Expat Essentials

Lynne Evans in Athens: A quick primer for Brits planning to move to Greece

(Editor’s note: With Brexit, Citizens of the United Kingdom living in Greece will become third-country residents and not entitled to long-term residency in Schengen Zone countries including Greece.)

With Brexit, it seems that many British Grecophiles are seriously thinking about relocating to Greece but are deferring their decision because of a lack of information online. In fact, I was asked by Dispatches’ editor to write this article to bridge the information gap.

You might have read that there are Golden Visa bonuses and incentives for people who buy new houses for 250,000 euros or more. This is true., but all expats can get visas and residency and work permits as necessary.

My first expat experience in Greece

I first moved to Greece to work in 1991 to work, although when I arrived here, I didn’t have a job. I did, however, have my own money. I also had a three-month visa which I got before leaving the United Kingdom.

I soon got a job teaching English as a foreign language and my young daughter was admitted into a Greek kindergarten, where she quickly learned the language. More importantly, she made a lot of friends of her own age. There were no problems with her being accepted into the Greek state-school system.

Of course, I had her birth certificate and she was named on my passport. Nothing has really changed since then.

Information for new expats after Brexit

Greece has no provisions, yet, for British expats, although these would help if Brexit actually happens. Check details with the British Embassy in Athens.

Brits, like any other nationality, have to comply with the rules for residency. Greece is a Schengen Zone country, and you can see the overall rules here. To get a long-stay visa, you do have to demonstrate you have the assets and resources to live without taking state benefits.

If the UK leaves the EU, there will be onerous customs documentation needed. I know this from personal experience. You will also need patience, as customs clearance takes time. While we’re not advocating paying baksheesh, the reality is, you’ll find that the liberal application of money eases the process when dealing with customs officials. In fact, it helps most bureaucratic processes.

The Greek system as a whole relies on brown envelopes. When I moved from the UK to Greece, I waited for weeks for customs officials to check the contents of my boxes, which had arrived in a trailer. I was living on Paros, so customs officials had to come from Syros, the administrative centre of the Cyclades.

There were three of them.

I had been told that I could not open the boxes until customs officials had checked them. I didn’t. In fact, these officials didn’t check the boxes. They told my Greek friend to leave, believing that I didn’t speak or understand Greek … their mistake. They sat and debated how much to charge me for [not].inspecting my boxes. They proceeded to decide which of them should take the money I was to hand over. Apparently, there had been Dutch people the month before who had handed over cash, and the guy who had benefitted was not in the running for my money.

I offered them a cheque, but they wanted cash and refused travellers’ cheques too.  The banks were closed by this time, it was the weekend, Friday, so they had to wait until Monday for their payment. I was asked to take the money to their office in the port on the Monday.

Although I asked for a receipt, my request was refused. So, the judicious offer of cash oils the wheels of bureaucracy and deals.

Do this if you have any unanswered questions.

If you are seriously thinking about emigrating to Greece, apply for an extended visa, not a tourist one. You will need time to find accommodation and – depending on your circumstances – a job.

Greeks are, on the whole, predisposed to like the British, especially those with money to spend.

If you get a job, your employer will help you get a work permit, but be prepared for long queues at the ministry for internal affairs, or any other government department. Once you have a work permit (you can’t have one until you start work), you will probably need to extend it after five years. Visa extensions are also relatively easy to get, especially if you own a property here.

To have official papers, a check will be done to make sure you have no criminal convictions. When you have a permanent address, register with your local town hall. Also register with the British Embassy.

If you intend driving in Greece, you will need an international driving licence, so get one before you leave the UK.

What about my belongings?

Check here for what documents you need to transport your belongings to Greece.

Before you sell up in the UK, it would be advisable not to burn all your boats. Rent your property and spend at least a month working out the cost of moving your belongings. It will probably be cheaper to buy new in Greece.

Many expats regret their decision to emigrate [not just to Greece]. Consider putting your belongings into storage if you are not renting your home with furniture.

Renewing your visa

When your tourist visa is due to expire, you can renew it at the ministry for internal affairs. Alternatively, you can leave the country for a few days and on your return, you will have leave to stay longer. Go back to the UK for a visit or take a break in Turkey or one of the neighbouring Balkan countries.

Bank accounts

If you move to Greece, you will need a Greek bank account. It would, however, be wise to retain a British bank account so that you are not limited in how much you can withdraw.

Although Greece has been given more leeway since strict capital controls were in place, you never know when they might be re-imposed. There are still capital controls in place and Greek banks want them to stay in place so that there is no rush to withdraw and transfer money to other countries.

If you have a UK credit or debit card, you can withdraw cash from ATM machines as long as you stay within the limit your bank has imposed for cash withdrawals. You can use your card to purchase items that are over the cash limit.

A debit card is possibly more useful than a credit card.

Greece demographics

Greece has an aging population and since the economic crisis many Greeks, especially young, working-age ones have left the country. Bottom line: expats who are of working age, or who intend opening their own businesses will be very welcome.

Please leave comments and queries at the end of this article and I will do my best to answer.

About the author:

Lynne Evans is originally from Wales but is an inveterate traveller. She is passionate about writing and feels compelled to write something every day. Lynne has visited many countries in Europe and South Asia. Working as a freelance writer gives her opportunities to travel.

She’s currently living in her favourite country, Greece, in Athens. In the past, she was always leaving Greece and then returning. This time she wants to stay.

Here are more of Lynne’s travel posts:

Lynne Evans in Athens: An expat’s misadventures in the Greek healthcare system

Lynne Evans on daily life in Athens, the newly crowned European Capital of Innovation

 Lynne Evans in Greece: A Greek real estate agent tried to rip me off … and how you can avoid this scam

Lynne Evans on Greece wildfires: ‘We can’t keep destroying Athens’ environment’

Lynne Evans in Athens: More tips to navigating the expat life in Greece

Lynne Evans: The trials, tribulations and absolute pleasures of living in Greece

Lynne Evans: The unvarnished truth about living in Greece

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