(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 1 of a four-part series, “Gripes about Greece,” looking at the reality behind the myth of Greece as the ideal expat destination. This post is curated from Christina’s conversations and personal experiences, research and from monitoring expat social media platforms.You can jump to Pt. 2 here.)
Greece (officially The Hellenic Republic) typically sits high on the list of countries that Europeans and North Americans often consider when they discuss making a significant life change by moving to a new country. The country ticks lots of boxes: a sunny and generally mild climate (though our heat waves are getting longer and stronger, sadly), countless archaeological gems, calm blue seas dotted with exotic islands, fabulous olives and wonderful wine, several beautiful mountains, a couple of big cities and lots of sweet towns and villages to visit.
Greeks have a reputation for being friendly and fun-loving and life is said to move at a slower pace here.
So what’s not to love about life in Greece? Well, a lot actually, according to the expats currently living here.
Life may seem easy-breezy to visitors but things aren’t all ouzo and sunshine in the Hellenic Republic.
Let’s break down some of the most common gripes about Greece and start with the biggest ones, namely employment issues, cost of living and quality of life:
• Greece has never been a financial powerhouse and even though there has been some improvement since the latest major economic crisis started more than a decade ago*, the overall situation has worsened in many ways. In the first place, the cost of living has increased while salaries have decreased. According to Statista, the average salary in Greece is lower today than it was in the year 2000 and the typical (ie median—not average) salary is around 14,000 Euros per year, with men often earning more than women.
• You may have heard some talk about how ‘cheap’ life is here in Greece – and it is – compared to Copenhagen, London or Lausanne. However, unless you have a stable income from outside of Greece or are a top earner: a well-known surgeon, renowned lawyer or prominent advertising executive, for instance, life isn’t actually so inexpensive, especially in the cities. So yes, you can indeed live well in Greece if you are very well paid or can secure remote work that pays well from abroad. You can choose a base (the cities are of course more expensive but there are other options) and you can travel around this gorgeous country in your free time, enjoy fantastic accommodation, great food and a very pleasant lifestyle.
• If you look on the local job market, however, things start to look less than rosy. Good jobs aren’t easy to come by in this relatively small country and job market. Expats with college degrees and relevant experience can earn a steady salary along the lines of 1,200 euros (net) a month, but that can translate into well under 1,000 euros in take-home pay. Some (especially young and adventurous) would-be expats often ask me about coming and getting an easy part-time or temporary job on an island or similar, finding a roommate to share an apartment with and spending lots of time exploring Greece. However, the national minimum wage is around 550 euros net (Yup, that is for 40 hours of work per week …). Part-time workers get peanuts.
• Minimum-wage employees are worked hard and laws passed in recent years give employers a lot of power over low- and even higher-earning employees. Termination notice, schedule changes, severance pay, overtime rights and payment methods, etc are all very much organized in favor of employers who are rarely generous and working conditions are frequently sub-par as compared to other European countries. Micro-managing, unpaid overtime and inefficient systems are much more common than they could or should be.
• A related issue is that most decent jobs require at the very least a basic standard of Greek which can be done but it isn’t an easy language for many and it helps to be here in order to do so more effectively. While English is very common as a second language for many folks, Greek companies typically conduct their business in Greek. There are some international companies that make exceptions of course.
Now, if you take into account that the average Greek spends almost double what those in the rest of Europe spend on housing (40 percent versus 20 percent approximately), most people aren’t left with much after housing, utilities, groceries and so on are covered ….
• Gentrification, short-term housing options (such as Airbnb) in central areas have pushed out a shocking number of locals and rental prices in the suburbs have in many cases nearly doubled in recent years as many who, pre financial crisis lived in large villas or luxury apartments have been reigning in their lifestyle choices and choosing more ordinary accommodations. They still have more to give per month than the average Demetri so the average Demetri is getting pushed into older and smaller accommodation in more densely-populated areas.
• According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook close to 20 percent of the population of Greece lives below the poverty line and the unemployment rate is approximately 17 percent (and that nearly doubled during the pandemic, sadly). The unemployment rate for youth hovers around 35 percent (higher now in pandemic time), with about 4- percent higher rates for females.
• Another bitter pill to swallow is the fact that many young people make so little they even refer to their salaries as “pocket money,” with no hope of setting any aside for future dreams or for a rainy day. Many of these young adults are the children of middle- or upper-middle-class parents and often they can’t earn enough to live on their own or even with a roommate. Even worse is that many of these young people are well educated, with a good number speaking English very well and some are even proficient in a second foreign language.
It’s no surprise that call-center work is a growing field here and many of the aforementioned people are forced to accept customer-service work with irregular schedules and low wages (sometimes even being paid in part with coupons for chain supermarket!) Many multinationals are happy to have their service reps based here in Greece where they can hire well-educated and well-spoken individuals for a lot less than they could elsewhere in Europe.
Even some high-earning individuals (Greeks or other nationals) don’t feel great about enjoying a lavish lifestyle when so many around them are struggling. Income inequality is an issue in many countries, of course, but because Greece is a small country with relatively few urban areas, the inequality tends to be more visible outside a few bubbles here and there.
That said, if your dream is to live large in this small, complex and unique nation, go for it! There are opportunities to be had but be sure to do your research well in advance and know what you are getting into! Look before you leap, for sure.
Stay tuned for the next installment of ‘Gripes about Greece’ in which I will cover other important topics such as education, healthcare, bureaucracy (especially important if you have the entrepreneurial spirit), civic issues and more.
*From Wikipedia: The Greek government-debt crisis was the sovereign debt crisis faced by Greece in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007–08. Widely known in the country as The Crisis (Greek: Η Κρίση), it reached the populace as a series of sudden reforms and austerity measures that led to impoverishment and loss of income and property, as well as a small-scale humanitarian crisis. In all, the Greek economy suffered the longest recession of any advanced mixed economy to date. As a result, the Greek political system has been upended, social exclusion increased, and hundreds of thousands of well-educated Greeks have left the country.
About the author:
A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece. She studied Language and Literature at Moravian College and has worked as a teacher, an editor, a writer and a photographer.
You can see more of her work here at A Pixel for Your Thoughts.
You can see more of her posts here.
See more about Greece in Dispatches’ archive here.