Living in Greece

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

Archive for May, 2007

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

sign2Photo from buffalo.edu

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Converting to a Greek driver’s license

Greek drivers license
Classic Greek driver’s license

Driver’s licenses from other EU/EEA member states carry the same rights and standing as driver’s licenses issued in Greece and may be converted to a Greek driver’s license (άδεια οδήγησης/adeia odigisis or δίπλωμα οδήγησης/diploma odigisis) with minimum bureaucracy. Driver’s licenses from certain non-EU countries can and should be converted to a Greek driver’s license, without going through the normal process and expense of obtaining one.

The procedure you follow depends on where your current driver’s license was issued. Your nationality/citizenship is only relevant when determining the waiting period in which you must wait to apply.

Note that only licenses of the same class may be swapped, i.e., Αuto for auto, motorcycle for motorcycle. Otherwise, you are expected to obtain a Greek driver’s license the normal way described in “How to get a Greek driver’s license.”

*Article last updated September 22, 2014, with a major revision in 2013 from real-life experience, not official websites that rarely match reality and are (very) outdated.

For licenses issued by EU/EEA member states

It is legal to drive in Greece with a driver’s license issued by other EU /EEA member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway without need to convert to a Greek driver’s license, as long as the license remains valid. Your nationality/citizenship is irrelevant.

Conversion to a Greek driver’s license usually becomes an issue when the license will expire soon and cannot be renewed in its country of origin.

EU directives say drivers must swap or apply for a driver’s license of the new EU/EEA member state after permanently residing there for one (1) year. Each EU/EEA country has different policies. Greece does not follow or enforce this directive.

Basic criteria

Applicants should:

1. Be in possession of a valid license issued by a non-Greek EU/EEA member state

2. Not hold a Greek license or a second/third license from another EU/EEA member state in the same class
— You must be surrender and/or combine them if in different classes, i.e. motorcycle, heavy truck, auto;

3. Be normally resident in Greece
— Normally resident means residing in Greece at least 185 days a year.

When to apply

Your nationality/citizenship determines when to apply:

  • Greek citizens: Can begin immediately
  • Non-Greek EU/EEA citizens: Can start 95 days after issuance of a residence certificate/permit for Greece
  • Non-EU/EEA citizens: Can begin 185 days after issuance of a residence permit card/sticker. A bebaiosi (blue paper with photo) is only acceptable if you are in renewal of a previous permit.

Documents and fees

1. Valid driver’s license, plus one (1) photocopy (not certified)

2. Official translation of your driver’s license into Greek

3. Proof of identity — One (1) photocopy and the original for verification
— Greek citizens: Greek ID/tautotita, copy of front and back on one side of paper, then certified at a KEP Citizen Service Centre or police station
— Non-Greek citizens: Passport, copy of photo page, then certified by police station or lawyer

4. Proof of residency for non-Greek citizens
— Non-Greek EU/EEA citizens: Residence certificate/permit
— Non-EU/EEA citizens: Residence permit sticker/card
— One (1) photocopy, then certified at a KEP Citizen Service Centre or police station

5. Two (2) color passport photos
— One to affix your new license
— One to keep on file with your application

6. One fee paid to the tax office
— One (1) παράβολο/parabolo (receipt of deposit) for 18 euros – fixed χαρτοσήμο/xartosimo (stamp duty)
— Go to the tameio (cashier)

7. One fee paid to the National Bank of Greece
— One (1) receipt for 30 euros – levy to cover cost of printing license
— Paid to account of ‘ND 638/1970′: Teller will know if you say “gia adeia odigisis’

10. Application and forms to be completed in Greek
— Provided by public sector office

Sometime in 2014, the Ministry of Finance intends to allow applicants to pay fees online via the TAXIS website (gsis.gr). I will update when it’s operational.

Where to apply

Applicants can take everything to a Ministry of Transport office nearest their residence:

or a KEP Citizen Centre, which tend to be more conveniently located, open longer hours and may have staff to assist you in English. Find a location near you:

*Greek media/government announced on August 22, 2014 that KEP now handles transactions for driver’s licenses. This is baffling, as this has been the case for several years.

For certain non-EU driver’s licenses

If you are “normally resident” in Greece and have a driver’s license from one of the following countries, you have the option to swap for a Greek driver’s license:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Former Soviet Union (FSU): Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan;
  • United States.

If the non-EU/EEA country that issued your current driver’s license is not listed, you must go through the normal process of obtaining a Greek driver’s license described in “How to get a Greek driver’s license.”

It used to be that many could get away with carrying a driver’s license and an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) without concern for being stopped or risking penalties, but implementation and enforcement of the law have been  stepped up as of January 2009. The fine is at least 200 euros and between one (1) to 12 months in jail.

* Please note that an IDP is not a license. It is a permit that provides a translation of your existing, valid driver’s license.

Basic criteria

Applicants should:

1. Be in possession of a valid, unexpired license issued by Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Moldova, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United States or Uzbekistan.

2. Not hold a Greek license or a second/third license from another EU/EEA member state in the same class
— You must be surrender and/or combine them if in different classes, i.e. motorcycle, heavy truck, auto;

3. Be normally resident in Greece

Who is “normally resident”?

“Normally resident” is:
a) A Greek citizen who resides in Greece at least six (6) months of the year;
b) a non-Greek EU citizen who resides in Greece at least six (6) months of the year;
c) a non-EU citizen with an expired visa, who has applied for or is in possession of a residence permit.

Evidence or admission of residency in many cases begins after 90 days and/or by registering for utilities (cell phone, phone, electricity, water, etc.) and/or upon signing a lease, mortgage, car loan or other agreement.

When to apply

Nationality/citizenship determines when you can start the process.

  • Greek citizens can apply right away.
  • Non-Greek EU citizens can apply 95 days after a document or permit/certificate can be produced as evidence of their residence in Greece.
  • Non-EU citizens can apply 185 days from the date their residence permit/card was issued. A bebaiosi (blue paper with photo) is only acceptable if you are in renewal of a previous permit.

Documents and fees

1. Proof of AFM (Greek tax number)
— Photocopy of your last tax statement (ekkatharistiko), any utility bill in your name or the paper you were given when it was originally issued

2. Dilosi (statement of facts)
— Stating that you do not hold a license from another country except the one being converted and have the physical and mental skills required to operate a vehicle in the relevant class.
— Some locations have copies with prewritten text; others expect you to buy a dilosi and write your own

3. License being converted – Original and one (1) photocopy (not certified)

4. Driver’s abstract
— A driver’s abstract must state that your license is valid and there are no outstanding tickets, warrants or other holds
— Request it through the authority that issued your driver’s license (i.e., the Department of Motor Vehicles or Ministry of Transport), then have them send it to the Greek consulate/embassy in your home country/state, which will translate it to Greek and forward to the Ministry of Transportation in Greece. This method is stated because it is assumed you have given up your former residence and now live in Greece full time. Specify instructions on what you want done at each stage with a letter.

5. Official translations of your driver’s license (#3) and the driver’s abstract (#4) into Greek
— Must be from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Translation Department or a lawyer, if it was not already done by the Greek consulate/embassy.

6. Proof of identity
— Greek citizens: Greek ID/tautotita, one (1) copy of front and back on one side of paper, then certified at a KEP Citizen Service Centre or police station
— Non-Greek citizens: Passport, one (1) copy of photo page, then certified by police station or lawyer

7. Proof of residency for non-Greek citizens
— Non-Greek EU/EEA citizens: Residence certificate/permit
— Non-EU/EEA citizens: Residence permit sticker/card
— One (1) photocopy, then certified at a KEP Citizen Service Centre or police station

8. One fee paid to the tax office
— One παράβολο/parabolo (receipt of deposit) for 18 euros – fixed χαρτοσήμο/xartosimo (stamp duty)
— Go to the tameio (cashier)

9. Two (2)  fees paid to National Bank of Greece
— One receipt (5 copies) for 90 euros to cover cost of two (2) health certificates
— One receipt (5 copies) for 30 euros – levy to cover cost of printing license
— Paid to account ‘ND 638/1970’: Teller will know if you say “gia adeia odigisis”

10. Six (6) color passport photos
— One for your license
— One to keep on file with your application
— Two for each of two health certificates*

*Some doctors ask for two; some want one.

11. Health certificate from a pathologist
— Make an appointment with a pathologist off the list
— Bring your photos and National Bank of Greece receipts for 90 euros
— Bring your vivliario, so the doctor can review your medical history
— If you don’t have a vivliario, the doctor will ask questions and decide on further exams (or not)

12. Health certificate from an ophthalmologist/optometrist
— Make an appointment with an eye doctor off the list
— Bring your photos and National Bank of Greece receipts for 90 euros
— Doctor will administer a vision test and determine if more exams are necessary

There are no online forms and applications, which are advanced concepts in Greece. Everything is done in person.

Sometime in 2014, the Ministry of Finance said that intends to allow applicants to pay fees online via the TAXIS website (gsis.gr). I will update when it’s operational.

Where to apply

Applicants can take everything to a Ministry of Transport office nearest their residence:

or a KEP Citizen Centre, which tend to be more conveniently located, open longer hours and may have staff to assist you in English. Find a location near you:

The only legitimate excuse for not applying for a Greek driver’s license is if, after 185 days, your residence/work permit sticker/card has not been issued since authorities cannot accept the bebaiosi (blue certificate of receipt with photo).

*Greek media/government announced on August 22 that KEP now handles transactions for driver’s licenses. This is baffling, as this has been the case for several years.

Processing time

It normally takes less than a week for the application to be processed once you apply, and 20-30 days for issurance. When you pick up the Greek license in person, your current license will be confiscated, canceled and held on file.

Should you decide to secure another license during a visit to your homeland, your Greek license will be revoked if you’re caught with both. Technically, Greek law does not permit a holder to have two licenses. However, I understand that many people have two licenses, keeping one at home for use in another country they visit frequently or as a convenience for ID purposes.

Validity in other EU/EEA countries

A non-EU citizen who converts a non-EU driver’s license to a Greek one, then moves to another EU/EEA country, must contact authorities of the new country to check the validity of the converted Greek driver’s license. Most EU/EEA countries only recognize EU/EEA driver’s licenses held by EU/EEA citizens, not those held by non-EU citizens who swapped or converted a non-EU driver’s license. In that case, you would forfeit the Greek license and start again according to laws in the new country.

A non-EU citizen who earned a Greek driver’s license the normal way by paying for classroom/driving lessons and passing the written/driving exams will, in the majority of cases, be allowed by authorities in other EU/EEA countries to keep it. See, “How to get a Greek driver’s license.”

Expiration date

A Greek license expires every 15 years.

For more details on renewing after age 65 and what the Greek license looks like and the information it includes, see ‘Expiration date’ and ‘About the adeia odigisis (AO) in “How to get a Greek driver’s license.”

How do I replace a Greek driver’s license?

Greek driver’s licenses can be replaced if worn, damaged, lost or stolen. See, “Replacing a Greek driver’s license.”

Current Greek driver’s license

Future of EU driver’s licenses

The EU aims to standardize all driver’s licenses in member states with a credit card sized license bearing a swipe strip on the back side for easier identification and security reasons, similar to those being used in the United States. As of April 1, 2009, Greece started issuing cards to new drivers but has not made them mandatory for existing driver’s license holders with the pink paper booklet license.

There is already an EU/EEA standard in place, but it is not mandatory or enforced. Thus, all member states have different rules and a combined total of 110 different licenses of varying size, color and composition.

It is wrong to assume that all EU member states have the same rules and regulations regarding driver’s license.

The Law

KOK Article 94

*Hat tip to CEO, who sourced and sent me the doc via email.

Used to update article

Πρόστιμο 200 ευρώ σε οδηγούς χωρίς δίπλωμα οδήγησης” — Naftemporiki
Μετατροπή ισχύουσας άδειας οδήγησης από Η.Π.Α. Καναδά Αυστραλία Ιαπωνία Νότιο Αφρική και Νότια Κορέα σε αντίστοιχη Ελληνική” — yme.gr
Μετατροπή ισχύουσας άδειας οδήγησης από κράτος – μέλος της Ε.Ε.” — yme.gr
Swapping Canadian license for Greek” — Clarks in Greece
Γάμος με ψηφιακά παράβολα” — To Vima

Used for comparison

Both articles were published in English several years after mine and you are free to click through, but be aware that the info is grossly outdated and inaccurate, as is typical of official Greek government websites. This is why my articles are independently verified and combined with real-life experience.

Converting a valid driving licence from USA Canada Australia Japan South Africa and South Korea into the corresponding Greek licence” — Ministry of Transport
Driving License Conversion” — Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Plagiarism note

I started livingingreece.gr and wrote the article above before official government websites existed and embassies/consulates and English-language news began disseminating practical information on Greece.

Many have repurposed my information without doing their own translations/research or gathering first-hand experience. Therefore, you are not necessarily getting confirmation from different sources.

Be careful who you trust.

My last update contains first-hand details not available anywhere else, making my information easy to identify.

In the News

Driving in Greece a parable to living in Greece” — Kathimerini
Driving school and doctors caught issuing fake driver’s licenses” — Ta Nea and Zougla

Related posts

The first time I drove in Athens
Tickets and fines in Greece
Athens Ring: What, where, why, when?

Update pending
http://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/513511
http://www.tovima.gr/society/article/?aid=493735

Why don’t you speak Greek fluently?

imagesA question I get a lot is, “you’ve been in Greece for 10 years, why don’t you speak Greek fluently?”

According to these niche groups, the answer is:

a) Greek men: Greek is a rich, but difficult language. (I agree with the rich part, but that’s no excuse)
b) Greek women: You do not have confidence to speak. (That’s hilarious)
c) People back home: You must be lazy or something. (No natural talent in the area of languages like my friend Ti who speaks 12 languages, but lazy…no)
d) Friends of all nationalities: Who cares? You already know English, French and Spanish, that’s enough!

The real answer is none of the above.

Read the rest of this entry »

« Previous entries · Next entries »