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North Carolina or South Carolina – Where to Retire?

by Susan Quilty on 20 Comments

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Carolina Preserve is one of North Carolina's best active adult communities.

Over the past decade, the Carolinas have shifted from a stopover on the route to Florida into two of the top retirement states in the country. While North Carolina and South Carolina both have many features that make them fabulous destinations for retirees, it can often be hard to choose between these neighboring states. How can you tell which of the Carolinas is right for you?

When it comes to comparing retirement locations, there are certain factors that can help you decide which is best for you. Climate, culture, taxes, home prices and proximity to friends and family are all important considerations.

When it comes to environment, both North Carolina and South Carolina experience a humid, sub-tropical climate. However, there are variations depending on the given location in either state. In general, summers are hotter and winters are more mild in South Carolina. The western areas are the coolest parts of each state, and this is particularly true in the higher elevations of North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains. Summer temperatures are warmest along South Carolina’s coast, though in North Carolina the coast tends to be a bit cooler than inland areas.

The social culture can also vary throughout either state, but North Carolina and South Carolina certainly each have their own distinct personalities. In North Carolina, retirees will find many diverse destinations. The Raleigh-Durham area has popular urban attractions like museums, theatres, upscale shopping and fine restaurants. In the Asheville area, retirees will enjoy an eclectic, artistic community which features rural recreations and a thriving live music scene.


The grounds of Sun City Hilton Head are an active adult playground adorned with 16 clay tennis courts, a softball field, pickleball and bocce ball courts, a dog park and outdoor party pavilion.

In South Carolina, retirees are often enchanted by the state’s southern charm and fantastic golf courses. As one of the country’s original 13 colonies, South Carolina is rich in regional history. The Charleston and Savannah areas have homes and historic sites which date back to the 1700’s. On the coast, Myrtle Beach is often proclaimed to be the “Golf Capital of the World,” while the resort town of Hilton Head is one of the state’s most popular hot spots.

Of the two states, South Carolina tends to be more favorable when it comes to the overall tax burden for retirees. The state allows a retirement income deduction of $10,000 for individuals, as well as an age deduction of up to $15,000 for residents over the age of 65. In North Carolina, married couples who are age 65 and over are allowed a $7,200 deduction, and Social Security income is exempt. However, you should compare each state’s tax burden to your own financial situation.

Regardless of budget, those who want to live in an active adult community have many housing options in either state. Those who want affordable housing in smaller, more intimate neighborhoods may want to consider communities like Stuart’s Landing in North Carolina, or The Elms of Charleston in South Carolina. Mid-sized developments, including both age-restricted and age-targeted communities, are also prevalent in both states.

Retirees who dream of living in a sprawling, amenity-rich community will also have no trouble finding a home in either state. In North Carolina, active adults can explore developments such as Sun City Carolina Lakes, Fearrington Village or Biltmore Lake. South Carolina also has top-notch, resort-style communities, including Sun City Hilton Head, Del Webb Charleston and Callawassie Island.

The proximity of a retirement location to family and friends is also a common consideration for many active adults. Retiring to a new area often means leaving some people behind. However, choosing an area within easy distance of established friends or family members can also tip the scales in favor of one state over the other.

When choosing between the Carolinas, it really does come down to a matter of personal preference. To make the best decision, retirees should do their homework and visit each location in person. Whether opting to live in North Carolina or South Carolina, retirees can easily find the home of their dreams in one of these beautiful southern states.

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  1. We’re seriously thinking of moving from southern CA to either the northern portion of So Carolina, vs. somewhere near the Lake Norman area in No Carolina. Not retired yet, but will hopefully be retired in next 5 – 7 years (currently 60 years old), Would appreciate any information on the pros and cons of each area. Looking to purchase a home on 3+ acres (have 2 horses and dogs), but would like to be somewhat near a major metropolitan area for medical and other conveniences. Taxes (income, property…) are a factor in our consideration of areas.

    1. Jeff, I live in a neighboring county of Lake Norman, approximately 20 minutes east. Lake Norman consists of three different counties: Mecklenburg, Iredell, and Catawba. Mecklenburg is home to Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina and also has one of the highest property taxes in the state. Iredell has considerably less taxes while still enjoying close proximity to Charlotte. Catawba county is least taxed of the three and is generally more rural. Of the three counties I’d recommend Iredell as it is the median of the three. You can get the best of all worlds: lower taxes while still enjoying full amenities. Charlotte is within 15-20 minutes and Lake Norman can be your backyard. Iredell has agricultural roots and farm and rural land can still be found today. Finding 3+ acres is easily attainable.


    2. If I may suggest York or Lancaster counties of SC. You will pay 1/2 of what you would pay in NC in property tax. Also SC fairs better with retires when it comes to taxes.

    3. I have also been trying to decide on North VS South Carolina and just found out something that has decided for me. North Carolina just dropped(in March 2015)their ban on Fracking while South Carolina shows no fracking because of “no economically feasible reserves”! So – if having clean water and minimal pollution in your future is important to you then you might want to lean towards South Carolina!!!

    4. North or South Carilina are very good choices. South Carolina would be my choice because of lower taxes. Stay away from coastal area. land is low there and can be pron to flooding.
      I’m 65 this year and are making plans to get out of north East. Have some family in South Carolina. Around Columbia and Sumter are nice areas.

  2. Having moved / lived from north (NW Pennsylvania) to the south (Myrtle Beach, SC) then moved east to the west (San Jose / Morgan Hill, Ca.), then back to Myrtle Beach… with a final move to Greenville, SC (called the Upstate, at the base of the Appalacians)…. we have recently retired and not moving anywhere. We absolutely love Greenville, SC.

    Greenville is a small city with everything to offer. It has been listed as one of the top 10 best places in NA. Beautiful downtown, with great restaurants, the Peace Center (hit plays, musicals, music), walking / biking trails along the downtown river including a beautiful waterfall.

    Greenville is a reborn city. Gone are the textile mills, replaced by an automotive industry including, BMW (crossovers X3, X5, X6), and Michelin. A number of nearby universities Clemson, Furman, and Bob Jones keep the area youthful and vibrant.

    Ashville, NC is about 1.5 hours, same for Charlotte, NC., Atlanta 2 hrs., Charleston and the ocean about 3 hrs..

    There are lakes and mountains within 30 minutes. Art and music festivals all spring, summer and fall…

    Cost of living, taxes, housing all some of the lowest in the nation.

    For these reasons and more…. we have found our home in sweet Carolina…

  3. Thank you all for your great information. Thank goodness for sites like this and for people like you that are willing to take your time to share your knowledge; thank you again, Jeff.

  4. The wife and I are having trouble deciding where to move when I retire in 5-6 years. We have visited New Bern ,NC and thought this might be our spot but now are unsure if we want give South Carolina a shot. Any info would be appreciated. Taxes are one of our main things we are considering, also we are looking to move to an area that has a lot of things to do with a laid back atmosphere. Any info on housing and property would also be appreciated.

  5. Looking for advice…. My husband, a retired Firefighter, and I are hoping to move from maryland to either NC or SC this summer, we are in our 50s with 2 kids in college, we are active, love biking, fishing, etc. we would like to settle in an area where we are 15-20 mins from theaters, shopping, etc. we are trying to figure out which state would be best for my husbands pension, property taxes, and a place where we could find jobs, and low crime rate . My husband is a man of all trades, and I am a church secretary. We also need to be where there are young people for our college age kids. Our extended family will be in maryland so we want to be within a day’s drive. I would love an acre or two but no less than a 1/2 acre. We simply cannot afford to live in Maryland any longer. My husband loves the idea of the coast – murrells inlet (to close to myrtle beach for me), but around a big lake would be really nice too. One daughter attends college in NC the other in VA. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Katie,

      Thank you for leaving a comment! I will have our expert real estate agents get in touch with you shortly regarding our communities in NC and SC.

      Thank you!
      Kate, 55places.com

    2. Hi Katie
      just read your comment from 2015
      im in the same position and have 2 girls, high school and college
      thinking about moving to s or n Carolina
      did you have any luck?

  6. Hi we are also looking to move to one of the Carolina’s. Would love any information that you could pass along!
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Lacey! We have plenty of information on communities in North Carolina here and South Carolina here. Once you find a community you’d like to see, feel free to contact our expert real estate agent of that community and they’d be glad to further assist your search.

      Best of luck,
      Stefanie – 55places.com

  7. Thanks to everyone for this good and helpful information, it is just what I have been looking for. I don’t know much about these two southern states and from this learning, I now have a better guiding light for my retirement planning.

  8. Hi,
    My husband is will be retiring in the next 2 years form the army after serving 20 years. We are both in our last 30’s with a 14 year old daughter. We will like to retire in North or South Carolina but is not such how to make a decision. Can anyone suggest great friendly areas in both location. Thanks in advance.

  9. Hi,
    My husband will be retiring in the next 2 years from the army after serving 20 years. We are both in our last 30’s with a 14 year old daughter. We will like to retire in North or South Carolina but is not such how to make an inform decision. Can anyone suggest great and friendly areas in both location. Thanks in advance.

  10. Like both state hamicap looking for cheap low crime nice home smd people my son 15 yrs old help my husband pass away snd i become disabled xx, looking for a nice place to live 52 yrs old /young
    God bless

  11. I’m looking for a 55 & older place to go. Thinking about SC. like to be close to Raleigh since family is there. I’m in a 55 & older in Fl. now but want to be closer to my family. I’m very active and widowed.

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