Want to live and work in Greece? If you’re already a citizen of the 28 EU member states (except Croatia) or Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, no problem. These citizens have the right to live and work in Greece without restriction.
If you’re an American, Canadian, Australian or other non-EU citizen with plans to immigrate, be aware that Greek residence/work permits are involved in living and working in Greece.
Before packing up your things or looking for a job, it’s important to understand what options are legally open to you. Greece and the EU are not open to everyone, just as your own country is not open to everyone.
*Article last updated January 2, 2015. However, answers in ‘Comments’ reflect a specific case and whatever laws were in effect at the time.
Be patient and take the time to read this article and the comments carefully, as it will provide you with a full explanation and answer many questions based on official documentation and real-life experience.
It was a one-of-a-kind article when first published in April 2007 and is still updated with the latest information. Official, consular and expat INFO websites and forums have plagiarized this post and now offer similar (outdated) versions.
Be careful who you trust.
Greece categorizes its residents into four distinct groups and ranks them accordingly:
1) Greek citizens born and raised in Greece and never left;
2) repatriated Greek citizens from abroad — those born in Greece but left;
3) non-Greek EU citizens (Romanian and Bulgarian citizens can work/live in Greece without a permit as of January 1, 2009; Croatian citizens must still secure a work permit and are restricted until at least July 2015);
4) non-EU citizens — nationality is unimportant, whether you’re Canadian, American, Australian, Albanian, Chinese, Filipino, Georgian, Russian, South African, etc. It is a myth that U.S., Canadian and Australian citizens have an easier time, but white non-EU citizens do rank higher than non-whites and men have higher status than women.
Unemployment in Greece is the highest in the EU, and alarmingly so for university educated people between the ages of 25-35, with women, immigrants and the disabled particularly affected. The demand is for uneducated, unskilled workers, and connections and cronyism prevail; this is not expected to change in the next 20 years, if ever (see “Value of a university degree in Greece“).
Of the EU’s original Big 15, Greece ranks next to last in salaries (only Portugal ranked lower) at 10-25 percent of an American/Canadian salary for the same job on average; there is a minority of people securing high salaries, though most are through connections and cronyism. See, “Monthly salaries of EU countries” for a chart. The salary gap had been closing on the strength of the euro, but Greek salaries have been going down for the past 2-3 years and the EU-IMF are demanding they be lowered further.
In addition to low salaries, quality of living is not on par with cost of living, with the quality falling lower and cost of living in Greece getting higher. It is not the cheap paradise it once was in the 1990s. Consumers in Greece often pay double the cost of groceries compared to cities such as Brussels, Stockholm, New York and London. See, “Salary vs. Cost and Quality of Living of EU countries.”
Most young people speak some English, though all public sector services and applications, 95 percent of classified ads, help lines and more than half of websites are in Greek only. See, “The importance of speaking Greek in Greece.”
There are approximately 1 million non-EU immigrants in Greece according to the last census. However, only 537,237 have residence permits as of February 2013, even though the majority have been here an average of seven (7) years and qualify for long-term EU-wide permits. The immigration reform of 2007 changed little or nothing, and Greece and France tightened border controls and immigration laws in 2008 as promised. Police sweeps now occur daily and weekly instead of monthly and seasonally.
If you are a non-Greek of any nationality, you will also face everyday discrimination and diminished chances of securing work as explained in, “Should I move to Greece?” This is especially true for non-whites, regardless of citizenship.
Entry – Visas for Greece
To enter the country, you need a visa. The Greek consulate/embassy in your homeland issues two types of visas:
Type 1: Schengen:
The first type is a Schengen visa, which is valid for passage and/or entry to countries that have signed the Schengen agreement, and includes but is not limited to Greece. See, “Schengen countries” if you do not know what they are.
a) Sticker-free: Citizens of some non-EU countries enjoy visa-free travel to Schengen, meaning they are not obligated to apply at the Greek embassy/consulate for a visa sticker and can visit and stay in the Schengen zone (including Greece) temporarily for up to 90 days total within a 180-day period. Americans, Canadians and Australians all enjoy visa-free/sticker-free travel to Greece. Please see, “Countries that enjoy visa-free travel to Greece” if you want to see if your country is on the list.
* If you are immigrating permanently to Greece or have a job lined up, check with the Greek embassy/consulate if you need a type D visa. Most do not, but some applicants absolutely do.
b) Sticker: Non-EU citizens from countries not on the visa-free list must submit an application at the Greek embassy/consulate in their homeland for a visa and have a sticker placed inside their passport in order to enter and temporarily visit the Schengen zone. Validity can be as little as a week to up to 90 days. Please see, “Countries that require a visa to enter Greece.”
When applying at the Greek embassy/consulate in your homeland, staff will determine the appropriate type of visa, exceptions (countries you cannot visit), and the correct number of entries (one, two or multiple) specific to your needs and eligibility.
Type 2: National:
The second type is a national visa, which is good only for Greece and no other country. These types of visas are issued to those seeking to study, conduct business or potentially immigrate only to Greece OR to those who for some reason do not qualify for a Schengen visa.
All must submit an application and have a sticker placed in their passport by the Greek embassy/consulate in their homeland. The type of visa you receive and the length of its validity will depend on:
a) your eligibility (background, past overstays/fines/blacklist/deportation, other citizenships, family ties, current employment…); and
b) why you are seeking to visit or stay in Greece (i.e. study, work, retirement via independent means, spouse of EU citizen…), thus giving it a further classification of work visa, tourist visa, stay visa, student visa.
Both types of visas (Schengen and national) depend only on your citizenship and passport. The citizenship and passport of your husband/wife/partner/child/parent have no bearing on your visa, your passport or your citizenship, even if he/she is a Greek or EU citizen. In some countries, such as the United States, the citizenship of a spouse/fiance(e) is relevant when applying for an immigrant visa for permanent migration.
— Greece does not have spouse/spousal or fiancé(e) visas.
— There is no such thing as an ancestry/ancestral visa for Greece.
— There is no such thing as a residence/residents visa (temporary or permanent) for Greece.
— There is no such thing as a seasonal work visa for Greece.
— There is no such thing as an open work visa for Greece. A work visa must be sponsored by a specific employer for a specific position that cannot be filled by a Greek/EU citizen.
— There are no visas and permits for gay/lesbian partners of Greek/EU citizens.
There are only national and Schengen visas, as I state above. A visa is for entering, visiting and exiting; a permit is for working and staying in a country, both during and past the validity of a visa.
Upon entry to Greece at the airport or other border crossings, or even when applying for a visa at the Greek embassy/consulate, you may also be asked to produce proof of sufficient funds to support yourself according to a law passed in December 2007. See, “Non-EU travelers to Greece need 50 euros a day.” Even if you are not technically a traveler, Greek authorities have the legal right to question and request evidence of financial means from any non-EU citizen they suspect will overstay, work illegally, be a burden or is attempting to flee their country to Greece.
Lastly, having a Schengen or national visa means that you were granted the right to enter, visit certain countries for the time specified and leave. It does not allow you to stay in Greece and it does not give you the right to work at any time. See, “What’s the difference between a visa and a permit?” if you require further explanation.
Any work you take without first applying for a work permit is considered illegal, and authorities have the right to assess a fine or deport you if you are caught. A penalty of up to 1,200 euros and five (5) years blacklisting may also apply to anyone staying past the validity of their visa. The EU has also drafted a law to sentence illegal workers up to 18 months in jail before deportation as of 2010. See, “Overstaying a visa in Greece” for details.
Moving, Living and Working in Greece
To stay in Greece beyond the validity of your Schengen or national visa and live and work legally in Greece, you need a permit. Your spouse or child and his/her citizenship are irrelevant, even if he/she is an EU/Greek citizen; it only depends on what citizenship you possess and, often times, if you are of Greek origin/descent.
There is no such thing as a green card for Greece; ‘green card’ is a term used in the United States and does not apply outside its borders.
Bottom line is: If you are a non-EU citizen without dual citizenship with the EU or Croatian citizen, you need a permit to work in Greece at any time and/or stay and live in Greece past 90 days.
Photo from worldofstock.com
Ways around getting a permit for Greece
Before covering the lengthy and often expensive bureaucratic process of getting a permit for Greece, there are two ways around it:
1) Claim Greek citizenship through an ancestor
Having Greek citizenship would entitle you to live and work not only in Greece, but the entire EU. If you are of Greek origin/descent and have a mother, father, grandfather or grandmother born in Greece, you can claim Greek citizenship. If you were not born in Greece, do not assume you have Greek citizenship since your parents or grandparents must have staked a claim for you and been issued a citizenship certificate. Being registered in an oikogeneiaki merida is not enough.
2) Claim citizenship through an ancestor born in an EU country
Staking a claim to citizenship through an ancestor born in any of the current member states of the EU (except Croatia until July 2015) or EFTA countries Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland, would give you the right to live and work in Greece or any EU country without a permit. There are often no residency or language requirements, and applications for repatriation are processed more quickly and usually without a fee.
If either of these situations apply to you, stop here, use the links I provided and follow the instructions in starting the process to citizenship. This is the easiest, fastest and most pain-free method to living and working in Greece and the entire European Union without restriction.
Adeia diamonis – May not be reused
Introduction to Greek residence and/or work permits
Should the previous section on ways around through Greek or EU citizenship not apply to you, your only legal path to Greece is through a permit. How do you get a permit for Greece?
There are dozens of permits, though a revision to the Immigration Code announced on October 15, 2013 will reduce the number to only 19, after it’s been officially published and passed into law in 2014. I cover the most common ones since the majority of us are not Olympic athletes, politicians, diplomats or famous.
All permits require that you have the appropriate visa to enter Greece, then apply for the permit in Greece within 30 days of arrival. Failure to apply for the proper permit before your visa expires will require a lawyer, bribes, connections or that you exit and re-enter Greece again. See, “Overstaying a visa in Greece.”
All of these permits apply to non-EU citizens of no Greek origin (descent). Why? Because if you are of Greek origin, you have the option to apply for Greek citizenship as explained above — it is a privilege to which you are entitled, whether you want it or not.
How to get a permit for Greece
1. Be the non-EU spouse or child (under 21) of a Greek/EU/EEA citizen
Should you be the non-EU spouse or dependent child (under 21) or dependent parent of a Greek or EU/EEA citizen (except Croatia), an EU directive grants family members both residence/work permits and rights on par with other EU residents. Options open to you are:
a) Residence/work permit card for non-EU family members of a Greek/EU national (First filing; validity of 5 years): If this is your first time residing in Greece and have never held a permit before, or you already possess a permit on your own accord (work, self-employed, business owner) as a single person and you marry a Greek/EU citizen, this permit applies to you.
You need to prove you entered the country legally (stamp in your passport, appropriate visa, etc.), provide a health certificate and attend an interview at the Perifereia where a board will ask questions in Greek and examine whether your marriage and family relationship is legitimate or simply an attempt to get a permit. If the non-EU citizen(s) is/are unemployed, proof of health coverage (private or via the Greek/EU citizen) and tax statements will be requested. Being married to a Greek/EU citizen does not guarantee a residence/work permit, as I know several people who were denied. If approved, the permit is valid for five (5) years, good only for Greece (not EU-wide) and has no application fee. Click, “Regular residence/work permit for an American or other non-EU family member of a Greek or EU citizen“ to see all of the requirements.
It used to be that residence/work permits were separate with separate bureaucracy at separate locations; now they have been fused into one permit with one process at one location since most people need both. The work permit is given for free whether you need it or not.
Being the divorced non-EU parent of a half EU child does not entitle you to a permit if you do not already live in Greece. Rights trickle down from parent to child, not the other way around. The only time a divorced non-EU parent can hold a Greek permit is: a) the parent is already living and residing in Greece with a valid permit, AND b) during those years, the child with Greek citizenship grew up, came of age and still lives in Greece AND c) the parent has sufficient financial means or work to stay in Greece.
b) Permanent residence/work permit card for non-EU family members of a Greek or EU citizen (Renewal; validity of 10 years): If you already held the initial five (5)-year permit listed above, you will automatically be renewed for 10 years in a permanent status if you can prove your family relationship is valid and continuing, and you have financial means to support yourself. It is good ONLY for Greece (not EU-wide), and there is no fee to renew. Click “Permanent residence/work permit for non-EU spouse and children of Greek and EU citizens.”
* Should you change countries, it will help to show your permit from Greece, but you will be expected to apply for a new permit in the new country. Permits are not transferable as they are wholly dependent on whether you have a valid, existing family relationship in the country you live. All EU countries have measures to prevent fraudulent marriages and “fake spouses” who marry only for papers.
* There are no permits for hetero$exual fiance(e)s. There are also no permits for gay/lesbian partners married in another country. This violates an EU directive and Greece has been warned, but it will be years before the European Commission can force Greece to comply. For example, it took 5 years for Greece to implement EU-wide permits that should have been done in 2003.
2. Be the non-EU spouse or child of a non-EU citizen living/working legally in Greece for two (2) years
This permit applies when all family members are non-EU citizens and is known as a Family Reunification permit. Should you be a non-EU spouse/child of a non-EU citizen who has already been living and working legally in Greece for two (2) years with the proper permit, you can be brought over and reunified if (s)he can show an annual income of at least 8,500 euros, plus 1,700 euros (20 percent) for a spouse and 1,275 euros (15 percent) for each dependent. You must prove you legally entered Greece with a Schengen or national visa, and apply for the permit before that visa expires. To see a story of (mistakenly) getting this permit, see “Thanks to Greece, I’ve been reunified with myself.”
* There is no such thing as a family reunification visa for Greece, only the appropriate Schengen or national visas described above.
3. Be an investor
Non-EU citizens wishing to start a company with employees are required to have:
— A minimum of 300,000 euros in capital,
— a business plan in Greek approved by the Interior Ministry
— at least 10 jobs of which 30 percent must be given to Greek citizens.
The permit is good for three (3) years. Partnering with a Greek/EU citizen does not absolve you from these rules. See “How to start a business in Greece” for details.
In November 2012, there was discussion of allowing non-EU citizens purchasing a home to be granted residence permits but no laws were passed and this measure is not being implemented.
With such strict rules and the debt crisis expected to last through 2013 or longer, many are opting for other countries.
4. Be a self-employed entrepreneur
Non-EU entrepreneurs wishing to be in business for themselves (self-employed) must have already held a residence permit in Greece for one year previous to application by:
a) submitting a formal plan in Greek that proves your business will contribute to the Greek economy and
b) depositing 60,000 euros in a bank account as evidence of solvency.
If you manage to jump those hurdles, you will be required to prove an annual investment of 60,000 euros at each renewal. See, “How to start a business in Greece” for more details.
5. Retire/live in Greece supported by independent means
Non-EU citizens, unrelated to Greek/EU citizens and of no Greek/EU origin themselves, who would like to retire or otherwise live in Greece on funds from outside Greece are welcome to apply for a special entry visa at the Greek embassy/consulate in their homeland, then get a residence permit upon arrival in Greece if they can show a minimum of 2,000 euros/month. It is not a work permit and good for one year. See, “How to apply for a visa and residence permit for Greece.”
6. Be a student at a university in Greece
If you are accepted to a semester abroad or a full degree program at a university in Greece, you can apply for a visa to study. Should you be here for more than a semester abroad (more than 90 days), you would be able to apply for a permit that allows you to work part time.
However, when your course of study is finished, this permit cannot be converted to a regular residence/work permit if you find an employer to hire you full time. Why? Because your original visa and permit were based on a course of study, not work. For the employer to hire you, they would be required to go through the process described in the next option.
7. Find an employer to sponsor your work visa and permit for Greece
It is not impossible, but this option is amongst the most difficult and expensive, as it involves several steps, government approval, a significant monetary deposit (by you or your potential employer) and a period of waiting in your homeland.
The unemployment rate in Greece hit a record-high 27.8 percent overall and 64.9 percent for youth aged 15-24 (the highest in the EU), Greeks of all ages are leaving in desperation to find work abroad, Albanians are going home, and many expats are leaving after 15-20 years due to deteriorating quality of living. Greece has no need to import workers.
To illustrate how rarely unmarried Americans of no Greek origin are hired and approved to work in Greece, there are less than 2,200 existing work permits at this time, which includes non-employees (investors, self-employed, visiting consultants and students) not just employees. The majority of these permits are renewals, meaning we have all held them for years.
If you think 2,200 is a lot, remember that there are 1 million non-EU citizens in Greece, of which less than 520,000 have permits.
Assuming you like those odds, how do you get sponsorship from an employer in Greece for a work visa?
a) Find an employer in Greece willing to hire you while still in your homeland
This is the most improbable situation unless you have connections or otherwise know someone in advance, as few (if any) would hire a stranger, put up a deposit and muck through months of bureaucracy without ever having met or interviewed a potential employee. An employer prefers to hire candidates already in the country.
If you have a friend, potential spouse or relative willing to hire you, new laws passed in February 2008 require private businesses to show an annual profit of 24,000 euros and companies an annual profit of 60,000 euros before hiring non-EU citizens.
*Greece does not have a migrants work program.
b) Come to Greece on a tourist visa, find an employer to sponsor your work visa and permit, then go home
Once you and your potential employer have met, interviewed and found a good fit, you are required to go home. Why? Because in order to be issued a work permit, you need a work visa (not a tourist visa). And in order to be issued a work visa, you must go home to wait for the potential employer to complete the paperwork, submit it to OAED (Manpower Employment Agency in Greece) and interior ministry, prove that there is not a single Greek or other EU citizen who can do this job, justify why you should be hired instead, then put up a deposit of several months salary (or ask you to do it).
When/if it is approved, the official work invitation letter and work contract will be sent from Greece to the Greek embassy/consulate in your homeland, which will invite you to interview on their premises and hopefully approve and issue the visa. The process from start to end could be up to a year.
*If a non-EU citizen told you that he/she never had to go home and applied for a work visa once inside Greece, it’s not possible. They either have dual citizenship with the EU or are working illegally.
c) Seasonal work through the embassy/consulate
Another way is to find seasonal or regular non-embassy jobs — IT, teaching, unskilled labor positions — posted by a dozen Greek embassies/consulates located mostly in eastern Europe that work in conjunction with OAED Employment Agency. The good news is these jobs are pre-approved and ready to go; the bad news is all jobs are listed in Greek, wages are usually low, and few employers participate in the program because the government is slow (or refuses) to return their deposits. America, Canada and Australia are not and never have been participants, as many of the jobs are of the dirty, difficult and dangerous type. See, “The jobs Greeks won’t take.”
*If you’ve thought about working for an embassy/consulate, teaching English or working at a bar for the summer, see “Common jobs for English-speaking foreigners in Greece” to learn the difference between myth and reality.
d) Be a high-ranking executive or board member at a company in your homeland with a branch in Greece, and have them transfer you
Most of these transfers are approved, especially if you are from a big company like Coca-Cola that contributes to the economy, and/or earn a large salary that will continue to be paid from your homeland and not burden Greece. Typically, an employee’s non-EU family members will be allowed to accompany him/her as long as income requirements are met. See, “Greek work permit for high-ranking executives from abroad.”
If after five (5) years you are still a non-EU citizen of no Greek/EU origin not married to a Greek/EU citizen, and have held a residence/work permit in Greece with gainful employment, you would be eligible for a long-term EU-wide residence/work permit on par with being an EU citizen no matter what your profession, as long as you meet a number of other requirements. Click “Non-EU citizens seeking a long-term EU-wide residence/work permit” to see all the requirements.
Illegal Work in Greece
Illegal work is a reality, but exact figures cannot be quoted because workers often stay quiet to avoid being fired, and employers stay quiet to avoid being fined and jailed. This code of silence leads to other abuses, i.e., no insurance, poor pay, extra hours without compensation, no vacation, no pension contributions.
You also risk being fired once a qualified candidate with legal standing can replace you or your employer gets scared, and you will not be entitled to collect unemployment or lodge a formal complaint at the labor union.
Greek authorities have raised fines and penalties assessed to employers using illegal workers, and police are more stringent and frequent in their immigration checks since 2010. Illegal workers are hired less frequently and fired more often, as a result.
The EU also drafted a law effective 2010 that can sentence illegal workers up to 18 months in jail before deportation, plus the EU border-monitoring agency Frontex opened its first European regional office in Athens, Greece in October 2010 as a show of commitment to local authorities. Illegal immigration has since dropped 40 percent.
Image from programmersguild.org
Permit options now closed
1. Non-EU street vendors have been denied the right to start and renew their licenses
Despite the fact it is discrimination and against EU directives, this law has not been overturned for several years.
2. Legalization drive (amnesty or regularization) for illegal workers already in Greece has ended
In the past, Greece has reluctantly acquiesced to legalizing undocumented illegal workers from non-EU countries who are already in the country and issuing them permits. However, most drives of this sort are announced without established parameters or have requirements that are impossible and/or expensive for many to fulfill, usually involving ensima (insurance stamps costing thousands of euros) and legal entry dates from years ago (i.e., before December 2004). The last legalization drive ended October 31, 2007, and there are no plans for any in the future. To get a sense of past requirements, see “Residence/work permit for undocumented workers in Greece.”
3. EU Blue Card program
The European Commission proposed in October 2007 a “blue card” program, resembling the USA’s green card, and sent a draft to all (then) 27 member states for input and approval. Many member states immediately expressed disapproval and the intent to opt out, and there is a clause in the legislation that allows each EU member state to set or ban quotas, which many are expected to do under current economic conditions.
On May 25, 2009, legislation for the EU Blue Card directive 2009/50/EC was finalized and the program was made mandatory in mid-2011.
However, the euro crisis has changed implementation of the program and Greece is notoriously slow — sometimes taking up to five (5) years or more — and must be forced to implement directives by the European High Court. Further, the International Monetary Fund expects Greece to be in recession well after 2015.
When/if Greece recognizes and allows people to apply to the Blue Card Program, I will write an article and link it here.
About EU residence/work permits
Every EU member state has different rules and regulations in place for non-EU citizens wishing to live and work in their country. Many are not as stringent as Greece, while others more so.
A residence/work permit grants permission to stay in a country beyond a visa’s validity, a document or sticker given to someone who fulfilled requirements and legally lives and/or works under the laws and regulations of the country that issued it. If you move out of that country, you become a resident and worker of whatever country is your new home and must secure another residence/work permit under its laws and regulations. It is not transferable.
If you are a non-EU citizen not connected to a Greek/EU citizen with the coveted long-term EU-wide residence/work permit, this IS transferable and you may live and work freely throughout the EU, except in Denmark, Ireland and the UK. You must check with the new country before moving, as you may need to register, convert or give up certain rights upon arrival.
A new Greek Immigration Code (Κώδικα Μετανάστευσης) 4151/2013 was drafted in October 2013 and proposes granting EU-wide status to SOME long-term residents. But it is not official and existing laws are still in effect. Therefore, you must investigate what your current Greek permit allows you to do before moving or accepting work in another country.
Have a question?
I highly encourage readers to view ‘Comments’ on this post and other posts that were mentioned above in this article, as they contain answers to common questions and stories from people who were kind enough to share their experience.
It was necessary to close the possibility of discussion because too many readers asked redundant questions and/or refused to use the ‘Search’ options in the second column as per my ‘Questions‘ policy.
“Απόφαση του ΔΕΚ για την ιθαγένεια υπηκόων τρίτων χωρών” — Kathimerini
— Documentation gathered over 14 years
— First-hand experience holding five of the residence/work permits mentioned above
— First-hand experience of non-EU citizens who agreed to share their story and documents with me, including CN, PM, CO, DD, MS.
— “Greece grapples with shadow of neo-Nazis — There’s no such thing as a legal immigrant” — FT
— “Only 460,000 foreigners in Greece hold a residence permit as of 2010” — Kathimerini