What’s It Like Living In Santorini As An Expat?

We've taken a deep dive into the truth of living in Santorini as an expat. If you’re thinking about living on this picturesque Greek island, read to discover if taking the plunge and moving to Santorini is right for you.

Of all the Greek islands, Santorini has the most distinct look. The beautiful Aegean Sea is reflected off the traditional white-washed houses and the distinctive deep blue roofs. The island is a dream for many and a holiday destination for over a million tourists every year. But what is it like to live in Santorini all year round?

Is Santorini a good place to live?

Life in Santorini is as contrasting as its landscape; summer is hectic, busy, and packed, while winter is relaxed, slow, and peaceful.

Prices for almost all consumer items are sky high, while tasty food could be described as dirt cheap. Local tavernas sit next to flashy restaurants. Even basic facilities are in total contrast. For an island of this size, the internet is surprisingly good, but on the other hand, the water system is less than ideal. 

The most popular towns are easily Oia and Fira on the island’s west coast. The entire west side of the island is just a small village after a small village with a smattering of picturesque beaches in-between. 

Life on the island takes a little bit of getting used to, and you certainly need to know what you’re in for before you go. 

The pros and cons of life in Santorini

Life on the island is very much like life elsewhere; many positives but nowhere is 100% perfect. Living on Santorini is very much a dichotomy between the busy summer months, which are hectic and loud, and the quieter, slower winter.

Living in Satorini
The iconic windmills of Oia, some of them are converted into hotels and restaurants.

We’ve looked at some of Santorini’s best bits, as well as some of less-than-ideal bits. 

The pros of living in Santorini

1. Laidback way of living

Although summer can be delightful with lots happening, plenty of people, and an enjoyable atmosphere, there remains that calm, relaxed vibe of life on an island. Underneath the busy tourist industry is a super laid-back island.

People take time to have a coffee with neighbours and long meal times are considered normal. The traditional, Greek slow pace of life means you’ll find it difficult to be worried about anything. Moving to Santorini is much more about a change of pace and lifestyle than it is about anything else

2. Stunning scenery:

Of course, the other major positive to life on the island is the stunning scenery. It’s hard to be stressed when you live every day in such a beautiful place. The views out to sea and the dramatic mountain scenery combined with the beautiful beaches make life on the island genuinely a pleasure. 

3. Tasty food

If you know where to go, you’ll find some fantastic local tavernas and bars which offer excellent, fresh food for a reasonable price all year round.

Local Greek food is one of the best things about the island. The produce is grown on the island or on neighbouring islands and is fresh and tasty. And, of course, the fish is caught by local fishermen, meaning it will be some of the freshest fish you’ll ever eat.

Santorini offers a traditionally Greek menu of cheeses, olives, local wine, seafood, lamb, pasta, and vegetables. Local recipes are truly delicious, and locals are more than happy to offer slightly lower prices for locals and neighbours than they are for tourists. 

4. Sense of community

The local community on Santorini has a solid bond that extends beyond lower prices.

They are happy to help out a friend and neighbour any way they can, and you’ll find the welcoming community one of the island’s biggest positives. Particularly in the off-season, when there are fewer tourists, locals are very supportive, and if you need help, you only have to ask.

The cons of living in Santorini

1. It’s expensive

Perhaps the biggest drawback to living in Santorini is the prices.

Santorini is super popular with tourists, and as such, summer prices are astonishingly high. If you judge by the summer prices, Santorini is the most expensive of the Greek islands. The good news is that in winter prices drop. However, you’ll find daily living costs pretty high for the summer months. 

Living in Santorini
Grilled octopus is a popular item on the menu in Santorini cafes and restaurants; fresh catch is being dried outside a tavern.

2. It gets crowded with tourists

Of course, the other drawback of summer is the number of tourists. If you want to eat out, you’ll have to book well in advance.

You’ll also need to be prepared to pay for a view. Santorini has some stunning scenery, but if you want to see it while you eat, it’ll cost you. Not to mention you’ll probably be tightly packed and surrounded by tourists.

Visiting any of the island’s heritage sites you’ll be surrounded by tourists taking photos. Queues for transport, toilets and in shops can be astonishingly long. 

How expensive is it to live in Santorini?

There is no point pretending that life on Santorini is going to be cheap. The island is well known for being the priciest of all the Greek islands. However, this doesn’t mean you need a fortune to have a good life on the island. 

The most affordable aspect of the island is easily the food. Fresh, locally-grown produce is easy to come by and cheap. Bread comes in at around €1, eggs are around €3 for a dozen, and milk comes in at approximately €1.50. Any fruit comes in at €2 for 1kg. Even good, local wine will only set you back around €5. 

Eating out is relatively inexpensive but can result in considerable bills in summer.

A good local taverna will set you back around €40 for two people, while a super-cheap snack-style restaurant will be around half this. More touristy places with stunning views charge considerably more, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself shelling out over €100 for a decent meal for two in summer. 

Due to the nature of the roads on the island, public transport is also inexpensive. Many tourists and locals use public transport, so a one-way ticket will only set you back €1.80. Even taxis aren’t too expensive, costing you around €4 to start. 

Other living costs are similar to other islands; a gym membership costs around €50 a month, a decent internet connection comes in at around €35 per month.

If you’re looking to buy any large white goods, furniture, or other items from mainstream stores, you will probably be better going shopping on the mainland and paying to get everything back to the island via ferry.

Is property expensive in Santorini?

The main costs you’ll need to think about before you are accommodation costs.

Living in Santorini
The old town of Oia is a maze of small shops, restaurants and cafes, almost all with spectacular views. It’s also the most photographed place in Greece and maybe in the whole world.

If you plan on living in Oia or Fira, you’re looking at a rent of around €650 each month for just one bedroom. If you need two or three bedrooms, it’ll be over €1,000 per month.

Outside of the two major hubs, prices vary. If you look hard, you might find an apartment with three bedrooms outside a city centre or in a smaller town for around €800 per month. 

If you want to buy a property outright, Santorini has everything from cheap renovation projects to super-luxury villas.

It’s easy to find properties over the €1 million line, so if you want a stunning view, private pool, and several bedrooms, then don’t be surprised by the number of zeros on the price tag. However, there are also some more reasonable properties.

In the countryside surrounding Megalochori, Pygros Kallistis, and Episkopi Gonias in the centre of the island, you’ll find some nice two-bedroom, detached houses for around €400,000. As a general rule, prices on the west coast of the island are higher than on the east coast.

The most important thing to remember about buying a property in Santorini is to jump at every opportunity.

Many people choose to put their homes up for rent in the summer, which means very few properties go for sale, and when they do, they are often turned into holiday properties. The sad truth is that buying on the island can be challenging, but it is possible if you are committed. 

The practicalities of living in Santorini

If you don’t want to spend all your time on the island, Santorini has great connections to mainland Greece and other European countries. The most common form of transport on and off the island is by boat. 

The main port of Athinios has connections every hour to other Greek islands as well as to Athens. The exact schedule varies each season, but they are always regular.

A ferry to the island of Crete takes around 3 hours while getting to the mainland takes about 5.

You can also get a ferry to Rhodes, Kos, Ios, Naxos, Mykonos, and more. If you plan on bringing some shopping to the island, ferries accommodate things like a new fridge, new car, or other large storage items. Although you should book in advance. 

However, if you want something a little faster or want to go a little further, Santorini does have an international airport. Most direct connections are to European countries; London, Amsterdam, Rome, and Paris are all around 3 hours away.

If you’re looking to travel further afield, you’ll get a connecting flight in Athens. The short trip takes just one hour from the island, and from there you can travel the world. The flights to Athens happen daily for most of the year. 

A car isn’t essential when it comes to travelling around the island. Of course, it will help massively if you live in the countryside and commute to work every day. However, the bus service is reliable and frequent so you can get between villages easily even in winter.

Many locals choose to get scooters or mopeds instead of cars as they can fit down the super narrow roads. But honestly, prepare yourself for a lot of walking. 

With all that walking, you’ll probably be super fit and healthy, but if you do need medical assistance, Santorini got its first hospital back in 2016. Based in the village of Karterados, just outside Fira, it is reasonably modern and well-equipped.

Living in Santorini
Santorini beaches are as distinct as the island itself. They feature white, red and black volcanic rocks and sand like this black volcanic beach at Kamari.

It will have everything you need for any typical medical emergency, although it isn’t the best, and sometimes waiting times can be extended. People head to Athens for more serious procedures. There are several doctors’ offices spread out across the island, with the highest concentration in the central villages.

There are enough schools on the island for children to have access to a good education, but you won’t be spoilt for choice either. Most expats choose to send their children to the local schools, however, if you are concerned these schools don’t provide enough or are worried about your child’s Greek skills, there is an international school in Thera which has an excellent reputation. 

Santorini has loads of cultural experiences to offer so long as you like museums and wineries. Things like cinemas and shopping malls are minimal, so if shopping is a hobby you want to indulge regularly, look at another island. Having said that, if you can get to Kamari Town there is a beautiful open-air cinema which is incredible.

Shows and music concerts are irregular and much less formal than in other countries. You’re more likely to stumble on a music show in a local bar than you are to book tickets for it online. And that’s if the internet doesn’t drop out!

Internet, electricity, and water are like everything else on the island, decent enough but nothing to write home about.

The internet is reasonably fast and reliable until a winter storm comes. The same can be said for electricity. It’s worth having a few torches and candles in a cupboard for winter.

Unlike other Greek islands like Corfu, which can be very materialistic, Santorini is slightly rustic, wonky, and charming for everything. According to expats on the island, you learn to embrace it. 

Is Santorini dangerous?

Definitely not!

When it comes to safety, Santorini ranks very highly on the list. The island has very little criminal activity, and the most common crime is pickpocketing in summer. The price of ice cream in the summer could also count as a crime of sorts! 

In general, there isn’t much to worry about if you make the island your home.

Locals and tourists all report feeling very safe out and about at night. The main towns are very well-lit and bustling during the summer, and it is very pleasant to take a night-time stroll and enjoy the cooler air.

Even after a few drinks, most people feel safe stumbling home from a local bar in the early hours. If this sounds like you, it’s best to leave valuables at home. There is a very slim chance someone might take a fancy to a nice watch or some jewellery. But this is unlikely and very rare.

Aside from fast-fingered kids taking advantage of tourists, any crime on the island is unusual. Santorini doesn’t have any gang activity, and it would be unusual to find anyone fighting. Violence and drugs are almost unheard of on the island. 

The most dangerous thing on the island is the same thing on most Greek islands: the driving!

Greek driving is infamous as being erratic at best and downright dangerous at worst. Locals who know the roads drive very fast and get annoyed at tourists who are more cautious on the narrow, winding mountain roads. The resulting frustration can end in accidents, but they are rarely severe and are more inconvenient than a real danger. 

Best places to live in Santorini

If you plan to move to Santorini, you should research which area you think would be right for you. As discussed, it is an island of contrast, and it has a lot to offer. 

Oia and the west coast

The north of the island, Oia, and the surrounding area is well known as being packed with the island’s wealthier inhabitants. Oia has lots of large and spacious villas and sleek apartments surrounded by sophisticated restaurants and bars.

Living in Santorini
Gorgeous evenings in Santorini: sunsets over the Aegean Sea.

It is slightly more exclusive than other areas and in summer attracts plenty of tourists ready to spend big money. 

The west coast of the island remains fairly touristy and, therefore, reasonably expensive. However, if you look to live just outside the villages hanging on the cliff edges, you can find slightly cheaper options.

The west coast generally has the best internet, most jobs, and thanks to the port, the best connections, and roads. You’ll still find the summer here pretty hectic, and most properties are rented, so you won’t find yourself with many permanent neighbours. 

The south of the island

As you head to the south of the island, you’ll find more open spaces. The houses here are less aesthetically pretty, and while you’ll still find plenty of hotels, you’ll also find more locals.

Tourists tend to visit the south of the island for a day or so to see sites like the Akrotiri Lighthouse and the stunning beaches. But then they return north.

The houses might be less pleasing to look at, but if you want to have neighbours, you should look to the south of the island. 

The east coast

The east coast is also home to more locals. Most people live on the east and traverse the island for work.

Villages on the east coast such as Agios Georgios, Kamari, and Exo Gialos have stunning waterfronts and slightly less sleek back streets. Again, it doesn’t look as aesthetic as the west coast, but it’s less expensive and more practical to live here. 

If you can afford the prices and don’t mind the tourists, the west coast is easily the best place to live. However, if you actually want to work, go food shopping, and have a practical life at a reasonable cost, you’ll need to look away from the beautiful white buildings of the west to the more rugged east coast. 

Our favourite place: Exo Gialos Thiras

If we had to live on the island, we’d head to Exo Gialos Thiras.

This little village on the east coast has direct road links across the island to the major town of Fira. It takes just ten minutes in the car to cross the island, and there is everything you need in Fira and the surrounding area. It’s only 20 minutes to the main port and just ten to the airport.

Exo Gialos Thiras still has picturesque white houses, beautiful churches, and of course, stunning scenery, but it is less touristy, and you’ll be able to actually bond with neighbours. 

Living in Santorini in winter

Like most Mediterranean islands, Santorini is considerably busier during the summer months. With all the tourists in the summer, locals are in full swing running their businesses and trying to make money while the sun shines, literally!

Living in Santorini
A cable car in Fira takes you from the old port up to the town. The views are breathtaking!

It is the winter months when locals relax and enjoy their lives on the island. This means that locals are much friendlier and willing to chat during winter, giving the island a real sense of community that can be lacking during the summer months. 

Just as winter is the time when locals relax, it’s also the time when things get done.

It’s hard to repair roads, re-roof your house, or renovate an apartment when tourists are everywhere, and it’s 35 degrees in the shade. This means winter is generally still pretty busy, with everyone getting things done before the next tourist season.

With so many people out and about, shopping, working, chatting, and catching up on the news, the island still feels vibrant during the colder months.

While other islands are entirely shut down, Santorini is home to 10,000 people year-round, so although the winter is quieter, it is still a nice place to be. 

Having said this, some boutiques, hotels, and restaurants make enough in the summer to close entirely in winter. This will, of course, restrict your options when dining out or shopping.

Closed hotels probably won’t affect you. However, if you want lots of options for evenings out, perhaps some nightlife, you might find winter on the island a bit too quiet.

Any nightlife on the island tends to open with the tourists, so fancy Saturday nights out dancing until 2 am are practically impossible unless you host a party at home. 

The weather in Santorini in the winter is much colder than in the summer months, but it is rarely “cold.” Although it can reach as low as five degrees, these days are rare.

Snow is possible but, again, unlikely. Usually, the temperature hovers somewhere around 15 degrees, and sunny days can reach 20 degrees. Santorini also receives its fair share of rain in winter, so while you might not need to pack huge, thick winter coats, you should definitely bring an umbrella. 

Expats in Santorini 

If you are moving to Santorini full-time, you will find yourself in the minority. Compared to the other Greek islands, which have a strong community of expats, Santorini has very few. 

That’s not to say there aren’t any expats. You’ll find plenty of online forums of people asking for advice with work, finding accommodation, and a range of other requests. The island is home to a whole range of nationalities, including British, French, Russian, Spanish, Italian, South African, and more. 

With only 10,000 people on the island all year round, expats very quickly blend with the local community. You’re more likely to get in touch with other expats through Greek locals who are more than happy to point out other expats. 

However, the most significant bond you will make will come after you spend a whole winter on the island. Once people see that you are here to stay, you’ll find everyone warms up to you.

The best place to network for both locals and expats are the local coffee shops. Go to one like Irini’s Café in Fira, where locals hang out rather than a coffee shop for tourists. 

Moving to Santorini – paperwork

Moving to Santorini means abiding by Greek immigration rules. We’ve covered immigration in detail in our Living in Greece guide in the Residency section.

One of the first things you’ll need to sort when you get to the island is an Arithmo Forologiko Mitro (AFM). Your AFM is your tax number, and you will need one.

If you plan on working, you’ll also need an AMKA number which is social security. You can head to your local tax office to get this sorted. In Santorini, that means heading to Thira.

The final thing to consider is healthcare. Any non-EU citizen should sort private health insurance before you go. 

Overall, Greek bureaucracy has a bit of a bad name. Things take a while, and the slow pace of life on the islands can really take its toll when filing paperwork.

Allow extra time for everything, and don’t panic if it takes a while to hear back from officials. It’s best to brush up on your Greek when asking for help from officials as they are more likely to look kindly on your application if you understand basic Greek and can grasp keywords to do with your application. 

Things to know before moving to Santorini

1. Religion

Like most of Greece, people in Santorini, older residents especially, are religious. The churches are popular tourist destinations because of their beautiful blue and white colouring. However, they are still places of religious worship, and other locals won’t look at you kindly if you don’t show a little respect.

There are many festivals and nameday celebrations in the religious calendar, and you should get familiar with these as many shops shut and holiday days are observed. 

2. Animals galore!

Santorini is well-known for using donkeys to carry things and people around the narrow streets. While this can be very cute, the accompanying smells are less so.

In addition to the smells, it can be a bit off-putting at first to watch donkeys carrying people in the heat of summer. Rest assured, the donkeys are well looked after. 

Living in Santorini
Donkeys in Oia: these beautifully decorated animals take tourists from the port all the way up to the town.

3. Stray cats

In addition to the donkeys, you’ll also find yourself with stray cats weaving between your legs. Santorini is home to lots of stray cats. There are a few stray dogs too, but the cats are more prevalent and much more noticeable.

It can be tempting to feed the cats but be prepared to look like a pied-pier with a line of cats following you and demanding food very loudly. In the long run, it’s generally better to ignore them if you can. 

4. Cash economy

Cash is king on the island, so be prepared to give your cards a break. Lots of the small shops and tavernas don’t have card machines and only take cash payments. When shopping or eating out, you’ll have to take this into consideration.

5. Afternoon breaks

The other thing you’ll need to consider is the daily “mesimeri” in summer. This is the siesta that locals take to avoid the midday heat and means the island effectively shuts down from around 2-5 pm.

If you want to get anything done, it’s morning or evening. And even then, it’ll take as much time as it takes, and there is no point rushing. 

Final thoughts on living in Santorini

Life in Santorini is undoubtedly one of contrasts. With such a beautiful background, good weather, cheap wine, and tasty, local produce readily available, it can be a simple yet beautiful life. If you’ve got the money and don’t mind the tourists or can pay for privacy, Santorini offers a beautiful life at a slow pace. 

The island is safe, has everything you might need, although not in abundance, and anything it doesn’t have is easily accessible on the mainland or nearby islands. There is a reason Santorini is such a popular destination; whether you are there for a week or several years, life on the island is easy. 

There are fewer expats than on other islands, so Santorini offers the chance to get stuck into Greek life and live side by side with the locals. Moving to Santorini has a lot to offer. If you think you can handle the influx of tourists in summer, the island is a magical place to live. 

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