What It’s Like Living in Greece as an Expat

For most Americans and Westerners, Greece is a dream vacation destination. Maybe it is also a place where you would hope to retire or to go live off the millions that have suddenly come into your possession. For the most part, though, it isn’t necessarily a country that people consider moving to for work or to live with their families. Which is understandable, considering their economic troubles and the fact that living in Greece is not like vacationing in Greece.

Still, there are plenty of foreigners that do live, work and build their families in the country of olives, cool mythology, and endless beaches. For one, living in Greece is relatively cheap–which makes it very convenient for freelancers and digital nomads of all sorts.

Not knowing Greek is usually a pretty tough obstacle to overcome if you’re looking for work offline, but with the booming call center industry, it’s getting easier.

There are even some companies that pay for the plane tickets and accommodation (while you are looking for a flat) for employees that come from different countries.

With all that (plus the cool beaches) how can you not move to this sunny country?

Here are 10 things you will notice as an expat living in Greece…

1. Time is plentiful

A key part of the Mediterranean lifestyle is how laid back everyone is. From the Spanish ‘Mañana, mañana’ to the infamous Greek laziness, you will discover that time runs much slower in Greece. People are generally not too bothered about deadlines, traffic, and other typically Western stress-inducers.

In fact, lateness is practically the norm.

The bus could be late, your co-workers could arrive late to a meeting, your date might show up 20 minutes late. None of this is meant to offend you or is a sign that something is wrong (no, they did not get hit by a car, your friends are just late), it’s just how people live.

You will soon grow accustomed to it and a deadline will become synonymous with a guideline.

It’s for the better.

Stress kills.

2. You could live without a car (but not without a comfy pair of shoes)

Much like other European countries, Greece has very decent public transport and most of the cities are walkable. More often than not, you will find you only use your car for going out of town.

This depends on the place you are staying at, of course.

It is very true for Athens, but absolutely untrue if you hire a villa on the coast. Most of those are very close to villages, but not close enough to allow walking to the market to get groceries. In that case, having a car (or a small motorcycle) will be crucial.

3. Greek letters everywhere

Although the Greek alphabet is not particularly hard to learn and get used to, at first it is pretty annoying how a lot of signs are only written in Greek.

You have to be extra careful (and equipped with a GPS) if you plan on exploring the countryside since you probably can’t rely on signs to show you the correct direction. Once you master the alphabet, though, you will feel like a true champ.

4. It’s not hard to find friends (but you have to try)

A common worry is that if you move to a new country all alone, you will end up extremely lonely. You could, technically, but you most probably would not. If anything, foreigners have the benefit of being at a place, where nobody knows them and so you don’t have to pretend or ‘play the role of yourself’.

It is incredibly refreshing to live outside of the community you were raised in, or that you studied in.

What is more, since there are many other expats that know what it’s like to be in your shoes, you have a topic to instantly bond on with them. It is very advisable to join clubs or even Facebook groups for newly arriving foreigners. It gives you the opportunity to meet many cool like-minded people and to ‘crowd source’ solutions to any problems you might be experiencing as a newcomer.

There are a lot of temporary nomads, too. Ones just living out of a suitcase, with no sense of home. They’re always down to have some fun. 

This is the suitcase I use for short trips around the Greek islands and neighboring countries.

The expat community is friendly and they often go out even more than locals, so you will get a lot of party hard buddies.

5. There is a reason we say ‘It’s all Greek to me’

And that reason is the monks that would translate Latin texts in their Medieval monasteries, but that is beside the point. What I mean is that most Greeks, speak only Greek (plus some not-so-decent level English) and it’s not an easy language.

If you want to get a head start on learning the language, try this program.

Even if you love learning new things, Greek will definitely become something you struggle with. But you know what? There is no easy way out of that. If you want to truly communicate with locals, as well as become fully integrated in regards to living in Greece, you will have to reach a certain level of fluency.

The benefit of living in the country, obviously, is that you will get so many opportunities to practice it daily. Try to use at least some of those, even if it’s scary. Another big thing is persistence, of course. Hang in there, even if it seems you’re making very little progress — trust me, you will eventually become fluent and get over that language barrier.

We have a lot of language articles here about other languages, you can use them as a guideline into learning any language!

6. Healthcare is not very nice

Greece is known for having a pretty bad healthcare system and the crisis has not helped either. In fact, Greeks claim that the debt crisis has hit health care the worst.

While I hope you will be all healthy and not needing to see the doctor for stuff other than yearly check-ups, it is almost mandatory to get a private health insurance while you are living in Greece.

If you work at a company with a lot of foreign employees (e.g. a call center), ask about healthcare. Many companies pay for more than is obligatory or give you the option to pay for a certain portion of the price of your private insurance.

At the least, make sure you carry around emergency travel insurance with you—keep that card safe!

7. The Bureaucrats will drive you crazy

Sorry to say that, but there is no way around Greek bureaucracy. Sooner or later you will come face to face with the stereotypical grey-faced, middle-aged, uninterested in any of your troubles state functionary.

Your best bet would be to accept it and just follow the instructions.

Whenever possible, try to use English-speaker friendly options, such as bilingual lawyers that can handle your work visa.

8. No, they are not mad at you

Greeks have the habit of speaking quite loudly, so don’t be alarmed if somebody starts shouting at you in Greek. Chances are this is simply the way they talk and you did nothing wrong.

For that same reason, plan where you want to sit at a restaurant very carefully if you want to hear your thoughts. In the middle of the salon or near the musicians (yes, there is often live music at restaurants) are two obviously bad choices.

9. Food is life


Don’t plan on living in Greece unless you like food 🙂

Greeks can talk for hours and hours about new dishes, favorite recipes and what is the best wine to compliment them. Fresh and local are the two keywords.

If you live by the sea, go to a fish market; if you are in the countryside — a farmers market or a vegetable stall by the road. For the most part, supermarkets are a last resort sort of place for Greeks. This is quite typical of any Mediterranean cuisine, but is especially important in the Greek one — good products are what makes good food.

Here’s a great book with some Greek recipes + culture.

One more note on that, fruit and vegetables are seasonal. Prepare for some weird looks if you try to get berries (non-frozen) in winter, or pears in spring. The same goes for veggies, obviously, with late summer and early autumn being the time where most of the stuff is in season.

Seriously, you could live off entirely raw food for the entire months of August and September (if that is what floats your boat, of course).

10. There will be beggars

Most foreigners are easily disturbed by the number of people begging on the streets. Some of them have really unpleasant to look at (but certainly much worse to live with) disabilities…or appear to have them.

With so many tourists and in a country, where poverty is very much a reality, it is no wonder that begging is practically an industry in it’s own right. Don’t be fooled, many of the beggars have expensive phones and live a pretty normal to even luxurious lifestyle.

There are entire groups of them and some even say that the mafia (or well, let’s say…illegal organizations, mafia sounds way too much for beggars) controls the beggar ‘sector’ of the economy.

Be aware of all that before sharing your change — it might not be going where you think it is.

Greece is diverse, beautiful, frustrating, quirky and downright crazy all at the same time. There is truly no other place like it. That is exactly why you should explore it, and if you’re an expat…maybe even consider living in Greece.

Got any funny or interesting stories about living in Greece to share? Leave them in the comments below.

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