Should I Move to California for Retirement?

Published February 5, 2019
Couple riding bicycles by beach

California does not typically rank well on lists of the best states in which to retire. While the weather is typically pleasant and consistent and the cultural scene is diverse and ample, the cost of living and taxation of retirement income - excluding Social Security - is enough to keep some retirees away.

Health Care

Health care should be a big factor when considering any move as a senior. California has hundreds of hospitals yet struggles to keep up with the demand for quality health care.

Health Care Positives

California landed in the third spot on Forbes' list of Best States to Grow Old (tied with Oregon) for overall quality of life. Though California does not generally rank high on lists of states with the best healthcare, it doesn't rank low either. The state actually ranked #1 for Public Health (based on infant mortality, suicide rates, smoking rates, and mental health) according to U.S. News & World Report. Cannabis is legal in this state for both recreational and medicinal use - something some seniors find effective for aches and pains without harmful side effects.

Health Care Negatives

California experiences shortages of qualified medical doctors for lower-income patients, but very high-income patients have their choice of some state-of-the-art medical facilities that border on swanky. Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, is only accepted by around half of the state's practicing physicians. Reports of Medi-Cal patients being treated poorly by medical staff are rampant and the program overall is riddled with scandals and controversy.

Cost of Living

The cost of living can vary from one county to another within the state, but the state as a whole has a fairly high cost of living. The United Way reveals that 1 in 3 California seniors struggle to meet basic needs. The number of homeless seniors in California is increasing. California ranks 49th in the list of best states for affordability. All data suggests that California is not a good state for seniors living on a fixed income or for those who struggle financially.

State Taxes

Though California doesn't tax income from Social Security, it does tax other retirement income. California sales tax, income tax, and property taxes are among the highest in the United States.


Though the state offers ample public transportation opportunities, owning a vehicle in the state can become cost prohibitive, particularly when moving from another state. California has incredibly strict emissions rules, so getting an out-of-state vehicle approved for use in the state can be costly and difficult. Gas prices are typically higher than elsewhere in the country.

California Surroundings

The climate of California depends largely on the location within the state; desert areas can get quite hot while the mountainous areas are subject to snow in the winter. California officially ended its years-long drought in 2017, but smog and overall air quality/pollution continue to be a problem.

Nature and Exploration

California boasts a diverse ecosystem of oceans, deserts, mountain areas, lakes, and more. Hiking trails are abundant and there are plenty of opportunities to spend time outdoors. Camping is a popular pastime within the state as is just getting out and exploring nature. If you hope to enjoy a retirement filled with spending time in nature, California is a good option.

Cultural Climate

California is known for being liberal and progressive although this is not entirely true of all sections of the state. There are some counties that are decidedly conservative. As a whole, however, this state defends equality and fights discrimination. Diversity is celebrated - California has an impressively diverse population.

Entertainment Options

Depending on which area in California you choose to put down roots, you may be able to enjoy world-class entertainment options like concerts, theater, and more. Myriad art museums are scattered throughout the state and movies that would otherwise be considered "limited release" in other parts of the nation are easy to find in the more populated areas of California. The diversity of the state results in ample choices for dining out with varying cultural cuisines.

A Beautiful Retirement

California is a beautiful state, yet the high cost of living can make it a poor choice for retirement. On the other hand, if you have ample retirement income and savings, you may be able to enjoy this culturally diverse state in your golden years. The truth is that California is a different state for the wealthy than it is for those struggling financially.

Should I Move to California for Retirement?