Money in Greece: Banks, ATMs, cards & currency exchange

TransferWise content team
23.01.17
6 minute read

Greece seemingly has everything you could want from a trip abroad. Breathtakingly beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, fantastic cuisine, and a rich cultural heritage - you’re going to love it.

But a trip to Greece will mean you need some euros in your wallet.

Here you will find a quick rundown of everything you need to know about the currency and banking systems in Greece. That way, uou can get your hands on the cash you need and get on the move.

Currency in Greece

Greece was one of the Eurozone members, with euros coming into circulation as the only legal tender starting in 2002.

Other currencies aren’t widely accepted in Greece, so if you find a street vendor willing to take an alternative currency as payment, be warned - you’ll probably end up paying a lot more than if you’d used euros.

Characteristics of the Euro (EUR)

Euro Symbols EUR, €
1 EUR One euro is made up of 100 cents.
EUR coins Coins are available in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents, as well as €1 and €2.
EUR banknotes Commonly used notes are 5, 10, 20 and 50 Euro denominations. Although €100, €200 and €500 notes are also available, they won’t be accepted by many businesses.

Euro coins are designed with a standard image on one side and the other side minted with a picture specific to the country of issue. That means you’ll end up with coins of similar denominations that look quite different to one another. It’s not a problem - current euro coins and notes are accepted in anywhere in the Eurozone, regardless of the country they were issued in.

Each banknote has a different primary colour to help distinguish the value. Unlike the coins, all notes are the same regardless which country printed them.

Exchanging your money in Greece

Euros are widely available at currency exchange offices throughout the world. The offered exchange rates will vary, but whether you exchange your cash at home or in Greece, you’ll still need to shop around for the best rate.

Avoid exchanging money in airports and hotels if you can - rates are generally poorer there

If you need euros when you get there, you can exchange a small amount at most Greek airports. However, if you’re heading to one of the more remote islands, check the exchange desk’s opening hours in advance and be aware that the rates you’ll get probably won’t be the best in town. It’s usually best to exchange only a small amount and then seek a better deal elsewhere.

Unless you’re really stuck, exchanging your cash at the hotel is probably a poor idea. Despite the convenience, rates are often unfavourable.

Finding places to exchange currency in large cities in Greece will be easy enough. However, if you’re heading off to rural areas or the smaller islands, don’t assume that exchanging cash will be a simple affair. It’s best to have some euros on you, or to use the ATM locators in the next section to make sure that you can easily withdraw cash wherever you’re headed.

It’s also worth noting that banks have extremely limited opening hours in Greece. Most will shut by 14:30 Monday to Thursday, by 14:00 on a Friday and remain closed entirely all weekend. To exchange cash outside of banking hours, you’ll need to find an alternative.

Before you exchange your money, research the mid-market exchange rate and use it to see if you’re getting a fair deal

To help you choose a currency exchange service, make sure you first understand the mid market rate. The mid market-rate is the only real exchange rate and it’s the one that banks and other currency services use to create their own exchange rates that they offer.

The rate constantly fluctuates, but you can find the latest mid-market rates online with a currency converter. That way, you can compare the exchange rate you’re being offered as a tourist with the real rate. The difference between the mid-market and the tourist rate is the profit margin the exchange service has added. ‘Zero Commission’ and ‘No Fees’ are works of fiction - exchange services build profit into the exchange rates they offer you.

If you’re exchanging cash, only bring undamaged banknotes

If you’re travelling with foreign currency to exchange when you arrive in Greece, make sure your banknotes are clean and crisp. Exchange services don’t like to take damaged notes and may refuse to exchange them for you.

Using traveller's checks in Greece

Traveller’s Checks aren’t usually accepted as direct means of payment in Greece. You can exchange them at a currency exchange office or bank - but some banks will be reluctant to exchange checks if you don’t already have an account with them.

If you use Traveller’s Checks in Greece, they should already be issued in euros in order to avoid high fees. Due to poor exchange rates and limited options of cashing them, Traveller’s Checks are falling out of favour. Many travellers consider it easier to use ATMs and credit/ debit cards to access their cash.

Using credit cards and debit cards in Greece

Major card providers are accepted in larger cities and tourist areas in Greece. If you’re in more remote areas, you might find that retailers don’t take American Express. However, when you make it to truly rural Greece, you may find that cash is the only acceptable form of payment. Carry some, just in case!

Most travellers prefer to have several different means of payment for their trip, splitting their cash across both hard currency and cards.

Decline offers to be charged on your card in your home currency

If you choose to use your credit or debit card abroad, you should watch out for something called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). With DCC, when you pay for the transaction, you can choose to see the cost listed in your home currency. You might notice the shop assistant or waitress might asking if you’d like to be charged in your home currency, for example. Though being billed as a convenient service for customers, it’s not a great idea for your pocketbook.

If you use DCC, then the exchange rate applied to your purchase will be decided by the bank who operates the payment system. This will never be as good as the rate your home bank would offer you. After all, your home bank has incentive to keep you happy - foreign banks, less so. Always opt to be charged in the local currency - euros - to get the best exchange rate.

Make sure to give your bank a heads up that you’ll be travelling

Don’t forget to tell your bank that you’re planning a trip. That will make sure their anti-fraud software doesn’t detect unusual spending and block your account.

ATMs in Greece

ATMs are common in towns and cities. But if you’re headed further out, use one of the locator tools below to check there will be one you can use at your destination.

Visa ATM locator
MasterCard ATM locator
Amex ATM locator

As a general rule, using ATMs for cash withdrawal is one of the smartest ways to get your holiday money. The exchange rates applied are usually fair and they're convenient to use. However, do make sure you know what fees your home bank charges and watch the machine for the fees added by the ATM operator. If your bank adds a per transaction fee, for example, then taking out larger sums less frequently would be a more sensible way to reduce overall costs.

It’s also worth asking your home bank if they have a branch where you’re headed or have any partnerships with banks operating in the area. If they do, then you might be able to use ATMs for cheap or free cash withdrawals during your stay.

You can also be offered DCC (see the previous section) at an ATM where you’ll be asked if you want to be charged for your withdrawal in your home currency. Again, this is not a good plan. Always select to be charged in local currency when withdrawing money from a foreign ATM.

Banks in Greece

Banking in Greece is dominated by the four large institutions. Across Greece, and in the broader Southern European Region, these are the banking brands you’re most likely to run into. However, there are also dozens of regional banks operating throughout Greece, and branches of international banks in the larger cities.

Four Major Retail Banks in Greece

International Banks Operating in Greece

Alternatively, for simple access to the money you need while you’re abroad - and an even better deal - use TransferWise.

If you have a bank account in Greece, or know someone who does, you can transfer money between accounts using the real mid-market exchange rate. It's a quick and convenient way to get your cash, with no hidden fees.

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

Find out more
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