Top 10 Expat Destinations in Europe

Europe famous buildings illustrations

Whether you’re looking for the best weather, the most distinctive culture, or the most affordable places to live as an expatriate in Europe, there is bound to be a country that offers everything you’re looking for from your expat relocation.

Here we’ll run through the top 10 expat destinations to provide greater insight into the most popular places to live – and what the big draws are for UK nationals. 

Europe offers a uniquely broad range of countries to choose from. If you’re considering a move overseas, it’s essential to consider factors such as:

  • Easy granting of visas or residency permits
  • Competitive costs of living and employment prospects.
  • First class local healthcare
  • A lifestyle that meets your aspirations – and better weather

For many Brits, the appeal of Europe hasn’t diminished post-Brexit. On the contrary, it seems to have become more enticing now that there are hoops to jump through to be granted a visa.

Spain 

We’ll start with the number one EU destination, with no less than 761,000 UK expats. One of the advantages of Spain is the considerable expat community – making it feel like a natural home from home.

That said, you’re missing out if you don’t learn some of the language and experience the culture and cuisine of this diverse nation. 

Work/life balance in Spain is excellent, with the famous siestas a great way to cool down from the blazing heat in the summer months.

Spain is family-friendly, and children are welcome almost everywhere. Crime rates are low, and the range of beaches, countryside and mountains make for a great outdoor lifestyle.

The trip is just two or three hours by plane, or you can even drive through France and drink in the scenery as you go. Visa applications are managed by the Consulate of Spain in London and are required for any stays over 60 days.

Costs of living in Spain are over 22 per cent cheaper, with consumer prices 19 per cent lower than in the UK.

Make sure to check out our Expat Guide to Living in Spain article, we try to update this with major developments that could affect expatriates life in Spain

Spain as an expat destination takeaways:

  • Strong expat community, family-friendly and safe.
  • Living costs are around 22 per cent lower than in the UK.
  • Around two to three hours flight or accessible by road.
  • The healthcare system is ranked seventh highest in the world.
  • Average monthly net salary €1,326 (£1,141) compared to £1,949 in the UK.

Ireland

Home to 291,000 Brits, Ireland is the second most popular European destination.

Just a hop, skip and jump over the Irish Sea, you can travel to the Emerald Isle in just over an hour, from London to Dublin.

Visa requirements for British expats work differently in Ireland from elsewhere in the EU. Expats don’t need a visa or a permit to live here under the Common Travel Agreement.

The rolling green hills, traditional villages and dramatic coastline all provide a backdrop for life in Ireland.

However, if you’re looking for work opportunities and a busier social life, the bright lights of the capital are a stark contrast to the peace of rural Ireland and yet still packed with culture and heritage.

Living costs in Ireland are slightly higher than in the UK – around 19 per cent more expensive for rent and 11.5 per cent more costly for consumer goods. 

Higher salaries offset those living costs, with the average monthly income just under 10 per cent higher for expats in Ireland.

Ireland as an expat destination takeaways:

  • Visa-free access for UK nationals, with no residency permits required.
  • Slightly higher consumer prices balanced with higher average salaries.
  • Fast travel access with flights taking just over one hour.
  • Average monthly net salary €2,477 (£2,132).
  • Excellent career opportunities with many large multinational employers.

France

Heading further South, France is home to around 200,000 British nationals. Famous for fashion, literature, wine and cheese, the lifestyle in France is massively different from that in the UK.

The economy is stable, cities are buzzing, the countryside is beautiful, and the healthcare system is consistently ranked the best in the world.

You’ll find a broad range of UK expats living here, from young professionals to families and retirees.

French taxes contribute around 30 per cent to healthcare and social funds. Hence the excellent state provision and education system – plus family allowances and childcare policies make it a great place to raise little ones.

To apply for a French visa, you’ll need to prove a minimum income per month to evidence you are financially independent – this threshold is lower than the majority of other nations.

Once you’ve lived in France for five years, you can apply for a Carte de Resident and are then entitled to social benefits and healthcare, provided you’re making social security contributions.

France as an expat destination takeaways:

  • Low-income requirements for visa applicants.
  • Living costs are about 2.5 per cent higher, but rents are nearly 18 per cheaper.
  • A relaxed lifestyle and family-friendly working policies.
  • Average monthly net salary €2,275 (£1,956).
  • Great for education, with university fees dramatically lower than the UK.

Germany

When we think of Germany, we often imagine fantastic beer, Oktoberfest and famous car brands. However, the 115,000 UK expats living there will tell you there’s a lot more on offer.

Germany is the economic powerhouse of the EU, with a thriving jobs market and plenty of employment opportunities, particularly in Berlin.

One of the great things about living here is the opportunity to travel. A short car trip can take you on a new adventure to a different country across no less than nine neighbouring borders.

Interestingly, around 20 per cent of German residents aren’t German due to the transnational business hubs here attracting international emigration.

However, you will need to work through the regulations to secure a German work permit. There are strict immigration laws designed to protect German employees and keep those impressive unemployment figures among the lowest in the world.

Germany as an expat destination takeaways:

  • A multicultural and contemporary country with a robust economy.
  • The average net monthly income is around €2,481 (£2,135).
  • Career opportunities for professionals in business, technology and sciences.
  • Outstanding healthcare, education and social security benefits.
  • Living costs are three per cent lower, with rents five per cent cheaper than in the UK.

Portugal

When talking about moving to Portugal, the first thing we must mention is the Golden Visa Programme – because it’s a primary reason so many expats are setting their sights on the Algarve.

This programme is aimed at retirees and offers incredible incentives. One is that you’ll pay a low, flat rate of ten per cent income tax, including on all pension earnings.

Professional expats can also use this system if they work in a specific role or sector, including:

  • Higher education teachers
  • Qualified workers in construction and industry
  • ICT technicians
  • Doctors, dentists and physicists
  • Production managers

Alongside the tax breaks, you’ll find Portugal a country with a great climate, good infrastructure, decent healthcare, and no end of things to do if you love spending time outdoors.

It’s also a well-connected nation, with international links via Lisbon, Faro and Porto.

Thinking of buying a home? Make sure to read out Expat Guide to Buying a Property In Portugal article.

Portugal as an expat destination takeaways:

  • Good expat community with around 60,000 Brits in residence.
  • Travel time is around 2.5 hours from London.
  • English is widely spoken, but only in urban areas.
  • Costs of living are significantly cheaper – 28 per cent lower on consumer goods and 33.5 per cent less expensive for property rentals.
  • Tax incentives for retirees and professional expats.

Make sure you have the correct healthcare in Portugal cover required for the type of visa.

Cyprus

Staying in the balmy temperatures of southern Europe, we’ll next take a trip to the former colony island of Cyprus, split into North and South.

English is spoken in most of the country, and you’ll find a welcoming British community with around 59,000 UK nationals, mainly living in Paphos.

Flights from the UK take around 4.5 hours, and given that Cyprus is an island, you’ll find living costs low if you don’t buy imported goods – the local fresh produce is far better quality and highly affordable.

Tax in Cyprus is also beneficial, and as a tax resident, if you retire, you can choose whether to pay a flat rate of five per cent on your pension or pay tax against the standard income tax brackets.

Property is low-cost, too, even in small but trendy coastal tourist regions such as Paphos. The average price per square metre is about €1,758 (£1,513) in central locations, compared to £4,322 in the UK.

If you’re not convinced by the perfect weather, beautiful beaches, tasty cuisine and culture, you’ll also find job vacancies in tourism, medicine, engineering, sales and software.

The education system is high-quality, universities are affordable, and public and private healthcare are good.

Cyprus as an expat destination takeaways:

  • Beneficial tax regimes and high personal income tax allowances.
  • Travel takes around 4.5 hours flight time from the UK.
  • A friendly expat community, mainly living in small coastal towns.
  • Affordable living costs – consumer prices are almost 12 per cent cheaper, and rental prices 30 per cent lower than the UK.
  • Sunniest region to live in Europe, with miles of beautiful sandy beaches.

Switzerland

In Switzerland you’ll find the picturesque country of Switzerland, with about 45,000 British expats enjoying the stunning scenery, charming ski resorts – and, of course, famous Swiss chocolate.

You’ll find fabulous landscapes, world-class skiing, and a stable economy. Transport links are available through to France, Germany and Italy within a short trip. 

However, the living costs in Switzerland are high!

That aside, it’s all about balance. The average yearly salary is 112,184 CHF (£88,674), incredibly high compared to the £29,600 UK average.

Of that, you’ll pay around 25 per cent in taxes as a national median and 14 per cent in social security contributions – although the employer covers half of that.

The system includes a range of benefits for resident families, including maternity and paternity, family allowances, and healthcare support.

Switzerland as an expat destination takeaways:

  • Outstanding infrastructure, salaries and social security support for residents.
  • Good transport hub for Europe, with borders to Italy, France and Germany.
  • Most Swiss people speak English, but it is worth learning Swiss German or Swiss-French depending on the region you move to.
  • Very high living costs. Consumer prices are 77 per cent higher than in the UK, and rent is 67 per cent more expensive.
  • Exceptional landscapes, with snow-capped mountains, lakes, hiking and skiing.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands feels a lot more like the UK in terms of culture, and most Dutch people speak excellent English – it’s commonly used in business.

There are around 44,000 UK citizens in The Netherlands. UNICEF reports that children in the country are the happiest in the world.

Life here is peaceful, and very family orientated. The lifestyle is healthy, and you’ll need a bike to get about since cycling is hugely popular.

Living costs are relatively comparable, and rents and house prices don’t differ vastly from those in the UK. However, the choice and quality of homes in The Netherlands are excellent.

The main change for many expats is getting used to the culture. People in The Netherlands are liberal and laid-back, but breaking the rules is very much frowned upon.

You’ll find plenty of employment, great healthcare, and an excellent education system, alongside cultural diversity and a solid environmental conscientiousness, whether you head for the bright lights of Amsterdam or a classic rural windmill.

The Netherlands as an expat destination takeaways:

  • A friendly and welcoming country with a diverse cultural history.
  • Healthy lifestyles, with almost everybody cycling as their primary transport method.
  • Offers several world-class universities, with many lessons taught in English.
  • The weather is pretty unpredictable, with summer days often suddenly interrupted by rainfall.
  • Crime rates are very low, and The Netherlands is a family-friendly place to live.
  • Living costs are similar to the UK – consumer prices are just over seven per cent higher, but local purchasing power is 1.8 per cent greater. 

Make sure to check out our expat guide to living in The Netherlands article, we try to update this with major developments that could affect expatriates life in Spain

Belgium

Belgium might not be an obvious expat destination but is home to 28,000 UK citizens. The residents here are diverse, with about 12.5 per cent of the population has moved from overseas.

Public facilities and living standards are high in this small nation, and there are many advantages in addition to the local beer, fries and chocolate.

English isn’t spoken everywhere and is used by fewer people than in nearby Germany and The Netherlands, so you’ll need to learn the language. 

That depends on whether you’re heading to Flanders (to the north, where people speak Dutch), Wallonia (in the south, where people speak French) or eastern Wallonia, where people speak German.

You’ll not be short on culture anywhere in Belgium. There are impressive museums, a vibrant theatre scene, and some of the most beautiful towns and cities in Europe.

Belgians also love sports, so if you’re keen on football, tennis or cycling, there will always be something to watch or get involved with.

Belgium as an expat destination takeaways:

  • Fantastic fine dining, with 841 Michelin starred restaurants.
  • Famous for local Belgian beers – with thousands of craft brews on offer.
  • Low crime rates, with very little outside of central Brussels and Antwerp.
  • An outstanding healthcare system, with some of the lowest private healthcare costs in the EU.
  • Wide range of public, international and language schools.
  • Rent prices are 17.5 per cent lower, but consumer prices 7.7 per cent higher than in the UK.
  • The average net monthly salary is €2,062 (£1,774).

Italy

Our tenth destination is Italy – the beautiful land of pasta, pizza, incredible wines, and 26,000 British nationals.

Many of the expats in Italy are retirees, drawn by the low living costs, glorious weather and excellent healthcare system.

There is a considerable contrast between the lively cities of Milan, Rome and Turin, and the peaceful countryside havens, with regions such as Abruzzo and Tuscany full of vineyards, mountains and rolling fields.

Italy’s enchanting islands are also highly popular, with Sardinia a magnet for those seeking a high quality of life on an island paradise.

Travel to Italy is cheap and easy, with several international airports to choose from. However, you will need to learn some Italian since although businesses will often use English, it’s not a given.

Grocery shopping costs can be a bit higher, and restaurant prices are about four per cent more expensive than EU averages. Still, the quality and variety of dishes on offer are unrivalled.

Italy as an expat destination takeaways:

  • Excellent climate, with hot, dry summers and cool winters.
  • Blend of beaches in the summer and skiing in the northern Alps in the winter.
  • Delicious food and wine, with simple yet world-class cuisines.
  • Living costs and property prices are much lower in rural areas.
  • Rental prices are on average 9.6 per cent cheaper than the UK, and consumer prices just under half a per cent less expensive.

Top 10 European Countries for UK Expats FAQ

Can UK expats still move to Europe post-pandemic?

Before January 2021, moving to the EU was easy as a British citizen. 
 
However, now that UK nationals aren’t travelling from a European member state, they will need a visa or permit to be entitled to live, work or study overseas. That by no means says you can’t do so.
 
Many EU countries have been hard hit, both by Brexit and the Coronavirus pandemic. 
 
Nations such as Spain and Portugal rely on British tourism and investment and are putting new systems in place to make it easier to emigrate or travel.
 
For example, the Portuguese Golden Visa system offers substantial advantages to UK expats moving there.
 
Therefore, it might take a while longer and cost a little more to apply for the relevant permit, but UK nationals can still move to Europe as expats.

Which is the most popular EU country for UK expats?

Spain remains the number one destination, with most expats living in Alicante and Malaga. 
 
However, that may change with new visa rules and the appeal of destinations such as Portugal offering benefits and tax incentives to attract more UK nationals.

Where is the cheapest place to live in Europe?

Living costs are critical when choosing where in Europe to relocate. First, however, a word of caution:

1. If living costs are low, average salaries probably are too.
2. You’ll need to work out your monthly income before working out a general budget.
3. If you rely on UK income (such as a British pension or working from Europe on behalf of a UK employer), you’ll need to factor in currency exchange rates and transfer costs.

The cheapest European country in terms of costs of living is currently Bulgaria.

How can I apply for a European Residency Permit?

The rules for residency applications vary between each country. For example, there isn’t an EU visa as such, so a lot depends on whether you are:
 
Moving for work – usually, you’ll need a confirmed offer of employment and assistance from your employer to help with the work permit application.
 
Retiring – most countries will need to see evidence of a minimum income or minimum net worth to ensure you won’t be reliant on state benefits.
 
To study – again, you’ll often require a placement offer or letter of acceptance and can then apply for a student visa for the duration of your course.
 
Investing – you can invest in many countries around the world ‘in return’ for residency status, similar to the UK’s Tier 1 Investor Visa. Some nations require a government donation, and others only need you to buy a property in the country above a minimum threshold.

Can I still receive a UK state pension if I move to a European country?

Many UK expats in Europe move for retirement – what better than to spend your golden years soaking up the sun on a peaceful Mediterranean shoreline.
 
In short, yes, you can still receive the UK State Pension if you move to a European country.
 
This pension income will also increase year on year, in line with the living allowance increases. 

Further related information and articles can be found following the links below

Questions or Comments

We love to get feedback from our readers. After reading these Top 10 Expat Destinations in Europe, if you have any questions or want to make comments. please do not hesitate to send us a message on this site or our social media.

Leave a comment