Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

Deksi xeri, sas parakalo! – Getting a U.S. visa in Greece

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This is a true story about a Greek citizen getting a U.S. visa for his vacation in America. First stop, the American Embassy in Athens.

Getting a visa to the United States

According to the U.S. Embassy website, this is how a Greek citizen can apply for a non-immigrant visa (tourist visa or visa for a visiting businessman).

STEP 1: Pay the Visa Application Fee (Gives account number and addresses of Piraeus Bank locations where 80 euros must be paid; fee increased to $131 on January 1, 2008 — euro equivalent fluctuates depending on exchange rate)

STEP 2: Do you need an Appointment? (No, for people aged 14-16 or 60-80 or those with a previous unexpired visa; yes, for everyone else)

STEP 3: Schedule Your Appointment (Online scheduling system)

STEP 4: Complete and Print the Application Forms (Online forms and instructions offered in both English and Greek)

STEP 5: Gather the Required Supporting Documentation (A reminder to have application, bank receipt and passport)

STEP 6: Have Your Photo Taken (Specs of 50 x 50 mm, full face, jaw shut, taken with a white background)

STEP 7: Come to your Interview

Each step has instructions in both English and Greek, and there is a dedicated hotline ready to receive questions in English and Greek should you need information before going to the American Embassy in Athens or Thessaloniki (there is no American Embassy in Crete or any other city/island).

It’s all very clear and straightforward, there are no mysteries or ambiguities. It states a waiting time of up to 3 hours, but you’ll later learn why that only applies to certain people. If you follow the instructions, it’s usually much less.

Follow the instructions, they’re clear dammit!

My friend Kosta pays his fee to get the receipt, has his photo taken, prints and fills out the application in English, makes an appointment, takes a pen and shows up on time. Inside the embassy, he waits his turn and has a chance to observe his fellow Greeks in action.

The first window is where all documents are submitted — this is where the chaos starts. Some have shown up with no photos, some with no applications, some with no bank receipts and some with nothing but their passports. Judging from the box of preprinted applications and pens on a large table, this is a common occurrence and embassy officials have surrendered to helping those who don’t follow directions, instead of turning people away like a Greek public sector office would. The embassy official at the first window also serves as a photographer for those who didn’t bring photos as they were told, but she’s frustrated because no one has small change, and she’s having trouble with her subjects.

“Please sir, stop smiling. This is not a portrait, this is your visa. You need to close your mouth and look serious,” she says. He smiles again, this time wider with all of his teeth showing and head tilted. Kosta starts laughing and slaps his forehead.

“Oxi, oxi, sir! Sas parakalo, koita,” she says, as she points at her face and looks straight ahead with lips closed. The man repeats the same toothy smile and head tilt. The woman gives up and asks him to sit down to keep the line moving. He mumbles something in Greek about Americans and has a seat.

She waits on the next person, and this man has his passport, photos and application, but no receipt from the bank. “Did you pay your money, sir?” she asks.

“Yes, yes, here you go,” he says as he slaps 80 euros on the counter. “I’m sorry sir, but you need to pay this to Piraeus Bank and get a receipt as stated on the website, then bring it back here,” she tells him.

“Why you can’t take my money?” he asks. “Sir, I’m sorry, but we are not a bank, we are an embassy. Paying your money at the bank is the first step in getting a visa, even BEFORE you make an appointment, so you need to go to Piraeus Bank just down the street, get the receipt and come back,” she says. She gives him a slip of paper with the account number and addresses. He swears a bit in Greek about the embassy, takes his passport and goes to the bank.

At the second window, a different embassy official is trying to finish taking the fingerprint of a gentleman’s right index finger. She holds up her right finger as an example, motions to the machine and tells him to place his right index finger on the pad. He places his left index finger on the pad. “Oxi, oxi. Sir, deksi xeri,” she says, hoping that speaking Greek will clear the apparent misunderstanding, while holding up her right finger. He again places his left finger on the pad.

“Oxi, oxi. Kyrie, to deksi xeri, sas parakalo!” she says. He again places his left finger on the pad.

“Kyrie, to deksi xeri, sas parakalo!” she says again. He places his left finger on the pad. The Venetian blind behind the glass window comes down with a quick swish, and the gentleman looks around for a minute, as if puzzled by the window’s sudden closure. He sits down. Some people come over and explain to him what happened and why. “Ack, ti ekana,” he says.

Now it’s Kosta’s turn. He’s at the window, the embassy official checks his documents and photos, then asks him to sit down. In a few minutes, a woman takes his fingerprint at the second window, asks him to sit down, then calls his name to enter a security door where he’s interviewed at a window for a few minutes, approved, given a protocol number so he can pick up his passport the next afternoon, and he leaves. From the time his name was first called, the process took less than 15 minutes. His U.S. visa is good for 10 years.

The irony is if a Greek or a foreigner goes to a public sector office in Greece, there is no clarity, no instructions, no forms in foreign languages, no assistance and no courtesy, except in rare cases. People are simply turned away — even if the documents are spot on. Sometimes incorrect information is given due to incompetence, or you’re treated poorly just for sport.

But the U.S. visa process was crystal clear and in Greek AND assistance was provided at every turn, so why was it so difficult for people to navigate to the point they complained?!? Is it conditioning — clouding what is clear, creating drama and difficulty where none exists, thinking a system is hard when it’s easy, complaining just because? Was it truly difficult or was it “Greeked?”

Kalo Taxidi my friends! :)

Are you a Greek citizen looking for a visa?

Greece entered the U.S. waiver program on April 5, 2010, as explained in, “Greece enters visa waiver program in 2010.” Therefore, the majority of Greek passport holders no longer need to go to the U.S. Embassy to apply.

Visa interview questions

Questions vary according to the person and interviewer. They usually revolve around the answers you gave on your visa application. Be honest.

Reasons for denial

People are usually denied a visa because there is something inconsistent in their present or past, or there is evidence of a potential risk. For example, insufficient ties to the homeland that guarantee returning, such as a job or family, past violation of a visa, being a third country resident, recent marriage to a U.S. citizen.

A previous denial is not necessarily grounds for a repeat denial.

Related posts

Greek passport
Greece enters the visa waiver program in 2010
Greek citizens permitted to visit FYROM with Greek ID

* Article updated April 13, 2010 website metrics



  Cheryl wrote @ May 24th, 2007 at 00:38

You hit the nail on the head. The same thing happens with a visit to the Consulate, my husband has everything prepared and it usually goes smoothly, unless they “forget” to have him fill out another form, then he gets mad.
My MIL usually bickers and haggles with everyone and I usually just stand by quietly and smile. The last time I was visiting she really gave it to a fruit vendor so I intervened politely and told him that I didn’t need so many peaches. To my surprise he smiled gently and said “Kala koukla” and gave me what I wanted, before sneering at MIL as he left. I know that he appreciated the fact that I spoke to him with respect. Later, I asked her why she verbally attacked him with no cause and she said “because he was going to screw us!” After a long discussion, and I mean long, she finally realized that she was assuming he was going to add more peaches to the bunch and really had no basis to assume that it was actually going to happen.

It is conditioning and it can’t be changed, but with patience and laughter it can be tolerated

  Stavros wrote @ May 24th, 2007 at 05:25

Sounds like the US Embassy has made some strides in terms of customer service since I was there. Back in those days, its Greek & American employees were not only rude but suffered from the malady common to most petty bureaucrats: an inflated view of their own importance. Twenty years ago when I was negotiating the labyrinth of immigration officialdom to get my Greek bride her visa/citizenship, I was subjected to red-tape unlike anything I ever experienced during my twenty two years in the Marine Corps. INS officials are generally lazy, rude, arrogant, incompetent, loudmouth bores who couldn’t make it as postal clerks. After going round and round with them for over a year, after they lost my wife’s paperwork, I sent a letter to my Congressman. Within three days, Anna was in a Federal Courthouse taking the oath of citizenship. If I had it to do all over again I think I would have carried her on my back across the Arizona desert.

BTW, I wish I had the information in this blog when I lived in Greece. Nice work.

  Kat wrote @ May 24th, 2007 at 10:08

Cheryl – I found it ridiculous that people complained when they were the ones who didn’t follow instructions, which were written in their language. Why swear at people who are helping you?

In my everyday life, I see people get upset over the smallest thing, things I see as pleasant…like a bird chirping. And I’m thinking, “wait, you’re complaining about a bird chirping, but your neighbor using a buzzsaw in his workshop all day from 7 a.m. doesn’t bother you?” Someone has their priorities mixed up.

But as much as people complain, there’s a lot of apathy on matters of importance, which they explain as, “well, what can I do?” Fair enough I suppose, but if you’re going to take it, at least don’t bend over. ;)

Stavro – My story is about getting a non-immigrant visa, so it’s about a few visa officials here at the American Embassy in Athens. It’s not about the INS or what it takes to immigrate to America, though I might have a story about that in the future if I ever bring my future husband through that process. We could compare my red tape stories over 10 years with the Greek public sector losing my papers 6 of 10 times, assessing me more than 1,800 euros in one day in which complaining to a ministry official got me nothing…bah!

The five couples I know who went through INS in the past 10 years all told me it was a very straightforward process, moved quickly. The website detailing the process and offering online forms also appears quite straightforward for those who have things in order. Perhaps they’ve improved things over the years.

With regards to the Greek American Embassy officials in Athens, I’ve met some of the inflated self-important and rude people you mentioned while interviewing for jobs, so you’re right about that (not everyone is like that, but there are a few). It made me not want to work there. The good thing is, they rotate out after 4 years.

And thank you for the compliment! You offer a very unique view, and I’d love your input on other things too :)

  Stavros wrote @ May 24th, 2007 at 18:29

Sorry for straying off topic. Bureaucracies are the same all over the world. My interactions with Greek public sector employees have been less than pleasant, akin to a root canal.

Glad to hear that INS is doing better, but I remain skeptical. Nevertheless, I hope your experience is smooth and trouble free. Kala stefania.

As for input, I am really good at input however, I don’t do as well at getting things done. Ask my wife, Anna.

Stay well.

  Thomas wrote @ May 27th, 2007 at 14:24

Have you ever thought of this:

The reason civil servants are so rude is because they’ve had to deal with mindless twits like this?

I don’t know if it is, but it’s worth considering. On my blog I talk about the idiotic look on people’s faces when they look into the bus and ask no one in particular, “Is this the 732?” Can you imagine sitting at a desk and having to deal with that all day?

I’ve been lucky here in Greece. Most of the people I’ve dealt with — the vast majority, actually — have been fairly good to me. I think it’s how I approach them. I’ve only had one rude woman, at the ΔΟΥ once years ago. I wanted to smash her face in when she spoke to me.

Come to think of it, I find civil servants actually try to cut corners for me sometimes. But my experience is unusual.

  Kat wrote @ May 27th, 2007 at 22:43

Thomas – I guess I have no frame of reference about whether people are “twits” or not because I’m (selfishly) focused and stressed enough about getting through the bureaucracy and getting back to work before I get fired.

I’m not as lucky as you. Some people won’t even wait on me because they see I’m a foreigner; it doesn’t matter how nice I am or if I smile. My fiance went with me one time and the woman wanted to know why he was engaged to marry “that thing.” I’m not even a person anymore. Then sometimes I’ll fill out a form one way and am told it’s right, so I fill out the next one the same way and am told it’s wrong. So that makes ME incompetent.

Other times, I’m told to go to the Nomarxeia, and then the Nomarxeia sends me to the Mayor’s office, and then the Mayor’s office sends me back to the Nomarxeia. Then after my taxi driver starts swearing at everyone in Greek, I insist the two parties call each other (after taking names and numbers) using my cell phone, and then someone finally helps me. I spent 3 days closing my independent status because I kept getting sent to different departments. Smashing someone’s face didn’t occur to me; I think I’d been beaten into submission by that time. ;)

Yes! I read your post about the bus. How lazy must one be to not look at the number and why would anyone get on if they don’t know where they’re going? It must get tiring to answer such inane questions all day, only for answers to fall on deaf ears. You make a good point.

* Note to all: I closed this post to comments due to commentators leaving rants with expletives and half-researched truths. Before leaving anti-American sentiment, calling me names and attempting to educate me about what did and didn’t happen, please read:Greece to enter the visa waiver program in 2010?You’ll see that I know much more about Greece’s history with VWP than you do. Feel free to check my credentials also; I’m not a clueless kseni.

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