How to retire to Greece: A complete guide

26.09.17
9 minute read
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You built a career for yourself, paid down your debts, achieved financial independence, and now the day has finally come. You’re retiring - but where to?

Whether you're a Brit, an American, or an Australian, chances are you’re eyeing places in Central or South America or Southern Europe. Why are these spots so popular? In addition to offering warmer, sunnier climates, stunning beaches and waterfront real estate, your money goes much further than at home. The affordability of these countries can be ideal for seniors as they downsize and move to a fixed income.

Greece has long been a hotspot for travelers interested in sun, sand, and seafood, and why not? Located at the southeastern tip of Europe, Greece is a perfect blend of the familiar and the exotic. The people are welcoming and generous, the lifestyle is breezy, and the traditional Mediterranean diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and olive oil promotes heart health and longevity. In fact, the island of Ikaria has one of the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world. Athens has culture and relics from Greek antiquity, the mainland has a mountainous terrain perfect for hiking and the coasts offer some of the best beaches in the world.

What’s the money like there?

As a member of the EU, Greece adopted the Euro as its unit of currency in 2001. Currently, as of mid-year 2017, the Euro trades for around:

  • $1.10 U.S. dollars
  • $1.50 Australian dollars
  • £0.90 British pounds

What's the cost of living like in Greece?

Not for nothing, the standard of living in Greece is also 30% cheaper than the rest of Europe. Sure, it’s had some economic turmoil in the last few years, but to a canny, adventurous retiree - not to mention one on a pension - that just makes living there a bargain.

The following table lists average prices for common goods in Athens, the small city of Trikala in the rural picturesque interior, and Nafplion which is a popular coastal town. That should give you a clearer sense of they day-to-day costs of living in different regions of the country.

Athens Trikala Nafplion
Rent (one-bedroom apartment in city center) €275 €255 €433
Rent (three-bedroom apartment in city center) €475 €390 €966
Utilities (for 915 sq ft apartment) €142 €163.85 €138
House (three-bedroom) €125,000-€200,000 €80,000-165,000 €150,000-260,000
Internet €21 €20 €20
Milk €4.59 €4.54 4.16
Meal for two (mid-range restaurant) €35 €30 €30
Gas (one gallon) €5.52 €5.50 5.05
Bottle of wine (mid-range) €6.00 €6.00 €7.50
Car (Toyota Corolla) €18,950 €19,500 €16,500
One-way ticket (city transit) €1.40 €1.25 1.60
One pair of jeans (mid-range) €73 €75 €80

Source: Numbeo.com

If you need to transfer money to Greece or even back home, you’ll want to be aware of the fees and exchange rates charged by different financial institutions. Most banks and transfer services charge low up-front fees, but take advantage of you by using a higher exchange rate than the average and skimming the difference.

To transfer money and have the largest amount left over when you collect it, give TransferWise a try. That way, your money will be converted at the real exchange rate - the same one you’ll find on Google - and that should put more money back in your pocket.

What are the visa requirements for me?

UK, US, and Australian citizens don’t need a visa to enter Greece and can stay in country without one for up to three months. But as a retiree, you’ll eventually need to apply for a residency permit. It’s also a good idea to keep a valid passport for your home country.

Greece is happy to welcome retiring expats and their spending money. But to legally live in Greece as a retiree, you’ll need to be able to show that you still have an income. Retirement income can come from many sources: social security checks, a pension, investment returns and dividends, retirement accounts such as 401ks or Roth IRAs, or real estate.

However you come to support yourself during your golden years, and even if you choose to live cheaply, the government of Greece requires you to provide documentation that you have an income of at least €2,000 per month. To retire comfortably to Greece, however, it would be ideal to have a monthly income of €3,000 to €4,000.

EU citizens may apply for a registration certificate after they’ve lived in Greece for three months. If you’re looking to buy property in Greece, you can receive a residency permit for up to five years if you purchase a home worth €250,000 or more. Keep in mind, though, that property taxes are high in Greece and have risen steadily since the economic crash.

How much money do I need to retire in Greece?

Greece has been popular with expats for years, and the places they cluster in tend to be more expensive. If you’re a budget-conscious retiree or living on a modest salary yet relatively active and healthy, it’s better to move to a more remote area and adopt the local way of life. In a rural area, you’ll be far from expensive restaurants and shopping. Not to mention it’ll be much easier to rent a modest apartment or home as well as do your own cooking and cleaning. Of course, if you do opt for a more out-of-the-way locale, you may want to learn some Greek. More rustic locations will tend to have fewer fluent English speakers.

If medical attention is a concern, living deep in the country might not be right for you, though. You’ll be farther from good doctors and larger hospitals found in cities like Athens.

There’s a big difference between being a part-time resident of Greece and a full-time resident. Often, if you reside in a country for less than a total of six months per year, your worldwide income isn’t taxed in Greece.

While Greece’s economic instability does make it a cheaper country, it still might be a good idea to keep the bulk of your money in an international or online bank account, rather than in a riskier Greek bank account. In cases like this, you might consider the Borderless account TransferWise offers. You can load and store money your Borderless account with a multitude of different currencies. And then, when it’s time, you can send your euros to your Greek account. Come the fall of 2017, debit cards will also be available for the Borderless account.

What about taxes and healthcare in Greece?

Even if all of your income comes from abroad, you'll still need to file an annual tax return with Greece. When they file their taxes, expats may be required to complete additional filings and be subject to specific reporting requirements. Taxation regulations vary between countries, so consult an accountant for advice on how to remain tax compliant back home and in your new country.

Unlike many EU nations, Greece doesn’t have a national health service. If you’re moving from the U.S., consider buying an international health plan or buying health insurance in Greece as it’s likely much cheaper than the plans available in the U.S. Many retirees also simply pay out of pocket for routine medical services, as it can be cheaper than insuring against them.

What’s daily life like in Greece?

Daily life in Greece tends to be more relaxed and less bound to the clock than in many Western countries, especially the big cities. The Mediterranean climate means mild but rainy winters and hot, arid summers with an average temperature range between 21℃ (69℉) and 28℃ (82℉). The weather is almost always sunny and breezy on the coasts and islands, where most people live.

With so many islands and miles of coastline, aquatic activities are incredibly popular in Greece. Many tourists and retirees like to spend time on the beach, sail, water ski, snorkel, and fish As in many European countries football - soccer, if you’re American - is the national sport. Which means you may find yourself following local teams if you move there. Really, it’s up to you though. You can be as active as you want to be. Greece is also an incredibly open and friendly culture, and there will likely be other retirees wherever you move.

What are the best places to retire to in Greece?

It depends on what kind of retiree you want to be.

The culture-craving urbanite

For a bustling, vibrant city life, try Athens - the country’s metropolis. Athens is one of the oldest capitals in Europe and bursting with culture and history. But, as the most populous city and seat of government in a country mired in economic turmoil, Athens is sometimes the site of strikes, demonstrations and protests. Crime is higher in Athens than in the countryside, as well.

If nightlife is a draw for you, try Mykonos. Known as the party hub of Greece, this small resort town on an island, also called Mykonos, in the Cyclades, it boasts a large variety of clubs, many of them on the beach, where you can dance all night long under the stars.

If that all sounds a little too exciting for your rocking-chair years, it might be best to visit Athens, snap a few photos in front of the Parthenon and Acropolis, then head back to the coast.

The beach lover

But let’s be honest, chances are you're interested in Greece because of the warm, sunny weather and the beaches. So make it easy on yourself and move to a coastal or island town. Some of the most popular are Myrtos Beach in Kefalonia, Elafonisi Beach in Crete, Mylopotas Beach in Ios, and Makrigialos Beach in Ierepatra. Ierepatra offers the Greek island experience taken to the max: it’s considered the southernmost town in Europe, has an average annual temperature of 25.5℃ (78℉), and the sun reportedly shines more than 340 days a year.

The outdoorsy type

Greece is more than just marble ruins and gorgeous beaches, though. Many travelers love to hike the country’s scenic, mountainous interior. If that’s what you’re interested in, check out hikes on the Menalon trail, the Viros Gorge, and Mount Athos, as well as the wild, rugged Mani peninsula in the south of the Peloponnese.

To get a sense of the cost of living around Greece, check crowdsourced financial sites likes Numbeo and Expatistan. They allow you to select different cities in a country and see average prices for rent, groceries, utilities, transportation, and entertainment.

While Greece shares many similarities with other modern Western nations, it has its own quirks and customs. As a newcomer to the Greek way of life, you’ll find it less stressful and more enjoyable to learn how to adapt to it, rather than trying to recreate every last thing about home.

What should you bring?

Start fresh! Have a garage sale, digitize your photo albums, and donate some clothes to a consignment shop, because you’ll be able to buy basic personal goods, electronics, kitchen utensils, dinnerware, cookware, and furniture in your new home and it’ll be much cheaper than trying to ship your household overseas. Travel light and stick to cherished mementos only.

What about the folks back home?

You’ll be leaving friends and family back home while you’re island hopping in the Aegean, so how should you stay in contact with them? Sure, you can send letters and postcards in the mail, but for more immediate, personal contact try services like Skype and FaceTime. They make it easier than ever to have a face-to-face conversation with a loved one from thousands of miles away. Greece has a robust Internet infrastructure and even numerous free WiFi zones around the country.

How much culture shock should you expect?

In many ways, Greece is a typical European country with a modern economy and modern infrastructure and services. But while it's technically on the European continent, Greece has historically been a crossroads between Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia - and that has given it a unique blend of cultural attributes.
In general, the Greek people have a reputation for friendliness and hospitality. However, Greeks also have tight social circles that can be hard to break into, so it’s important for expats to be outgoing and extroverted in social situations. Once you’ve made friends, expect a lot of hugs and pecks on the cheek.

As a group, Greeks like making jokes about Greek life and politics, but you should be careful trying to the same thing. Saving face is important in Greece. When your Greek friends and neighbors learn you’re from another country, they may solicit your opinion on local customs or current events. If this happens, keep in mind the ancient concept of philotimia, which translates to “love of honor”. It basically means that while natives can grumble about their home country, expats shouldn’t take that as an invitation to do the same thing.

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