Living in Greece

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

The Greek bank bouncer

Greek bank door

Security measures at some banks in Greece require customers to pass “face control,” just to get in the front door.

In place of the burly security man keeping a watchful eye and occasionally nodding hello, the front door of the bank is bolted shut and contains a series of directions and graphics on the glass, with a threesome of lights and buttons to the left in red, green and white.

The graphics are pretty clear — no helmets, no sunglasses, no beverages. To enter the first door, wait for the red light to turn off and the green light to flash, press the white button, you’ll hear a click and pull the door to step inside the small enclosure. The door should lock behind you, if no one is touching or trying to pull it — scowl at or scold the impatient persons doing just that. If you’re claustrophobic or “supersized,” this might not be a pleasant experience.

Once inside, read the directions on how to enter the second door or listen to a woman repeating them in Greek and English (if you can hear her over the angry mob forming in back of you), which instructs you to stand still in the middle of the floor, look up and to the left into a camera, then wait for the red light to turn off and the green light to flash, press the white button, you’ll hear a click and push the door to enter the financial inner sanctum.

Now you are free to take a number and be treated to indifferent service. 😀

What the directions don’t tell you

I was not wearing a helmet or sunglasses that day, nor did I have a beverage. However, I was refused entry to my bank because I was wearing a sun visor and carrying a shoulder bag. It says nothing about this on the door, but any hat, hood, visor, suspicious bag or even large sunglasses is reason to turn you away. If, however, you’re carrying a dog or cat and not wearing a shirt or shoes, no problem.

Since there was no one to inspect my bag to prove it was innocent and I don’t have a car or slave boy at my disposal, I conceded defeat and went home without accomplishing anything. The bank closes at 14:00 and the transaction I needed to complete couldn’t be done at an ATM; it was already 13:30 and would have taken me an hour to go home, drop off my bag and try again. I suspect that unaccompanied mothers with strollers and anyone with a backpack faced the same thing; and those in wheelchairs cannot enter the bank at all, which is a form of discrimination.

I’m all for increased security, as police report that the number of bank robberies fell in 2011. But I saw people with strollers and walkers, and did they have a tough time! And if you’ve ever run the gamut of Greek bureaucracy, this felt like more of the same, though I’m sure we’ll all be beaten into submission get used to it. Besides that, not all banks have these security doors in place, so it’s quite easy to rob or firebomb a bank by going across the street. No problem.

Photo note

Reception stopped me from taking photos, so I went back when they were closed. 😉

In the News

“i-Bank package offers increased Internet/mobile banking, but savings is not passed to consumer
Number of bank complaints up 22.3 percent
Υπό προθεσμίαν τα βιομετρικά μάτια της Εθνικής” — published after my article on June 10, 2009
Five million euros in e-banking fraud in Greece each year” — Ta Nea


  luc wrote @ May 17th, 2009 at 12:10

I’ll be beaten into submission long before I’ll get used to it, I’m afraid. Careful when you go back after closing time!!!

  Maria wrote @ May 17th, 2009 at 13:46

I think I know which bank you mean. I don’t have an account there, but I’ve heard before of some of their security measures. I’m all for allowing dogs in that space, remember that dogs could be guides for blind people, but it would have been nice if they had made provisions for people with disabilities. The bag rule is silly. A handgun could easily fit in a tiny handbag.

Kat Reply:

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your sidenote, which I edited per your request. I feel incredibly blessed that you’ve been a reader AND contributor for so long.

  Barbayiannis wrote @ May 18th, 2009 at 01:38

Maybe a bank with better internet services would have enabled you to do that transaction at an ATM or on line. I don’t have personal experience of internet banking in Greece, but I’ve seen ads for it from several major banks, including HSBC and National Bank. In the US at least, I never go into a physical bank office any more unless I want to buy a money order or travelers checks, and even that I could do on line but I’d have to pay a delivery fee for the physical piece of paper. You can even get statements, make most deposits, and pay most bills all on line. Some readers might be interested in knowing if internet banking has gone that far in Greece. (And doesn’t the EU mean someone in Greece could actually have an internet bank account anywhere in Europe?)

Kat Reply:

Internet banking does exist, though it’s not widespread and requires you to appear in person to set it up in many cases, or at least to open the initial account. I no longer use it in Greece because when I moved, the service continued to pay bills at my former address/account and it took months and a lot of bureaucracy to get my money, with the burden of proof falling on me. The transaction I was trying to complete on Friday is not available via ATM or Internet. Things are advancing, but let’s remember this is GR and not the USA. 😉

  Dimitris wrote @ May 18th, 2009 at 02:23

I have gone through such double doors at Greek banks. It is a bit frustrating to have to wait, esp. if there is a queue forming. At the same time they are a cheap way to bolster security, given the huge number of bank robberies we hear about in the news. I wonder how other banks around the world who use such doors address the issues you have raised.

Kat Reply:

For decades in the USA, security cameras are placed in strategic locations to record everyone entering/leaving, in line and at the teller window without treating customers like prisoners at the front door; doors fall and alarms are activated at the touch of a button; and the disabled, elderly and blind can touch a button to effortlessly open a wide door with no obstacles they could trip or get caught on. Some have metal detectors. I’m not familiar enough with other countries’ banks to comment on their systems.

To a point, I sympathize with the cost, even though banks in Greece have some of the highest fees in the world. But having two front doors is treating the symptom, not the disease, and it isn’t going to stop someone from robbing or bombing a bank if that’s really what they want to do. As Maria rightly said, a gun or device can easily fit in someone’s pocket or handbag.

  Dora wrote @ May 18th, 2009 at 17:20

OK, here goes. The last family trip to Greece, I visited the National Museum, my parents and kids in tow. We buy our tickets and are promptly accosted by the authorities of the museum. Why? Because my mom’s handbag was considered to be a valitsa, a suitcase, by the guards. My own handbag was a little strap-around-the-body kind of purse, hers was a typical American lady sized bag..too big for the Greeks.

Well, mayhem ensues! Here we are trying to explain we are not there to steal the antiquities, we have no guns or explosives hiding in mom’s pocketbook, just there to visit the museum. They say, No that’s a “valitsa” and you can’t go in with it, and it must be checked as luggage. So we empty my mom’s bag of all her important stuff: passport, wallet, ID, money, lipstick, map of Athens, camera, little souvenir stuff, water bottle, hotel keys, etc. I try to stuff all that in my little purse, which of course has my own stuff and now all of it is overflowing and falling on the floor. We laugh now, but at the time we were not amused.

Kat Reply:

I understand how inconvenient that can be. Even 10 years ago, some museums didn’t let you carry a tiny camera bag — never mind a fanny pack — and had you empty your pockets. At least you know what to expect now. Sometimes, I’m relieved to check my things if I have too many because it allows me more freedom in strolling; I just need to be prepared and have my things separated or else I’m in the situation you describe, normally with annoyed people behind me. Nice to see you here again! 🙂

  rositta wrote @ May 18th, 2009 at 17:52

I deal with two different banks here in Canada and have yet to see even a security guard. Now it could be that in the downtown area they have them; I won’t swear to it but certainly not in residential areas. I have however seen security guards in pharmacies. I was shocked to see armed guards in a Greek bank on my very first visit there in 1997. I suspect though that things will not always remain thus, and we will soon see similar things here. The world is changing and not for the better…ciao

Kat Reply:

Maybe Canadians are a more trustworthy lot, but guards in pharmacies??? True, the world and security standards change by the minute.

  maria v wrote @ May 18th, 2009 at 20:50

internet banking in greece (at least with my favorite bank) is great – i pay almost all my bills for the phone and deh either thru the internet or automatic payments. i also pay my road fees and yearly taxes using the internet. i always check my credit card accounts thru the internet, and I also make all the payments for these cards using the internet.

but this no-bag thing in your bank makes me wonder: i cant imagine any greek woman not carrying some sort of bag that can fit at least a hairbrush, make-up compact, cell-phone, medium-to-large wallet, deodorant/perfume, etc in a waist belt – she needs THE BAG for that!

Kat Reply:

I agree. When I went back, I had only my essentials but there were Greek women who were allowed in with their bags and oversized purses. Who knows? It’s GR, results vary. 😉

  mesogeia wrote @ May 20th, 2009 at 09:24

oooh, I sympathize with you! I have to go to this bank’s branch once a month to pay the rent. Usually the elder people do not know what to do and it takes ages to get in. On the other hand, a Piraeus bank nearby is totally free entry. I don’t know why they adopt different approach.

I can, however, tell you that I had worse experience. In Italy, you cannot enter some of the banks, if you carry bags and you are told to leave it in lockers provided at the entrance. But often either all are occupied or many lack keys (you won’t leave your back unattended in italy, will you?) and you need to wait until the next locker is free. This in addition to all the restrictions you described above!

Kat Reply:

I would have been fine with leaving my things in a locker (even if I had to wait) because I’ve traveled a lot and encountered this policy at stores in the USA, Sweden, Italy, France, and it would have been better than going home and accomplishing nothing. But of course there were none provided.

  Barbayiannis wrote @ May 20th, 2009 at 17:22

Now let me get this straight: there are banks which not only allow but demand that unidentified people dump whatever they want, said items being unexamined first, in an unattended locker as a security measure??? They also ought to put up a sign reading DANGER: IDIOCY! I wouldn’t go within a hundred meters of such lockers.

But generally this is a useful discussion. I wonder if anyone has any experience in regard to the question I mentioned before: if you live in Greece and want to use an internet bank, can you open an internet bank account in any other Euro-using EU country, or does it have to be in Greece? For instance, if you live in Athens could you do all or most of your banking on the internet with a bank in Vienna? (By “could” I mean would it be both legal and practical.) There are probably other readers of this forum who would be interested in this. Thanks.

Kat Reply:

The lockers I speak of are outside retail stores, museums, etc. or in a separate room where someone examines the bag first; I did not mean banks. But I’d like to note that the same bank I wrote about in the article permitted people with hats and shopping bags on the day I went back, so entry or its refusal appears to be subjective. I’d like to think it has nothing to do with the way I look, but the people with hats and bags were Greek.

I cannot answer the question you asked about Internet banking, which is the reason I didn’t. However, in my personal experience, I can only use Internet banking at banks where I first physically opened an account, showed ID and signed documents/cards. To use my ATM card in Greece, I had to physically fill out papers to get the card, then pick up the PIN in person by showing my ID and signing a paper. When I signed up for Internet banking, I had to have an existing account and provide a form of identification they already had on file (AFM/SSN, ATM card, security code & PIN). After that, I could live where I wanted and complete transactions from anywhere in the world.

There’s no way I can research every bank’s policy in every EU country.

  FMS wrote @ May 20th, 2009 at 22:20

I can answer the second part of your question. Banks in each EY country (I can speak specifically about Vienna!) require a permanent address there for you to open a bank account with internet access. It is more or less impossible to open bank accounts in other EU countries, because the enforcement of money-launderintg rules requires you to prove a permanent relationship with the country concerned. I am a UK national and could not open a UK bank account now, as I do not live there.

Basically, politicians and bankers have f****ed the world, and think that somehow everyone else should pay the price for their arrogance and stupidity. Normally, this is called “abuse of power”.

  maria v wrote @ May 22nd, 2009 at 17:49

i can also add to the discussion about internet banking.
i live in crete and when i travelled to new zealand (5 years ago) and the UK (more recently), i was able to use the internet to transfer money from a current account to a credit card account and pay off balances. but as kat says, i had to physically make the arrnagements in my bank branch (a one-time task) and then i could simply use my home computer and get whatever jobs i wanted done (described above in another comment). perfect arrangement to avoid queueing in one line after another just to pay bills or make monetary transfers.
the only time i have to go into the bank is when a third party (eg when VISA, which is a separate company from the bank, or COSMOTE) decides to ask for a new signed agreement to carry on doing what they had been doing for me before. this kind of stuff-up happens in all countries around the world. it can sometimes be fixed up over the phone, but in GR, even bank officers like to deal with this in person

  Cheryl wrote @ May 26th, 2009 at 23:42

Wow, I had no idea. The bank that I use leaves its door wide open-even the branch in the center of Thessaloniki. But, I have noticed security guards. I can’t imagine having to deal with yet another delay around here. Ugh. I would have probably flipped.

Also, most Greek women here carry over-sized bags so that’s got to be inconvenient for more customers than necessary. I won’t even get started on strollers…

  Iason wrote @ May 27th, 2009 at 09:57

Similar restrictions have been in place at some branches of banks in the Netherlands (ABN-Amro at least) for at least 10 years (both in Amsterdam and in smaller cities, such as Groningen)–I still have very unpleasant memories of trying to get a banking task done with my 3-month-old son (in a stroller) at one such bank. (The checkpoint doors, it turned out, could be folded into one another, allowing the stroller in; but there’s nothing to be done for the dozen stairs to get up there in the first place. Forget about wheelchairs.) I’ve never run into anything like this in Greece yet (neither in Katerini nor Thessaloniki), thank goodness.

Kat Reply:

Ah yes, stairs. A completely different obstacle. Thanks for sharing your experience and leaving a comment. Nice to meet you. 🙂

  FMS wrote @ May 28th, 2009 at 16:40

Iason: what I really like about Greece (irony here) is that the politicians wait for 10 to 20 years, then suddenly “discover” a malakia idea to copy from northern Europe or the USA. The fact that the idea in question is completely stupid and proven to be useless deters them not in the least. This is the Greek version of modernization — delayed crap.

Kat Reply:

LOL! But for the record, the USA uses more sophisticated security in banks, no cheapo shortcut methods like here. Haha, delayed crap, or delays and crap, or crappy delays — all true, no matter how you mix the salata.

  photene wrote @ June 29th, 2009 at 23:05

OMG??!!! What a stupid process – if confronted with this scenario in typical Greek fashion I would completely lose my nut and probably get arrested as a result. LOL. Thanks for the update however, this is good info to know however, just in case, for my trip later this year.

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