Living in Greece

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

Athens, Greece: Quality of Living 2009

© Robert Harding, Getty Images

Standard of living in Greece remains the same for 2009, with Athens placing #76 for overall quality of living and #102 for city infrastructure.* Although the capital was the highest ranked city in Greece on Mercer’s annual survey, it (again) had the lowest standard of living in western Europe, inching up only one place from #77 in 2008.

This year, Mercer sampled 420 cities worldwide for its global ranking based on 39 criteria that can be quantitatively measured, including:
— Political stability, crime, law enforcement
— Currency exchange, financial regulations, banking services
— Censorship, privacy, suppression of freedom
— Medical supplies/services, waste disposal, pollution
— Standard and availability of education
— Availability/quality of water, electricity, public transport, traffic
— Availability/pricing of consumer goods
— Housing, maintenance, appliances
— Natural environment (climate, wildfires, natural disasters)

Subjective attributes, such as weather, entertainment (clubs, beaches) and culture, are not a part of this survey. Villages and smaller cities tend to not rank on this survey because it is based on worldwide metropolitan areas, where companies have offices and send employees. Also, most of us need to work for a living and job opportunities tend to dwindle outside city limits.

Mercer performs this comprehensive assessment to determine living conditions for expatriate employees. Critics argue that this does not apply to the everyday person, but  it is important to remember that expats use the same public services, institutions and living spaces as local residents. Therefore, it is essentially a quality of living analysis for everyone.

In the end, the definition of “quality of life” comes down to personal preference, circumstances and options. For example, some Athenians may not mind frequent strikes, having their electricity and water cut off several times a week, price gouging or the smell of garbage in summertime; but multinational corporations and others may find it difficult to conduct business and enjoy life under such conditions.

Top 10

Vienna topped Zurich this year to claim the #1 position, and Honolulu and San Francisco were the highest ranked American cities on the survey. If you’ve ever been to any of these cities, it’s easy to understand why.

1. Vienna, Austria
2. Zurich, Switzerland
3. Geneva, Switzerland
4. Vancouver, Canada
4. Auckland, New Zealand
6. Dusseldorf, Germany
7. Munich, Germany
8. Frankfurt, Germany
9. Bern, Switzerland
10. Sydney, Australia

Mercer no longer allows republication of the Top 50 cities or any survey in its entirety, and I respect that. You can click “Top 50 Cities — Quality of Living 2009” to review a table made available to the public. The Economist also published a quality of living survey that ranked Athens, Greece at #63 of 140 cities, which was dead last in Western Europe.

*Note: I received this information from direct personal contact with M. Andersen at Mercer’s Press Office, which makes it exclusive since it wasn’t and isn’t published anywhere else in English.

In the News

Tελευταία στη Δ. Ευρώπη, λατρεμένη και μισητή” (Loved and loathed) — Kathimerini (GR)
Τελευταία η Αθήνα…” (Athens last in EU) — Kathimerini (GR)

Related posts

Athens, Greece: Quality of living 2008
Athens, Greece: Cost of living 2008
Athens, Greece: Cost vs. quality of living 2007


  rositta wrote @ May 1st, 2009 at 02:58

Vancouver is a beautiful city, it has just about everything. Toronto came in 15th, beat out Montreal (22) which surprised me. I loved living in Montreal because it has the old European flavour so it must be the language thing…ciao

  Kev wrote @ May 3rd, 2009 at 21:58

Yeah, I don’t know about these Mercer surveys Kat.

I’ve lived in a city that has consistently been ranked #1 or #2 for almost a decade now, and that is Vancouver. As you mentioned, “In the end, the definition of ‘quality of life’ comes down to personal preference, circumstances and options.”

The fact that weather is not taken into consideration for example is a huge factor.

Tourists or transient people come to this city and rave about it. They are taken in by its beauty and seeming multicultural “vibrancy”. But people who live here, or those that stay for an extended period such as ESL students, quickly start to complain about its reality.

It can rain for weeks on end (imagine what that dull, drab, grey wetness day after day can do for atmosphere in the city, and personal and municipal psyche.) The street food / culture sucks, it’s extremely difficult to meet people and make friends. It has been dubbed the “no fun city” because the city never gets excited about anything collectively ( ). East Hastings is a homeless / drug infested area that makes Omonoia look like Beverly Hills. In January and February we had a murder a day for something like 12 days straight because of gang wars the police cannot control. And marketers and the media used this “mercer study” to create a plastic “Vancouver Best City in the Word” myth to sell condos, and pump real estate prices to ridiculous levels (way beyond Athens’ real estate prices.)

Those are not my observations but collective complaints I hear about Vancouver ALL the time. And they are mostly true. I’m used to life here because I’m from here, but Vancouver is not for everyone, and I’m sure neither is Zurich or Athens for that matter.

Obviously Vancouver has its good points. It’s beautiful, it has a decent economy, it has people living here from all over the world, it combines urban and nature life quite harmoniously, etc, etc… My point is just because I am aware of those realities first hand, I dismiss that Mercer study altogether. Vancouver is just like any other city in the Western / developed world. It has it’s good points and its bad points.

What I’ve found in my experience is that this non-sense about “best cities” is totally subjective. People tend to blame or rave about a city as a result of their own personal situations. (i.e. their job, their personal life, their love life, etc..) If some of those things are going sour for people, then the city is to blame. If they are going well, then the city is the “best place to live”.

If you were to tell me about Vancouver vs. Islamabad, Pakistan, then I might think that Vancouver is a better place to live. But in that case the dichotomy becomes Western vs. non-Western. But within the Western world itself, I think most offer their fair share of pros and cons. The rest would depend on factors of your personal situation and personal taste.

Kat Reply:

Every city has their good and bad areas — for example, in San Francisco, Nob Hill (rich) is right next to the Tenderloin (drug infested) — but it isn’t necessarily representative of the entire city. I’ve never been to Hastings, but likening Omonia to Beverly Hills? In any case, I find that people who are protected from the ills of any city by access to money, material things, their parents, a lawyer or whatever niche they’ve carved, often live in a bubble and think it’s the best place no matter what. And if it’s one’s hometown, there’s a sentimental aspect that has nothing to do with quantitative facts.

I personally do not like the term “best” and have explained many times why this is unreasonable and highly subjective, but many come to this website looking for just that — best place to live in Greece, best place to move, best place to work, best place for expats… These are not answers that can be found anywhere or by asking anyone; it’s highly personal.

  skyduster wrote @ May 11th, 2009 at 09:18

Actually, the Mercer study *is* very subjective. It quite explicitly takes the perspective of a narrow demographic (basically, high-earning, older, professionals) who -contrary to what you stated- do NOT always use the same services and infrastructures as most other people. Additionally, the criteria listed on Mercer’s website differ a bit from the ones you listed in your article. Here’s the list according to Mercer’s website:

*Consumer goods (Mercer does not elaborate on this, unless you purchase the study)
*Economic environment
*Housing (an issue that *can* be very subjective)
*Medical and health considerations (a highly subjective topic which rates the overall health system of a given city relative to the personal choices available back home to a high-income expat, but ignoring major socioeconomic gaps in countries such as the United States)
*Natural environment (again, subjective, and ignores socioeconomic disparities)
*Political and social environment
*Public services and transport
*Recreation (culturally subjective, and highly so)
*Schools and education
*Socio-cultural environment

The Mercer study is intended to point out how a high-earning, older, professional employee’s life will change if he/she is to relocate to the target city, and in no way should be regarded as an accurate comparison of living standards between countries. For example, while there are significant disparities in health care coverage in the United States between socioeconomic classes, Mercer is in no way concerned with how the average American lives in comparison to the average Greek. Rather, the Mercer study intends to conceptualize any compromises (or benefits) that a *high-earning American employee* -someone who is far better off than most Americans- would have to make by moving to Greece. These compromises can incorporate a host of subjective factors, such as the lack of certain cultural and recreational activities that the high-income individual is accustomed to, or the subjective reduction in living standards relative to what the individual is accustomed to, rather than overall conditions back home for the general population. In a nutshell, you’re roughly comparing Athens to Greenwich, CT…not Athens to greater NYC.

A far more accurate comparison of living standards is the United Nation’s Human Development Index (HDI), which compares *average citizens* across countries, not high-earning, older professionals.

Out of 179 countries and territories listed, Greece ranked #18, with a score of 0.947, and only 3 spots down from the United States at #15 with a score of 0.95. The difference in living standards between the two countries is too small to be significant.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has carried out its own Quality of Life index, which has a slightly wider gap between Greece and the United States, but again, a pretty insignificant difference.

Out of 111 countries and territories rated, the United States ranks at #13 with a score of 7.615, and Greece ranks at #22 with a score of 7.163, 9 spots down from the US, but above Belgium (#24), France (#25), Germany (#26), and Britain (#29).

Interestingly enough, and pertaining to the Mercer study, both the United Nations and the CIA have carried out studies on income inequality.

The smaller the number, the narrower the gap between rich and poor. The UN gives Greece a score of 34.3 and the United States a score of 40.8 The CIA gives Greece a score of 33 and the United States a score of 40, which means that the United States has wider economic disparities than Greece. When we factor in Greece’s per capita GDP/PPP in comparison to that of the United States, as well as the above quality of life indices, the resulting conclusion is that the average Greek’s standard of living is on par with the average American, however the wealthiest Americans have much more purchasing power than the wealthiest Greeks, and *that* is what the Mercer study alone conceptualizes.

Lastly, I contest your statement that Athenians “have their water and electricity cut off several times a week.” This is a lie, and as a [purportedly] long-time resident of Athens, you very know that this is not true. You just needed to add something to your article to animate your point. For all the city’s woes, please stick to the facts. Yes, Athenians deal with frequent strikes. At least they don’t have to worry about gang wars and high homicide rates. Leave that to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Kat Reply:

So expats don’t use the same electricity, grocery stores, transport, public or private spaces??? You’re entitled to your opinion, but one could argue that all of the analyses/lists you named are subjective also, and I don’t consider Wikipedia a legitimate source. Further, the article was a presentation of Mercer’s findings (not mine), so you’re free to take issue with them. I compared nothing, it contained no opinion, I complained about nothing, it’s not a study between the U.S. and Greece or targeted toward “high earning, older professionals,” and I do not plagiarize when I can easily describe it in my own words after reading complete copies of Mercer’s studies from previous years made available to me.

Second, things like housing and environment can be measured quantitatively, i.e., quality of construction materials, certification of builders, particles of mold or pollution, etc. Third, why would I lie about being a longtime resident of Athens? Your unwarranted suspicion says more about you than me, especially since you (ironically) live in the USA. I currently live in the southern suburbs, and the area’s electricity and/or water and/or DSL/phone service are cut at least twice a week (sometimes more) for short periods of 1-4 hours. That may not happen to anyone you know living in Athens, but it doesn’t make me or anyone else experiencing the same thing a liar. I’ll admit it’s less frequent than 2 years ago, and that’s only because GR is importing energy from Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia and Albania, which at once creates dependence and raises our energy costs.

Last, if you’re going to attempt making a point about my homeland, first consider that I’ve openly and publicly admitted that America is a flawed country — all countries are — then stop watching movies and do some research on the most crime-ridden U.S. cities because New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are not at the top of the list. Try Detroit, St. Louis, Oakland, Memphis, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington DC. Have a great day! 🙂

  Kev wrote @ May 12th, 2009 at 09:07

Kat, I think we generally agree here with similar points. As for the Beverly Hills thing, it was just sarcasm and exaggeration to prove a point, not to be taken literally.

Kat Reply:

We historically agree in principle, though we may have slightly different perspectives or points. Even when we disagree, I enjoy the quest to understand each other and mutual respect. As for sarcasm, that’s difficult to detect without tone of voice and I take the middle road when in doubt. Always good to hear from you.

  Barbayiannis wrote @ May 12th, 2009 at 17:44

In America, everything is possible but life. In Greece, everything is impossible, but you can live.

  Kat wrote @ May 15th, 2009 at 18:56

Nicholas – I do not publish your comments because there is a braggart quality to them, which is at the same time passive-aggressive, condescending and disparaging. That’s great you’re from Vienna, you’re an EU citizen, and you have found fortune/happiness in Athens and haven’t experienced a single electricity, phone or water cut after 4 months living here.

Athens consists of many types of people living in different places and under different conditions, treatment and rules. Just because challenges are not your reality, it doesn’t mean the rest of us are complaining or lying about the realities facing us.

The information on this website is based on documentation, translation and 11 years first-hand experience (good and bad), with the purpose of educating, assisting and making things easier or more entertaining for others on their journey to Greece. On the side, I occasionally choose to tell stories from my life in a straightforward factual manner mixed with humor, but nowhere do I claim they represent the majority of residents in Greece, nowhere do I claim to speak for everyone and nowhere did I agree to full disclosure.

If this website did not and does not help you with settling here or teach you anything about the inner workings of Greece, and you find the level of disclosure to my private life so unsatisfying, please feel free to stop visiting and save yourself the time and trouble of complaining about me and dispensing unsolicited advice about what I should write and how to live my life.

I wish you well and continued success. Enjoy the sunshine! 🙂

  MCMC wrote @ May 17th, 2009 at 03:01

I’ve lived in Germany for a year and I confirm that German cities are bloody boring (people are too)…

  Demitris wrote @ May 18th, 2009 at 22:18

Hey MCMC, I’ve met German people outside of Germany & most of them seem like lovely people. Whether they are fun or boring I’ve never had the opportunity to find out. It’s no secret that southern europeans approach life a bit differently from their northern counterparts. They are obviously more serious, efficient & more productive whereas we tend to be more playful, jovial & out-going.

Which is a better way to live your life? Obviously it’s our way. Which is a better way to build a country? Without a doubt it’s their way. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could strike a good balance of both? I say yes.

  Francisco wrote @ May 21st, 2009 at 01:40

I clicked on this site by accident and must say Im bemused by a person who chose to live in Greece and yet, all her blogs are about how challenging life is in Greece., and how Greece doesn’t measure up to America or other Western nations. Trying to recreate your American lifestyle/experience in another country seems like an exercise of arrogance and futility at the same time.

I applaud Greece (much like I applaud Bolivia and other nations as well) for trying to keep their traditional way of life as much as one can in this time of globalization blandness.


Kat Reply:

I’m equally bemused by a person from Canada who had the arrogance to pass judgment on me after reading two articles (both based on stats and containing no opinion) and not bothering to understand my sense of humor or look at my bio. I do applaud Greece, and in no way am I trying to recreate America anywhere — one is enough, and some would argue one too many. Every country has its challenges and every person their opinion, are we not allowed to voice one just because we chose to live/work somewhere other than our birthplace? I don’t remember being required to sign away my freedom upon crossing the border. Best of luck with your global attitude of love and acceptance. 😀

  FMS wrote @ May 21st, 2009 at 02:46

As far as I recall, Bolivia has not been a member of the European Union since 1981, nor has it received massive amounts of money from the EU. Greece, on the other hand, has managed to increase its corruption levels since 1981 and also increase the spread of income distribution such that dirty politicians are now super-rich, party members are merely wealthy and the majority are struggling to make ends meet.

I am curious how someone from Canada could understand any of this well enough to make snide remarks to the owner of a website which tries to provide vital information in a country where nobody understands anything. The moral is, comment on things you know something about.

  Nick wrote @ January 15th, 2010 at 22:13

I like how everyone makes comments, without reading the entire article> i’m sure if inthe rankings weather and nightlife and other similar attributtes where measured then I’m sure Athens would rank higher. However, as an Expat lviing in Greece where I believe many criteria the mercers lists uses does not affect you as much.

Kat Reply:

That’s absurd.

Weather is subjective. There are people who don’t like burning sun or humidity, and there are people like me who don’t think the weather is better in Greece because I’m from California.

Of course you think nightlife is great because you’re a DJ, but there are plenty of countries that would rank higher than Greece. It does nothing to contribute to quality of life though it may make it more enjoyable to someone under 40, plus smoke inhalation, alcoholism and noise pollution all damage your health, age you and can shorten your life.

  Kat wrote @ January 27th, 2010 at 22:49

This article was done for informational purposes only. These are not my stats, everyone’s opinion is what it is, and I respect that. But as I already say in this article and many places on this website, your opinions on why this city/country/population is better than another are completely subjective and highly individual. If you don’t know what subjective means, please get a dictionary and look it up.

There is no right answer, and everyone’s views are skewed by absolutely everything.

I’m closing comments because of unnecessary infighting, name-calling and bullying, and that is my right when people cannot behave themselves. I’d rather invest time and energy on fruitful, respectful discussion.

Sorry, comments are closed at this time.