Why Retire in Europe?
Born in Chicago with maternal Irish grandparents, for years I collected marriage and birth certificates to acquire an Irish passport. With that, I could work legally in enchanted Europe. However, before the Internet, finding European jobs was difficult, and other countries were more lucrative. In Saudi Arabia in 1984, I began my life teaching overseas. For the next for 25 years, I taught mostly in Arabia and Asia. When I turned 63, retirement loomed. My Irish passport allowed retirement in any European Union country. While visiting British colleagues from the United Arab Emirates in their retirement in Barcelona, they advised: “If you retire in the States, you’ll be bored within six months.”
Retire near them? Many Spanish people, although they know English, refuse to speak it. Language-learning for dyslexics like myself comes with listening and memory handicaps. French was my language of choice but I had only mastered basic French. Retire in France? French taxes and red tape? Back in 2000, teaching in Lyon, France for six months taught me some dreams are better left unlived.
Why not retire in the USA? After 11 years in Oman, I savored personal safety. Crime rates in America are sky high, including old people mugged and murdered. Exorbitant housing and transportation prices. I had preferred Los Angeles for three years to the two years spent in San Francisco, but even rainy Seattle, where I had lived sporadically for four years, had joined the ‘too expensive’ category. Most people speak English, but in America, I would be poor.
Thailand? Warm, massages, excellent food and inexpensive. Thai retirement visas demand $1,800 monthly income – much more than necessary to enjoy living there. Over my budget.
Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Belize, Mexico? Warm, yes, but these areas never interested me, except for Mayan, Inca and Aztec history. Visa income requirements, gigantic flying insects, and constant humidity evoked horrors. Italy? Too expensive.
Turkey? Its retirement visa required only $700 a month. Enticing. Exotic historical sites. Winter. Luckily, Turkey is one of the few countries that issues work visas for people over 60. I taught there to test the waters. A terrible surprise awaited. Unlike
Oman, outside the university, few people spoke English. In a store, searching for an umbrella, another failure to communicate spiked an unreasonable frustration: I wanted to grab my eyeballs, rip them from my head and throw them onto the store’s floor.From that, I learned never leave home without my reading glasses – without them, a bi-lingual dictionary is useless.
Then the Turkish government banned Turkish Airlines hostesses from wearing red nail polish. Then YouTube was blocked. High rates of domestic violence, the war in Syria. Then bombs. The Turkish option died long before the coup, police round-ups and thousands of dismissed teachers.
Retirement was a year away. A choice was necessary, so on a summer holiday from Turkey, I scouted Portugal and Ireland. The Portuguese speak English, the country is poor, and it’s in the EU. The Algarve in the south is mostly summer inhabited by Brits and lacks city amenities. Expats say when a location is overrun by one foreign group
en masse, whether hundreds of thousands of Brits in Faro or Albufeira or thousands of Americans in Phuket, life becomes unpleasant. Why? Too many foreigners yearn to live as if at home, but only cheaper. Often they expect American-like amenities and are unwilling to be flexible once confronted with the developing world’s limitations. Frustrated, they literally throw temper tantrums in government offices.
In Portugal, I found Lisbon to be walkable, an essential requirement for living without a car. Up-north Porto was smaller and cheaper, but also rainier – too much like Seattle’s constant gray skies. Next, I explored Ireland.
From Porto, I flew to Dublin. Hotels were expensive, so I stayed at college dormitories. I avoided the tourist lure of Irish whiskey and visited rhinos, giraffes, and orangutans in the Dublin Zoo. The local classifieds advertised costly rentals. I learned Dublin had enticed international companies to headquarter there with low corporate taxes, resulting in sky-high rents.
From Dublin, I took a train south to Cork. I had hoped to hear my Irish grandmother’s melodic accent again and find less expensive apartments. Nope. Newspapers showed slightly cheaper rentals to the west in smaller and colder Galway.
However, the most shocking problem was Irish weather: cold in August! It is one thing to hear and read about horrible Irish weather, but another to live it. Despite the hundred of amazing shades of green on the English-speaking Emerald Island, its high rents and weather made me say adios.
Back in Lisbon, I decided Portugal won. Why? Ten year income tax holiday on pensions for immigrants. In Europe. No snow. Portuguese television, unlike Spain’s, is in English with Portuguese subtitles. No libraries with English books, but the Internet is today’s global communicator. Most people in Portugal are poor so I’ll fit in. Additionally, the present generation is exceptionally well-educated and fluent English speakers. The young speak English, the older (my generation) speak French and even the French retire to Portugal!