I’m not sure if it is the pandemic, or the civil unrest erupting from the Black Lives Matter movement or just the culmination of four years of a Trump presidency, but in the last two months, I have been approached over and over by US citizens asking for advice on how to move to Greece. I’ve summarized my feedback and experience below. Please bear in mind everyone’s situation is unique.
My first piece of advice is to move legally. Yes, there are lots of people who come and just overstay their visas as a way to live in Greece. I don’t recommend this. During my volunteer work at a refugee camp outside of Athens, I met an American who tried this strategy with a bad outcome. He came to Greece, he loved the country, and he just stopped thinking about his visa status. He stayed nine months, and on his way out of Greece, Passport Control noticed the violation. He was given the option of a 2,000 Euro (USD $2,300) fine and a 10-year blacklist status (i.e. not allowed back into Greece for 10 years) or a 10,000 Euro (USD $11,400) fine and a 2-year blacklist status. He took the 2-year option. There is a huge spectrum of what can happen if you overstay your visa, but I don’t recommend exploring that spectrum.
As of this writing, if you are a US citizen, you can come to Greece for 90 days without a visa. You are allowed to be in Greece for 90 out of every 180 consecutive days providing you leave the Schengen Zone for the 90 days you must be out of Greece. The Schengen Zone (learn more here) 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 UK is not. If you are looking for slightly nomadic, visa-free options, you will want to get familiar with the Schengen Zone countries.
If you want to live more long-term in Greece, the site www.livingingreece.gr by an American named Kat is one of the best resources I’ve found with your options to legally move to Greece as a non-EU resident. She outlines the basics in clear detail. If you really think you want to move to Greece, take the time to carefully read what she outlines. It is a great starting point.
It is important to understand there are two parts to the process:
getting a visa to come to Greece for an extended period of time and
getting a permit to live in Greece (a Greek resident permit).
They are different. In my case, I got a 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 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. In this post, I focus on residency (not working in Greece). Getting a permit to work in Greece is a whole different topic. You can find out more about work permits here.
There are several different visa/permit options that may or may not fit your situation.
You can claim Greek ancestry or EU ancestry. Each situation is different so you will need to carefully research yours. For example, I was born in Germany and had dual citizenship until I was 18. But since I defaulted to American citizenship at the age of 18, my German birth status wasn’t useful for me. Being born in Europe does not mean you automatically qualify to live in Europe.
If you are married to a Greek or EU citizen, you may have residency options.
You can start a business or be an investor in a Greek business (both have a relatively large capital requirement).
You can purchase property in Greece with a purchase price of 250,000 euros or more. This is called a Golden Visa and can grant you a 5 year resident permit.
You can be a student and apply for a visa to study.
You can get sponsored by a Greek employer. This sponsorship has to occur while you are living outside of Greece.
You can apply for a National D independent financial means visa. The general financial requirements are you must have 24,000 euros (or equivalent) in a bank account, and you must show that you earn and can transfer 2,000 Euros/month from non-Greek income sources into a Greek bank account. From my understanding, in recent years, this option has had more scrutiny for people who are not retirees. You can still be eligible for the visa if you are under 65, but the application is scrutinized more. It is important to note that this (and most) visa application must be started outside of Greece. You’ll get approved at a Greek consulate in the United States for your visa.
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.
I use Jacob Manolas and if you are thinking of moving to Greece, I suggest you use him too. He’s thorough, reliable, helpful, clear, honest and reasonably priced. The Greek rules for residency are a kaleidoscope of ever-changing factors and having a qualified, Greek-speaking advocate is priceless.
I’ll also mention that like most things, the first steps are the hardest. My renewal process gets easier each year as I understand the requirements (both stated and unstated) better. And the rewards are great. I love living in Greece on many levels.