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A Beginner's Guide to Living in Athens, Greece

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Thinking of spending some time living in Athens, Greece? Then this guide is for you. I've been living in Greece since 2020 and am now permanently based in Athens.

Like moving to any new place, there are definitely things to bear in mind before packing up to live in Greece's largest city. So let's have a look at some of them now.

What's the City Like?

Athens is a vibrant and historic city that can offer a unique living experience for foreigners. Athenian life is a fascinating mix of old and new.

You can enjoy modern Athens' bustling markets, sophisticated shopping areas, trendy cafes, and thriving nightlife while immersing yourself in the city's rich history. Ancient architecture abounds at the city's legendary archaeological sites like the Parthenon and Ancient Agora.

And once you've had your fill of all that, let yourself get caught up in the feast and celebration days that make up such a big part of Greek culture; alternatively, make your way through the mountains of tasty Greek food and drink.

Athens has a lot going for it but I've found people either love it or hate it. Depending on what you're used to, you could find Athens busy, chaotic and dirty.

But as I said, there's a lot to love, so let's get into what you can find if you look beyond the litter and people smoking around you in public!

Cost of Living in Athens

Although the cost of living can be much lower in Athens than in other cities in the USA, the UK and around Europe, the Greek economy isn't in the weak position it once was.

The cost of living isn't desperately low and it's risen quite a bit in recent years. If you intend to earn in Greece, you should also know that despite rising living costs, wages are lower than in the past. You can compare the cost of living in Greece to the rest of the EU here.

If you can earn a decent income in US dollars, for example, then it will certainly go a lot further than if you're earning from working in Greece. Having said that, obviously, the lifestyle you choose influences your monthly outgoings. And you can certainly live the high life in this capital city.

Working a Job in Athens

Living and working in Greece is usually straightforward if you're an EU citizen. For non-EU residents, it can be really quite hard to secure a role. You have to prove that the job couldn't be done by a European citizen. And your future employer must also jump through quite a few bureaucratic hoops.

See the visa section below for more information about how you can work from Greece but these are the most common types of jobs foreigners living in Athens are able to get.

Call Centers

The most common type of work foreigners get in Athens is within call centers. These types of roles normally include long hours and poor wages.

Usually, to work for a call center, you need English as a second language and one or more other European languages.


Hospitality is the biggest sector in Greece but again it's a tough gig. Work is usually seasonal, which means long hours and few days off. If you've ever worked on a yacht or on a cruise ship, you know this kind of work can be highly rewarding but equally demanding.

Food and accommodation are often included as part of your wage package, but the standard of these can vary drastically. If you're considering this route, find out what you're walking into.

You'll often need to speak very good English and Greek to work in hospitality or other tourist jobs.

Working Remotely as a Digital Nomad in Athens

If you come to Athens as a digital nomad, you'll find good internet access and several places to co-work from. Finding casual coffee shops suitable for working from your laptop can be a bit trickier. But there are several Facebook groups aimed at digital nomads in Athens and nationwide, so you can definitely ask for advice.

For those planning to move to Athens temporarily, consider signing up for a travel insurance (we recommend SafetyWing) before you go. While there only for emergencies and hopefully won't be needed, it's really good for peace of mind to have something there for those just in case moments.

If you're interested in this, keep on reading to learn more about visas and how you can legally work remotely from Athens.

Do People Commonly Speak English?

Athens from the Acropolis

Of course, not everyone speaks English, but many Greeks do. This is particularly true of the younger generations and people working around touristy spots.

You can absolutely get along fine in Athens without any Greek language skills. As well as everyday interactions with people like shop workers, you'll find lawyers, accountants and other professionals who work in both languages.

Obviously, it's helpful to gain some knowledge of Greek, and it's appreciated when you make an effort. But most people will still talk to you in English anyway. Whether you want to start lessons before you arrive or take them in Athens, you'll find plenty of online and in-person options. We recommend Mondly to start learning online before you move to Greece then swapping over to in-person classes once you're settled in.

Is Athens a Safe City?

Everyone's experience of safety is different in both perception and reality. You may well experience sexism, homophobia, racism or xenophobia. But in terms of violent crime aimed at tourists and foreigners who aren't asylum seekers, then there's very little.

Like any big city, there are areas to avoid, especially at night. But as a solo (white) woman, I feel comfortable walking alone in the dark and using public transport late at night.

You should keep your wits about you in busy tourist areas and when passing through the popular metro stations. Tourist scams and pick-pocketing are as common as in other touristy European cities, so keep your stuff secure.

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Best Areas of Athens to Live

Everyone has different criteria for their ideal place to live. Most Athenians live in apartment buildings with limited direct access to green spaces. But as I mentioned, the neighborhoods of Athens are many and varied, each offering different experiences.

Areas that are popular with foreigners include:

Koukaki - close to the Acropolis and within walking distance of many historical sites, this neighborhood combines traditional charm and modern amenities. It frequently gets listed as one of the world's top neighborhoods in various media publications.

Kolonaki - a high-end neighborhood on the slopes of Mount Lycabettus with fancy boutiques, gourmet restaurants, and art galleries. Think luxury urban lifestyle with prices to match.

Psiri - a gentrified area and now one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Athens. It's packed with artisan shops, boutiques, and eateries and has a great nightlife scene.

Pangrati - this central neighborhood borders the Panathenaic Stadium. It's conventional and unpretentious while somehow also trendy and quirky. You'll find a good mix of old and new, urban and green, where you'll feel genuinely immersed in Athenian life.

Exarcheia - is an old neighborhood in Athens that's now popular with students and youngsters. It's alternative and edgy, popular with artists and academics. It's also anarchistic and socialist and somewhere to keep your wits about you at night. Please only consider this area if you're a student to avoid displacing local families who are being pushed out by rising rents.

Nea Symri - a green, bustling area filled with shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. It's lively enough without being as hectic as the city center or as far out as other southern suburbs like Glyfada. It's close to both the city and the coast and popular with families.

Glyfada - is in the southern suburbs along the Athens Riviera. Likened to both LA and Florida, it's an upscale, coastal neighborhood. Glyfada is popular with international families. There are several international schools close to the area and plenty of parks, playgrounds and activities for children.

Chalandri - is a northern suburb about 8km from central Athens. It's another spot popular with international families as there's an American school there. Chalandri is leafy with a village feel to it, and everything you could need is on the doorstep.

Marousi - is just above Chalandri and is a good, middle-class neighborhood if a little far from the city center. I find Marousi quite similar to Chalandri, but it also has a couple of large shopping malls and the lovely Syggrou Forest.

This isn't an exhaustive list, and there are other areas of Athens you could love. Weigh up what's important to you. Do you need modern buildings and green spaces? Is it important for you to be well connected to the city by public transport? Are you looking to be close to a particular type of school?

To stop things getting overwhelming, begin by deciding what your non-negotiables are, and you can narrow down your choices from there.

Finding Accommodation

Wide, leady streets of Glyfada

As I've mentioned elsewhere in this post, most people in Athens live in apartments. The size, cost, and alternative options vary widely between the neighborhood above.

If you're gaining Greek residency, that normally means renting (if you're not buying) somewhere with a legal contract that can be input into the TAXISNET tax system.

Generally, that's a three-year contract (to protect the tenant), although you, as a tenant, can usually get out of the contract sooner if you need to.

If you're only looking for a few months' accommodations, you'll often be offered an "all-in" monthly rent with bills included. However, contracts for less than six months are normally classed as holiday rents and don't usually go onto TAXISNET.

Make sure that whatever you sign up for meets your residency/visa criteria.

Blueground is a popular organization for foreigners to find accommodation in Athens. Spitigato and Spiti24 are listings sites for long- and short-term lets. For the latter two, you'll need to trawl through the details to check whether they're long or short-term rentals.

What's the Weather Like in Athens?

Thanks to its Mediterranean climate, mild winters and hot, dry summers are the norm, although it can snow in winter and temperatures in the summer can get very high.

Getting Around Athens

The public transport in Athens is pretty good. Three Metro lines cross the city, a tram network that links various areas of the city and the coast, buses, and an urban rail system. The airport and the main port of Piraeus are both easily accessible by public transport.

Fare prices are reasonable, and If you're living in Athens for an extended period, then it's worth looking into the long-term passes for bigger discounts.

Exploring the Rest of Greece From the Greek Capital

Living in Athens means easy access to several islands by ferry or plane and a gateway to the mainland. If you want to explore the country on weekend getaways or longer stays, Athens is a great base from which to do so. Need a stunning island getaway? You'll be hard pressed to find more beauty than in Zakynthos.

Long-Term Visa Options for Athens

Photo by depositphotos.com

Although you'll need to check for your own personal circumstances, most people from places like the US and the UK can stay in Greece for up to 90 out of 180 days without any type of visa.

Note this works on a rolling basis, so it's always the last 180 consecutive days. You should also bear in mind that this applies to the whole of the Schengen area. So if you've spent time in any of those countries, you must add those days to your time in Greece.

Usually, you can continue working for your employer on a remote basis during that time without any sort of tax implication either.

To stay longer than 90 days, there are a few options available. For more information about these, you'll need to get specific advice from an immigration lawyer or similar.

You'll also want to determine the tax implications of your intended route. Sometimes, you must pay taxes in both your home country and Greece.

Another thing to note is that volunteering is classed as working. So to even come and do that, you need the right to work in Greece.

Digital Nomad Visa

Greece's digital nomad visa is relatively new and one that's gaining popularity. It's a one-year visa giving you the right to live in Greece and work remotely. After a year, you can apply for a Digital Nomad Residence Permit, which gives you legal residence for two years and is renewable for a further two years after that.

You don't need to have your own business to apply for this. You can be self-employed OR work remotely as an employee for a company outside of Greece.

The main factors to consider with this visa are:

  • you can't work for a Greek company either freelancing or as an employee, and
  • you need to show you have sufficient funds for your stay or
  • have a monthly salary of €3,500 per month after tax

If you come with a partner, you'll need an additional 20% income and an additional 15% for a child.

Work from Greece is a good resource to help you if you're interested in this option.

Golden Visa

The golden visa is a way of getting residency through property investment. For most places, you can gain a five-year residency permit by spending 250,000 euros or more across one or more properties.

For some areas of Athens, the minimum investment has increased to 500,000 euros and must be spent on one property.

Financially Independent Person

This option is popular for third-country nationals who want to retire in Greece. You need to show you have sufficient income from a fixed source (not a salary) to cover the duration of your stay. Normally that's expected to be at least 2000 euros a month.

As with the Digital Nomad visa, you need an additional 20% for a spouse or cohabitant and 15% for a child.

It's common for this income to come from a pension, but a trust fund would qualify too.

Type D or Other Visa

Often the first step in any of the above routes is to gain a different type of visa to permit you to stay in Greece for longer than 90 days. Sometimes, you must apply for this from your country of residence before coming to Greece.

How to Make Friends in Athens

The Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus which overlooks Athens

If you're moving to any new city, starting to meet people and creating a local social circle can be daunting. Add a foreign language into the mix, and it can seem like even more of a big deal. But like other European cities, Athens is a melting pot of cultures, so there are lots of people to meet and many ways to meet them.

Meeting People Through Work

If you're coming to Athens for work, having colleagues immediately makes it easier to meet people. See if you can join others for lunch or any after-work activities.

Through Facebook Groups

You only need to do a quick search of Facebook groups to find there are plenty aimed at foreigners and "expats" in Athens and Greece.

All of them have a slightly different offering and vibe. Some are friendlier than others. Some actively create events for members to get together in person. Others are great if you want to ask general questions to others who already have experience living in Athens.

Fellow Students

Whether traveling to Greece to study full-time or taking part-time Greek language classes, you'll meet new people. Either of these scenarios can be a good way to make new friends.

Through Volunteering

When I first came to Greece and lived on the Greek islands, this was one of the first things I started doing to meet other people. Find a cause that you're passionate about and see what activities and groups you can join locally.

This isn't an exhaustive list but some of the types of groups in Athens you could get involved with volunteering for are:

Animal Welfare Groups

Animal shelters nationwide are crying out for volunteers, and Athens is no different. You could help with all sorts of things, from cleaning out cages, catching cats to be neutered and released or taking shelter dogs out for a walk.

In doing so, you'll probably mix with a combination of some local people and other foreigners.

Organizations Supporting Homeless and/or Refugees

Various organizations in Athens support the homeless and refugees in the city center. Once refugees gain asylum, they get zero support from the Greek government and are left vulnerable.

You could join an organization and help prepare some of the thousands of meals that are given out on the street.

Clean-Up Groups

Join a group like Save Your Hood on Facebook and get together with others to clean up litter in a park, on a beach or in another area of your new neighborhood.

What I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Greece

Photo by depositphotos.com

Pace of Life

The Mediterranean lifestyle can be a blessing and a curse! Having lived in Spain in my twenties, this actually wasn't a shock to me. But if you've never lived in a country with a Mediterranean schedule, it's something to consider.

There's definitely a more relaxed pace of living compared to other countries. Meals are longer and later. Don't expect locals to eat lunch until at least 2pm and going out for dinner at 9 or 10pm is common.

Particularly in the summer, when the heat is intense, people turn nocturnal. If you're out and about in Central Athens during the afternoon, it'll be busy enough since it's a popular tourist destination. But the local neighborhoods are usually far busier around 9-11pm than during Quiet Hours (like a siesta) at 3-5pm.

Opening Times

Carrying on from my point above, keep in mind that businesses and stores can have quite different opening times to what you might be used to in the US or UK.

Large international stores on Ermou in Athens' city center tend to be open seven days a week. Usually the opening hours are along the lines of Monday to Friday 9am - 9pm, Saturday 9am - 8pm and Sunday 11am - 8pm.

Businesses like banks and the post office generally open from around 8am and close around 2/2.45pm Monday to Friday. (Although the post office at Syntagma is also open on a Saturday morning.)

Other stores and businesses usually do a short day on Monday, Wednesday and sometimes Saturday. So something like 8/10am - 2/3pm. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and, for some places, Saturdays, they have split hours like 8/10am - 2/3pm and then 6pm-8/9pm.

For grocery shopping, large supermarket chains in Athens are usually open from 8am - 9pm throughout the week and then 8am - 8pm on Saturdays.

Most stores and businesses are closed on Sunday. If you're living in Athens, you'll find mini markets with later opening times and some available on Sundays.

It can get a bit of getting used to, especially if you head out of Athens.

Quiet Hours

The opening hours above basically work around afternoon Quiet Hours. These are basically like the Spanish seista and change a bit from season to season. The times are confirmed each year, but they're normally around 3pm - 5:30pm.

When I lived on the Greek islands, people tended to sleep in the hottest part of the day. During the summer, at least.

In Athens, it's definitely a quieter time of day out and about in the non-touristy neighborhoods. But at the same time, life tends to carry on, and in the city, I find fewer people stop and rest in the afternoon.

The August Exodus

Athenians leave Athens in droves come August. It makes the city nice and quiet but don't try and get anything done because everyone's escaped to the islands or their villages.

The Bureaucracy

The bureaucracy in Greece is like nothing else. I thought I was prepared, having lived in Spain before, but the paperwork situation in Greece is on another level.

Expect things to take time, move slowly and involve additional fines and fees. You'll often need to make repeat trips back with various bits of paperwork you weren't told you needed the first time.

For most things, you'll need an AFM (af-em-ee) tax number, so look into how you can get one.

When The Philoxenia Runs Out

In my experience, Greece is full of contradictions. While it's famous for its Philoxenia - the concept of love and hospitality for strangers - it's also known for its Xenophobia - a fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers.

I've received both. Philoxenia is wonderful, and Xenophobia is exhausting. Some groups of people will experience more of one than another, so it's a good reason to come and spend some time in Athens before committing to living here.

Stay for a While Before You Commit

If you're seriously considering living in Athens, staying for an extended time before committing is probably a good idea. Do some research on the neighborhoods you're interested in. Join some of the social media groups aimed at foreigners in Greece and ask all your questions.

Then book to spend as long as you can in Athens on a temporary basis. It might be wise to stay in a few places to get a feel for different areas.

Final Thoughts on Living in Athens

Moving to a new country is an exciting time, but it can also be stressful. Athens is no different, especially when you have a different language - and alphabet - to contend with. My advice is don't try and do it all on your own.

Take advantage of the organizations and informal groups that are available to help you navigate your move. Good luck and have fun in your new city!

Hero picture by depositphotos.com

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