on the schedule -- there are a number of coastal or countryside towns within easy reach that might suit you. Similarly, in your week in Provence, besides heading to the countryside of the Luberon/Vaucluse (north of Aix), be sure to look in hills within reach of Nice (the area of best year-round warmth/low Mistral wind threat).

We originally were going to buy in the country or a small village but settled in the city. Our property consultant pointed out the advantages of easy access via train and air (our local airport has the 2nd most flights in Europe), a large expat community, year-round activities, access to services, isolation, and rentability pre-retirement when we are not there. Note the process of getting a long stay VISA is easier when you are retired with stable assets and income, and taxes are only a issue if you exceed your number of total days per year or have local income. France is actually pretty welcoming to retirees with adequate retirement resources, if you choose to spend more time, and the US tax treaty is actually slightly more advantageous for most people (despite the high rates). As noted above, there are a number of online sources, including a Facebook group just for this process in France.

Posted by
12968 posts

Yes, Collioure is certainly a serene and lovely place, in July 2011 I spent 5 nights there after getting by train from Perpignan.

Posted by
776 posts

My retirement to Paris experience has been easy because, considering the often lousy European weather and not wanting to loose my Florida residence, the Schengen requirements of 90 days in and 90 days out have not been at all difficult to manage and I hate paperwork.

Although I am on Medicare, I have not purchased additional health insurance as my only "condition" is extreme old age and my experience with the French medical system . . .a broken ankle, cast, emergency room x rays and all of that cost me 160 US . . .has me thinking that I could just as well use the emergency provisions in my medi-gap coverage as purchase an expensive additional policy. As for emergency repatriation. . . .why would I want to leave France or the French medical system?

Maybe my choices are wrong, but they've worked for 20 plus years.

Posted by
8493 posts

This is for Andrew and Bob: how much did access to a major medical center figure into your choice of location? How far do you need to drive to see a specialist?

It is figuring in my thinking. Where my in-laws were in Burgundy, we used to have to drive an hour for anything specialized once more and more rural services were shut down, which is not too different from my state in the US.

Posted by
1549 posts

We obtained an Elective Residency 1 year visa for Italy this year and arrived in Italy on August 3rd.. Go to the Italian consulate website to look at requirements (every consulate is a bit different. It's a lot of red tape, documents to gather, and demonstrating financial resources and income. Our plans are to live here in Italy for a year or two, then move back to California. In the mean time after retiring this year, we rented our house, which provides some income, sold both of our cars, and put our stuff in storage. Here's link that will take you to the list of consulates, which will then tell you requirements (answer the 4 questions, click more than 90 days, Elective visa, then click go to answers.) Italian consulates
There's a FB group called Americans living in Italy that has been very helpful in answering questions, clarifying confusion, and pointing me in the right direction.

We also looked into France, but decided on Italy. I believe France has a type of visa that extends the 90 day tours visa by 3 months or more. Here's a website: Long Stay French Visa. This may be a better route for 6 months a year vs. Italy, which expects you to live there as a resident.

Let me know if you have questions or need more detail.

Posted by
401 posts

This is for Andrew and Bob: how much did access to a major medical center figure into your choice of location? How far do you need to drive to see a specialist?

Bets,

For us, the answer to your first question was "not at all."

That's because we don't have any unusual or exotic medical problems, and the town we live in has a pretty large hospital with at least some specialists. For example, last year my wife had a couple of procedures on an outpatient basis that required, in addition to her general practitioner, a gastroenterologist and an anesthesiologist. Both were available in our little town of less than 10,000. If they weren't, Mâcon is less than an hour away and Lyon less than two hours.

And by the way, with our mutuelle (supplemental insurance costing about 85€ per month per person), the total cost for this outpatient care involving two specialists, a GP, nursing, an exam room, specialized testing equipment, and a surprisingly good meal that the head nurse absolutely insisted my wife eat before she could be released, cost us... nothing. Zero.

That's France.

Posted by
21287 posts

Very interesting quote from the website Karen mentioned:

"Helpful tip: A long-stay visa also allows the holder to move freely within the Schengen Area for 90 days in any 180-day period"

This question comes up fairly often. So now we know that, as far as the French are concerned, having their long-stay visa does not allow one to bounce around the other Schengen countries for more than 90 days. Now, how that is enforced (with no passport checks at the borders within the Schengen Zone), I do not know.

I see that one of the documents required for all long-stay applicants is "proof of accommodation". I don't know how long a lease one needs. If it's for the full length of the visa, that's obviously a problem for someone not planning to spend the bulk of his time in a single city in France.

Posted by
21287 posts

It seems to me that you could wander around the Schengen Zone, then return to France before heading home (or to the UK, etc.). How would anyone know how much time you spent outside France but within Schengen?

Posted by
6003 posts

For what it is worth to the conversation:

While your passports are stamped, they are not the official record anymore. Your passport is scanned upon entry and exit. Heck, the majority of stamps in my passport are not even legible.

Regarding long term visas, Visas are issued by a country, not the EU or Schengen "entity". True there are no border controls most of the time, but the intent is that you are residing in the issuing country, and the most of the time, that is where you will be, at least 90 days of the ~6 months. Would it be an issue if that did not occur? Who knows, but have an issue in another country with no evidence of residence at the time, or previously in the issuing country, it might be.

Posted by
12968 posts

Very annoying if the passport stamp is not legible. Luckily, almost all of my passport stamps, be they from Schengen (Paris and Frankfurt), the US, or the UK are legible, a couple are not.

Posted by
1549 posts

Italy also has the 90 days of 180 in other Schengen countries. Assuming the Schengen zone is same throughout.

When we enter France from the UZk, we dorcifscvly had to ask for a passport stamp, which we needed for our Permit to stay application.

Italy also requires proof of accommodation for 1 year (a signed and registered lease) to apply for 1 year visa, no lease- no visa.

Posted by
21287 posts

"Italy also requires proof of accommodation for 1 year (a signed and registered lease) to apply for 1 year visa, no lease- no visa."

Thanks, Karen. That agrees with what I was told in 2015 by an Australian couple who had jumped through the necessary hoops to get a one-year Italian visa.

I'd love to be able to stay longer than 90 days in the Schengen Zone, but I have no interest in spending the bulk of a full year in one place, so I guess a one-year visa is not in my future. I suppose some people get around this by having trustworthy relatives or close friends in the target country who will act as lessors and then tear up the lease part-way through the visa period when the visitor is ready to hit the road.

Posted by
11973 posts

Considering some of the same as you. I've heard from various sources that both Spain and Portugal are willing to grant residency for anyone who purchases a home (with a minimum investment). I haven't studied it because, even if accurate, it won't necessarily be available when I need it.

Schengen is a visa free program that allows you to visit the participating countries for up to 90 days in a rolling 180 day period. If you want to do it visa-free, you would likely have to build a schedule to spend only 90 days in Schengen countries and 90 days elsewhere (UK is an example of a non-Schengen country that also lets you visit visa-free).

Before Schengen, however, people ordered a visa to visit. They were normally up to six months during a five year period. I don't think I've ordered a visa since the '80s. It's not that big of deal (though visa free is easier). Authorities grant tourist visas fairly easily. For temporary residence, they want to know you have the resources to not be a drain on their system (similar to what the US looks at). If you're retired, own a home in California and have income they aren't likely to have an issue.

Medicare is an issue. When you turn 65 you have to go to Medicare vs. private insurance. Medicare doesn't provide care overseas. I believe you can buy private health insurance for overseas use but I haven't tried it yet.

Finally, it's worth considering that many parts of Spain and Portugal are difficult to reach from the rest of Europe (and vice versa). They may be better suited for relaxing than as a base for travel. The Catalon or Languedoc area would be much more convenient bases for travel around Europe.

Posted by
21287 posts

Brad, I'm not aware of a Schngen-Zone country that makes it easy to get an extended stay visa. I'd love to know of one so I don't have to run to the UK, Ukraine, etc., on Day 88 or 89.