Leaving Greece? Living in Greece but thinking of moving on? It is essential to inform yourself on the regulations and cost of exporting/importing household effects, car(s) and pets before deciding what to sell and finding a mover, removals and shipping company.
*Article last updated October 22, 2013. However, answers in ‘Comments’ reflect whatever was true at the time.
Before the move
A minority of people living in Greece have been here a short time and may only have the items they arrived with, especially if their apartment rental is furnished or shared with roommates. But most of us acquired far more over the years, either through purchases or by inheriting the possessions of people who departed previously.
Before packing up your worldly possessions to leave, take a look at customs regulations and import tax and duties charged by the target country on household goods and vehicles when moving back, plus restrictions on what can be brought back and special rules for pets. It may help you decide what to sell, keep or give away.
If your destination is not listed, search the relevant government website in the appropriate country on topics of customs, importing household goods and pets, and repatriation. The embassy or consulate representing that country in Greece will seldom have a section and runs the risk of being outdated if it does. How do I know? Not only have I made several moves back and forth to Greece, but I checked.
Packing it up?
There are five options, when leaving or taking household items:
1. Sell: Take out a classified ad, spread the word through personal and professional networks or forums, find a second-hand shop, have a car boot or garage sale.
2. Donate: Give away whatever doesn’t sell, find a charitable organization, offer anything in good condition to a friend in want/need. Here is a list of organizations in Athens, Thessaloniki and other parts of Greece that take donations or arrange swaps: “For Free.”
3. Store (if returning to Greece in the future): Put things in storage with a trustworthy friend/relative who won’t be inconvenienced, or hire a storage area by asking for a recommendation, inspecting the space and getting a quote.
4. Recycle, when possible: Old appliances can be recycled by the municipality or at drop-off points; local business owners will sometimes buy them for parts, i.e., A refrigeration repairman in my neighborhood buys old refrigerators and air conditioners.
5. Pack and ship your personal effects back home or to a new country.
Leftover items can be placed on the street, and a paliatzi may pick them up. Not the best solution, but it’s better than putting everything straight into the trash.
Finding a mover, removals/shipping company
Finding a mover, removals and/or shipping company is not an exact science and does not guarantee everything will go perfectly because life happens. Some suggestions:
Seek recommendations: Start by consulting friends, family or acquaintances you trust, keeping in mind that their fabulous experience may also be yours, or not; ditto for people in forums, who are strangers and perhaps less reliable. In rare cases, your Embassy or Consulate may have a list but take it as a suggestion, not necessarily a recommendation. Some companies act differently with diplomatic and military personnel than they do with everyday citizens.
If your personal circle and embassy/consulate have no recommendations, take a look at classified ads in English and select a few companies. Recommendations in ‘Comments’ should be taken as impartial suggestions, not endorsements or advertisements.
Get an estimate: A reputable and conscientious mover, removals company or shipping company will want to see what items are being shipped, assess the square meters (not always weight) and give you an estimate on cost, delivery and associated fees. Many offer to pack items for an additional cost that includes boxes, bubble wrap, tape and cardboard. Keep in mind that cheaper is sometimes not better, and delivery time can be impacted by sailing/flight conditions and strikes.
Ask questions: Inquire about what packing materials they use, if any documents or receipts are required by Greek customs, things to expect, how long it will take, and who they partner with in the destination country (write it down and look them up). Also ask about who assumes responsibility if belongings are damaged in transit; this will help you decide whether to buy or keep insurance — especially on your car(s) — until they reach your new home.
I also use gut instinct on all matters concerning Greece. If something doesn’t seem right, it usually isn’t.
Where to get boxes
Grocery stores receive shipments early in the morning and normally have boxes broken down by 8:00, which are then put near the dumpster or stacked on the loading dock. Some people have no problem putting them aside, if you ask nicely and pick them up when promised. Retail stores have boxes available sporadically throughout the day and may also put them aside.
Laundry detergent boxes are perfect for packing heavy things like books. Boxes from retail clothing stores are great for packing clothes, and even larger boxes from toy stores or sporting goods shops hold rugs, linen and pillows. They’re free of charge. Choosing boxes of the same brand or size will stack nicely and keep them stable. Leaning and collapsing boxes are not pretty.
Brand-new boxes are available for purchase at moving companies and retail stores where you would find do-it-yourself (DIY) supplies for the home.
Don’t skimp on packing tape. Buying something cheap means it may peel back in humid or hot weather, and boxes break open. Also not pretty.
If it’s a long-distance move with exposure to several parties and you pack everything yourself, consider numbering all of the boxes and keeping a list (hard copy, computer file, email) of their contents in a separate place. Not labeling the boxes beyond a number minimizes the temptation to steal since no one knows what’s inside, and you can pick and choose which boxes to unpack first. From personal experience, the latter is particularly important if you’re a two-career household.
Stories from those who left
— First-hand experience of myself, plus two expats in Greece (CO & NK) who gave permission to share what they learned when leaving and moving away from Greece
— U.S. Embassy in Athens, Canadian Embassy in Athens, Australian Embassy in Athens
— Government websites of the countries listed/linked above