By Kevin Casey
Large, diverse and visually stunning, Greece is an enthralling mixture of sun-drenched islands, towering mountains, buzzing cities, and timeless traditions. Wrapped in the warm embrace of the Aegean Sea, it’s vibrant, welcoming, and full of surprises: it was the world’s first democracy, dating back to the 5th century B.C.
Whether you’re a short-term visitor or aspiring expat, Greece has it all: outstanding year-round weather, affordable accommodation, superb food, friendly locals, and amazing history. Every corner of this country oozes chilled-out livability and the list of must-see places goes on and on: Athens, Crete, Delphi, Olympia, Santorini, Skiathos, Meteora, Rhodes, and Corfu are just the tip of the iceberg.
For many visitors, the lesser-known parts of Greece leave the most lasting impression. Some of my fondest memories include a day trip to the magnificent Theriso Gorge in western Crete, snorkeling in transparent waters off the island of Skopelos and tucking into lobster-laden tagliatelle while a red sun set over the Halkidiki peninsula. Wherever you go in Greece, there are new paths to explore, new friends to make, new wonders to see, and new activities to try out.
Greece has long been a tourist magnet, but it’s big enough so you can always find your own secret ‘paradise spot’ away from the crowds. Even in the height of summer when the islands, beaches, and ancient ruins are brimming with visitors, you can still discover under-the-radar destinations that provide all the relaxation and space you need. Around 40% of the country’s entire population lives in and around Athens, which means there’s loads of room in other parts of the country, with more than 50,000 square miles and literally thousands of breathtaking islands to choose from.
One of the most pleasant surprises about spending time in Greece is the affordability of accommodation, particularly outside the main tourist regions. Even in bustling Athens, average rents are around 85% cheaper than what you’d pay in New York City.
Greece’s sights and sounds draw you in from the moment you arrive: dazzling, whitewashed buildings along tree-lined promenades, the iconic Parthenon standing proud above the bustle of the capital, grizzled old fishermen tending nets along the waterfront, the bright colors of produce in the farmers’ markets, and the bleating of goats on the outskirts of an age-old village.
Visit the rugged coastline where Anthony Quinn danced in Zorba the Greek, sample more than three dozen varieties of Greek olives, check out the jail that held Socrates, or make the journey to Navagio (a.k.a. Smuggler’s Cove), one of the most beautiful white-sand beaches on earth. Wherever you end up in Greece, running out of things to do is never an option.
Greece isn’t just about sun, sand, ouzo, and centuries-old temples. This country also boasts lively ski resorts, world-class dining, ample wildlife (including wild dolphins, loggerhead turtles, bears, wolves, badgers and monk seals), and enough forests, lakes and canyons to keep even the keenest hiker busy for decades. City-lovers will have their hands full too, with ample museums, cafés, and stroll-worthy cobblestoned streets to explore.
Pros and Cons of Living in Greece
Cost of Living
Greece is super-affordable, especially when compared to North America and much of the rest of Europe. Prices for daily essentials (food, transport, etc.) are at least 20% cheaper than in the U.S., and costs to rent an apartment can be as much as 70% less.
Throughout Greece, you’ll save money by using public transport, avoiding touristy areas, shopping at local markets, and eating out where the Greeks do. A budget-conscious expat can live comfortably in Greece for no more than $2,000 a month.
In Greece, the closer you are to popular tourist centers, the higher the prices will be— especially for prime accommodation, restaurant meals, and entertainment. Location has everything to do with how much you’re likely to spend. Choosing to settle on a lesser-known island or in a small inland town will cost much less per year than living in the heart of historic Athens or on Santorini.
Greece is a proud nation that emphasizes family, tradition, and a love of the outdoors. Because tourism plays such an important part in the Greek economy, English is widely spoken in many areas and the country’s infrastructure caters well for locals and visitors alike.
Greek cuisine is a food-lover’s dream. Fresh seafood specialties you must try include lobster pasta, fried anchovies, grilled octopus, crab salad, Greek cod with garlic sauce, and mussels cooked in tomato sauce and feta cheese.
Grilled meats feature heavily on restaurant menus, and every tavern in the country seems to serve souvlakis, crispy Greek meatballs, and gyros—a tasty, economical roast-meat wrap. A classic Greek salad goes well with just about everything. (Insider tip: Crete has arguably the tastiest food in all of Greece).
If you have a sweet tooth, you can’t go past Greek baklava, halva, kataifi (a pastry with a coating that looks like shredded wheat), and my personal favorite: bougatsa, a flat, flaky custard pie topped with cinnamon.
Epic Mediterranean weather is a constant highlight in this corner of Europe: cooling, ocean breezes in summer, bright, mild days in winter, and a close-to-perfect climate in spring and autumn. If maximum sunshine is your goal, head towards Rhodes, Kythira, Santorini, or Crete, where sun worshipping is a way of life.
Whether your ideal Greek home is a sturdy lakefront cabin in the mountains, a rooftop apartment on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, or a low-maintenance beachfront unit on Mykonos, you’re guaranteed plenty of sunshine and four distinct seasons—even though the Greeks tend to think in terms of ‘summer and everything else’.
If you’re on a fixed retirement income, you’ll find Greece a pleasant and affordable expat destination. On the other hand, if you’re planning to look for employment and don’t speak any Greek, you’ll definitely find it a struggle.
The quality of medical care in Greece is generally excellent, especially in major centers like Athens and Thessaloniki. In more remote parts of the country, you may find the level of English spoken by your doctor and the standard of care a bit more hit-or-miss.
Emergency health care in Greece is free regardless of nationality. For non-emergencies, most expats opt for some form of private health insurance, which provides better quality care and shorter waiting times than the Greek public system provides. Pharmacies are abundant throughout the country—Greece has more pharmacists per capita than any other nation in Europe.
Patience and diligent research are the keys to grappling with Greece’s social healthcare system, which is steeped in bureaucracy.
Safety and Security
Greece is one of the safest countries in Europe, and has an easy-going, relaxed feel. I felt 100% safe wandering all over Athens, day or night. Basic precautions with regard to personal belongings will prevent rare cases of petty theft. In entertainment districts late at night, inebriated foreign tourists are likely to pose more of a danger than anything else.
In well-frequented tourist haunts, beware the touts (usually not Greeks) who offer you ‘free’ wristbands or flowers. They’re not free—it’s a form of coercive begging.
Strikes, demonstrations, and other vigorous civil protests are not uncommon in Greece, but are mainly confined to larger cities. In Athens, the areas around Embassy Row, Panepistimou, Synagma Square, and the Polytechnic and Aristotle Universities should be avoided if any unrest is on the horizon.
After 2010, Greece introduced a Golden Visa program designed to lure foreign investors and move forward from the country’s financial crisis. The scheme encourages non-EU expats to take advantage of fast-tracked residency in exchange for financial investment: those who qualify are granted a renewable, five-year residency permit.
The main requirement for obtaining a Golden Visa is real estate investment in Greece amounting to at least 250,000 Euros (roughly $280,000in early 2020, but subject to change). This is currently the cheapest Golden Visa program of any European country and allows you to travel in and out of the country with no restrictions. There are no in-country living requirements. Obtaining legal residency status in Greece can take as little as three months, from start to finish.
If you’re not eligible for the Golden Visa and are applying for a standard work permit in Greece instead, you’ll need to be sponsored by a Greek employer, who will apply on your behalf through the Ministry of Labor.
Live Your Life to the Fullest—Greek Style
There are many reasons to love living in Greece. It’s an easy place to adopt a healthy lifestyle, the entire country is physically breathtaking, and the Greek people are some of the friendliest, most helpful, and genuinely caring folks you’ll ever meet.
Greece’s affordability gets even better with time, too: the longer you’re there, the cheaper things seem to become as you learn the fine Greek art of living more while spending less!
Feature image – ©iStock/spooh