Living in Greece

Living In Greece – The Expat’s Guide

Jacob Powell
Greece offers a wide range of destinations for expats, but all benefit from amazing weather and great food. Read on to find out more about what you can expect from living in Greece and how to get settled in this amazing country

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It’s no secret that Greece is an incredibly popular tourist destination. But what are the opportunities for people looking to move there permanently? Like many European countries, Greece offers a wide range of destinations, but all benefit from amazing weather and great food. Read on to find out more about what you can expect from living in Greece and how to get settled in this amazing country.

Can foreigners move to Greece?

Foreign citizens can move to Greece to live permanently. EU citizens must apply for a residence permit after three months, but this is more of a formality. Non-EU citizens must go through a more thorough immigration process. 

If you’re an EU resident then it can make sense to take advantage of the three-month travel period to visit different areas of the country. This will hopefully give you time to work out where would be best for you to settle down. Of course, British residents will be impacted by the Withdrawal Agreement, as this will void freedom of movement (more on this later).

Is Greece a safe country for expats?

Greece currently has an overall falling crime rate when charted over the last 10 years, with levels sitting lower than the UK. Greece registers 9.35 crimes per 1000 people, whereas the UK registers 110 crimes per 1000 people. Both violent crime and drug-related crime rates are considerably lower in Greece too.

What is living in Greece like?

When it comes to the Greek lifestyle, there are many aspects worth praising. Along with the glorious weather and amazing food, the pace of life is something many expats dream of in their retirement.

Living in Greece
Greece will provide you with most fabulous views and settings to enjoy, like this incredible view of traditional greek windmills on Mykonos Island.

As with many European countries, Greece enjoys a relaxed way of life that might take some getting used to. Although major cities and tourist hubs generally work on a more “British” pattern of standardised hours, more rural areas often march to the beat of their own drum.

Greece puts a lot of emphasis on family, spending time outdoors, and tradition. This shouldn’t be a problem for expats looking for a more relaxed lifestyle, but if speed and efficiency are your top priorities, it’ll be worth relocating to a larger city like Athens.

Because tourism is a major source of income in the country, English is fairly widely spoken. As with other countries, this is less true in more rural areas, but either way, some knowledge of Greek would be very useful.

Providing you’re willing to adjust to a Greek’s pace of life and aren’t in a rush to get anything done, you’ll be pleasantly surprised about how good this actually feels. The food and weather lead to a healthier lifestyle than you might enjoy now, so compliment this by taking things a bit more slowly.

Is living in Greece expensive?

Greece uses the Euro, but is generally cheaper than other European nations such as France or Germany. However, the cost of living is definitely higher in cities, particularly ones with a lot of tourism.

For example, rent on an inner-city apartment in Greece will set you back about €335 (£300) compared to £760 (€842) in the UK, while rural rent on an apartment of the same size will be around €280 (£250) compared to £615 (€680) in the UK.

Similarly, food is generally less expensive. A loaf of bread in Greece will set you back around £0.80 compared to £1.20 in the UK. Eating out in a restaurant will be on average 33% cheaper in Greece than in the UK.

Utility bills are also lower in Greece. While you have to pay for refuse collection, your basic monthly outgoings for water, electricity and such will be around €150 (£130) a month, compared to £155 (€170) a month in the UK.

Generally speaking, an expat with a monthly income of €2,000 will be able to live very comfortably almost anywhere in Greece.

Pros and cons of living in Greece

Although no simple list of pros and cons will ever be enough for making a decision about something like residency, it at least helps you get an idea of what it’s like to live in the country. Here is a quick rundown of the pros and cons of living in Greece, many of which will be expanded upon below.

Pros

1. Good weather

Whether you’ve visited Greece or not, the country is well known for its glorious weather. Although it varies by geography, average temperatures are around 30 degrees in the summer and 10 degrees in the winter.

Living in Greece
A beautiful Loggos fishing village in Paxos island

In the height of summer you can enjoy upwards of 12 hours of glorious sun each day and average sea temperatures of 25 degrees. The rainiest month of the year is December, when, on average, it rains for 11 days of the month.

2. An abundance of historic sites

Obviously Greece has plenty of ancient historic monuments if that’s your thing. Whether it’s the Acropolis in Athens or the spiritual centre of Delphi, you’ll have plenty of fascinating ancient sites to discover around the country. While you have to pay entry, none of them is very expensive.

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3. Amazing food

Greece has some pretty amazing food. What’s more, it prides itself on its local culture, meaning almost every restaurant is a local affair with good quality, locally sourced produce. This is something you’d pay top dollar for in countries like the UK.

It’s a dream for lovers of seafood, but you also can’t overlook things like gyros or souvlakis, two national delicacies. That said, there are plenty of opportunities for vegetarians too, although Greece hasn’t been subject to the same surge in vegetarianism as more cosmopolitan countries.

4. Good healthcare

Generally speaking, the quality of healthcare in Greece is quite high. There is a robust public healthcare system, but many expats opt for private healthcare simply to guarantee a higher standard.

5. Low cost of living

Greece enjoys a lower cost of living than some other countries, such as the UK. For example, utilities cost around 30% less, internet is 20% less, and renting an apartment in central Athens will set you back on average around £670 compared to £3,150 in central London.

Cons

1. Unequal distribution of facilities

If you’re looking for all the amenities you currently enjoy in life then you’ll need to live in or near a major city, which also means the cost of living will be higher. However, if you’re happy with more rural life, then living will be cheaper but you’ll have to acclimatise to a more laid-back lifestyle.

2. Few employment opportunities

Unless you’re retiring to Greece, setting up your own business, or have disposable income, you might find employment a challenge. Speaking Greek will definitely make this easier, but don’t move to Greece assuming you’ll easily find a job.

3. Complicated taxes

Greece has a more complicated tax system than you might be used to. To avoid this it’s best to hire an accountant to take care of your annual tax returns. Not only will this help from the language side, they will also ensure you don’t overpay.

Living in Greece after Brexit

Brexit is obviously a point of anxiety for many British expats currently thinking of relocating. The current free movement and healthcare access will end on 31st December 2020, and how things change will depend on any agreements made.

If you register for residency before that date then you’ll be able to enjoy the current regulations, but after that date, British expats will have to follow non-EU application procedures. This will involve getting a three-month type D visa, after which you can apply for permanent residency. Generally, this must be completed at the Greek consulate in your home country.

How to obtain residency in Greece

EU citizens can live in Greece for three months without having to complete any paperwork. Once those three months are up you’ll need to apply for permanent residency through the Ministry of the Interior. Non-EU residents must have the type D visa for working in Greece before applying for permanent residency.

After these three months are up, you must apply for a Registration Certificate (Veveosi Engrafis). Once granted, you only need to renew it if your circumstances change, and you must fill out versions for both you and your children (if applicable).

These documents must be submitted to your local police station or the Aliens Police if you’re based in Athens.

To count as a permanent resident of Greece, you must have an address you live at for at least 183 days of the year. After five years of this you’ll be able to apply for full, permanent residency.

There are different kinds of residency permits available depending on your purpose for moving to Greece. These require different documentation:

Employment residency:

  1. Valid national passport
  2. Two biometric photos
  3. Proof of address (utility bill, house lease, etc.)
  4. Copy of your employment contract
  5. Declaration form signed by your employer

For children and spouses you’ll also need copies of marriage and birth certificates to prove your relationships.

Pensioner’s residency

  1. Valid national passport
  2. Two biometric photos
  3. Proof of pension (whether private or states)
  4. An alternative is proof of funds, which will generally be a minimum of €4,000 per person in a Greek bank account
  5. Evidence of health insurance or state healthcare cover
  6. Proof of address

Business owners

  1. Valid national passport
  2. Proof of address
  3. Hospitality or business declaration signed by local police

Golden Visa programme

There is a shortcut to residency in Greece, known as the Golden Visa programme. Simply put, you invest €250,000 in property in Greece and receive residency in 60 days. In this time you must also get a Greek tax number and Greek bank account.

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Doing this provides you with a 5-year renewable residency permit that also covers spouses and children. It also provides you with access to national healthcare and schooling.

The advantage to this over standard citizenship application is that it’s generally quicker and saves a lot of the paperwork. There are law firms that specialise in assisting with these visa applications, and they’ll handle much of the work for you. The process takes about two weeks and is open to both EU and non-EU nationals.

Help with residency applications

There are local (Greek) law firms that provide assistance for residency applications. Many of these are based in Athens, which also means they speak good English too. If you live away from Athens then there will still be legal help available, but it’ll help to take a translator with you because their level of English won’t be as high.

Renting a property in Greece

If you’re thinking of moving to Greece then renting a property can be a good idea before settling down permanently. This gives you a chance to familiarise yourself with the area and with local regulations.

Living in Greece
Typical villas and houses in Greek countryside and suburbia

That said, the standard minimum rental contract is three years. You might be able to arrange a shorter let, but this will be on a case-by-case basis. Monthly payments will often be lower if you commit to a longer contract, however.

As with anywhere else, rental prices vary massively depending on the area. In Athens, you can expect to pay around €9.50 per square metre, but only €5.25 per square metre in somewhere like rural Thessaloniki. The average rental price is around €7.40 per square metre.

Most rental agreements require a deposit equivalent to two months rent, and utility bills may or may not be included in the rental price.

It’s safest to deal through an estate agent, as private rentals can often be a minefield for anyone not fluent in Greek. Either way, it’ll help to bring a translator along just to ensure there are no snags.

Rent increases must be stated in the contract, so be sure to read the fine print. Similarly, you can only be evicted for not paying rent, so renters generally have more rights in Greece than countries like the UK or USA.

Buying a property in Greece

Once you’ve found an area right for your needs, the next logical step is to buy a property. The best way to do this is with the Golden Visa as it brings a lot of advantages, but not everyone has the spare cash to invest.

When buying a property you must declare whether it’s for residence or investment purposes. This doesn’t make a difference to your eligibility though. Greece charges an annual property tax that’s determined by the property’s purpose and must be declared on your annual tax returns. As a result, you must have a Greek bank account and tax number to purchase a property.

In border areas, such as Rhodes and Crete, properties are restricted and your application must go through a committee. EU residents will generally face little difficulty with this process, but the same isn’t always true for non-EU residents.

Again, dealing through an estate agent is best just to ensure everything is above board. When working out your budget, be sure to factor in legal, surveyor and notary fees, plus a minimum of 10% deposit.

You’ll probably find it difficult to get a mortgage through a Greek bank, so many expats do so through international lenders. This requires more documentation, however, including proof of funds and their source.

Are utilities, mobile and internet connection reliable in Greece?

Greece, generally speaking, has acceptable infrastructure for things like power and communications. This will of course be better in cities, but even rural areas have access to internet. You might find this is provided through cellular means rather than phone lines, which might affect your internet speed.

Mobile connections are mostly fine, although there may be connectivity issues in the most rural areas. While you might not have the data speeds you’re used to, you’ll still have mobile signal regardless.

Greece is covered by current British European roaming charges, but this will obviously change after Brexit. The best advice is to take out a contract with a national mobile phone network once you’re set up in the country.

How much will I pay in taxes in Greece?

Greece has no lower income tax threshold, meaning you pay tax on everything you earn. Up to €20,000 you’ll pay 22% tax, up to €30,000 you’ll pay 29% tax, and up to €40,000 you’ll pay 37% tax. Anything over €40,001 is counted as the highest bracket of 45%.

Anyone working self-employed in Greece must pay their taxes upfront, but these are then offset against your annual tax returns. This can prove difficult in the first year because you need extra money available, but it gets easier once you’re generating income.

How much tax will I pay if I retire to Greece?

Greece is currently trying to introduce a retirement income tax of 7%. To qualify, applicants must not have been a tax resident for at least 5 of the previous 6 financial years. Also, applicants must receive their pension from a country in a double taxation agreement with Greece. However, this does mean you won’t pay any pension tax in your original country of residence.

If you come from the UK, you can sometimes choose whether to pay your taxes in Greece or your original country. This will depend on which country has the lower tax rate, but be aware that you’ll be subject to the tax laws of the country in which your tax is paid.

Business taxes in Greece

Greece’s current corporate tax rate is 24%, which has been reduced from 28%. So if you’re thinking of setting up a business in Greece, it only makes sense if their corporation tax rate is lower. For comparison, corporate tax is currently 19% in the UK and 28% in the USA.

How to open a bank account in Greece

To open a standard bank account in Greece, you’ll need several documents from your home country, including

  1. Birth certificate
  2. Recent utility bill
  3. Salary evidence
  4. Tax residency certificate
  5. At least 12 months of bank statements

Standard bank accounts are needed to become a Greek tax resident and will come with a debit card for payments.

An alternative is to open an international bank account with a company like Barclays. Doing so can make sense if you’re planning on splitting money between countries, but you’ll still need a specifically Greek account for things like paying tax and purchasing property.

Healthcare and health insurance in Greece

Greece has a fairly good national healthcare system, which you can enter after three months of residency. If you’re from the UK and can apply for an S1 form before the Brexit date, this will entitle you to state healthcare paid by the British government.

To be eligible for state healthcare, you must be a taxpayer and belong to a national healthcare organisation. An example is IKA, which is the largest social security organisation in Greece and is for those in standard employment. You’ll make social security contributions, which will usually be around 10% of your declared income.

However, many expats opt for private international health insurance because the private healthcare sector is much better. You’ll find more private options available in urban areas, but there are still private hospitals in rural areas too.

It’s fairly standard for expats to switch on to a local private health insurance plan once their residency is confirmed. You can expect to pay upwards of €130 per person per year, but this will depend on your age and any existing health conditions.

Medication and pharmacies are fairly standard across the country, although you may have to visit a hospital for more specialised medication.

If you’re retiring to Greece, you should take healthcare into consideration. For example, you’ll have much better facilities (both public and private) in urban areas, so if you already have health issues this can be an important factor. Specifically, you’ll need to live near a hospital if you want a full range of services available.

To register with a doctor in Greece you’ll need to complete a form with your insurance information (if applicable), your personal details, and your tax information. Once completed, you’ll be given a list of local available doctors. You simply make your choice and proceed from there.

Where are the best places to live in Greece?

Greece offers many different atmospheres for living, and which is best will depend on your personal needs and goals. Here is a quick rundown of the best places to live in Greece.

The most vibrant – Athens

As the capital city, Athens has everything you could need. It’s in close proximity to the Greek islands and has good international connections. Add in the historic interest and bustling nightlife, and it’s got the potential to be top of most people’s lists.

Living in Greece
The Plaka Street in Athens – a quiet and pretty residential street that can provide calm and peace in a bustling city

The cheapest – Sparta and Poligiros

House prices are surprisingly low in Sparta, but this is mainly because of its remote location. Nestled in the foothills of Mount Taygetos, residents can enjoy lush countryside, quiet living and close proximity to the sea.

Similarly, Poligiros sits about an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki, which has an international airport with good connections. The town also has an annual carnival in August that shouldn’t be missed.

The quietest – Ampelakia

Ampelakia is located in Thessaly, and this mountainous region means it’s fairly quiet with little tourism. The closest airport is in Volos, around 90 minutes away, meaning you still have good international connections but can enjoy some peace and quiet too.

Living in Greece – summary

Although making the jump to living in a new country can be daunting, it’s worth taking the chance if you can. Greece offers everything you could want from a new life abroad, including great weather and lower living costs.

Completing the paperwork on your own is possible, but remember that you can hire legal help to make things quicker and easier. Either way, it’s worth it for the new life you’ll end up living.

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Understand your retirement income and pension options. Enjoy greater financial choice retired abroad.

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