Information for those who want to live and work in Greece

Greece is truly a unique destination. Despite its small size, the country has areas of exceptional natural wealth, ideal for escapes to both picturesque islands and imposing mountains. The country’s stunning topography offers a wide range of recreational options. Also, the Greek way of life combining ancient and modern culture makes Greece an excellent destination.

The cultural heritage of Greece, which is also the foundation of Western Civilization, is felt in all aspects of modern Greek society. While numerous archaeological sites and museums – such as the elaborate new Acropolis Museum – offer visitors the chance to experience Greek history up close, the country’s heritage is also kept alive in spectacular concert venues, outdoor theaters, as well as bustling galleries in all of Athens.

Greece offers both visitors and residents the opportunity to explore the roots of Western Civilization. Across the country there are hundreds of museums, archaeological sites, and monuments that capture the flourishing of arts, architecture, philosophy, and thought.

Entry requirements for Greece

Greece is a member state of the European Union and has ratified the Schengen Agreement since 1997. Citizens of the states of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement have the right to travel freely in Greece and the rest of the Schengen area by simply showing their identity card or of their passport.

The matter of the entry and residence of foreigners in the Greek territory, for reasons involving the concept of immigration, is determined by Law 3386/2005 “on the entry, residence and social integration of nationals of third countries in the Greek Territory”

Third-country nationals entering Greek territory must have a passport or other travel document recognized by international conventions. These documents must bear, if required by applicable international conventions, Community law and national regulations, an entry visa (VISA).

The entry visa is granted by the consular authority to which the third-country national’s place of residence belongs, after taking into account reasons relating in particular to public order, the security of the country and public health. It is divided into a short-stay visa (“Schengen” visa) and a long-stay visa (national visa).

Nationals of third countries, who are not required to have an entry visa, are allowed to enter and stay in the Greek Territory for up to three months in total or in parts within a period of six months from the date of first entry.

As of October 11, 2011, the new Schengen Visa Information System (VIS) became operational. The VIS (Visa Information System) allows the Schengen States to exchange data on visa travel documents, and also connects the consulates of countries outside the European Union with all border control points of the Schengen Member States.

The main objectives of the VIS are to simplify and strengthen the security of visa procedures, as well as to facilitate checks at the external borders of the Schengen area. As a Schengen instrument, the VIS applies to all Schengen member states. However, it will take time until all the consulates and authorized services of the member states are connected to the system.

The VIS started in North Africa and will gradually expand to the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) and the Gulf countries (Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen). Within two years, the connection with the VIS of all the consulates of the Schengen countries will have been achieved.

List of EU countries belonging to Schengen area

Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden

List of EU countries non Schengen area

Bulgaria, Ireland, United Kingdom, Cyprus, Romania

List of third EU countries belonging to Schengen area

Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein.

Greece and the other Schengen States, which fully apply the provisions of the Schengen Treaty and the relevant Community acquis regarding short-term visas (stay up to 90 days, per semester [180 days] in the Schengen area) do not require a visa for holders of common passports of the following countries:
Holy See (Vatican), San Marino, Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Venezuela, Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador, USA, Japan, Israel, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Barbados , Bahamas, Brunei, New Zealand, Nicaragua, South Korea, Honduras, Uruguay, Panama, Paraguay, Seychelles, Singapore, Chile.

The importance of speaking Greek in Greece

Speaking English is fine if traveling in Greece and visiting typical tourist areas, but going off the beaten path to remote islands/villages or choosing offbeat activities will require speaking and reading Greek.
Living, working and finding a job in Greece is a different story. Is learning Greek required, true or false? It’s both.
Learning Greek isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it’s not the most difficult either.

Speaking several languages, including the local one, will make you more attractive to an employer on paper and in person. It is good business sense to hire someone who can speak to everyone, rather than someone who is limited to communicating with only a few in a non-native language. Even employers offering summer jobs in tourist spots prefer people who are bilingual in Greek.

Reading, writing and speaking Greek will undoubtedly increase your chances of finding work, simply because the whole job market is open to you and make you more competitive. It will help you stay in your field and perhaps even get you a position on par with the level you attained back in your homeland, instead of settling for less.

Lastly, although being fluent or proficient in Greek does not guarantee you a higher salary, it gives you the power to negotiate a salary, rather than allowing your employer to use it as leverage to pay you less.

While learning Greek, even at a basic level, will help you in everyday activities and make your transition smoother without being dependent on others for help, I and several people I know can attest that it is not necessary in finding some jobs.

Programmers and technicians, secretaries at Greek and multinational companies, editors and proofreaders at publishing houses and ELT schools, tourist industry workers, administrators at universities, architects, some teachers of English, personal assistants to Greek professionals, none of them speak Greek at a fluent or even basic level because their company has a UK, German, Spanish, American or otherwise non-Greek speaking clientele or industry focus. Unfortunately, many multinationals have withdrawn and moved elsewhere since the crisis began.

Not speaking Greek also means that you won’t be able to read 99.5 percent of newspaper ads/classifieds or communicate beyond pleasantries with the majority of the population.

The good jobs for native speakers of another language without fluency in Greek have almost no turnover and come available rarely, only to be filled through connections or recommendations by relatives or friends without ever being advertised. 

Vacancies that open up more often or continuously advertised in “foreigner” newspapers are usually less than desirable jobs with high turnover. There’s a reason. These companies count on a continuous supply of non-EU citizens who will work illegally out of desperation, accept a lower salary, not get IKA (insurance) and bonuses (Easter, summer and Christmas), but work unpaid overtime and settle for being treated poorly or exploited in other ways out of fear of being fired or otherwise unemployed with no severance pay or pension contributions.

You may be fine with that as a means to stay here and support yourself, but your life and career will never advance beyond these recycled jobs into a professional realm. Those who aren’t picky and enjoy instability may find this satisfactory; others seeking growth and opportunity should know that your career will top out quickly without connections. This is especially true for women over 30 who must leave Greece to continue their careers. 

And if you one day intend to return to your homeland or migrate to another country, a prospective employer may not be sympathetic to your past job situation because no one cares how Greece works, and it will be difficult for you to regain the position you once held.

Contrary to popular belief that international experience is looked upon favorably, I found that many multinational companies see you as flaky, unfocused or a flight risk (aka, you’ll leave again), unless the move abroad was for good reason  i.e., Company transfer, related directly to an established profession, family reasons or accepting a golden job opportunity with a recognized brand or institution.

It is a widely held belief that most Greeks speak English, and Greece caters to an English-speaking population. That’s both true and false.

In affluent areas, larger towns and areas frequented by tourists, many know some English, especially younger people. However, the statement, “All Greeks speak English” is greatly exaggerated.” A majority of ATM/cash machines do not offer the option for English even in big cities like Athens and Thessaloniki, 95 percent of bureaucratic forms are in Greek, and government websites offer slimmed down or outdated English versions of their Greek counterparts.

Further, public sector offices (dimos, eforia, nomarxeia, IKA, OAED, etc.) are staffed by people who will insist on speaking Greek, except in rare instances.

There are people who live here for years without bothering to learn Greek even at a basic level and survive. They congregate with people speaking the same language or multilingual Greeks, manage at the grocery store and are dependent on a friend, girlfriend/boyfriend, spouse, child or lawyer to do the translating and bureaucratic legwork for them. They read only a fraction of Greek news that gets translated to English. Greece remains a mysterious stranger to them.*

That’s fine, I suppose, but I found that having even a basic command of Greek does wonders. With some grasp of the language, independence and confidence replace isolation and fear, knowledge chips away at ignorance, and closed doors inch open. You feel like a functioning adult with a full life instead of a helpless and dependent child, and Greece feels more like home than a foreign country.

How to start a business in Greece

Information and research in this article pertain to the bureaucracy required of everyone interested in being self-employed in Greece and/or opening a business.

It does not — and never will — cover individual industries or all types of businesses and operating permits/licenses, nor advise you on how to maintain, grow or close a business. Why? Because this would require writing a full-length book in need of constant updates as laws change. It’s also impossible because every business is uniquely different.

If you’re searching the Internet for information on what business to start in Greece, that’s an indication you do not know the market and have a difficult road ahead in a crisis climate.

If you cannot complete the process yourself or have trouble with the language, it is recommended you screen, consult and/or hire an accountant, lawyer or other business adviser to help you for a fee.

The point of being in business for yourself is to assume control of all associated risks, joys, successes, responsibilities and (that’s right) problems, hassles and the unknown. If you’re unwilling to do that, update your CV and get a job at a company that did.

Cost of starting a business in Greece

The cost of starting a business depends on countless variables, such as location, type of business, rental or purchase of property and equipment, bank loans, rate of interest, lawyer and accountant fees, cost of materials, your tax bracket, the industry, and whether you’re an EU or non-EU citizen. Some fees and tax levies are calculated using a percentage, as illustrated in the table under “Overview.”

When the World Bank did its annual “Doing Business” survey, Greece was found to have the highest official start-up costs in comparison to all other EU countries, the United States, Canada and Australia at 23.3 percent of GNI/capita. See “Doing Business in Greece vs. other countries” for details.
Rules for non-EU business owners

Americans, Canadians, Australians and other non-EU citizens interested in opening a company or being self-employed in Greece must meet the following qualifications as the first step. If you are an EU citizen, go ahead and skip to the next section.

Investors: For non-EU citizens seeking to start a company:

a) Proof of €300,000 minimum capital;
b) Creation of at least 10 new jobs, of which 30 percent must be given to Greek citizens; and
c) An application and business proposal submitted in Greek proving that the business will “contribute to the growth of Greek economy,” which must be reviewed and approved by the Greek Ministry of Interior.

Partnering with a Greek or other EU citizen does not absolve you from these rules. The only way you can get around this is to make your Greek/EU partner the sole owner or be a dual citizen with the EU.

Self-employment: If you are not an investor with the intention of employing workers, but looking to be self-employed or a legal freelancer or consultant in business for yourself, you must:
a) Hold a Greek residence permit for one year in another category i.e., a permit as the spouse of a Greek/EU citizen, or a permit as a salaried employee, or a permit secured by independent financial support from outside Greece. 

b) Deposit €60,000 in a Greek bank account 
c) Submit an application and business proposal in Greek proving that the business will “contribute to the growth of Greek economy,” which must be reviewed and approved by the Greek Ministry of Interior.

If you do not qualify, or cannot get around these requirements by becoming an EU citizen, you cannot open a business as a non-EU expat in Greece.

For non-EU investors and self-employed entrepreneurs who deposit the necessary capital, have the right permit and submit proposals in Greek, rejection or approval could take up to one (1) year or more, and renewal of the permit requires proof of ongoing minimum investment of €60,000. Currently, the only way to get fast-track approval within three months is to:
a) put up an initial investment of €200 million, or
b) put up an initial investment of €75 million, create 200 jobs of which 30 percent must be given to Greek citizens, and invest a minimum of 1 million a year for three years in technology and innovation.

Because of stringent rules, corruption and heavy bureaucracy, investors of all nationalities — including Greeks — sometimes opt for another country and those seeking to take part-time side/freelance work end up accepting money under the table.

Business Licenses & Pre-screening

If opening a bar, restaurant or club, you will need a license issued by the city or municipality where the business will be located.

A limited number of licenses are issued per year and there may be a waiting list, so it is wise to consult the municipality’s Mayor’s office or City Hall about securing the necessary licenses before starting the steps below and renting or purchasing property. Otherwise, you risk paying costly expenses on a non-operating business.

There are also permits required for playing music, placing tables and chairs outside, using umbrellas, parking spaces, and safety. Owners and employees serving food or drink must also get a paper from police that certifies their age, clean criminal record and disease-free, non-HIV health status.

On February 24, 2009, it was agreed that no further licenses will be issued to entertainment venues or eating and drinking establishments in Kolonaki, Gazi and Pangrati until February 21, 2011. See “No new licenses for bars, eateries and clubs in the center.” The ban on new licenses was extended to December 31, 2011, while the City of Athens examines the impact of new businesses on traffic, garbage and noise pollution, after which there were several elections and no decision announced.

Aside from business licenses and permits, persons providing services (i.e., food/beverages, hairdresser, health care, sales, security, etc.) must submit an application for a professional license.

Renting Houses and Apartments in Greece

If you are considering staying for some length of time in Greece or looking for temporary accommodation before embarking on purchasing your own Greek property it is well worth considering renting. In Greece this is a relatively cheap alternative, especially when compared to many other West European countries. Finding a suitable property is the first step. If you are considering an island property then Estate Agents are a useful source of information and most island Agents will have a small amount of properties on their books.

However, by far the best way is by letting it be known that you are looking for a place to rent. Greek people are, in my opinion, the friendliest in Europe and love to spend time talking to strangers in tavernas, cafes, bars and shops and spreading the word should be relatively easy to do and yield results in a very short time. The reason for this is because, often, Greek people have inherited extra houses surplus to the one they are living in.

The selling of them for profit is still a fairly new concept in the Greek culture and people are happy to rent them out rather than leave them to stand empty and unused.Life in Greece becoming more expensive every year. Another alternative is to rent holiday properties outside of the season. Generally, though, these properties tend to be owned by non-Greeks and rents are considerably higher than those owned by locals.
Rental prices obviously vary depending upon the location for houses or buying land in Greece.A one-bedroom apartment in Athens or Piraeus for example can range between 150 euros to 600 euros per month.

The southern suburbs of Athens like Glyfarda, Voula and Vouliagmen or the northern suburbs like Drosia, Kifisia, Marousi and Ekali being the most expensive. Suburbs to the west of Athens or down towards (or in) Piraeus offer much better value. Furthermore, if your only knowledge of Piraeus is the port don’t let this give you the wrong impression. Further north of the port side, heading towards Athens, there are many very attractive suburbs with reasonably priced apartments to rent in areas like Keratsini, Perama, Korydallos, Agia Varvara, Aegaleo, Kato Patisia, Moshato, Kalithea or Nea Smyrni.

In Athens and Piraeus it will be difficult to find a house to rent. As in many European cities, apartments are the most usual form of accommodation. The houses that do exist for rent are very expensive due to their lack of supply. This, however, is not the case on the islands where a good mixture of houses, apartments and studios can be found in most locations at lower cost. For example, a 1 bed roomed house could cost as little as 150 euros per month and they are often fully furnished with fitted kitchens and nearly always a terrace or patio is included. Furthermore, an island property (especially one of the smaller islands) will be more likely to have properties to rent that also offer fabulous sea views.