Looking for a job in Greece?
If you are an expat or foreigner who has never worked in Greece before, it is essential to read this article to learn the difference between myth and reality about jobs in Greece.
All Americans, Canadians, Australians and other non-EU citizens should first read, “How Americans and other non-EU citizens can get a permit to live and work in Greece” and its ‘Comments.’ Why? Because there is little point looking for a job — even as a freelancer — if you cannot get a visa and residence/work permit to work in Greece, and it’s vital to understand how to get one. The only way around this is by having dual citizenship with an EU country. See “Acquiring EU citizenship through ancestry or naturalization.”
Greece has seen a mass exodus of its best and brightest since 2009 and has no reason to import workers, with unemployment at a record 27.2 percent — the highest in the EU — and 58 percent amongst people aged 15-24. There are plenty of English-speaking candidates available to work without an employer having to deal with burdensome bureaucracy and fees.
There is also less work, as companies shut down or leave and educated professionals (and their income) go elsewhere.
– An Adecco survey found that 49 percent of Greeks of working age are actively seeking jobs abroad.
– Coca-Cola Hellenic and FAGE — Greece’s two biggest companies — are moving to Luxembourg and Switzerland; and multinational companies such as Citibank, Kimberly-Clark, Merck and Alcoa are also withdrawing en masse from southern Europe due flat spending.
Use the first-hand wisdom and experience offered in this article to prepare yourself for possible challenges by knowing what they are, rejoice that you somehow faced none in your successful quest for employment, or seriously consider other options.
*Article last updated April 25, 2013
How jobs in Greece are advertised
Advertising jobs in Greece for a specific nationality is against the law, much as it is in your homeland. Therefore, there is no such thing as jobs for Americans in Greece or jobs in Greece for foreigners, just as there is no such thing as jobs for Greeks in America or jobs for Canadians in Australia. A more appropriate search would be “jobs in Greece.”
These are the ideas and suggestions of local Greeks and friends and family back home for English-speaking newcomers seeking a job in Greece, along with my findings based on current laws and first-hand experience of dozens of EU and non-EU citizens. They haven’t changed much since I arrived 14 years ago, except that enforcement of the law is stricter and discrimination against non-Greeks is 10-fold since the crisis started.
1. Get a job at an embassy
Nearly everyone makes this suggestion, but no one has a clue about what it actually takes to work at an embassy. Being a citizen is not enough, and it is not easy. In short, these jobs are for the few and elite. See, “Getting a job at an American Embassy.”
Embassies in Greece and Greek consulates in the United States and most developed countries (Europe, Australia, Canada) do not have non-embassy/non-consular job listings. Amendments to law 2910 in 2005 transformed a few dozen Greek consulates and embassies into job centers, but these listings are primarily of the dirty, difficult and dangerous kind and advertised in eastern European and Balkan countries. See the article, “The jobs Greeks won’t take.”
2. Work for an American or other non-EU/EU company in Greece
Most EU and American multinational companies operating in Greece are local, privately owned Greek franchises, not direct subsidiaries or branches operated and managed by the parent company, although the Greek website might be a mirror of the main site. The clientele is Greek, the work environment is Greek, labor laws are Greek, salaries follow the Greek standard, and your bosses will likely be Greek.
If you’re interested in finding a position with an American, EU or other corporation in Greece or anywhere abroad, it may be necessary to search the privately owned overseas franchise since the parent company will often not be affiliated.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not easier to get a job or an advantage to be American when looking for a job at an American company abroad because local companies want candidates who already have authorization to work in the EU, have command of the local language and knowledge of local working culture. Why? Because companies in Greece — American, British, French, Spanish or otherwise — are trying to capture the local Greek market. To see an example of a job listing by an American company in Athens, see “Procter & Gamble Recruitment in Greece.”
As a non-EU citizen, you compete with everyone else on the job market. There aren’t separate listings for Greeks and separate listings for everyone else, nor have I ever seen an ad for “Companies in Greece willing to sponsor a work permit.”
Also be aware that the Greek or overseas branch may not be named the same thing and are subject to closure or relocation to another country because of the economic crisis. For example, Alpha Copy S.A. is the Greek version of Nokia and shut down permanently at the end of 2012.
EU, American and other non-EU companies are not as prominent in Greece, in comparison to other EU countries, China or India. Even home-grown Greek companies, such as FAGE and Coca-Cola Hellenic, have moved to countries where there is less red tape, lower taxes, reduced corruption, cheaper labor, enforcement of fair business laws and a growing market. See, “Who really steals jobs from Greeks?” A great number of investors in Greece have also withdrawn since the recession and/or are moving to Romania and Bulgaria, where authorities are friendlier and the cost of doing business is cheaper. See, “Greece: Missing the investment train.”
3. Teach English
Many language schools advertise for qualified and experienced ELT/TEFL teachers, often classifying CVs with no certifications and/or experience as “a waste of time and paper.”
By law, non-Greek citizens must pass an exam proving they have proficiency in the Greek language and knowledge of Greek history to acquire an ELT certificate to teach English, although the EU may change this in the future. TEFL teachers do not. There are also quotas in place that state a frontistirio (language school) can only hire one foreigner for every five Greek citizens, and even stricter quotas for non-EU citizens such as Australians, Americans and Canadians.
If you have a master’s degree and some teaching experience, an employer may look past not having certification, though this is not guaranteed since there are lawful requirements that cannot be bypassed. See the ministry’s official page for “Granting certification for teaching foreign language.”
Recruitment for Fall starts as early as February. Ads that advertise for British accents or UK citizens indicate that the school is unwilling to sponsor a work visa and residence/work permit for non-EU citizens. There are schools that prefer American accents, though this is sometimes followed by “current authorization to work in Greece.”
Greece has a reputation amongst TEFL, TESOL and ELT professionals as being the toughest EU country for non-EU citizens to get a permit and work legally. The reality is there are many employers who would rather hire one of thousands of Greek citizens speaking mediocre English than a non-Greek who speaks perfect English. See a story about an American who gave up her life in the United States and enrolled in a course in Greece, only to find out the hard way it’s not so easy “Teaching English in Greece.”
Those interested in teaching English remotely may have a difficult time finding students, since the majority of Greeks still prefer in-person tutoring. The majority distrust online transactions and less than half of households have regular Internet access, which is the third lowest rate of 27 EU member states.
4. Tutor businessmen or students of English
Popular books on the subject of tutoring English students recommend placing ads, but many of us know first-hand that this is a bad idea in Greece. Most people who answer are either men/boys trying to meet foreign girls/women, or students that aren’t serious about their studies, and you usually don’t find out until after all the units on your prepaid phone are gone.
There is also a different standard of courtesy, with prospective students often not showing up for appointments without first canceling, or canceling at the last moment without respect for your time or money. For example, a businessman may call five minutes before a lesson to cancel, which is too late because you already spent time and money on transport for which you won’t be reimbursed or have the opportunity to tutor someone else.
Many people who offer tutoring have been doing it for years and/or are teachers at an established school, which is a more solid way to make contacts and help you determine if you’d like to take students as clients based on experience and familiarity. Many families have also cut back on spending because they are affected by austerity or expect to be, so tutors who still have work must lower hourly rates and agree to demands they didn’t before.
5. Work as an English-speaking nanny or au pair
If you love children and don’t mind cooking, cleaning and babysitting, this option may be for you.
Some positions ask that you live full-time in the family’s home, some don’t; some request that you be bilingual, while many say native English is just fine; some would like you to accompany them on holiday, but provide only spartan accommodations. Most ask that you work six days a week, and all ask for solid references.
Depending on the position and family, it may be possible to secure a residence/work permit, IKA and a decent salary. Others ask that you are already authorized to work in the EU, or declare yourself as self-employed/freelance at the DOY/eforia/Greek tax office, cut official receipts and pay your own OAEE/TEBE (insurance for independent workers).
Be aware that positions are fewer from 2010, as unemployment climbs higher and jobless family members are able to care for children themselves or cannot afford the extra expense.
6. Be an overseas representative for an American or other non-EU parent company back home
If you have been working for a company back home for a number of years, and have fluency in Greek and knowledge about the working culture of the country, you may prove to be the top candidate when a vacancy arises and then transferred. You would then enter the country with a work visa, which would then lead to a residence/work permit.
Having a local representative and paying local wages is more common than employing a traveling rep with salary reflective of those back home, since companies are keen to cut costs. It’s also good business sense. Your salary will be scaled to a local standard but at least you’ll be legally employed in Greece.
The other option that may not require knowledge of Greek or local working culture is to be stationed in a country nearby, such as Turkey or Italy, and be temporarily or permanently assigned to Greece. This option often requires you have authorization to work in an EU country.
7. Do freelance work or be a consultant
Being a legal freelance worker or consultant — translator, IT worker, Internet businessman, writer/reporter, photographer, DJ, animal care, health care provider, domestic worker, trainer, graphic designer, repairman, etc. — requires that you open a self-employed status or business. See, “How to start a new business in Greece.”
After that, you have the choice of paying an accountant to keep your books for a monthly fee or learn how to maintain your own tax register, issue receipts, pay VAT/FPA and file quarterly tax forms that are required even if you earn nothing.
Getting vendors and clients to pay has always been a challenge but is even harder during recession, sometimes requiring you to call or visit the office several times over many months. Sometimes you never get paid, and bringing a lawsuit is a lengthy (several years) and costly ordeal that most do not pursue, and vendors who don’t pay their bills and dare you to sue are aware of this.
Domestic workers, farm workers and nurses have the same independent status, but usually have IKA and salaries paid amongst several employers.
Note that a residence/work permit can still be revoked if it is determined that you are not qualified to perform this type of work, with authorities needing proof via translated documents, official recognition of university degrees and evidence of experience. In many cases, nothing less than the possession of ensima (social insurance in Greece) in your field is the only official and acceptable proof of work experience, and denial or revocation of your permit can happen at any time.
8. Start your own business, such as a store that sells American, Asian and/or other ethnic food and products
This option never used to be easy, but it’s less easy these days with the current legislation in place.
Non-EU citizens must have already been living in Greece with a residence/work permit for one year and draw up a formal business plan in Greek that explains how this business “contributes to the development of the Greek economy”; a deposit of 60,000 euros to 300,000 euros, as evidence of solvency and the ability to meet expenses and unexpected costs. If your plan is approved by the ministry, business can commence. See, “How to start a new business in Greece” for full details of start-up.
In speaking to non-EU entrepreneurs who started ethnic food or specialty food stores, there is a lot of red tape and a small profit margin. In “Record high red tape,” a well-known foreign investor’s Greek team reported that it needed 3,000 signatures and significant capital before it even opened. Greek and EU citizens are not subject to the new rules, and usually do much better.
Hotels, hostels and tour operators in Greece normally look for seasonal workers to compensate for the influx of tourists during high season. However, this is far less common since the crisis began, as a record number of businesses shut down and unemployment rose to 27.2 percent.
Larger hotels in big cities, such as Athens and Thessaloniki, keep a year-round staff so vacancies are rare, and well-known hotel chains almost always ask for a Bachelor’s in Tourism or Hotel Management and previous work experience. Hostels tend to have a revolving door of staff, and once had vacancies in off season (November – March) and demanded fewer qualifications, but competition was great in high season. Privately owned hotels are usually staffed by family members and friends of the family, which is true for both the islands and mainland. In today’s landscape with more than 30 percent of hotels set to close or on the brink of bankruptcy, employers are struggling to stay open.
If you’re wondering why a hotel or hostel in Greece states that it will not give work visas and residence/work permits to an American or other non-EU citizen, see “Summer jobs in Greece FAQ.”
Tour operators recruit both locals and nationals in the country of origin (e.g., a Swedish national was recruited in Stockholm to spend the season on Crete as a hospitality hostess/tour leader serving fellow Swedes visiting the island). The more unique your language skills and proficient your knowledge of certain areas of Greece, the better your chances of being successful. English is in low demand because many bilingual and trilingual Greeks can fill this void.
Job ads usually appear as early as March for the upcoming summer season and filled quickly, though there are a few unfilled (and usually undesirable and low-paid) positions as late as May or June.
10. Illegal work in Greece
Illegal work is a widespread reality, though less common than 10 years ago since laws have become more strict and fines were increased to discourage employers from hiring undocumented non-Greek workers. Enforcement has also been stepped up considerably, and police conduct sweeps on a daily basis. To get around this, employers now hire unemployed Greek workers off the books and the trend is fueled by record-high unemployment.
The EU border-monitoring agency Frontex opened its first European office in Greece in October 2010 and sent 200 highly trained border guards, as a show of commitment to fighting illegal immigration with local authorities. Greece also has a financial crimes squad (SDOE) as of 2010 and has been making significant headway in punishing employers who break the law.
You’ll never be able to find legal work with an employer if you are or become illegal.
*Note to those searching this site for “illegal work ads.” Employers do not advertise they are engaging in illegal activity unless they want to be fined and visited by police.
If you haven’t read it already, see “How Americans and other non-EU citizens can move, live and work in Greece” to get a general overview of how visas, residence/work permits and citizenship affect non-EU citizens seeking to live and work in Greece. That article is actually the starting point, not the one you’re reading now — this is the reason it’s #1 on the non-EU list.
Can I find a job in Greece?
Absolutely. I and several of my friends exercised many of the options above with some success, encountering different challenges along the way.
Depends. Greece has been in recession since 2009 and in serious economic trouble that many say is comparable to post-WWII conditions. Up to 900 people lose their jobs every day, salaries have been cut 10-35 percent, experienced workers are being fired by companies fighting for survival, thousands of businesses have closed or left Greece, and everyday people are cutting back on food so drastically that supermarkets are in financial trouble.
The demand in Greece is for unskilled, uneducated workers who will accept low paying positions with no insurance and no chance of advancement. There are also employers in Greece who count on the desperation of non-EU citizens who can’t speak Greek and prey on them, which is the reason many job ads run continuously in English-language publications.
The few people I know who work at American or other non-EU (or even EU) companies speak more Greek and serve a predominantly Greek clientele, with little or no touch with the homeland. Why? Because as I stated previously, an EU, American or other non-EU company with a branch in Greece is trying to capture and manage the local Greek market.
To see some examples of real life people working in the capital, see “Examples of jobs and salaries in Athens.”
The importance of speaking Greek
A lot of native English speakers assume that speaking English is enough to secure a legal and professional job in a foreign country, and I would say this is true in some countries with a predominantly English-speaking population. Greece is not one of those countries.
See, “The importance of speaking Greek in Greece” for more details.
Additional tips for your job search
See “Job ads in Greece vs. other countries” to get started. To avoid confusion across nationalities, I don’t use the terms job classifieds or mikres aggelies (little notices), I just refer to them as ads.
There are also a number of links to job listings in the third column of this site. Click anything that interests you.
This article was written for informational purposes, both for you and your friends and family back home who may not understand that Greece operates differently in comparison to your homeland or even other EU countries.
Kat is a well-traveled American journalist and author. To learn more, see “About Me.”
- Livingingreece.gr was created in 2007 to present meticulously researched original articles that fill a gap left by traditional media, government portals and commercial websites/forums run by people without credentials.
- @LivinginGreece is a Twitter feed curated from recognized Greek and international news agencies to provide breaking news about Greece, plus real-time updates and insider tips mined from 14 years experience.
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