Greek Bureaucracy & the “Stolen” Cats of Skopelos: A Tale of Chaos and Red Tape

Bureaucracy in Greece is a major issue. The seemingly most simple task is made infuriatingly difficult by an unnecessary amount of red tape and paperwork. 

To be honest, the word “bureaucracy” alone is somewhat misleading. It almost implies that all of the processes that have to be followed, paperwork filed, and hoops that you have to jump through in Greece are necessary for complex processes. 

That’s false. We are not talking about complicated, official processes most of the time. A mountain of paperwork is needed for simple tasks. “Bureaucracy” is just a nice and official-sounding way of politely saying that most official procedures in Greece are a disorganised mess. 

Bureaucracy in Greece 

Bureaucracy in Greece
Bureaucracy in Greece

No rhyme, reason, or logical process is followed most of the time. Arguably the most profound thing of all is the sheer lack of reflection. Employees and government workers accept the status quo. Why has nobody sat and reflected and thought “Hey! How about we streamline this process and make it so that only one form is required instead of fifteen?” 

You feel the frustration of this even more if you are entering Greece from a country where things typically run like clockwork. Those of us living in Greece have become accustomed to Greek bureaucracy. 

After living here for four years, I have learned to exert an immense level of patience, and to accept that nothing will be dealt with smoothly or promptly. But if Greece wants to progress, to attract foreign investors, to improve its economy, and to innovate, Greek bureaucracy is something that sincerely needs to be addressed.

Obtaining a Simple Form in Greece:
A Tale of Greek Bureaucracy 

Greek bureaucracy will have you wanting to take a running jump off the Acropolis. I would hazard a guess that anyone that you speak to here has dozens of examples of bureaucratic nightmare experiences to draw from. 

I have heard some ludicrous stories over the years. Greek American residents who were told to contact the IRS when they tried to make simple withdrawals from their Greek bank accounts, people refused residency papers for no reason. 

Perhaps the most insane of all? A Greek man in Egaleo, Athens who was accidentally documented as being dead

A man of the same name had passed away in his area and due to a government mistake, a living man of the same name was documented as deceased. After 14 years, he is still fighting to change the records to say that he is in fact, very much alive. He cannot vote, open bank accounts etc. 

“I am sorry sir but you are dead” was the literal response he received when trying to register to vote.  Nevermind that he was there in the flesh, very much breathing and moving. Heaven forbid going out of process in Greece to address the ridiculousness of the situation. 

The Stolen Cats of Skopelos 

In my particular case, I have decided that after four years, I will leave Greece and return to the UK. I have three rescue cats here whom I found in ill health living on the streets of Skopelos. 

The UK has relatively strict requirements for bringing pets into the country. At the point of deciding that I wanted to return to England, my cats had been living with me for nine months. 

I had always had in my mind that I would take the cats back with me. So, from the very beginning I made sure to set about getting all of the required treatment and paperwork – vaccinations, neutering, rabies vaccines, microchips, and EU passports. 

I decided to book my cat’s travel by an overland courier as opposed to flying with them. Since I was travelling alone, I would not have been able to manage carrying all three of them on and off planes by myself. 

I identified a reputable UK courier and completed all of the necessary paperwork. Only one thing was needed: a form from a Greek government Ministry Vet. 

This is a new process following the UK’s exit from the EU. However, it is straightforward.

A template of the form can be found on the UK government website along with instructions. But then again,  nothing is straightforward in Greece…  

Finding the Elusive “Ministry Vet” 

It is important to note that this simple form cannot be completed by a standard Greek vet, it must be completed by the Ministry of Agriculture. The first hurdle was trying to get a hold of them. 

I called more than 15 vets and animal charities trying to find the details of the Ministry of Agriculture. Responses ranged from “there is no such thing as the Ministry of Agriculture” (!!), to “you don’t need the form”. 

Several days were lost in trying to obtain this simple contact information. I spent hours each morning calling various numbers. Eventually, Nine Lives Greece, a cat charity, provided me with this list of contacts.

I began calling the various numbers in Athens. Most of them simply did not answer the phone. The most central office was at Syggrou. After days of failed call attempts, a lady finally answered! 

I explained the situation to her and she referred me to her colleague – who referred me to her colleague – who referred me to his colleague – who told me to call back the next day. 

This wild goose chase of trying to find the correct person took almost two weeks. “Sorry but he is away until Monday. Call back then”. “Sorry but my colleague lied and it is not me, it is him call back next week”. 

Trying to Track Down the Ministry Vets

The hilarious thing about this? When actually visiting the Ministry of Agriculture later, I discovered that all of these people sat together in one room of an open plan office. Why did they perpetually make me hang up and call back, instead of simply speaking across the room and discussing who amongst them was responsible? 

It was the 20th April 2021 when I first called. I did not get an appointment until the 12th May. This form needed to be obtained within 10 days of the cats’ departure for the UK. 

Knowing Greek bureaucracy, I allowed five weeks. But through no fault of my own, I was still running around like a crazy woman in the eleventh hour. 

You Have Stolen These Cats! 

I felt a wave of relief after finally getting a hold of the Ministry Vet. All I wanted to do was to confirm an appointment date to obtain this form from them. 

“Hold on a minute” she snapped. 

“You find these cats on the streets of Skopelos, you say?” 

“Yes” I responded, “I rescued them from an abandoned house” 

“That is not good.” She said. “These cats are the property of the municipality and essentially… you have stolen them from the municipal”. 

I could not believe what I was hearing. There is a significant issue in Greece with stray animals. Greek islands like Skopelos and Skiathos have an obscene amount of strays who are essentially born to die. Rescue centres are independently operated and receive no funding from the Greek government who is indifferent to the stray situation. 

“You must obtain the correct papers,” she said. 

I felt incredibly stressed knowing Greek bureaucracy and the hassle that was to ensue to attain the adoption papers for my cats. But what was the alternative? I wasn’t going to leave them behind. 

Adoption is Legal! 

I was extremely fortunate that the vets and stray centres on Skopelos were so excellent. I called my Skopelos vet and explained the situation. They immediately worked with the municipality and the local stray centre to issue all of my adoption papers. 

I went back to the Ministry Vet in Athens to say that I had obtained the adoption papers. She agreed to see me a week later to issue me with the health certificate and advised me that all I needed was the adoption papers and the pet passport. 

This was it. I was finally going to obtain the simple form. Wasn’t I? 

A Bureaucratic Nightmare 

I had an appointment at 9am with the Ministry Vet. I had trekked across Athens to get there and upon arrival, was kept waiting for half an hour. 

The Ministry Vet met with me, browsed through my pet passports and told me “You do not need this form”. 

Exasperated, I explained that yes I did, it was specifically requested by the UK government. I explained what was needed and where the form could be found on the UK government website. 

After much back and forth discussion of her saying the form was not needed and me insisting that it was, she leaped out of her chair. She wandered across the room to a corner where a pile of paperwork was stored on the floor. 

She thumbed through the box files of papers in silence for what felt like an eternity. “Come back tomorrow because I cannot do it now,” she said. 

“Ok” I said. “Might I ask why?” 

“Yes” she responded. “You need to add your signature in the pet passport and you have not” 

“Ok” I responded.”I am here now so can I just sign it now? It is very important I get this form as as I have told you, I have paid 1500 euros for the cats’ transport in five days time” 

“Well, I cannot do it now because you need to go to a vet in Athens and get them to give the cats a clinical examination and get a stamp to say that they have had worm treatment”. 

Unnecessary Hurdles

Where was this coming from? A moment ago she said I didn’t need a form. I had already clarified with my pet courier that an examination was not needed. 

I explained that this was not needed and she insisted that it was. 

“And you must come back tomorrow morning at 8am because that’s the only time I am in the office” 

Excellent! 

“Oh but ask the vet to put the date in two days time but not today please”. It was peculiar to me that she wanted the vet to forge the date, yet would not go out of her newly invented process to sign a simple form. 

Bemused, I agreed to go and get the clinical examination. However, wherever you are in the world, it is not easy to get a vet appointment immediately that same day. Particularly when you have three cats.

I was extremely fortunate to call a vet in Kallithea and have him agree to examine the cats. 

“I also need a list of the countries your cats are travelling through and this email must be sent by the courier to me, not to you, so I know it is truthful”. Truthful?? I am trying to take my pet cats home. I am not an arms dealer.

It is not worth getting worked up over these things so I smiled politely, thanked her, and left. I told her I would be back the next day. 

“This is simply not possible!” 

Upon leaving the Ministry, I frantically called my vet and begged him to see the cats. He told me to stop by in three hours. So, I rushed back to my apartment, scooped my three cats into their carriers, and hurried across Athens. 

The kind vet examined the cats, updated their pet passports with the necessary signage and stamps, and issued me a form to say that they were fit to travel. I took a cab back across the city to my apartment and called the courier, explaining that they needed to send an email to the Ministry Vet. 

They obliged and sent a detailed list of their transit route from Greece to the UK. Phew! 

I collapsed on the sofa, having spent another entire day trying to obtain this simple form. It was going to be fine, and I’d get the form the next day.

At 6.30pm, I received an email from the Ministry Vet saying that “the possibility of the cats travelling on Monday… is zero” She explained that the clinical examination and the worm treatment needed to be done closer to the departure date, not today. 

As per UK government requirements, that is false. But would she check the UK advice or speak to my approved UK animal courier that did this daily? No. She flat out refused to issue the form after having me run around Greece jumping through hoops for the past three weeks. 

The Headache of Greek Bureaucracy 

This is not only a matter of obtaining a simple form. But her flat out refusal to issue this, and forever moving the goalposts and inventing new rules when she clearly didn’t understand the process potentially cost me 1500 euros. 

Not to mention, a huge amount of stress, loss of money, and meaning that I would potentially not have the ability to leave the country. I had contacted them well over a month before actually having the opportunity to meet with her. Why couldn’t she clarify what was needed in the first instance? Furthermore, the deliberate awkwardness, and the absolute lack of empathy for a woman simply trying to move back to her country with her rescue cats – who would have otherwise died on the streets of Skopelos, was disgusting. 

I hope that in the future, Greece can address the issues of bureaucracy. But I won’t hold my breath. 


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

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