Banking, Money and Taxes in Greece

Greece is notorious for having a laid-back approach to financial matters. However, in the age of austerity, financial smarts in Greece are perhaps more important than ever. 

Money in Greece

Greece has been a member of the European Union since 1981 and adopted the euro (EUR), in place of the drachma, in 2001. However, its relationship with the rest of the union has been under strain as a result of the imposed austerity measures aimed at alleviating its debt crisis. Consequently, Greece's continued place in the Eurozone has come into question a number of times - this affects the way some expats choose to do their banking in Greece.

The Greek Euro (pronounced evro in Greek) is split into seven banknotes and eight coins, and is differentiated by designs that are symbolic of the country, such as Greek ships through the ages and historical figures.

  • Notes: 5, 10, 20, 100, 200 and 500 EUR

  • Coins: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, and 1 and 2 EUR

Many experienced expats advise against transferring funds between countries using a normal bank. Currency specialist businesses that solely specialise in transferring and exchanging currency often offer better exchange rates and lower costs than banks. 

Banking in Greece

Many expats decide to maintain their bank accounts outside of Greece, largely because of the country’s financial situation. That said, expats wanting to buy property in Greece need to prove to the government that they have enough money to maintain it, and that the money has come into the country legally. As a result, they are required to open a Greek bank account.

Mobile and internet banking in Greece are commonly available, cheques are rare outside of corporate transactions, and many smaller businesses and restaurants only accept cash. It is a good idea for expats to keep some cash on them, especially outside of cities and away from major tourist destinations.

Opening a bank account in Greece

Opening a bank account in Greece is fairly easy. Before this can be done, however, expats will need to apply for a Greek tax number, called an AFM (Arithmo Forologiko Mitro). This does not require a Resident’s Permit and can be obtained from the closest tax office upon presentation of a passport and birth certificate. Once the application has been processed, the tax office provides a document stating the applicant’s nine-digit AFM number.

In addition to their AFM document, non-resident applicants will need to bring some form of identity, which may differ between banks and might include documents such as a copy of one’s passport, national identity card or driver’s license. A recent utility bill as proof of address may also be necessary, as well as bank statements from the expat’s bank in their own country. A reference letter from the expat’s old bank giving information about their credit rating may also be required.

Initial deposits vary between banks in Greece, from no minimum requirement to 300 EUR, although a required starting balance of 150 EUR is fairly standard. 

Banks in Greece

As a result of the financial crisis in Greece, several international banks stopped doing business in the country, some smaller banks shut down and others were bought out. The largest banking groups remaining in Greece are Alpha Bank, Eurobank Ergasias Bank, National Bank of Greece and Piraeus Bank. A number of international banks such as HSBC and Citibank also operate in the country. 

It is advisable to bank with a large international bank, or a domestic bank that the government is likely to assist should there be more economic problems down the line, such as National Bank. Piraeus Bank, on the other hand, offers internet banking in English which may be important for expats who have yet to master Greek.

Banks are open from 8am to 2.30pm on Mondays through Thursdays, and from 8am to 2pm on Fridays, although hours may vary between areas. 

ATMs in Greece

Cashpoints, or ATMs, are widely available in most areas of Greece. Many of them, especially in larger cities, have options available for doing one’s transactions in English. In more remote areas, however, ATMs are more likely to only use Greek. 

The most commonly accepted cards are MasterCard and Visa - Diner’s Club and American Express are less likely to be accepted. For the most part, there should be no issues when using cards with either a chip or a magnetic strip. 

Credit and debt in Greece

Given the larger issue of Greek debt, personal debt in Greece is also a matter that expats should be cautious about, including when it comes to the use of credit cards.

Using debit cards for smaller purchases may be advisable, especially in the case of international accounts, as these have lower interest rates attached to them.

Credit ratings are incredibly important in Greece, given how many people are forced to default on their debt. Expats applying for a Greek credit card may be required to obtain a reference letter from their bank at home, will have to show proof of a steady income and are likely to start with a relatively low credit limit. 

It is very rare for non-residents of Greece to obtain bank loans, and loan requirements for residents have also become much stricter. 

Tax in Greece

Tax is always a complicated issue and preparing to pay tax in Greece before arriving in the country is a good idea. A good tax expert should be able to help with this, especially if expats keep funds in their home country. The vast majority of expatriates living in Greece will need to get an AFM from their local tax office and, in most cases, income generated in the country will be taxed by the Greek government.

Social security contributions account for a significant portion of this tax, although employers are required to cover a part of this. Expats buying property will also have to pay real estate tax.

Tax returns in Greece can be complicated, and specific issues arise based on whether or not an expat is registered as a Greek resident. A free tax consultation can be had at the local town hall, although all tax business is done in Greek and in person. Online filing is also in Greek and, as a result, expats who don’t speak Greek will need to get a translator.

Regardless of one’s specific circumstances, it is highly advisable to consult a bilingual tax and/or financial advisor in Greece. Expats should also note that most essential expenses such as medical, social security and schooling are tax deductible.

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