Greece Visa and Residency Information - Golden Visa Requirements and Tax Breaks

By Lynn Roulo

If you are considering a move to Greece, you’ll want to carefully research your options for visas and residency permits. There are many ways to move abroad, and you want to find the option that best fits your situation.

Citizens From Other European Union Countries

If you are already a citizen of one of the 27 European Union (E.U.) member countries, you can legally live and work in Greece based on your existing EU citizenship. In 2020, the U.K. withdrew from the E.U. and is now considered a non-EU country.

Citizens From Non-European Union Countries (Including the U.S., Australia, and the U.K)

Short Term Residency in Greece

As of 2020 and barring the COVID-19 travel restrictions, if you are a U.S., U.K., or Australian citizen, you can come to Greece for 90 days without a special visa. Some, but not all, other non-E.U. countries share this status. You can check here to see if your country is on this list. If so, you are allowed to be in Greece for 90 out of every 180 consecutive days. You must then leave Greece and the Schengen Zone for 90 days before returning.

The Schengen Zone is essentially a network of European countries that allow passport-free travel. Greek visa-free rules require you to leave the whole Schengen Zone for the period you must be outside of Greece. For example, you can’t live in Athens for 90 days, go to Paris for 90 days, and then return to Athens. You can, however, live in Athens for 90 days, go to London for 90 days, and then return to Athens. Why? Because France is part of the Schengen Zone, but the U.K. is not. If you are looking for slightly nomadic, visa-free options, you should become familiar with the Schengen Zone countries.

Long Term Residency in Greece

If you are from a country outside the E.U. and seek long-term residency, you need a resident permit to live in Greece. It is important to note that “non-E.U. citizenship” is a category in the permitting process, and nationality is not relevant.  For example, citizens from the U.S., Nigeria, Canada, Malaysia, Egypt, and Afghanistan are all in the same grouping.

Options to legally move to Greece include: buying real estate in the country, qualifying for an independent financial means visa, qualifying for a student visa, proving you have Greek ancestry, marriage to a Greek citizen or an E.U. citizen living in Greece, starting a company in Greece, and being sponsored for a job in Greece.

Almost all visa options require items like an FBI background check, proof of health insurance that will cover you in Greece, and proof that you don’t have pre-existing transmissible medical diseases. For example, I was tested for tuberculosis and had to provide an x-ray of my lungs as part of my visa/resident permit process.

©iStock/Gargolas

The Golden Visa for Real Estate Purchases

Since 2013, Greece has offered a “golden visa” for foreigners who purchase real estate with a value of over €250,000 (approximately $300,000). If your Greek real estate purchase qualifies, you are eligible for a five-year, renewable resident permit to live in Greece. This does not grant you Greek citizenship, but it does give you the right to live in the country.  Other countries including Portugal and Spain offer “golden visas,” but their capital requirements are €500,000 making Greece an attractive option. Be forewarned the government are discussing raising the Greek golden visa threshold to €500,000. The process has many administrative/legal steps beyond a regular non-golden visa purchase so be sure to get professional guidance from a lawyer or agent.

Independent Financial Means (National D Visa)

For retirees or remote workers wishing to live in Greece, the National D independent financial means visa is a popular option. To qualify for this visa, you need to prove to have enough money to live in Greece without working in Greece.

The general financial requirements are that you must show you have a minimum of €24,000 (or equivalent) in a bank account, and you must show that you earn a minimum of €2,000 each month from non-Greek income sources. In most cases, after you arrive in Greece, and before renewing your resident permit, you are also required to open a Greek bank account. While these are the technical requirements, each case is reviewed individually. The stronger the application the better, so while these are the minimum requirements, the more funds you have in your bank account, and the more robust and stable your income sources, the better chance you will have for approval.

While anyone is eligible to apply for this visa, it is scrutinized more for people who are not retirees. You may still be eligible for the visa if you are under 65, but you may be asked more questions and be required to show more paperwork explaining why you want to live in Greece and how you will be able to afford living there on a long term basis.

Student/Trainee Visa

You may be able to live in Greece for the duration of your education by being accepted by a Greek university and applying for a student visa. This process typically involves first applying for and being approved for attendance by a Greek university and then using the acceptance letter to apply for a student visa. Also in this category is a trainee visa which is similar to a student visa but for education lower than a four-year university. You can check with the Greek consulate or embassy in the city you currently live in to see if this is an option and what specific steps must be followed.

Marriage to a Greek or E.U. Citizen Living in Greece

If you are married to a Greek citizen, you are eligible to live in Greece. Greece also offers a civil union option for same-sex couples. If you are married to an E.U. citizen living in Greece, this too gives you resident permit options.

Greek or E.U. Ancestry

Different from a residence permit, you may be eligible for Greek citizenship through ancestry. If your mother, father, grandmother, or grandfather is or was a legally registered Greek citizen, you may be able to claim Greek ancestry and may qualify for Greek citizenship. If you become a Greek citizen, you can legally live and work in Greece.

If your mother, father, grandmother, or grandfather is or was a legally registered citizen of another E.U. country, you may be able to get citizenship for that country which will allow you to legally live and work in Greece. Each situation is different so you will need to carefully research yours. If you were born in an E.U. country, that may or may not be helpful. For example, I was born in Germany and moved to the U.S. when I was three years old. I had dual citizenship until I was 18 but then it defaulted to U.S. citizenship, and my German birth status did not help me move to Greece. Being born in the E.U. does not necessarily qualify you to live in the E.U.

Other Options

There are other options including starting a business in Greece or being sponsored by a Greek employer. These are less popular and more difficult options. To start a business/invest in Greece, the minimum capital requirement is €300,000 and there are many other criteria to meet, hurdles to clear, and items to prove. Regarding employment, most Greek employers aren’t interested in sponsoring non-E.U. employees as unemployment is high, and companies have plenty of local employment options. However, there are occasions in which the Greek state opens up various jobs and invites foreigners to apply.

Visa Versus Residence Permit

It is important to understand there are two parts to the process: the first is getting a visa to come to Greece for an extended period of time, and the second is getting a resident permit to live in Greece. They are different.

In my case, I got a National D visa valid for one year and then secured a renewable resident permit which allows me to continue living here. When I asked how to renew my National D visa, I was met with confusion by the Greek permitting agencies. This is because you don’t renew a visa. You get a visa once to enter for an extended period of time and then you get a renewable resident permit.

One of the big hurdles in Greece is the bureaucracy. It is slow-moving, inconsistent, and often contradictory. I’ve been legal my whole time in Greece but not without significant challenges. My first renewal took six months to complete so by the time I had my new resident permit, it was almost time to apply again. I’ve had applications rejected for reasons that made no sense only to have them rubber-stamped with almost no scrutiny when I went back to reapply. Often, it is an approving officer who is having a bad day that will send your application into the rejection pile. This leads me to my next point: it is in your interest to have a good Greek immigration lawyer. The Greek rules for residency are a kaleidoscope of ever-changing factors and having a qualified, Greek-speaking advocate is priceless.

In Summary

It might seem daunting to move to Greece, but if you research and follow the rules and requirements, you will likely have some good options.

And as a side note, when planning your move, don’t think you need to leave your pets behind. I moved to Greece with my dog and two cats. It is easy to get a “pet passport,” there is no quarantine on pets in Greece, and the move with pets was easier than you might imagine.

Καλή τύχη!/Good luck!

Greece: The Most Affordable Golden Visa in Europe

By Jeff D. Opdyke

At some point in the lives of all global travelers, there comes a moment. Maybe it’s the light, or that carefree sense of joie de vie that invades the soul when you’re temporarily disconnected from your daily grind. Maybe it’s something else entirely. Regardless, a point comes when you stop, take in the view in front of you, and you think: Damn—I could live here!

I’ve had many of those moments, honestly. On a secluded beach in Uruguay. On a seaside cliff in Northern Ireland. Inside El Xampanyet tapas bar in Barcelona. And—this one is relevant to the rest of this story—on a much-too-narrow, one-lane road in the hills just south of Heraklion, on the Greek island of Crete.

It was like being in the Greek version of Under the Tuscan Sun—vine and olive groves, sea views in the distance, picturesque hills, rustic stone houses, the warming sun in the brilliant Greek-blue sky. It was all washed over with an overall sense of welcoming serenity.

Why do so many expats want to live in Greece? Well, when you spend time in this country, it’s not hard to understand the attraction. It’s a compelling blend of the ambiance, the scenery, the food, the wine, and the people.

I particularly enjoy the daily life that seems to flip the middle finger at the western world’s go-go-go-‘til-you-win-the-rat-race-and-die culture.

I’ve written before about seeking visas to live in Greece, but those stories were primarily focused on how to obtain freelance-work visas or the country’s new retirement-focused visa. But there’s another way to gain access to a Greek lifestyle, and quick permanent residency to go with it: The Greek Golden Visa program.

One of the most beautiful corners of Europe.

As with similar golden visa programs around the world, you are buying residency. You turn over a significant chunk of money. In return you gain a list of benefits that, in the case of Greece, are indeed rewarding. In this case, the benefits include visa-free travel throughout Europe’s Schengen Area (26 countries in Western Europe), and the ability to obtain Greek citizenship and a Greek passport in seven years. And don’t forget, you’re not simply giving the Greek authorities your money, you’re spending it on real estate. For you. Choose carefully and you can end up with your dream home.

What’s most compelling about the Greek Golden Visa is its cost. At $250,000, it’s the most affordable Golden Visa option in all of Europe (Greece is tied with Malta). That makes Greece the most popular destination among global expats seeking the quickest path to permanent residency with a European address.

Between 2014 and 2019, Greece issued 7,563 Golden Visas to primary applicants (just topping second-place Portugal, with 7,509). I note “primary applicants” because Greece has also issued close to 20,000 Golden Visas to family members of those primary applicants.

Eligibility for one of Greece’s Golden Visas is fairly simple. You must:
• Be a non-European Union citizen.
• Be over the age of 18.
• Have a clean criminal record.
• Have medical insurance for you and your family that covers you in Greece.
• Be of good character. (This undefined clause is something you’ll find on almost all visa applications for long-term stay or residency. An FBI report usually suffices.)

And, of course, have $250,000 to invest in Greek property.

To be clear, this is explicitly about property investing. If you just want to deposit a bunch of money, then the sum jumps to $400,000.

But what does a quarter-million dollars buy in Greece? Well, that totally depends on where you go. Population in Greece is widely spread out across the mainland and more than 200 islands, some of which are so sparsely populated you can’t find banking services or shopping beyond the local market and a few small bodegas.

In a central Athens neighborhood, $250,000 will buy you a 750-square-foot, new-build, ultra-modern, two-bedroom apartment. In Thessaloniki, you’re looking at a newly renovated four-bedroom apartment spread across more than 2,000 square feet in the heart of the city. On the Ionian island of Corfu, you can find an 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom, detached house right near the sea and beach just three miles from the main commercial hub of Corfu Town.

In short, you can find a lot for $250,000, depending on where you want to live.

The benefits of a Greek Golden Visa are numerous.

  1. Permanent residency.
    You are obtaining a permanent-residence visa from the outset, rather than temporary residence, which is common among many other Golden Visa countries. The process will take 30 to 60 days, but once it’s complete, you’re a full-on Greek resident.

You can find a lot of properties for $250,000.

  1. The right to live in Greece…or not.
    As a permanent resident, there is no limitation to how long you can stay in Greece. Conversely, there is no minimum amount of time you must stay in the country. That’s neat; many other Golden Visa options require you to remain in-country a certain amount of time every year to remain eligible for the visa.
  2. Visa-free travel within Europe’s Schengen Area.
    This is a big one. Because you have permanent residency, you and your family can bebop around the Schengen Area without the visa rules that limit tourists and temporary residents to 90 days. The Schengen Area is the 26-country zone stretching from Iceland to Greece, Spain to Finland, that allows for visa-free movement for permanent residents of Schengen Zone countries.
  3. Residence is applicable to the whole family, including children under 21 years old, and parents of the main applicant and spouse.
    This is fairly common among Golden Visa options, though some countries do charge add-on fees for additional family members.
  4. Access to the Greek healthcare and education systems.
    For parents with university-age children, Greek permanent residency means kids can attend Greek universities for free. As for healthcare, the system is quite good, ranking 14th in the world in a 2021 survey. (By comparison, the U.S. ranked 37th). Anecdotally, on a research trip to Greece in 2019, I talked to several retired American, British, and Aussie expats in Athens and on a few of the more=popular Greek isles. All of them were quite pleased with the healthcare they’d received for everything from heart issues to dermatology.
  5. Eligibility to apply for Greek citizenship after seven years of residence.
    This is, perhaps, the most important benefit to any expat who ultimately wants to find a new home—the possibility of obtaining a local passport.

The Greek passport is a European Union passport, which means that once you obtain it, you can live anywhere in the 27-member E.U. without ever again having to apply for residence permits or visas. You could move from Greece to Portugal, or Spain, or Italy, for instance, just as easily as moving from Florida to Montana.

Overall, a Greek passport is ranked #8 in the world, tied with Norway, Malta, and the Czech Republic. It offers visa-free travel to 186 countries. That’s only one less than the U.S., at 187 countries.

Overall, a Greek passport is ranked #8 in the world.

To apply for a Greek Golden Visa, you must start the process outside of Greece, at a Greek embassy or consulate. In the U.S., the main embassy is in D.C., with eight consulates across the country that handle applications from specific regions. (In Canada, the embassy is in Ottawa, with consulates in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.)

After you’ve applied, you’ll need to visit Greece to house-hunt, or to island hop and house-hunt as you look for a place to call home. Given the eccentricities of Greek real estate, and the fact that not all Greek property meets local codes because of illegal or unpermitted additions and such, you will definitely want a pro to guide you through this part of the process.

Once you have your property and real estate documents, your visa application, and all the usual suspects (passport, passport photos, proof of health insurance, etc.) you’re going to submit your packet of info to the Alien and Immigration Department in whatever region of Greece you’ve chosen to live. (There are more documents required than I’ve spelled out; those are just examples of what you need.)

Again, the documents and filing procedures are where you’ll probably want to have a local pro help you. The process will, quite literally, all be Greek to you. Though English is pretty common across Greece, you’re not likely to find a great deal of it spoken in the mid- and low-level bureaucrat ranks. A legal or immigration professional who specializes in Golden Visa requirements will make that application process markedly easier, since they’ll handle all the heavy lifting when it comes to paperwork.

Roughly three months later, you’ll have your approval.

At that point, you’re going back to Greece to submit all your biometric data for your residence visa.

And with that, you’re a permanent resident of one of the most beautiful corners of Europe.

Of course, Greece isn’t all sunshine and bougainvillea. No country is.

While Greece is the birthplace of democracy, it’s also the birthplace of bureaucracy. Greeks are Olympic heavyweights at this particular sport. Patience isn’t just a virtue, it’s as valuable here as money.

And though Greece overall is super-affordable compared to much of the U.S., costs can be quite pricey in resorts. Certain areas—parts of Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini, for instance—are highly touristed and prices can be noticeably higher for everything from apartments to food.

You put up with the hassles because the Greek Golden Visa is one the very best and most affordable opportunities for obtaining quick, permanent residency in Europe. It’s also a relatively fast-track path to citizenship and one of the strongest passports in the world.