Thinking of retiring in Greece? Here are a few things to consider.
Greece is a country blessed with more than 6,000 islands scattered in the Aegean and the Ionian seas – only a couple of hundred are inhabitable, giving visitors countless options to choose from. As can be expected, the Greek islands are one of the most popular and preferred destinations for expats and international visitors, thanks to their laid back style of life, stunning beaches, and idyllic architecture. Not to mention the mild Mediterranean climate and long hot summer months. This vibrant country is the birthplace of democracy and offers a history that spans thousands of years.
One of the biggest surprises for visitors is the diversity of the landscape and offbeat destinations. These are often some of the most memorable experiences that connect visitors to the traditions and way of life. The mainland is characterized by its mountainous terrain, with charming villages off-the-tourist beaten track and sites of immense beauty and archaeological significance. The oracle of Delphi, where Pythia stood amongst a valley of olive trees overlooking Mt. Parnassos, was once considered the navel or “centre” of the world. Thessaloniki, the second-largest city, once the kingdom of the Macedons and Alexander the Great, is a walking museum, with countless Byzantine monuments and traces of its ethnically diverse and cosmopolitan past on every corner.
In southern Greece, the island of Crete, the largest of the country and fifth-largest in the Mediterranean, is the legendary birthplace of Zeus. Steeped in mythology and legends, Crete has some of the best-rated beaches worldwide, like Elafonisi and the magnificent lagoon of Balos. It is also a place with a characteristically unique feel and the Cretan cuisine is renowned for its quality and traditional taste. And of course, a lot can be said of Santorini, famous for its whitewashed, blue-domed churches and houses, carved into the volcanic hills overlooking the caldera.
For those that dream of a retirement spot away from the cities and crowded tourist spots, there are countless smaller islands where your own “paradise” awaits.
Living in Greece Overview
Most popular cities for expats:
Athens, Thessaloniki, Kalamata, Kavala
Islands: Crete, Corfu, Rhodes
Spain, Italy, Portugal
- Learning the language is hard
- High unemployment compared to other EU countries
- Low cost of living
- Mind climate and long summer
- Mediterranean diet and Greek cuisine
- Affordable real estate prices
Keep in mind:
- Locals speak good English
- People are very friendly and open towards foreigners
- The touristy cities and islands can be expensive
- Greeks favour a slower pace of life and work that might take some getting used to
Whether you are considering retiring in Greece all-year-round or coming as a short-term visitor for work, Greece offers an attractive package, full of surprises. Similar to their Mediterranean neighbours, the Spaniards, Greeks value the importance of rest, or an afternoon “siesta”. Even nowadays, the traditional quiet hours between 2 and 5 in the afternoon are observed by most people and businesses in villages and less populated areas. This gives people an opportunity to have lunch and then take a nap – especially in the summertime when temperatures are intense and most people stay up late.
Family is very important in Greek culture and so is respect for the elderly. Even nowadays, it is not uncommon to see extended families living right next to each other or in the same house. This is also due to the fact that nursing homes were viewed negatively and most grandparents move in with their children and grandchildren. The financial hardships of recent decades have also strengthened the family unit, and it is common for adult children to stay with their parents even after they get married to share the cost of living.
Work-life balance is also a very important aspect of the Greek lifestyle, with most people leading active lives. Even during weekdays, Greeks will meet their friends and plan small outings for drinks or a walk around the city even after 9 PM. Despite negative stereotypes of 5-hour coffee breaks, Greeks have one of the highest work rates among OECD countries. Social gatherings are the norm and expect to receive a lot of invites from your Greek friends.
The notion of hierarchy is prevalent in Greek culture, and authority and status is also closely linked to age. This is also evident in business environments. For EU citizens, moving to Greece for work can be a relatively simple process, and there is the freedom to stay and live in the country for as long as you wish. Individuals that wish to retire or relocate to Greece from outside the Schengen Area, may find it a bit more time-consuming. A tourist visa will allow visitors to stay for 90 days in any 180-day period but anything longer than that requires registering with the proper authorities.
Obtaining a work visa as a non-EU citizen will also require a formal work offer from a Greek company. In most cases, individuals will need to provide bank account statements to prove they have enough money to support themselves for the first 6 months. There is also the option of relocating through the Golden Visa Scheme, which requires an upfront investment in residential or commercial property or government bonds. Greece has struggled with one of the highest unemployment rates in recent decades leading to a significant “brain drain” as young professionals left for better professional opportunities in Europe and overseas; this is slowly being reversed. Speaking the language is integral if you are joining the workforce, alternatively multinational companies based in Greece, mostly Athens and Thessaloniki are the best option for foreigners.
Taxes in Greece:
In general, Greece has high taxation rates, especially for business owners and self-employed freelancers or contractors. Most Greeks, regardless of income bracket, have a personal or family accountant that takes care of their annual tax obligations due to the complexity of the system.
Cost of Living
In the larger cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, healthcare is generally of a very high level. If you are based on a small island or remote location, the level of English spoken by your doctor can be a challenge. All residents are eligible for affordable and often free public healthcare. Emergency healthcare is also provided for free. Visitors from EU countries can also make use of their European Health Card for a limited period of time. Private healthcare is recommended when retiring in Greece, for peace of mind, shorter waiting times and better services.
Real Estate and Housing
The Golden Visa programme is one of the most popular ways to secure residency in Greece. Launched in 2013, it is an excellent choice for those planning to retire in Greece or invest in the booming commercial real estate market. It also has one of the lowest investment costs among other countries with similar programs. For those looking to live here permanently, that fit the minimum stay requirements, it is an easy way to get citizenship and be able to stay in the European Union long-term. For individuals that are relocating from the EU, buying a property in Greece is much simpler. You will need to register for a Greek tax number and arrange all the paperwork with the relevant authorities.
Rent prices dropped significantly during the financial crisis of 2008 and stayed low until recently. Expect to pay more in urban centres and popular holiday destinations. The country had one of the sharpest drops in house prices and rents between 2017 and 2019 compared to other EU countries. The average rent price for a 3 bedroom apartment is around 500 €, which is about 60% per cent cheaper than other urban centres like Berlin, Barcelona and Lisbon.
Browse a wide selection of available properties here:
Retiring in Greece
With such a low cost of living, retiring in Greece is an attractive option, especially for northern Europeans that prefer the warm Mediterranean climate. In 2020, Greece announced a new program that will allow, foreign pensioners of all countries to shift their tax residency to Greece with a flat rate of 7%. This will apply to all income, including rent, pensions and dividends. After a challenging year and the lingering effects of Covid-19 on tourism and the economy, this initiative offers an excellent opportunity for retirees that wish to make the most of the European lifestyle without sacrificing on the quality of life or being forced into double-taxation agreements and costly fees. Similar programs are in effect, in Spain and Portugal.