June 14, 2024
I've Traveled to 9 Countries: Here's Where I'd Retire on a Budget

Tia Finn collected passport stamps from Canada, Ireland, Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Scotland, Thailand, and Austria while working for a London-based global education tech firm. But when it came time to retire, she chose the small Italian town of Bellano on Lake Como, where she comfortably lives on €1,400 a month, which converts to about $1,500. 

“The final move was to live somewhere that felt like I was always meant to live,” Finn explained. “It felt like the call of my ancestors.” It was also a financially smart move. According to International Living, the cost of living in Italy is generally 30% to 70% lower than in the United States, depending on your preferred location and lifestyle. 

GOBankingRates talked to Finn about why she chose to retire in Italy on a budget after her extensive travels. 

Cost of Living 

Finn estimated her annual income at around €20,000 ($21,633.00). This is enough to cover basic living costs like rent, utilities, food, global health insurance, and transportation by train, bus, and boat. 

She recommended those looking to retire to Italy budget a little extra for their gas bill because prices have fluctuated since the winter of 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine. For example, her gas bill jumped from €300 ($324) to €850 ($919) during the cold months. 

“That was a shock,” Finn said. “Since then, it has settled to around €250 during the cold months and to €50 in the warmer months since our boiler runs on gas.”

Rent 

Renting on a retiree budget is possible in smaller, rural, and southern towns like Finn’s because the cost of living is lower. 

Turin, Palermo, and Naples are among the cheapest Italian cities to rent an apartment. For example, a one-bedroom apartment in Turin costs €950 ($1,027) monthly, compared to €1,800 ($1,946) in Milan.

Even if you love living in a city, you can still save money by moving further away from the city center. Instead of living in a one-bedroom apartment in the center of Rome for €959 ($1,037) a month, you could pay €650 ($703) a month and walk or take the bus into town. 

Food 

Finn hikes up and down a large hill from her Bellano home to go grocery shopping for fresh produce. 

Basic pantry staples like milk, chicken, rice, bread, and cheese will cost between $1 to $7 per pound, depending on the item. A mid-range bottle of wine is about $4.50 to $5.50, according to data from the International Citizens Group, a resource for living, retiring, and working overseas.

Expect to pay higher prices than you would in the United States for the products you miss from home. 

Italy is known for its delicious regional gastronomy. Dining out in large Italian cities is typically comparable to that in the United States. In smaller towns, you can have a fantastic, but frugal, meal for under $20. Dinner for two in smaller towns, including a bottle of wine, will cost about $60.

Health Insurance 

Italy introduced an annual fee ranging from €2,000 ($2,163) to €2,700 ($2,920) per person for foreign residents from outside the European Union to access its public health care. 

“Prior to this, (healthcare) costs varied wildly region to region, but in general it was about €2,200 for both my wife and I per year based on a formula applied to gross income,” said retired blogger Greg Hopkins in a Mediumarticle explaining the personal impact of Italy’s healthcare price changes.

Finn has Italian heritage and has applied for Italian citizenship. When granted, she will avoid the increased healthcare insurance costs other American retirees now face.  

Transportation

Getting around Italy is fairly simple due to its comprehensive public transportation system. It may be smarter to get a monthly pass, which costs about €35 ($40), instead of paying €1.5 ($1.60) for daily trips. 

If you’re planning to drive in Italy, expect to pay around €1.87 per liter, which is around $2 a gallon.

Test Drive Your Location 

Finn recommended that people interested in retiring in Italy visit the country a few times as if they were living there to understand the actual daily living costs, customs, and culture. 

“I learned the language, which changes how you are welcomed,” Finn said. “It wasn’t easy or perfect, but most people are patient and kind.”

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