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When asked by the World Bank, Greece reported that it only took 15 steps and 15 days to start a business. In reality, however, there are up to 18 steps and each has other steps that could extend the processing time to months or years, unless connections and bribes are used to speed the process.
This post combines the steps disclosed to the World Bank, official documentation translated to English and the real-life experiences of myself and other Greek, EU and non-EU citizens who started businesses in the past 14 years.
If you’re looking for EU and American businesses already operating in Greece, see the category “Jobs in Greece” or take a look at links in the right column.
*Article last updated March 13, 2013. Two updates pending; also seeking someone who used the so-called “one-stop process” to share his/her experience.
Is it a good idea to start a business in Greece?
A collection of real-life stories from business owners in Greece, who talk about pros and cons.
- Greek businessman applied for his permit in 2010, and it took him 18 months to get all necessary approvals. — “Euro or no, everyday life in Greece is eroding” (NY Times).
- Optimism, hope and innovation cannot overcome shortage of funding, investors and consumers. — “Tough Love: Running a Greek company” (WSJ).
- A Greek-speaking Greek citizen said it took him four months to finish his paperwork to open a bar in Athens without using bribes (fakelakia). See “Greece ripe to axe graft culture” (The Australian).
- To start a Greek-based online store catering to foreign markets, it took 10 months, stool samples and using non-Greek solutions to get it done, as described in “Starting an online store is no easy business” (Kathimerini).
- Can businesses in Greece get rich? See, “Greece: Where Profit is Taboo” (WSJ).
- In “Debt-stricken Greece banks on tourism,” Costa Navarino’s management team disclosed that it took 15 years, 4,000 permits and 10,000 signatures before the hotel resort finally opened in June 2010. The owner died seven months later.
- A Greek left New York for Greece with hopes of opening a microbrewery and bottled tea factory. Twelve years and 5.3 million euros later, he is still battling 19th-century laws. Read, “What’s wrong with Greece? Ask an entrepreneur” (NY Times). He isn’t alone, as explained in “Greek business nightmares” (The Economist)
- Repatriated Greek owner of Athens Metro Mall reported it took seven years, while it took less than a month in neighboring Bulgaria. See, “Seven years, simple authorization” (Kathimerini). And it took six years and 320 signatures for an existing business to open a new power plant, in “Six years, 320 signatures.”
- An estimated 176,000 businesses shut down by end of 2011. See “Small business in Greece face uncertain future” (NY Times). A total of 375,180 businesses in Greece recorded losses (Kathimerini).
- A few Greeks believe it’s the best time to open a business with start-up costs being low and commercial rent prices being pushed lower. But note that of the three owners interviewed, one earned money in the United States to make it possible and others admitted they got the start-up cash from their families. See “I opened a business during the Greek crisis” (Ta Nea).
- Greeks are entrepreneurial, but Greece and Europe are too small to support innovation and global products. See “Solving the Greek crisis. Go West” (Forbes).
- More than 61,000 businesses in Greece shut down in 2012, a loss of 240,000 jobs (To Vima).
- In the first half of 2013, some 55,000 business are expected to close, shedding 69,000 jobs (To Vima).
- Greek businesses set up shop in Bulgaria, Cyprus, UK, USA to avoid bureaucracy, rising taxes (Kathimerini).
- Greece has the most stunted firms in the EU, says “Small firms are a big problem for Europe’s periphery” (The Economist).
- A cafe/bookstore that cannot sell books because laws forbid it in, “Notes from Athens” (Economist Meg Greene).
- Nine in 10 retailers reported a 40 percent decrease in sales for 2012 despite deep discounts (Ta Nea).
- A land developer said he needed 2,000 signatures in “Golf in Greece: A Byzantine ordeal” (WSJ).
- London businessman tries to open a business and bring jobs to Crete in, “How do you do business in Greece? You don’t.” — MarketWatch
- “Greece is a pioneer in red tape. It’s not a coincidence so many businesses leave” (Kathimerini)
You can find more stories in ‘Comments’ from readers who shared their personal experience.
Information and research in this article pertain to the bureaucracy required of everyone interested in being self-employed in Greece and/or opening a business.
It does not — and never will — cover individual industries or all types of businesses and operating permits/licenses, nor advise you on how to maintain, grow or close a business. Why? Because this would require writing a full-length book in need of constant updates as laws change. It’s also impossible because every business is uniquely different.
- If you’re searching the Internet for information on what business to start in Greece, that’s an indication you do not know the market and have a difficult road ahead in a crisis climate.
- If you cannot complete the process yourself or have trouble with the language, it is recommended you screen, consult and/or hire an accountant, lawyer or other business adviser to help you for a fee.
The point of being in business for yourself is to assume control of all associated risks, joys, successes, responsibilities and (that’s right) problems, hassles and the unknown. If you’re unwilling to do that, update your CV and get a job at a company that did.
Cost of starting a business in Greece
The cost of starting a business depends on countless variables, such as location, type of business, rental or purchase of property and equipment, bank loans, rate of interest, lawyer and accountant fees, cost of materials, your tax bracket, the industry, and whether you’re an EU or non-EU citizen. Some fees and tax levies are calculated using a percentage, as illustrated in the table under “Overview.”
When the World Bank did its annual “Doing Business” survey, Greece was found to have the highest official start-up costs in comparison to all other EU countries, the United States, Canada and Australia at 23.3 percent of GNI/capita. See “Doing Business in Greece vs. other countries” for details.
Rules for non-EU business owners
Americans, Canadians, Australians and other non-EU citizens interested in opening a company or being self-employed in Greece must meet the following qualifications as the first step. If you are an EU citizen, go ahead and skip to the next section.
Investors: For non-EU citizens seeking to start a company:
a) Proof of €300,000 minimum capital;
b) Creation of at least 10 new jobs, of which 30 percent must be given to Greek citizens; and
c) An application and business proposal submitted in Greek proving that the business will “contribute to the growth of Greek economy,” which must be reviewed and approved by the Greek Ministry of Interior.
Partnering with a Greek or other EU citizen does not absolve you from these rules. The only way you can get around this is to make your Greek/EU partner the sole owner or be a dual citizen with the EU. See, “Acquiring EU citizenship through ancestry or naturalization.”
Self-employment: If you are not an investor with the intention of employing workers, but looking to be self-employed or a legal freelancer or consultant in business for yourself, you must:
a) Hold a Greek residence permit for one year in another category — i.e., a permit as the spouse of a Greek/EU citizen, or a permit as a salaried employee, or a permit secured by independent financial support from outside Greece. See “How Americans/non-EU citizens can get a permit to move, live and work in Greece.”
b) Deposit €60,000 in a Greek bank account; and
c) Submit an application and business proposal in Greek proving that the business will “contribute to the growth of Greek economy,” which must be reviewed and approved by the Greek Ministry of Interior.
If you do not qualify, or cannot get around these requirements by becoming an EU citizen, you cannot open a business as a non-EU expat in Greece.
For non-EU investors and self-employed entrepreneurs who deposit the necessary capital, have the right permit and submit proposals in Greek, rejection or approval could take up to one (1) year or more, and renewal of the permit requires proof of ongoing minimum investment of €60,000. Currently, the only way to get fast-track approval within three months is to:
a) put up an initial investment of €200 million, or
b) put up an initial investment of €75 million, create 200 jobs of which 30 percent must be given to Greek citizens, and invest a minimum of 1 million a year for three years in technology and innovation.
Because of stringent rules, corruption and heavy bureaucracy, investors of all nationalities — including Greeks — sometimes opt for another country (see, “Who really steals jobs from Greeks?“), and those seeking to take part-time side/freelance work end up accepting money under the table.
Business Licenses & Pre-screening
If opening a bar, restaurant or club, you will need a license issued by the city or municipality where the business will be located.
A limited number of licenses are issued per year and there may be a waiting list, so it is wise to consult the municipality’s Mayor’s office or City Hall about securing the necessary licenses before starting the steps below and renting or purchasing property. Otherwise, you risk paying costly expenses on a non-operating business. Some use connections to speed or skirt the process, as described in, “Greece, where connections are everything.”
There are also permits required for playing music, placing tables and chairs outside, using umbrellas, parking spaces, and safety. Owners and employees serving food or drink must also get a paper from police that certifies their age, clean criminal record and disease-free, non-HIV health status.
On February 24, 2009, it was agreed that no further licenses will be issued to entertainment venues or eating and drinking establishments in Kolonaki, Gazi and Pangrati until February 21, 2011. See “No new licenses for bars, eateries and clubs in the center.” The ban on new licenses was extended to December 31, 2011, while the City of Athens examines the impact of new businesses on traffic, garbage and noise pollution, after which there were several elections and no decision announced.
Aside from business licenses and permits, persons providing services (i.e., food/beverages, hairdresser, health care, sales, security, etc.) must submit an application for a professional license, which must be done in Greek at the government portal ‘Hermes‘ or at a KEP Citizen Service Centre.
*Some information in this section comes from specific, first-hand experience of a Greek citizen.
Employers in Greece wishing to hire non-EU employees
In February 2008, the ministry of interior announced minimum annual income requirements that apply to all employers in Greece seeking to employ non-EU workers.
- A private employer or small business owner is required to show an annual income of €24,000 or more before hiring non-EU citizens.
- Companies must show a yearly profit of €60,000 before opening positions to non-EU workers.
Because tax evasion is widespread and the Greek economy is struggling, this measure is seen as discriminatory.
All new business owners regardless of nationality or industry will be required to complete the following steps. Self-employed complete steps #4 and #10-15. It is assumed that non-EU citizens have deposited their capital and had their proposals in Greek approved by the Interior Ministry by this point.
There is no handbook in any language for opening, closing or doing business in Greece. This article is the most comprehensive step-by-step guide available for free since 2007 and combines first-hand experience from business owners of many nationalities.
|1||Get approval of the company’s name from Chamber of Commerce and Industry||1||33|
|2||File company documents with Athens Bar Association||1||10 + levy %|
|3||Sign Articles of Incorporation before a notary public||5||up to 1320|
|4||Deposit capital in a bank||1|
|5||Pay capital tax to the Eforia-DOY||1||1%|
|6||Get a stamp from the Lawyers’ Pension Fund||1||0.30|
|7||Get certification by the Lawyers Welfare Fund||1||5.80|
|8||Submit Articles of Incorporation and register with Court secretariat to get a register number||1||5+|
|9||Submit Articles of Incorporation summary for publication in Official Gazette (FEK)||26+||272|
|10||Register at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry||1||147 + 2.4%|
|11||Register with OAEE (was TEBE), OGA, etc.||1|
|12||Get an AFM (tax no.) for the business||1|
|13||Commission a vendor to make a stamp/seal||1||40|
|14||Have the Eforia punch company receipt books and accounting log||1|
|15||Notify Manpower (OAED) within 8 days of hiring a worker||1|
The government elected to office on October 4, 2009 announced it would revise criteria and simplify the process of securing business licenses and permits in 2010, but nothing was officially passed into law before they left office in November 2011.
Notes for each step
It is general knowledge that anyone partaking in Greek bureaucracy will need to have identification, several photocopies of various documents, passport-sized photos, the ability to speak/read Greek and a lot of patience. Offices are located in different parts of a city and revisiting the same office (i.e. eforia/tax office) within a process is common.
Many employ a Greek-speaking attorney or accountant to assist, though some manage well on their own as I did. Finding a patient friend with a car or hiring a taxi driver for the day is sometimes a solution to public transportation delays, parking and finding a taxi on demand. I also recommend carrying spare change, an office kit (pen, pencil, liquid paper, stapler, paper clips) and a map book.
These notes are provided as a supplement to the steps listed in the table above and are based on first-hand experience.
Step 1: Forms must be filled out in Greek, and you will be given a certified document when approved.
Step 2: All applicants pay €10 for certification of an attorney’s signature on the draft. A levy must be paid when a company’s capital exceeds €29,347, and the percentage depends on the bracket.
a) 1% up to € 44,020
b) 0.5% from € 44,020 to € 1,467,351
c) 0.4% from € 1,467,351 to € 2,934,702
d) 0.3% from € 2,934,702 to € 5,869,405
e) 0.2% from € 5,869,405 to € 14,673,514
f) 0.1% from € 14,673,514 to € 29,347,028
g) 0.05% from € 29,347,028 to € 58,694,057
h) 0.01% on capital exceeding € 58,694,057
Step 3: Found normally by recommendation of a lawyer, the notary public examines and certifies the articles. Fees vary widely.
Step 4: The minimum capital requirement is said to be € 18,000, which could be lower or higher depending on your citizenship as mentioned previously and the type of business being opened.
Step 5: Capital tax must be paid at the eforia within 15 days of signing the Articles of Incorporation at the notary public or a penalty will be assessed. Depending on the amount, the eforia may request that a payment check be drafted at your bank, then signed and certified by two tax officials at the eforia before going to the cashier for a receipt.
Step 6: The Lawyer’s Pension Fund in Athens is at Pireos and Sokratous Streets. * All municipalities have a local office.
Step 7: The Lawyer’s Welfare Fund in Athens is at Harilaou Trikoupi and Navarinou Streets. * All municipalities have a local office.
Step 8: To complete this step, you will need two copies of the Articles– one certified and one simple. See, “How to certify a document in Greece” if you need help.
Step 9: A portion of the 272 euro fee must be paid to the eforia and another portion to the National Printing Office; both issue receipts, and these must be taken to the official Government Gazette or Fyllo Efimeridas tis Kyverniseos (FEK), which will give you a protocol number. Publication of your Articles will take 30-60 days.
Step 10: To register at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, you need:
a) Notarized copy of the Articles stamped by the eforia, the Lawyers’ Pension Fund, the Lawyers’ Welfare fund
b) certification of prior approval of company name (from Step 1)
c) an original of the Government Gazette containing the published summary of the Articles of Association (it is acceptable to file the protocol number, then replace it with the published issue)
d) * Note: My experience is that the Chamber will ask for proof of your personal AFM and official registered address at the eforia, in addition to proof of insurance, which means steps 10 and 11 should be reversed unless you have an existing policy.
Step 11: Registering with OAEE (TEBE), OGA or another insurance fund (not IKA) depends on the type of business being started. Typically, you will be asked to fill out a form, provide photocopies of your identification, previous insurance coverage, proof that you are opening a business and the location (lease), and pay a deposit and the first months’ fees. An OAEE (TEBE) office will normally require that you deposit the money at the post office or other payment location, then bring back the receipt; I have no specific info on OGA or other types.
Step 12: The Etairia Periorismenis Efthinis (EPE) must issue approval to commence operation within 30 days of submitting the Articles of Association to the Court. The statement is filed with the eforia, along with:
a) Certified copy of the company’s official Articles
b) two original copies of the Government Gazette, in which the Articles were published
c) lease agreement or agreement for the free assignment of use of the office space, certified by the eforia
d) certificate from the Chamber of Commerce that you have registered
e) certification from the relevant social security fund that you (and your partners) have registered for insurance or have an exemption
f) photocopy of the receipt of payment of capital tax (from Step 5)
g) photocopy of your identification
h) proof of an individual’s AFM
i) authorization letter from the EPE administrator to the individual who will file taxes/docs at the eforia (owner, accountant or other)
j) completed application forms provided by the eforia
After submitting the above documents, the eforia provides the EPE with a certificate for the commencement of business operations and the AFM for your business.
Step 13: A self-inking rubber stamp (sfragida) can now be commissioned from any local shop with the company name, address, phone and AFM. It is necessary for issuing official receipts/invoices, submitting tax forms and all transactions pertaining to your business at the eforia. You’ll need it immediately for Step 14.
Step 14: Purchase an accounting log and receipt books at any office or school supply store, and use the company stamp to imprint the accounting log and every single page of receipt books. Now they are ready for the eforia to punch, and a document pertaining to what was punched is issued. (You can now use them for any company-related or freelance transactions when money changes hands)
Step 15: When hiring a worker, you are obligated to provide a proper work contract (Anaggelia Gnostopoihsis oron Atomikis Symbasis Ergasias) and employer certification (Bebaiosi Ergodoti), so employees can get an AFM, sign up for IKA and apply for a residence/work permit (if applicable).
For more information on joint ventures, partnerships, statements, securing the proper certificates, how to start an S.A. in Greece, and fees and documentation required by the Chamber of Commerce, see “Starting a Business” from Ermis, offered in English, French and German.
The EU has a section called “Setting Up a New Business — Greece” for EU citizens. Unfortunately, the majority of information is in Greek.
A non-profit organization called Hellenic Organisation of Small & Medium Enterprises (EOMMEX), operating under the ministry of finance, claimed to assist and support interested parties in everything needed to set up a business in Greece, but has since shut down. The Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) says it offers a “One Stop Shop.” Note that this may be an exaggeration of services.
Greece does not generally offer grants to entrepreneurs wishing to start a business, though there are some indications this may change with the economy in need of stimulus.
For new businesses: Most grants for news businesses seek to encourage entrepreneurship amongst an underrepresented sector, such as women or green businesses.
– An EU-funded program called ESPA is, unfortunately, plagued with bureaucracy and few people have received assistance because the money was diverted elsewhere. See “ΕΣΠΑ 2007 – 2013” in Greek with a limited English version.
– TEMPME/ΤΕΜΠΜΕ currently has 90 million available for green development in the industries of tourism, recycling and sustainable energy. See “Ταμειο Εγγυοδοσιας Μικρων και Πολυ Μικρων Επιχειρησεων” in Greek only.
For existing businesses: There are grants available from the Περιφερειακού Προγράμματος Ενίσχυσης Μικρών και Πολύ Μικρών Επιχειρήσεων (Regional Assistance Program for Small and Very Small Enterprises) to those with an established business, should the owner wish to renovate or improve a business that contributes to the local Greek economy. Periods during which owners can apply are announced in Greek by the Greek media and government-affiliated websites.
Eleftherotypia compiled a list of current loan and subsidy programs on offer in 2010, but all are in Greek. See “Subsidies and loans for businesses in Greece.”
Other risks in doing business in Greece as a foreign company
Should your company be a brand name multinational from abroad, homegrown and successful, or perceived to represent wealth and westernization, it may also be a target for bombings and vandalism that have increased in frequency. Wealthy business owners have also been held hostage and released only upon payment of large ransoms.
This is a small sampling:
“22 Mercedes torched at dealership in affluent suburb” – Eleftherotypia (January 2010)
“Athens bomb targets McDonald’s” — Reuters (July 2009)
“Large bomb hits McDonald’s” — Kathimerini (April 2009)
“Two Citigroup branches bombed in Athens” — Bloomberg (March 2009)
“Wife pays €30 million for release of Greek shipping tycoon” — Times (January 2009)
“Automotive businessman in Thessaloniki kidnapped” – Kathimerini (Oct 2008)
“Royal Dutch Shell targeted in southern Athens” – Reuters (Oct 2008)
“Bodyguard of shipping tycoon survives car bomb” – Kathimerini (Sept 2008)
“Bombs detonated at luxury car showroom, research institute and German-owned businesses” – Kathimerini (July 2008)
“Kidnap Inc.” – Forbes (June 2008)
Greece vs. other countries
An article called “Doing Business in Greece vs. the EU, USA, Australia and Canada” is a straightforward comparison based on the World Bank’s Doing Business 2008 report that evaluated vital elements in setting up a business, then ranked economies according.
Other articles of interest include, “Examples of jobs and salaries in Athens” for real-life case studies of Greek and non-EU business owners.
2008 Doing Business Report from the World Bank
“What Greece’s new 3386/2005 immigration law says” – Ethniko Idryma Erevnon (from 2005, but little has changed since this major reform)
“Creative youngsters shun bosses and go it alone” – Kathimerini ‘K’ magazine
“Νέο καθεστώς για τις άδειες των εμπορικών κέντρων” — Ta Nea
“Record high red tape” — eKathimerini
“Fast Τrack για θέσεις εργασίας” — Ta Nea
“Νέες άδειες για μπαρ στην Αθήνα” — Eleftherotypia
“Γάμος με ψηφιακά παράβολα” — To Vima
– Official documentation I collected then translated from Greek to English, plus personal notes taken over 5 years
– Experiences of Greek and EU citizens from 1985-2011
– Experiences of non-EU citizens who started businesses before the 2005 rules came into effect, including myself
In the News
“EU to fund young, Greek entrepreneurs” — FT
“500 Gas stations forced to close” — Ta Nea (July 2010)
“Business owners in Greece amongst world’s most highly stressed” — Kathimerini (April 2010)
“More than 400 hotels across Greece now for sale” — Kathimerini (April 2010)
“10,000 Businesses in Greece forced to close in 2009” — Kathimerini (January 2010)
“Corporate tax lowered to 20 percent on all profits as of January 1, 2011” — Reuters
Kat is a well-traveled American journalist and author. To learn more, see “About Me.”
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