10 tips for choosing a retirement home abroad

10 tips for choosing a retirement home abroad

According to research by HSBC, the number of people approaching retirement wanting to live overseas is higher than before the economic downturn - up from 30 per cent in 2006 to 38 per cent last year. Spain is the most popular destination, followed by France, Italy, Greece A warmer climate, healthier lifestyle and low cost of living are all elements contributing to the grey flight, not to mention the lure of affordable property. Even so, cash-laden baby-boomers need to be aware buying an overseas property to live in permanently is very different from hunting for a holiday home to use for a few weeks a year. Here are some pointers for planning for the long term.

1. Location

Choose a place that has something going on year-round; seaside resorts are great in summer, but can be ghost towns in winter. Alicante and Valencia can be better choices than small villages.

Buying on the fringe of a town or city has lots of advantages, not least good transport links with the rest of the country and access to restaurants, shopping and entertainment. It's no surprise to find Tuscany so popular in Italy, with Florence, Arezzo, Pisa and Siena easily accessible.

A remote farmhouse may be impractical and lonely if you don't speak the language and find yourself on your own. Jelena Cvjetkovic, international network manager at Savills, says: "When considering a retirement property, location is key. The rural dream may sound appealing, but the reality of seasonal flights or relying on only one budget airline could be an issue when family want to visit or you need to rush home to see the newly-born grandchild.

"We find that the majority of our purchasers want to be on the outskirts of a village, close enough to get a carton of milk, but far enough for some peace and quiet."

Living within two hours of a major airport which has year-round flights is ideal, as it means you may get more visits from family and friends. If you are not sure where you want to live, take your time and rent before you buy.

By renting for six months, you can see what the place is like at different times of year. Europarcs has just launched long-stay holidays at two of its resorts - Vilanova near Barcelona and Marjal Costa Blanca near Alicante - where retirees can stay for up to six months and research the area where they would like to live.

2. Climate

Some countries can be blisteringly hot in summer, which may not suit everyone. Seeking a dry, moderate climate is best, as it enables you to keep active year-round, pursuing your favourite outdoor activities such as golf, cycling or hiking.

A moderate climate also keeps the heating bills down. The Algarve is a retirement-friendly region of Portugal which has an ideal year-round climate. A spokesman for the new Portugal property portal Meravista reports that the cost of properties in the Algarve is far lower than in the UK, with good road networks and proximity to beaches, shops and restaurants. "Most people retire to the Algarve for the climate (300-plus sunshine days a year) and the lifestyle. Speaking the language is a bonus, but it isn't vital, as English is spoken in most places."

3. Keep a UK base?

Think before you sell your home in the UK. Are you sure you won't want to move back if one of you dies or you get too old to manage? Will the friends you make abroad return home in their old age and leave you lonely? If you can buy a small bolthole somewhere in the UK, which you can rent out while you are overseas, this will not only provide a nice passive income stream but somewhere to live if you decide to return home.

4. Language

You will enjoy your life abroad so much more if you can speak the language. The locals will be better disposed towards you, you will make more friends and be able to access and participate in the local culture and festivities. But, more important, you will be able to negotiate with local tradesman and not fall prey to cowboys. If you don't think you can manage learning a foreign language then choose to live in a country where English is more widely spoken, such as on the Spanish coast, Portugal, Cyprus, Canada, Australia and America.

5. Healthcare

Check whether you need to take out private insurance or whether there is a reciprocal arrangement with our NHS in your chosen country: ie SIP cards in Spain for nonworking foreign residents. Find out how to access local medical services and particularly the local GPs.

Do they speak English? What is the local hospital like? Does it have a stroke unit? In Spain, the culture is for the family to take care of patients in hospital. Would you have someone to take care of you? Would you be all right being in poor health in a foreign country? For more useful information, visit

6. Security and manageability

Buying something that's easy to maintain is ideal, as is a property on a scheme with on-site staff who will do most of the work for you. Don't stint on quality locks and gates, particularly if you plan on leaving your home for a long period, and avoid taking on a renovation project unless you have previous experience and can speak "construction" in the local language. Also, don't take on a property with lots of land to maintain -you'll need to pay for help to look after it if it gets too much.

7. Accessibility

You want to be within walking distance from the local market/village shop, doctor and dentist, and not far from a good hospital. Make sure your property has a lift if you are on an upper floor and no marble stairs, which can be perilous. Steep gardens and endless steps may be all right now, but in 10 years' time you may not be quite so fit.

What about a bungalow? Some coastal resorts in Turkey are very steep, like Kalkan, which has a road so vertiginous they call it cardiac hill! Driving may be an issue in the future, too. You may not want to take long car journeys, particularly if you are alone. Do you want to be reliant on a car?

"Air and rail links should be considered. Ideally, you should be within an hour of at least one airport, and within 10-15 minutes of a motorway junction. Being within striking distance of a railway station may be a useful benefit," suggests Chris Garwood of Select Villas of Moraira.

"Also, think about infrastructure: many folk want to be away from the coast and resorts, but it is usually a benefit to be in a coastal town or resort, where you will easily find somewhere to learn Spanish, join clubs, gyms, bowls, tennis, amateur dramatics, concerts, etc."

An on-site concierge can be helpful, too, if you need a lift into town, to book a local taxi or to help you with shopping or packages.

8. Low living costs

As with most countries, you will find some items are less expensive than others and can fluctuate. Prices have been rising in Europe, and it pays to shop around for food and petrol. Alcohol and petrol are even costlier in Turkey than in the UK, as can be imported food in supermarkets - yet local markets can be cheap, as is private healthcare and council tax.

Julian Walker from the Turkish agent Spot Blue says: "Make sure you turn the air-con off whenever you can." With the Government threatening to withdraw winter fuel allowance from retirees living abroad, you need to make sure your home is well insulated. Even Spain gets chilly in winter.

9. Community

The less touristy the town is, the more likely there is to be a year-round community. Talk to people in the village you want to live in, and hope for a good mix of nationalities, so you won't feel like the only foreigner.

"A sense of community is important," says Jelena Cvjetkovic of Savills. "Visit the area at different times of the year to make sure that the restaurants and shops are open year-round." Communal facilities on a resort - pool, tennis, gardens, club-house and the bar - can be very sociable, too.

10. Pensions and benefits

Don't forget to make a will in the country you are moving to. Some countries such as France and Turkey have very different rules on inheritance, which can get complicated if you have stepchildren, or civil partners. Also, upon the death of a spouse, all bank accounts may be frozen, so having individual accounts as well as joint ones is advisable.

Taking out residency in the country you move to may have benefits, too. The UK has reciprocal tax arrangements with most countries, so you should only pay once. Find out how to transfer your pension and claim other benefits, visit

"Do your homework with regard to pensions, benefits and medical care under the state healthcare system.

Make sure you will continue to be eligible and receive these allowances once you move abroad," advises Rhona Hutchinson of Integrated Relocation Spain. And watch out for currency fluctuations, which can impact hugely on the amount you receive - consider using a foreign currency broker.

Cara Fortune, of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Know Before You Go team, says: "Making a permanent move overseas is a dream come true for many Brits, and thousands have made a successful transition by researching thoroughly.

"We recommend planning all areas of your move, from researching the local laws and customs to understanding your tax liabilities both in your new home and back in the UK. Our guide to moving abroad will steer you through many of the points you need to consider." Visit

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