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Moving to Greece

Expats moving to Greece will be relocating to a country of archaeological marvel, rich traditions and shimmering beaches. The Hellenic Republic, or Hellas, consists of 3,000 islands and rocky outcrops at the tip of the Balkan Peninsula.

Considered by many to be the birthplace of Western civilization, Greece is surrounded by Italy and the Ionian Sea in the west, and Turkey and the Aegean Sea in the east. It has long been an attractive destination for its relaxed lifestyle, sunshine and natural beauty.

However, this idyllic version of Greece is starkly contrasted with the current socio-economic and political state of the country. Greece continues to struggle with the consequences of the 2010 debt crisis and the austerity measures imposed by its European partners. The record growth the country enjoyed before the credit crunch in 2008 is a thing of the past and its high unemployment rate means that jobs in Greece are scarce. 

Traditionally, employment in Greece has been provided mainly by the service industry, construction, telecommunications, agriculture and shipping. The collapse of Greece's economy left many of these industries reeling and most have yet to recover fully. However, perhaps as a result of low prices, tourism is the exception to the rule, and continues to provide employment opportunities for foreigners in Greece.

Anybody that considers relocating to Greece should take the relatively unstable state of the economy and the severely weakened job market into consideration. Wealthier expats are, however, presented with opportunities as housing and rental prices have significantly declined in recent years and might present good investments, and tourism continues to bring in seasonal influxes of foreign visitors.

The Greek cities which attract the most expats are Thessaloniki, and Athens. Thessaloniki is well known for its high-tech industries and hosts the Thessaloniki Technology Park as well as the Thessaloniki Science Center and Museum. While perhaps not as multicultural as Athens, it is still home to a large expat population. Athens, otherwise known as the City of the Gods, is the birthplace of democracy where the monuments of Ancient Greece continue to dominate the city. It is also Greece’s financial capital, houses the headquarters of many of the multinational companies operating in the country and, in the recent past, saw a wave of political protests.

Greece has its social and economic problems, and the high unemployment rate has intensified anti-foreigner sentiment which has, in a few cases, escalated to violence. It is also notorious for high levels of corruption in politics and business, as well as complicated government bureaucracy.

However, it is a place of truly majestic beauty. Its people are warm and friendly, they value relationships, love food and are proud of their culture and traditions. For expats who can afford it, or who are adventurous enough to take the plunge, Greece remains a popular destination for its high quality lifestyle, ancient villages and the olive groves which dot the landscape.

Essential Info for Greece

Official name: the Hellenic Republic

Population: 11.03 million

Capital city: Athens (also the largest city)

Other major cities: Thessaloniki, Piraeus

Neighbouring countries: Greece consists of the mainland, a peninsula on the southern tip of the Balkans, and 227 inhabited islands. The mainland is bordered by Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. Across the Ionian Sea to the west is Italy and across the Aegean Sea to the east is Turkey. Across the Mediterranean Sea to the south are Libya and Egypt.

System of governance: Parliamentary republic, where most political power is held by the prime minister and the government. The president holds a ceremonial position.

Major religions: Christianity (Greek Orthodox)

Main languages: Greek, although English is also widely spoken.

Money: Greece uses the Euro (EUR), which is divided into 100 cents. Expats are able to open a bank account in Greece provided they obtain a Greek tax number (AFM). Generally, ATMs are widely available, although some may not offer services in English.   

Tipping: For restaurants, if there isn't already a service charge, tips are normally 10 percent of the bill. Taxis also appreciate tips of around 10 percent. 

Time: GMT +2 (GMT +3 between the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October).

Electricity: 220 volts, 50Hz. European-style two pin plugs are most common. Adaptors are recommended for US appliances.

Internet domain: .gr

International dialling code: +30

Emergency contacts: As with other European countries, the general emergency number is 112. For local services, dial 100 (police), 166 (ambulance), or 199 (fire). The Hellenic Police are generally easy to deal with and effective. The biggest hospitals are in Athens and Thessaloniki and, in certain cases, medical emergencies requiring special care may be evacuated from more remote locations to these areas.

Transport and driving: Expats will find themselves driving on the right hand side. Travel between islands is usually done by ferry. Metro networks and intra-city bus systems are restricted to larger cities such as Athens and Thessaloniki. Inter-city transport can be done via buses and trains. Commercial taxis are often available, and defensive driving is highly recommended.

Weather in Greece

The climate in Greece differs somewhat between regions. The northern parts of the mainland have colder winters and hot, humid summers. On the other hand, the southern parts of the mainland and the islands to the southeast have a more typically Mediterranean climate with milder winters and hot, dry summers. However, in general it can be said that Greece has warm summers and mild winters.

Broadly speaking, snow in Greece becomes less common the further south and the closer to sea level one goes. Some of the higher mountainous areas can have semi-alpine climates with heavy winter snowfall. It does occasionally snow in and around Athens, however.

The hottest months of the year are July and August, where temperatures can reach 100°F (40°C) over most of Greece. These months are also when the Meltemia blows, a northerly wind sweeping the mainland’s east coast and the islands in the Aegean Sea to the east of the mainland. This reduces humidity, but also lifts skirts, kicks up sand and blows away washing. 

The islands in the Aegean Sea to the west, the western parts of the mainland and the Peloponnese peninsula, just to the south, manage to escape the Meltemia but these are also the areas with the most rainfall in Greece. 

Weather in Greece tends to consist of longer summer and winter seasons with quick, transitional spring and autumn seasons. Spring and autumn are arguably the most pleasant seasons, especially around May, June, September and October. 

Rain starts from the middle of October and can continue through February, punctuated by days with a mild winter sun and clear skies. 

Embassy contacts for Greece


Greek Embassies

  • Greek Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 939 1300

  • Greek Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7229 3850

  • Greek Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 238 6271

  • Greek Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6271 0100   

  • Greek Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 430 7351    

  • Greek Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +3531 6767254

  • Greek Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 473 7775


Foreign Embassies in Greece

  • United States Embassy, Athens: +30 210 721 2951

  • British Embassy, Athens: +30 210 727 2600

  • Canadian Embassy, Athens: +30 210 727 3400

  • Australian Embassy, Athens: +30 210 870 4000

  • South African Embassy, Athens: + 30 210 617 8020

  • Irish Embassy, Athens: +30 210 723 2771

  • New Zealand Consulate-General, Athens: +30 210 692 4136

Public Holidays in Greece

 

2018

2019

New Year's Day

1 January 

1 January

Epiphany

6 January

6 January

Clean Monday

19 February

11 March

Independence Day

25 March

25 March

Orthodox Good Friday

6 April

26 April

Orthodox Easter Sunday

8 April

28 April

Orthodox Easter Monday

9 April

29 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Holy Spirit Monday

28 May

17 June

Assumption of the Virgin Mary

15 August

15 August

Ochi Day

28 October

28 October

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Synaxis of the Mother of God

26 December

26 December

Safety in Greece

Safety for expats living in Greece should not be a dominating concern, as most foreign governments consider Greece to be largely peaceful and safe; however, as a result of (imposed) Greek austerity measures, rising unemployment and spreading poverty, there is a possibility of increasing crime rates. While the majority of expats will be safe most of the time, it is always better to be aware and to be prepared. 


Strikes in Greece

The majority of protests in Greece are peaceful and mainly take place in Athens or, to a lesser extent, other major cities such as Thessaloniki. In Athens, most demonstrations take place in Syntagma, Omonia and Exarchia squares, as well as around university campuses. In Thessaloniki, protests are most likely to occur in the Kamara area, around Aristotle University and at Aristotle Square. 

In the majority of cases, protests are restricted to these areas, and locations associated with tourism remain unaffected. While there generally isn't any major cause for concern, there is always a risk of demonstrations turning violent and foreign governments strongly advise their citizens to avoid them.

The most likely consequences of protests in Greece are the disruption of transport and work stoppages in the sectors involved in them. At times, certain sections of the city may be closed off to the public. 

In the case of transport sector strikes, it may become more expensive and more difficult to travel since expats using public transport will have to use alternative transport such as taxis. 


Crime in Greece

As with anywhere, if expats are alert and careful they should be safe in Greece. At the same time, with rising unemployment, there is the chance that crime rates will increase. 

In Athens, crime is generally restricted to petty theft such as purse snatching and pickpocketing, and violent crimes such as physical and sexual assault are generally rare. Most crime is likely to occur in areas popular with tourists, some shopping areas and on public transport – particularly the Metro. The same generally holds true of other major cities.

There has, unfortunately, been an escalation in violent attacks and harassment against people who are assumed to be foreign migrants because of their skin colour., and property-based crime in Greece has also been increasing - some expats elect to employ private security firms to assist them with home security. 


Safety tips for expats in Greece

Expats should be particularly vigilant when walking through crowded areas or taking public transport. Criminals often work in groups and employ a variety of methods. 

Thieves have also been known to take trains coming from the Athens airport to take advantage of tired travellers.

Given the high number of people travelling in Greece, it is very possible that expats will be mistaken for tourists and criminals may attempt to take advantage of them. One popular scam involves the victim being invited for a drink at a bar by a stranger, being met by some of the stranger's friends and then being forced to pay a bill much larger than they had anticipated. 


Emergency numbers in Greece

As with other EU states, the emergency telephone number in Greece is 112. Calls are answered in Greek, English and French. Below are other local numbers that can be used in case of emergencies:

  • Police: 100

  • Fire brigade: 199 

  • Emergency medical service: 166 

  • Coast guard: 108

  • Emergency social assistance: 197

Working in Greece

Working in Greece isn’t as easy as it used to be. While other markets in the Eurozone seem to be recovering, the country is still dealing with the effects of the global recession and the Greek debt crisis. The austerity measures imposed on Greece as a condition of the bailouts and debt cuts it received in 2010 and 2012 have resulted in increased taxes, lower government spending and, in short, a shrinking economy.

Greece’s biggest industries are traditionally within the service sector, which employs the majority of people and contributes the most to the country’s GDP. Industries such as food and tobacco processing, textiles and chemicals also make a significant contribution to the Greek economy. These have all suffered as a result of Greece's economic problems.

The one glimmer of hope is Greece’s tourism industry, which has seen more tourists flocking to visit the marble statues and monuments of Ancient Greece, as well as holiday islands such as Santorini and Mykonos. However, this is largely seasonal despite the government's trying to increase tourism throughout the rest of the year. 


Expat jobs in Greece

Expats who want to stay and work in Greece need the relevant visa to enter the country, which is applied for before leaving. As soon as possible after arriving in Greece, applying for a residence permit is recommended for expats wanting to stay longer than the duration of their visa, while working in Greece.

In the current climate, it seems that most expats with regular employment are teaching English in Greece. This requires a bachelor’s degree and may require a TEFL qualification. Working as a private tutor is an option but doesn’t guarantee a regular income. Owing to the extra costs and paperwork involved with hiring non-EU citizens, most schools tend to hire employees from within the European Union.

Another option for expats, who are often single and don’t place a lot of importance on stability, is working in the tourism industry. This is only feasible during certain times of the year and, as a result, many people find themselves out of work for much of the year. Many of these people end up doing illegal work for bars and restaurants without the necessary documentation. This is not recommended since the consequences can be severe and the employee can be easily exploited. 


Foreign workers in Greece

As a result of increasing unemployment and poverty, foreign workers are not as well received as they once were. The majority of Greek companies are unlikely to hire somebody for a job which a local can do, partly because it involves paperwork, and partly for patriotic reasons. That said, there are some expat workers in the business and finance sectors who usually occupy senior positions. Unfortunately, negative sentiment against immigrants has been growing in recent years and is largely aimed at people from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.

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.


Fast facts

Business hours

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.

Business language

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.

Dress

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.

Gifts

Bearing in mind the country’s reputation for corruption, gifts are best left to friends, family and close acquaintances. 

Gender equality

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.

Greeting

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.

Visas for Greece

In Greece, visa and permit processes are made difficult by a sluggish bureaucracy, ever-changing laws and the continuing effects of austerity. 

Expats moving into Greece need to be aware of the difference between a visa and a permit. A visa allows entry into the country for a specific purpose, such as travel or study, and a permit allows an expat to live and work in the country.

Non-EU citizens will most likely need a visa for Greece, while citizens from European Union (EU) and Schengen countries, as well as countries like the US and Canada, can stay as tourists for 90 days within a 180-day period. 

Unlike other countries, work permits and residence permits in Greece are not separate documents. Expats from outside of the EU, who have been granted permission to enter the country on a visa, have to apply for a permit which enables them to live and work in Greece. However, EU citizens can stay and work in Greece after registering with authorities.

Owing to the country’s economic circumstances, it is becoming more difficult for the average expat to live in Greece, and it’s certainly more difficult to find work than it used to be. 


Visas for Greece

All visa applicants have to apply at their local consulate in person to have their fingerprints and photo taken. It should take up to 15 days for a visa application to be processed, according to EU regulations. Applications should be made at least two weeks and no more than three months before leaving for Greece.

Expats who consider staying in Greece should also ensure that their passport is valid for longer than the minimum period required after arriving in Greece (three months for a Schengen visa).

Tourist visas for Greece

Greece falls within the Schengen Area, meaning that expats entering the country on a Schengen Visa will also have access to the other 24 European countries that are part of the agreement. Applications should be made at the expat’s closest Greek Consulate or Visa Application Centre.

The visa allows travellers from outside of the EU to stay in the Schengen Area for as long as 90 days in a six-month period. Expats should be advised that it is very difficult to obtain an extension.

In practice, expats can try and look for work while in the country on this visa. If they do manage to find work in the current market they will have to leave the country and re-enter on a national long-stay visa (type D) which will enable them to work for a longer period of time.

However, officially, Schengen Visas are not valid for expats wanting to stay in the country for longer than 90 days while looking to work or start a business in Greece.

Business visas for Greece

Aside from the type D long-stay visas, Greek business visas are for short-term business-related activities in the country. They will require that the applicant provides some kind of proof of their activities in the country, such as an official invitation from a Greek firm to attend a meeting, entry tickets to a conference, or a document proving the applicant’s employment at a company. 


Permits for Greece

It can be incredibly difficult for expats from outside the EU to obtain the two-in-one Greek Residence Permit for Employment. This process is generally easier for those of Greek descent and those who have been married to a Greek citizen (under certain conditions outlined by the Greek consulate).

Residence and work permits for Greece          

Expats who are in Greece on a long-stay (type D) working visa, which enables them to live and work in the country, can then apply for a type A Residence Permit for Employment which enables them to do a specific job for a specific employer. However, applying for the type D working visa requires an official offer of employment, including mention of the salary that the applicant will be paid. Additionally, before this can be done, the business will have to prove that the work cannot be done by a Greek national or EU citizen.

The Residence Permit for Employment has to be applied for within 30 days of arriving in the country. Before applying, applicants will have to obtain a Greek tax number, called an AFM (Arithmo Forologiko Mitro) from their nearest tax office. Once the application for the working residence permit has been submitted, applicants will receive a certificate of receipt confirming their application. This enables expatriates in Greece to stay in the country until the authorities reach a final decision on whether the application is successful. 

Expats from the EU who want to stay in Greece for more than three months only need to apply for the Registration Certificate (Veveosi Eggrafis) at their local foreign bureau. This requires a valid passport, proof of residence and proof of employment. Expats should be warned that there is a chance that they will be dealing with a public official who doesn’t speak English - as such, it may be a good idea to bring along a Greek-speaking friend.

*Visa and work permit requirements are subject to change at short notice and expats are advised to contact their nearest Greek embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in Greece

Greece's economic difficulties have resulted in a decrease in the cost of living, especially in terms of housing and rental prices. However, this doesn't change much for Greeks struggling with rising unemployment, lower salaries and significantly reduced purchasing power. Conversely, this does present an opportunity for expats to invest in property in Greece, in light of the government's emphasis on foreign investment.

Jobs in Greece are hard to come by, particularly for expats, since Greek legislation requires employers to prove that any position filled by a foreigner cannot be filled by a Greek citizen. Most expats in Greece that aren't in low paid jobs are retired, teach English or are in the country because of an intra-company transfer. 

For those who find a way around the comparatively low salaries, living costs in Greece are much cheaper than other major European cities. For instance, a month's expenses, including rent in Athens, can cost almost half of what it would in London; however, Greece is still far more expensive than cities such as Mumbai. 

As with other destinations, the cost of living in Greece varies depending on location. The mainland is generally cheaper than the Greek islands when it comes to fuel and certain basic goods. The countryside is cheaper than cities but offers a much smaller range of products and services. Athens's northern and southeastern suburbs are the most expensive areas on the mainland, while the most expensive islands are those which attract the most tourists. Chief among these are Rhodes, Mykonos, Santorini, Corfu and Crete. 


Cost of accommodation in Greece

Buying and renting accommodation in Greece has progressively become cheaper, and foreigners who invest a certain amount of money in Greek property have the right to apply for residency. This hasn't benefited most locals directly, but it does present an opportunity for expats to purchase a house or apartment that suits their needs at a reduced price. It is recommended that those looking at moving to Greece rent first in order to get an idea of the market. 


Cost of food in Greece

Greek food culture is famous and food in Greece is generally quite cheap, making for a happy combination. On the other hand, austerity measures have resulted in some of the highest VAT rates in the EU, meaning that the costs of basic products are not as low as one might expect. However, the VAT rate for food is lower than other goods and the wide range of locally grown produce means that eating cheaply and well is not difficult. 


Cost of transportation in Greece

Driving in Greece is notorious for being somewhere between challenging and perilous. For expats who do intend on driving their own vehicles, car insurance is a must and is included with almost all vehicle rentals. In the case of hiring a car in Greece, it is important to check what kind of insurance is on offer, as the costs of hiring a vehicle may be more than expats' budgets.

The alternative is public transport. Most people who take public transport in Greece take a bus, or, in Athens, the metro.


Cost of education in Greece

The Greek education system requires students in public schools to be taught in Greek. In light of this, the children of expats who are not staying for the long-term often go to a private international school. Some expats do elect to put their children in Greek public schools, especially if they intend on staying in the country. Owing to the standard of many schools, Greek parents who can afford it have also been known to spend thousands on private tutors.

Private schools in Greece cost more than public schools, prices differ between individual schools, and prices go up as children progress through their school careers. 


Cost of Living in Greece chart 

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices in Athens as of April 2017.

Accommodation (monthly rent in a good area)

Furnished one-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 470

Furnished one-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

EUR 320

Furnished three bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 650

Furnished three bedroom apartment outside of city centre

EUR 470

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

EUR 3.80

Milk (1 litre)

EUR 1.20

Rice (1kg)

EUR 1.62

Loaf of white bread

EUR 0.83

Chicken breasts (1kg)

EUR 6.44

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

EUR 4.00

Eating out

Big Mac meal

EUR 7.00

Coca Cola (330ml)

EUR 1.44

Cappuccino 

EUR 2.90

Bottle of local beer

EUR 3.50

Three course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

EUR 30

Utilities/household (monthly)

Mobile to mobile call rate (per minute)

EUR 0.25

Internet (Uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

EUR 20.42

Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)

EUR 136

Transportation

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

EUR 0.80

Bus/train fare in the city centre 

EUR 1.40

Petrol/Gasoline (per litre)

EUR 1.46

Culture Shock in Greece

It may be a European country with familiar facilities and social structures, but that doesn’t mean that expats won’t experience at least some degree of culture shock in Greece. 

It is a country of rich traditions and ancient history, as well as sea and sunshine. In response to their environment and history, Greek people have developed traditions which they will expect expats to respect and, at least, know a bit about. The Greek character, if there is such a thing, has been shaped by a fascinating blend of the ancient and the modern, and the country’s long history as a crossroads between East and West. 


People in Greece

Greeks are known for their warmth, generosity and hospitability. This is true, although expats should be prepared to make the first move in social situations. Expats should also expect a fair amount of hugs, kisses on the cheek and nudges on the arm during conversations. 

Expats should also expect to be asked about their lives and their opinions of the country. In these instances, expats should remember the ancient word philotimia (still in use), which literally means “love of honour” and speaks to how seriously Greeks take saving face. Greeks often moan about the state of their country but it is not advisable for expats to do the same. In line with this, expats should remember to be cautious when disagreeing with their Greek friends and colleagues and should be careful not to embarrass them. 


Language in Greece

Greek is considered by many to be a tricky language to learn. There are differences between spoken and written Greek, as well as between regional idioms. Greek also employs inflexions, where the meanings of words change depending on how they are said. As a result, expats in the first stages of learning Greek can expect some confused exchanges.

Generally, locals are accepting of foreigners who don’t speak Greek. Many Greeks speak English and realise the increasing global relevance of English. At the same time, Greeks are extremely proud of their language, and rightly so: it is one of the oldest in the world and has made significant contributions to the English language. Expats intent on staying would do well to learn the language - not only does it create more possibilities for employment, but it is also the best way to integrate into Greek society. 


Time in Greece

It is often said that Greek people would rather relax than rush through their daily routines. Time in Greece seems to move more slowly (although foreigners are expected to be timeous). The average Greek employee works more hours in a year and gets less vacation time than the average Brit or German, but these facts are not a true reflection of Greek life which allows people to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. 


Food in Greece

The average Greek family spends over a third of their budget on food and beverages. Locals spend hours at coffee shops when they can (coffee, aside from ouzo (a local spirit), is the national beverage), but this is often less about the coffee and more about spending time with friends or family. 

The same holds true of the Greek tavernas at which locals frequently dine. It is considered extremely rude to leave immediately after a meal and even leaving after an hour is often looked down upon. Taverna owners are also known to sometimes give drinks on the house, which also shouldn’t be declined. Socialising, eating and drinking are one in the same experience. Eating in the Greek way is a relaxed activity where food is shared and tips are often included in the price. It should also be noted that being a waiter in Greece is a traditional profession and rudeness won't be well received. 

Even in the toughest times, Greek people are fantastic hosts who provide their guests with everything they can. Expats who enjoy this privilege should always bring a gift for the host/hostess such as wine or flowers. They should also be prepared to eat whatever is in front of them – it is considered rude and ignorant to turn down food for being too “exotic”. Additionally, alcohol of some kind usually attends these gatherings; however, Greeks also value balance which, in this case, means a semblance of sobriety. 


Cultural dos and don'ts in Greece

  • Don't talk about politics, especially in the early stages of a relationship

  • Don't mention Cyprus and Turkey, even if relations have improved, they’re touchy subjects

  • Don't categorise Greece as part of Eastern Europe

  • Don't say anything negative about Greek food, coffee or anything else

  • Don't make the “okay” sign with an index finger and thumb, Greeks use it as a rude gesture

  • Don't raise an open palm at or above face level, it’s an insult in Greece

  • Do drink moderately, enjoy the food, the sunshine and the lifestyle

Accommodation in Greece

For all the damage caused by the economic crisis, finding accommodation in Greece has never been easier for expats. The state of the country’s finances has significantly reduced the price of real estate, making it more affordable for expatriates looking to buy or rent property. 

Whether considering a white-washed Santorini blockhouse, with blue shutters that match the sky; an Italian-style townhouse in Corfu’s rolling, green hills; or a luxury villa in the northern suburbs of Athens, expats who can weather the country’s fiscal tempest have a unique opportunity. 


Finding accommodation in Greece

In the search for accommodation in Greece, hiring a local real estate agent or mesitis will likely be a good idea. Many Greek sellers target foreign buyers and a better deal can often be found with the help of someone who speaks the language. That said, many Greeks avoid agents because of their commission which, for real estate purchases, can be as much as three percent of the property's value. Rentals can cost as much as a month's rent which is split between the owner and the lessee.

Exploring the areas one is interested in is always a good idea. Expats should look out for “for sale” signs, and ask locals if they know of any properties available. Places available for rent may also have signage up on the property, which is often a white or yellow sticker with the word enoikiazetai (for rent) written in red.

Many people in Greece prefer posting their properties online and in local newspapers as opposed to estate agents. While most ads are in Greek, there are some in English. 


Factors to consider for house-hunting in Greece

The current buyer’s market makes for great bargains, but also means that expats have to carefully evaluate their reasons for buying real estate in Greece. The conventional wisdom that property is a good way of making a profit no longer necessarily holds true. Expats moving to Greece should buy a home because they want to live there, not because they want to make money off of it.

While the price of buying property has fallen, so has the cost of renting in Greece. This means that, should expats want to rent their homes out at some point, they may only see a return on their investment in the distant future. At the same time, it also means that it's a good time to find affordable property to rent. However, affordability is relative, and prices fluctuate depending on the area in which the property is located. It is also worth noting that different regions may have their own regulations regarding real estate.

Some of the most expensive real estate in Greece is located in Athens suburbs such as Kolonaki, and on islands frequented by tourists such as Santorini, Crete and Mykonos.  

While everybody’s real estate priorities are different, choosing a respectable area within one’s budget is a good start. Especially when buying, expats should consider the general condition and age of the property they are considering, particularly as this affects property tax.

Expats looking to stay in Greece for a short period might want to consider renting. On the other hand, expats who can afford to purchase property that is of a certain value may be attracted by the prospect of getting a resident’s permit in return. 


Renting property in Greece

For long-term rentals in Greece, expats should be prepared to pay a deposit of between two and three months’ rent. This should be returned when the lease has expired, as long as there is no damage to the property. As a result, doing an inventory of any damages upon arrival might save a tenant’s deposit.

According to law, residential lease agreements have to cover a minimum of three years, although, if a shorter period is negotiated, this will apply to the landlord and not the tenant. Generally speaking the longer the lease, the lower the monthly cost.

It is important that expats fully understand their contracts and should hire someone to independently translate any agreements written in Greek before they sign. 


Utilities in Greece

Expats wanting to buy property in Greece need to get a tax identification number, known as an AFM, which also enables access to basic amenities such as water, gas and electricity. 

For short-term rentals, utility accounts are most often billed to the landlord. For long-term rentals, the tenant may be held accountable for their own utilities. In these cases, Greek landowners may require non-Greeks to pay a deposit to cover future usage.


Buying property in Greece

Buying property in Greece can be painfully complicated. Historically, property boundaries have been poorly laid out and ownership records have been poorly administered. There may be several contending claims to ownership of a property, or a part of it. Legal wrangling over a tree, for example, is not unheard of. Hopefully, as the Greek National Land Registry becomes digitised, this will improve, but as with so much in Greece this is likely to take time.

Greek law generally requires the purchaser of a property to hire a lawyer to oversee proceedings. A civil engineer is also hired to ensure that the house is entitled to electricity and water connections, and that the land being sold is actually part of the property. The price of a public notary (known as a simvoleagrafos) should also be included in any calculations when buying real estate, which usually costs around two percent of the purchase price.

This is a good idea in any case, and avoids potential complications, such as not having legal access to amenities or having the government build a road through one’s property. Expats may also want to get a Greek friend to talk to neighbours about land disputes in the area. 


Property tax in Greece

Almost everybody owning property in Greece has to pay real estate taxes to the government, regardless of nationality. The amount of tax depends on where the property is located, how big it is and how old it is. Newer homes in Greece are subject to more property tax than older homes.

Add-ons to a house also increase the amount of property tax one has to pay, and non-Greek citizens have to pay a swimming pool luxury tax, based on the pool’s size. Although, many people declare their pools as "water collecting deposits" to avoid paying. Lastly, it is highly recommended that expatriates in Greece hire a tax expert to assist with their tax returns.

Healthcare in Greece

Expats seeking healthcare in Greece are entitled to the same treatment as any other resident in the country. For decades, hospitals in Greece have been praised for their quality of care, ranking above countries like the UK and Germany. However, the healthcare system is notorious for corruption, overspending on supplies and mismanagement. 

In light of the recent economic crisis, government spending on healthcare has significantly decreased in recent years. In an attempt to streamline the system and fight corruption, the Greek government has introduced universal social security numbers and electronic prescriptions, and has also channelled resources to Greece's larger hospitals.  

Efforts to cut costs have resulted in people having to pay more for medication that their compulsory national health insurance no longer covers. Many Greeks also take out private health insurance, which appears to be more comprehensive and cost-effective than their public healthcare scheme. 


Public healthcare in Greece

Unfortunately, the reputation of public healthcare in Greece has suffered in recent years, and many doctors have left the country. However, public hospitals in Greece are still generally adequate and there are still professionals who do their best to deliver quality care. The biggest downside is week-long waiting periods in order to receive care.

While some hospitals in more remote locations on islands may provide a lower standard of healthcare, the best public hospitals, usually concentrated in the major cities, offer care of a high standard. It is often the case that expats who require more sophisticated care than island hospitals can provide will be transported to a hospital in Athens or Thessaloniki. 

Most medical staff in Greece will speak some level of English, though this may differ based on their position and the location of the hospital. A doctor in Thessaloniki is more likely to speak English than a nurse in Preveza, for instance. 

Emergency care in Greece is free of charge regardless of one’s nationality. However, unless an expat is employed in the country, has a social security card (known as an AMKA) and pays for public health insurance, they will have to pay their own medical bills for most primary care visits. 

Expats in the early stages of moving and who have an EU Health Card will also be provided with healthcare for a limited time. However, they will probably be expected to pay upfront and claim back from the health service in their home country. 

Expats who already contribute to the Social Insurance Institute (IKA), and are referred to a public hospital by an IKA approved doctor, should remember to ask for their “ticket” which proves that they are entitled to benefits through the scheme. Expats who encounter difficulties with their social insurance should contact their nearest IKA office. 


Private healthcare in Greece

Private healthcare in Greece is normally considered to be superior to the public alternative. Private medical facilities are generally less affected by the country’s economic situation and have newer equipment, but are not covered by IKA. Expats who would prefer to go to a private hospital in Greece would do well to have a private healthcare policy, since they will be responsible for the full cost of their treatment.

Moreover, doctors and nurses in private hospitals are more likely to speak English. Some Greek private hospitals even have affiliations with US hospitals or hospitals in other countries, and their staff will have had at least some form of overseas training. 


Pharmacies in Greece

Pharmacies in Greece are normally marked by a green equal-armed cross, often against a white background. They are widely available, especially in larger cities and are generally a reliable first line of defence against illness. Many Greek pharmacists will speak English and are capable diagnosticians who may save expats a trip to the doctor. 

Expats wanting to bring prescribed medication from their own country should bring them in their original containers, and ensure that they are clearly marked. It is also recommended to have a signed physician’s letter outlining their patient’s condition and the medication required for it, including generic names. Expats should be warned, that codeine is highly illegal in Greece and should refrain from bringing medicines containing it into the country, even with a prescription. 

In cities such as Thessaloniki, medication is easily accessible although more specialised forms may only be available from hospitals. Expats who contribute to IKA generally receive a percentage off of the cost of prescription medication, and patients go to an IKA approved doctor, who provides them with a prescription that is then taken to a pharmacy. Expats who belong to OAEE, the social healthcare fund for self-employed workers, now receive electronic prescriptions, a system which is expected to be implemented across the board at some point.

Pharmacies are generally open between 8am and 1pm, and 5pm to 8.30pm.


Health insurance in Greece

As soon as expats start working, they will need to apply for national health insurance in Greece, which is administered by IKA. They will receive an IKA health booklet and will also be given an AMKA. 

The AMKA is required for all social insurance schemes, such as OAEE, which covers self-employed workers such as small business owners and, fairly recently, taxi and truck drivers. It should be noted that all expats in the country on a working visa, who are looking for work or on pension in Greece, require an AMKA. Furthermore, social health insurance is a compulsory contribution made by employers and employees. 

While some employers will try to skirt around their contributions, IKA takes this very seriously and, should this occur, the employee should contact their closest IKA office.

Medical care by IKA approved practitioners is generally free, although patients are required to pay a fee for all prescribed medicines. Unfortunately, cover is not as comprehensive as it used to be and many Greeks take out a private health insurance policy as gap cover.  Furthermore, social healthcare, as with other bureaucratic procedures in Greece, is a fairly complicated issue for outsiders and it is suggested that expats research this very carefully. 


Pre-travel vaccinations for Greece

It is suggested that expats who are going to Evrotas, a small, mostly agricultural area in Laconia to the south, take precautions against malaria. Those travelling to Greece between November and April should get an influenza vaccine. Some governments also suggest getting vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B, diphtheria and tetanus. 


Emergency services in Greece

Public ambulances are widely available in larger cities, but access may be restricted on some islands and rural areas. In these cases, private ambulances, EKAV helicopters and taxis may be legitimate alternatives depending on the situation.

  • Ambulance service (EKAV): 166 

  • General Emergency: 112 

Education and Schools in Greece

The standard of education and schools in Greece has suffered as a result of austerity measures imposed by the EU. Job cuts and staff redeployments have resulted in many teachers becoming unemployed. The result is that many qualified teachers have left the country and others have taken to the streets in mass demonstrations.

Expat parents moving to Greece are faced with a choice. Despite the downsides of public education, it is arguably the most authentic way for children to integrate into Greek society and learn the language, while not having to pay tuition fees.

On the other hand, many expats elect to put their children in expensive private schools where they may get a better education but this comes with a hefty price tag. In the case of English-speaking, private international schools, expat children will have an environment that is closer to what they’re used to at home but, will mean a degree of isolation from their local peers. 


The Greek education system

The Greek education system is administered by the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs. By law, all children between six and 15 years old are required to attend school, although many children begin school from the age of five.

The schooling system in Greece is divided into three levels:

  • Primary education (demotiko) - six years

  • Junior high school (gymnasio) – three years

  • Senior high school (lykeion) – three years

After finishing gymnasio, children also have the option of attending a more practically focused Vocational Training Institute (IEK). In their final year of school, students write the Pan-Hellenic National Exams which determine their eligibility for tertiary studies.

The school year in Greece is generally divided as follows:

  • Christmas term: early September to late December

  • Easter term: early January to early April

  • Summer term: late April to late June


Public schools in Greece

Public schools in Greece are closely overseen by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs. The Ministry dictates the curriculum, available funding and staff appointments. Government schools do not charge school fees and have traditionally provided free textbooks to students, however, this is subject to change.

Even before the economic crisis, many expat parents with children in Greek public schools would also spend thousands of euros on private tutors. This is partly due to an inflexible education system which relies on rote memory and, as is the case with locals, partly to improve their children’s chances in the PanHellenic exams. 


Private schools in Greece

Greece has one of the highest private school attendance figures in Europe, mostly due to the perception that the quality of private schools in Greece is superior to public education. As a result of the country’s economic problems, however, many parents have struggled to keep up with private tuition fees and have had to consider public schooling for their children.

While private schools certainly have more autonomy than their public counterparts, they are still supervised by the Ministry and the medium of instruction in most of them is Greek. For expats who can afford it, Greek private schools are perhaps an effective middle ground between an integrative experience for their children and an education of a high standard. 


International schools in Greece

There are a number of international schools in Greece, most of which are situated in Athens. There are also a few private international schools in Thessaloniki, Larissa and Crete. Aside from Crete and the mainland, expats might find it difficult to find English schools in Greece. Fees differ between schools and tend to increase as children progress.

Generally, international schools follow a similar school calendar to public schools in Greece. This may differ between individual schools, however, and expats should check with prospective schools individually. 


Homeschooling in Greece

Unfortunately, homeschooling in Greece is illegal. It is compulsory under Greek law to attend primary and secondary schools. 

Transport and Driving in Greece

Expats shouldn’t have too many problems with transport and driving in Greece. The country has a developed transport infrastructure that continues to improve in spite of its economic difficulties.

However, economic troubles have ignited strike action from workers in every major mode of public transport in the last few years, and this affects other industries and private commuters. Obversely, strikes are generally announced in advance, and tend to take place during the tourist season between June and September, which generally allows people to plan around them. 


Public transport in Greece

There is an extensive network of public transport in Greece which makes getting around the country fairly easy. The largest public transport network in Greece is the Athens Mass Transit System, which serves areas in and around the Greek capital. It consists of bus and trolleybus routes, the Athens Tram network,  and rail and subway networks which serve the city and link it to other regions of the mainland.

Trains

Expatriates can take advantage of regional railway lines which link most of the country as well as the urban rail networks in some of the larger cities. Trains in Greece are operated by the Greek Railway Organisation (Organismos Sidirodromon Ellados), which is known by its acronym, OSE. The majority of the rail network is good and expats shouldn’t have too many problems. However, the network is not as extensive as Greece’s bus routes and generally isn't as comfortable as the buses.

Subways

The subway system is the Athens Metro, which runs along three lines and links the city centre to the surrounding suburbs and the Athens International Airport. Since 2003, the planning and construction of a metro system in Thessaloniki has been underway, with construction due to be completed in 2018. This may, however, be delayed as construction continues to unearth a wealth of archaeological finds. 

Trams

The Athens Tram is the only public tram network in Greece and is run by the Urban Rail Transport Company (STASY SA) The network began as a horse-drawn tramway in the 19th century and has developed into a modern system that runs between 5am and midnight during the week, and 24 hours a day over weekends.

Buses

Buses are the primary form of public transport on land in Greece. With a network that connects large cities like Athens and Thessaloniki to small villages, expats shouldn’t have much of a problem getting around. The majority of the mainland is linked to Athens or, alternatively, Thessaloniki. Islands such as Corfu can also be accessed by bus from the Greek capital.

Greek buses are most often modern, safe and affordable. While they are reliable most of the time, as with other modes of transport, they may face delays and cancellations as a result of sporadic strikes, especially in Athens and Thessaloniki. Expats are advised to arrive early to catch a bus since they have a tendency to run off schedule.

Ferries

Greece’s ferry services are arguably its most famous mode of transport, carrying millions of passengers a year. To catch a ferry, expats can travel to the main port in Piraeus (a short trip south of Athens). From here, expats can catch a ferry to Cyclades, the Dodecanese Islands, the Northeastern Aegean Islands, the Saronic Gulf Islands and Crete. Alternatively, there are also ferries available at Rafina, Port of Lavrio and Thessaloniki. 


Taxis in Greece

Taxis come in variable colours depending on the city they are located in. Taxis in Athens are yellow, taxis in Thessaloniki are blue with white roofs and in more rural areas they’re often silver. Taxi drivers mistaking expats for tourists will probably expect a tip of around 10 percent.

As part of a closed industry, Greek taxis have been notorious for overcharging their customers and being able to get away with it. However, recent changes to industry regulation mean this is likely to change as long as the new laws are enforced. 


Driving in Greece

In Greece, cars drive on the right-hand side of the road, and driving in Greece can be a harrowing experience - the country is infamous for having some of the worst drivers in Europe. It certainly has some of the highest accident rates and high road death tolls, mostly caused during overtaking. That said, the roads in Greece are generally good and many regional roads that used to be dirt tracks have been tarred over in the last few years. 

Driving is a good way to explore some of Greece’s more remote areas. Expats may, however, want to consider public transport if they don’t want to become masters of defensive driving. Another option may be using a motorcycle for its manoeuvrability.

Those wanting to drive in Greece are advised to take out insurance. Expat motorists should also take note that the owners of all vehicles with a Greek license plate are required to pay a circulation tax.

While petrol stations are generally available, a number of them have closed as a result of Greece’s economic difficulties and expats may struggle to find one in some of the more remote areas of the country. Service stations in smaller towns can also close as early as 7pm, while they tend to close later on major routes and in larger towns and cities. 


Flying in Greece

Greece is well regarded as having an extensive domestic air travel network. With 15 international airports, expats can easily fly into Greece and from there fly to a number of Greek islands or cities on the mainland.

Shipping and Removals in Greece

Not only is shipping one of the major industries in Greece, but the Mediterranean is one of the busiest shipping areas in the world.

It follows that there are literally hundreds of companies competing for customers, and shipping items to and from Greece should be fairly inexpensive for expats.

The mountainous territory in northern Greece means road and rail access is somewhat limited, and shipping by sea is still generally the best option. However, it pays to shop around to see what's on the market.

Expat Blogs in Greece

Few resources can build a better picture of life in Greece than the expat blogs maintained by already established foreigners. Whether these writers are recounting great challenges, humorous encounters, delivering crucial advice and important tips, or reaching out to those around them, their insight affords others a unique glimpse into their community.


Recommended expat blogs about Greece

Life Beyond Borders

Bex is a British expat in Greece who has lived all over the world. After her successful Leaving Cairo blog, Bex launched her new blog in 2014. Life Beyond Borders still offers a light-hearted and often informative look at living in Greece but it also tells the stories of her travels further abroad. 

Nationality: British

Xpat Athens

A website by expats, for expats, it offers access to news, classifieds, information about events and opportunities for socialising with expatriates in the Greek capital.

Nationality: Greek

My Greece, My Travels

A travel focused blog by American expat and writer, Marissa Tejada. Find out about nightlife in the Hellenic Republic and the best on offer in the Greek Islands.

Nationality: American



 

Frequently Asked Questions about Greece

Should I move to Greece?

Everybody's circumstances and priorities are different. Greece is not the ideal location to make or save money, but it is a great destination for expats who can afford it and want a slower pace of life. Whatever expats decide, they need to make an informed decision when it comes to Moving to Greece.

Can I find work in Greece?

Jobs in Greece are hard to come by, even for Greeks. The easiest way to move over is to go over on a company transfer, but even that is less likely than before. For the foreseeable future, most expats working in Greece will be teaching English or working in the tourism industry.

Do I need a car in Greece?

It depends on where one wants to travel. In the cities, the manoeuvrability of a scooter may be less stressful than a car in the notorious Greek traffic. At the same time, cities like Athens and Thessaloniki have very reliable public bus transport systems.

Moving between cities can be done by bus or, in some cases, by train. Those wanting to make the journey in a low-slung commercial car may have problems travelling on some of the rural roads, although, for the most part, Greece has a highly developed transport infrastructure.

Although the ferries can be unreliable, they are still the best means for moving between islands. Other options include light aeroplanes and hydrofoils. Either way, expats shouldn't have too much of a problem with transport and driving in Greece.

Is it worth learning Greek?

Learning Greek is essential. While many Greeks can understand English, there also many who can't. It is the best way to integrate into society and deal with some of the culture shock in Greece. Aside from having highly specialised expertise, it is also the only realistic way to stand a chance at being competitive in the Greek job market.

With all the strikes and riots in Greece, is it safe to live there?

Most demonstrations are actually peaceful and very few of them occur outside Athens and Thessaloniki. As long as expats avoid areas where protests are taking place, and keep their wits about them, there should be very few issues with safety in Greece.

What's the best way to buy property or rent in Greece?

With help. Real estate is tricky enough when dealing in one's first language, and the best way to avoid a bad deal would be to get help from somebody who can speak Greek. Property prices are quite low as a result of the economy, so there are great opportunities for expats to find good quality accommodation in Greece at a bargain.

Will I need a Greek bank account? Will I need to pay taxes?

Expats wanting to buy property need a local account. Almost everybody needs to be registered for tax in Greece although, in most cases, only money earned in the country will be taxed. Many expats elect to have an account in Greece and an account at home. Given the situation in the country, expats should give serious consideration to banking, money and taxes in Greece.

How good are Greek doctors, really?

Healthcare in Greece has suffered a bit under austerity.. That having been said, there are many good doctors and good hospitals in Greece, especially in Thessaloniki and Athens. And, if public hospitals don't provide the services that are needed, there are good private hospitals too.

How do I move my belongings to Greece?

There are reputable international relocation businesses that specialise in helping people move overseas. For more information, see our Shipping and Removals in Greece page.

Where should I visit?

Aside from mainland Greece, which has its own set of sites and history, there are thousands of islands ranging from large, civilization-bearing islands like Rhodes and Crete, to those that are no more than rocky outcrops. 

Articles about Greece

There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for settling into expat life in a new country, but here are a few helpful articles and personal stories that may help make your move to Greece a little easier.


Safety tips for Greece

A lot of importance is placed by the international media on Greece being a dangerous destination due to strikes and demonstrations. Follow these safety tips by an expat living in Athens.


The benefits of being spat on by an old Greek woman

Bex is a British expat who moved to Greece to learn a different culture. Here, she shares her thoughts on dealing with culture shock in Greece

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.

Expat Experiences in Greece

When considering a move to a new country, there is nothing more useful than hearing real life stories and experiences from other expats who have lived there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Greece and would like to share your story.


An American expat, Marissa Tejada is the author of Chasing Athens, a modern romance novel, a blogger and a freelance writer for Fodor’s, Forbes Travel and others. She talks to us about finding your niche in a foreign country, navigating the job market and seeing the positives in living abroad. Read about her expat experience in Athens.

Eleni is a Canadian expat who, as a child, spent summers visiting family in Greece. After completing her Masters degree, she moved to Athens where she met her husband and started a family. Now, she's a managing partner at XpatAthens.com, which supports the city's growing expat community. Read more about her expat experience in Athens.

Bex is a British expat who moved to Greece to learn a different culture. She has travelled to and lived and taught in various places around the globe, including Sri Lanka and Cambodia, and now finds herself living in Athens. Read more about her expat experience in Athens.

Yadira is a global nomad of note, but now she's finally settled down and moved to Athens, Greece to pursue a life as a wife and mother. She also maintains a site aimed at helping expat parents adjust. Read what she has to say about her expat experience in Greece.

Tove, a Norwegian expat living in Greece, left home to escape the rat race of life as a reporter and to settle down with her Greek hubby. Now, nearly 20 years later, she reflects on a very lengthy expat experience.

Breeynn Johnson has always had itchy feet. She grew up in Minnesota, then attended the University of Arizona where she studied Communications and Cultural and Religious Studies. While travelling around Europe she found herself wanting to get to know a foreign land in more detail, and so eventually decided to move to Greece and experience the country up close. Read about her take on expat life in Athens.