Retiring to Spain or France: what are the main differences?

France and Spain are two of the biggest retirement destinations in Europe. We look at how do they compare, from property prices and cost of living to healthcare and language learning

Retired people
Both France and Spain are big draws for retirees - but each offers a different experience
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The British are often accused of being obsessed with the weather, but it is a big consideration when thinking about retiring abroad.

Many people choose to retire somewhere warmer and while both France and Spain have more days of sunlight than the UK, Spain takes the top spot, with around 3,000 hours of sun per year.

France is not too far behind, though, with annual sunshine hours ranging from 1,500 in Normandy and Brittany in the north to 2,800 in Marseille, according to national weather agency Météo France.

Cost of living

The cost of living is generally lower in Spain.

A 2023 analysis by EU statistics agency Eurostat found France was the eighth most expensive country when measured by annual household expenditure, whereas Spain was 13th.

For food, France came above the EU average, while Spain was below.

“I think Spain is generally cheaper,” Robert Hallums, founder of Experts for Expats, which puts expats in touch with consultants and advisors, and regularly works with people thinking about moving to Spain and France, told The Connexion.

“When we’re advising people we generally look at the average minimum wage, average property prices and Spain generally is lower, so therefore it is a more affordable cost of living.”

Read more: Explainer: how to top up your UK state pension when living in France

Property prices

If you are thinking of buying abroad, comparing property prices is always essential – and prices in Spain can be significantly lower than those in France.

The average price per metre square in Spain in February 2024 was €2,056 according to property site Idealista, while in France, the average price per metre square was €3,101 states the property rental site Se Loger.

However, both destinations, outside big cities, tend to be cheaper than the UK.

“France, outside of Paris, just isn’t as expensive as the UK, property prices are much lower on average so you generally get a bit more for your money,” Robert Hallums said.

And there may be more opportunities to rent in France – some 75% of Spaniards own their own home, compared to 63% of French people, according to Eurostat data.

Read more: ‘We built a €120,000 eco-house for a thrifty retirement in France’


Whether or not you speak the language could play a crucial part in how successful your retired life abroad is. But is there one destination that is easier if you are not a natural linguist?

While it may be a cliché, Spaniards have the reputation for being more accepting of slow learners compared to the sometimes less patient French.

“In Spain it’s a bit more helpful, especially if someone’s making an effort,” says Mr Hallums.

And if you’re thinking of embarking on learning a new language, is French or Spanish easier?

Language learning company Babbel recently ranked the easiest languages for English speakers to learn and Spain came third, while France was eighth on the list.

Read more: How long should it take to learn French for everyday use?


Robert Hallums says questions about healthcare are some of the most common he receives from people thinking about retiring abroad.

Both France and Spain are relatively similar when it comes to spending on healthcare. France spends around 12% of GDP on healthcare while Spain spends around 11% according to Eurostat data.

Spain has 449 practising doctors per 100,000 people, while France has 318, according to a Euronews report.

In 2023, life expectancy at birth was 85.7 years for a woman and 80 for a man in France. This was the highest ever level for the country..

Read more: Life expectancy in France hits a record - and births plummet

In Spain, as of 2021, life expectancy was 86.1 for women and 80.3 for men.


Spain is the more popular destination for British retirees. A 2020 Office of National Statistics survey in the UK analysed the most popular destinations for Britons to retire to. Spain came second, just after Croatia.

In 2023 the company Retirement Solutions ranked the countries Britons most wanted to retire to. France came in at number six, while Spain took the top spot

However, when it comes to American expats, France is the more popular country, with nearly 62,000 US expats compared to 57,000 in Spain according to the United Nations Population Division data from 2020.

And could Britons’ preference for Spain’s sunny coasts end up changing over the coming years?

Robert Hallums notes that while British people in the past tended to retire much more to Spain’s Costas, “now because of the exchange rate difference and because of Brexit, it’s not quite so easy”.

Campaigners have said second home owners in Spain face more restrictions than those in France. In Spain, non-EU citizens without residency cards, including Britons post-Brexit, are limited to the EU’s standard Schengen area rule of staying no more than 90 days out of any rolling 180-day period.

Local culture

France can sometimes have the image of being a bit harder to crack when it comes to establishing yourself within the local community.

While some retirees can get by in Spain at first in large expat communities, retiring to France can often require a real commitment to embracing the local culture.

“If you want to move to certain other countries, you might want to connect to British expat hubs whereas with France, the moment you go out of the big cities, it’s far more about living among French communities and embracing the culture,” says Robert Hallums.

France may require more of an effort than Spain to really get established in your new area, but as Hallums says, “If you make the effort, the rewards are definitely there in France".

Read more: La politesse: what habits can make you seem rude to French people?

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