Doing Business in Greece
Expats doing business in Greece will find themselves in a challenging economic environment. The conditions attached to loans from its partners in the European Union mean that Greece is under enforced austerity measures. These have had a significant impact on the country’s economic outlook and business environment.
Some of Greece’s problems predate its recent economic turmoil, however. A complicated and inefficient bureaucracy, and a lack of access to regulatory information makes it quite difficult for expats and locals alike to start a business in Greece.
While much of its economic activity is focused around Athens, the rest of the country offers opportunities as well. The largest industries in Greece are tourism, energy, food processing, agriculture and retail, with opportunities in rising industries such as manufacturing generic pharmaceuticals and medical tourism.
Business hours in Greece are normally from Monday to Friday, either from 8am to 4pm or 9am to 5pm. Some businesses also stay open on Saturdays. However, banks are generally open from 8.30am until 2pm (1.30pm on Fridays), and expats can expect shops to be open from 9am until 6pm, as general rule.
While many Greeks do speak English, having a working grasp of the Greek language or going into business with a first language speaker are often essential for a successful business.
Business dress differs. Bigger firms often require formal business attire while many smaller businesses are relatively casual. Expats are advised to dress formally in their first meetings with potential associates. Given the influence of the Greek Orthodox Church, female expats should dress conservatively in the business environment.
Bearing in mind the country’s reputation for corruption, gifts are best left to friends, family and close acquaintances.
While women are equal under the law, many Greeks retain a “traditional” view of gender roles. There is still a glass ceiling in the higher levels of business which have been known to prevent many women from reaching the boardrooms of Greece’s biggest companies.
Shaking hands with men and women is the most common business greeting in Greece. Close acquaintances embrace or kiss each other. Greeks appreciate it when people attempt to speak their language and a simple kaliméra (good morning) or kalispéra (good afternoon) goes a long way.
Business culture in Greece
Greek culture shapes acceptable business practice. An emphasis on family and personal relations means that many Greeks like dealing with people that they know and trust, and prefer face-to-face meetings over emails and telephone calls. This contributes to the widespread nepotism in Greek business culture.
While many in government and business are trying to improve things, corruption in Greece persists to a fairly large extent. It certainly isn’t always the case, but business owners shouldn’t be surprised by being asked to pay a “speed tax” – a thinly veiled way of asking for a bribe to move things along.
Greeks also maintain traditional views of democracy and honour. Meetings often entail vigorous exchanges of ideas but expats should take care when disagreeing with a colleague - this should be done in a respectful manner. Additionally, a lot of importance is placed on experience and employees are expected to respect more senior colleagues.
Starting a business in Greece
Many businesspeople complain about the country’s slow technological and institutional progress insofar as the country’s attitude to digital media and labour regulations appears to be lagging behind other first world countries.
Opening a business in Greece may involve exchanging paperwork with the tax office (DOY), pension office (IKA), the Chamber of Commerce and the Fire Department, among others. In Greece, processes that may take minutes on a computer in other countries, often take hours in queues.
At the same time, this may provide opportunities for entrepreneurial expats with capital and the will to wade through the perils of Greek bureaucracy.
Dos and don’ts of business in Greece
Do greet by shaking hands, smiling and maintaining eye contact.
Don't be put off by personal questions. Greeks are warm and often curious people.
Do call senior colleagues by their title and surname in professional environments.
Do be prepared to network and spend a lot of time getting to know one's associates.
Do be prepared to negotiate and haggle.
Do make sure that official documents and business cards are in English and Greek.
Don't be late, even if the Greek associates are.