Retire to the USA

Are you dreaming of spending your golden years under the Florida sun? Our guide provides you with all the facts about retiring to the USA – from obtaining a residence permit to health insurance and tax obligations.

Why retire to the USA?

Escaping the wet and cold winters in the home country and enjoying warm temperatures and sunshine all year round – that is the motivation of many retired immigrants to the USA. This group of people, in particular, is often less concerned about how to finance their lives in the USA because they benefit from the fact that their pensions from home are being transferred abroad.

The American Dream recommends:

Every year, 55,000 people around the world receive permanent residency in the United States through the Green Card Lottery of the US government. Registering for the lottery is straightforward, involves few eligibility requirements and, because it is a random drawing, all applicants have an equal chance of winning - regardless of age.

Learn more about the Green Card Lottery

What US states are popular for retirement?

The US state of Florida is particularly popular with retirees. However, there are other places that retirees long for in the USA.

Retirement in Florida

Florida has the reputation of being a retiree's paradise. And that's not surprising because the Sunshine State impresses with warm temperatures all year round, 360 days of sunshine annually, and a 2,173-km long coastline. In addition, Florida features real retirement towns with an infrastructure that is perfectly tailored to the needs of retirees.

Since Americans in particular also appreciate these benefits, many of them settle in the Sunshine State when they retire. Also, tens of thousands of non-American seniors live in Florida. Among all US states, the Sunshine State has the highest average age in the USA (41 years).

Popular retirement destinations in Florida include: Cape Coral / Fort Myers Naples Palm Beach.

Other popular US states

To many seniors, a warm climate is the most important thing when it comes to choosing where to live. The entire south of the USA, also called the "Sun Belt," is therefore of interest as a place to live when retiring. Apart from the state of Florida, other popular places for retirees are Arizona, California, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.

Seniors are particularly drawn to the following cities:

  • Asheville (North Carolina)
  • Austin (Texas)
  • Beaufort (South Carolina)
  • Charleston (South Carolina)
  • Myrtle Beach (South Carolina)
  • Pacific Palisades (California)
  • Prescott (Arizona)
  • San Diego (California)
  • Santa Monica (California)

However, if you're dreaming of the beaches on the West Coast, you'll need to build up a big financial cushion beforehand because land and real estate in California are rather expensive. The same applies to another dream destination: in the island paradise of Hawaii, you have to be prepared for a very high cost of living. On the islands, both housing and food are on average 30% more expensive than in the rest of the USA.

Residence permit for the USA

To enter the USA, you need a residence permit. Depending on how long you want to stay in America, you have several options.

Retire with a US visa

The US authorities do not have a special visa category for retired persons. Seniors must therefore apply for a visitor visa (B-1 or B-2). It entitles you to enter the US for a period of ten years. However, holders of B visas are only allowed to stay in the United States for six months at a time. Although you can apply for an extension of the B visa if necessary, you should leave the US for a longer period of time, preferably several months, at the latest after the expiration of this extension.

Many retirees make the mistake of considering the B visa as a permit for permanent residence in the USA. However, anyone who returns to the USA just a few days after leaving runs the risk of being refused entry by border officials. They then assume that the visitor visa has been abused. In the worst case, a lifetime ban on entering the USA can even be issued.

Therefore, the B visa is the right choice for you if you want to spend the winter in the sunny south of the USA and keep a summer residence in your home country. If you want to stay permanently in America, however, you need a Green Card.

If you plan to stay in the United States for only 90 days, you can apply for visa-free entry with ESTA – provided your home country participates in the Visa Waiver Program. Compared to a US visa, the application process for ESTA is relatively uncomplicated and significantly cheaper.

Retire with a Green Card

Just like for any other person who wants to settle in the USA, retirees too can consider the Green Card as the best choice for permanent residence in the United States.

The path to a Green Card leads either through a job, an investment in a US business, or for the purpose of family reunification to the USA. Unfortunately, real estate ownership in the States does not allow access to a permanent residence permit. It is therefore very difficult or even impossible, especially for retirees, to obtain the desired Permanent Resident Card.

So if you are thinking of spending your retirement comfortably in a lounge chair on a Florida beach, you should start looking for a job and the associated Green Card for the USA before you reach retirement age.

Another option is to participate in the Green Card Lottery, in which the US government gives away 55,000 Permanent Resident Cards every year. One major advantage is that it is a random draw, and the chances of winning are the same for every participant. Sign up now – it only takes a few clicks, and you're in!

Green Card Lottery

Win one of 55,000 Green Cards in the official Green Card Lottery of the US authorities!

Health insurance for seniors

The issue of health insurance plays a particularly important role in retirement – especially in the USA. Compared to European developed countries, the prices for drugs, medical treatments, hospital stays, etc., are very high in the United States. For example, one day in a hospital can cost between $2,000 and $4,000.

Therefore, you should find out in good time before your departure to the USA how you can guarantee your insurance coverage in the United States.

Europeans automatically lose coverage under their statutory health insurance if they are outside the EU. The USA, on the other hand, does not pay for individuals who do not have American citizenship or a Green Card. It is therefore highly recommended that you obtain international health insurance before leaving for the USA.

In the USA, there are many private health insurance providers, but the range of services they offer varies considerably. If you want to take out such an insurance policy, you should carefully compare all services and prices in advance to make sure that all important treatments are covered for you.

Another option is to buy long-term health insurance for seniors from your home country. The variety of offers is less complex, and the rates are characterized by greater transparency. Nevertheless, you should check all benefits and prices carefully in advance. The downside: travel insurance policies are usually taken out for a certain period of time (usually one year, maximum of five years), after which they must be renewed.

Additional nursing care insurance
If you do not want to do without good care in old age in the United States, you should definitely take out additional private insurance for nursing care before immigrating. This is the only way to make use of many services that would otherwise have to be paid for out of one's own pocket.

Taxes for retirees

Retirees are subject to tax in the USA. This also applies to non-Americans. However, this depends on the length of the stay in the USA because everyone must pay taxes where their permanent residence is located.

The 183-day rule

If you are only in the US for a few months, to winter in Florida, for example, but you spend most of the year (183 days or more) in your home country, you are still a resident of that country, and you have unlimited tax liability in your home country.

However, if you spend more than 183 per year in the USA and continue to receive pension payments from another country, you have limited tax liability. Which of the two countries has the right of taxation, or whether it may also lie with both, depends on the regulations in the respective double taxation agreement of the two countries.

Double taxation agreement: exemple Germany / USA

The double taxation agreement between Germany and the USA was concluded in 1989 and last amended in 2006. Article 18 regulates the taxation of pensions and states that the right of taxation lies with the country of residence.

So, persons who have spent 183 days or more in the USA in one year must pay taxes in the USA, following the rules of the state in which they live. There is generally then no need to file another tax return in Germany (exceptions apply to former public service employees).

Pension payment

The monthly pension payment can be transferred to either an American or a bank account in your home country. But please note: if you decide to transfer the money to a US bank account, you can expect additional costs. For example, there may be transfer fees or currency conversion fees that must be paid by the owner of the account.

These additional fees caused by the international money transfer to the US can amount to up to five percent of the transferred amount. Therefore, it is recommended to keep an account in your home country for pension payments. With the help of special transfer services (e.g., TransferWeise, Paypal, WesternUnion), you can then transfer the money to a US account at significantly lower fees.


Especially in Florida, where there are larger international communities, you may find stores, doctors' offices, and recreational facilities where your mother tongue is spoken and understood. However, it is generally advisable to have sufficient knowledge of English when moving (partially) to the USA. In the Sun Belt of the United States, Spanish is also of growing importance.

More tips for the USA

Looking for more information on living in the USA? Our articles on driving, health care, and naturalization in the United States will provide you with important information.

Green Card CheckAre you eligible?