Over a year has passed since I first landed in Athens with the intention of sticking around for one or two months before travelling onwards. Something about the laid back Greek lifestyle, the food, and perhaps the hunky men sucked me in though and I’ve been living in Greece ever since.
To many, the mention of living in Greece conjures up romantic images of whizzing around narrow Athenian streets on the back of a handsome guy’s motorbike, of enjoying some of the best food in the world, and of spending summers on beautiful Greek islands with translucent blue waters. Probably there is some plate smashing and zorbas dancing in there too.
The reality is that living in Greece isn’t without its problems, just like anywhere else in the world. Recently, Greece was awarded the title of being the worst place in the world for expats to live. While I definitely believe that that is a very bold and unjust statement, all that glitters is definitely not gold either. This is a very honest account of my life in Greece. I hope my thoughts expressed here do not offend anyone. They are simply based on my experiences. As an individual white British woman, my experience is different to people of other genders and nationalities.
I also acknowledge that for me, living in Greece means that I have it pretty good. As a Digital Nomad, I am here in Athens working remotely for American, Middle Eastern and British companies. As such I earn much more than the average resident in Greece. This also means that I do not have to deal with any of the bureaucracy or problems of working with a Greek employer. There are not many international companies in Greece/Athens so opportunities for educated expats are scarce, so I am among a fortunate few expats able to live and work in Greece while maintaining a flexibility of schedule, and the same comforts and privileges as in the UK.
Positives of Living in Greece
Of course, the weather is a huge plus of living in Greece. Both the mainland and the islands essentially see 365 days of sunshine a year. Though temperatures do dip as low as 2-3 degrees in the winter months, the sun is always shining. As someone who grew up in the perpetually gray and rainy landscapes of England, this is a paradise for me. I also believe that when the weather is nicer, you feel much happier also.
The Laid Back Greek Lifestyle
People living in Greece may not have a lot, but they definitely know the right way to live. I love how relaxed and laid back people are about everything here – sometimes almost too much so! Even though I live in the capital of Athens, there is not the same stress about money and careers. I don’t think I have ever encountered the same kind of hurried atmosphere of business people rushing from one place to another as I have in central London. Greek people consider family, friends and enjoying life as the priorities and I can identify with that a lot more than I can with the obsession with material things/career success that I see often in the UK and other parts of western Europe.
The Cost of Living
The cost of living in Greece is substantially lower compared to the UK and most western European countries. Obviously, I don’t want to sound insensitive here, of course this is not really a benefit for the local people who make the average Greek salary that lies in the region of 500-700 euros and struggle to break even.
From a remote worker perspective though, Greece is great for Digital Nomads. An apartment in central Athens costs anywhere from 200 euros a month for a small studio, to 800 for a large penthouse. I pay 450 euros a month for a spacious one bedroom apartment in the quirky Pagrati neighborhood. This includes my internet and bills. A coffee in Athens is often as little as 2 euros and dining out is relatively cheap. I can enjoy a better standard of living in Greece and enjoy more disposable income, or save money effortlessly.
If you feel that there is not much variety in Greek cuisine, you are searching in all of the wrong places. Though I often felt tired of eating the same few dishes when I lived in Italy, I never have the same feelings here in Greece. Greek food is far more than just souvlaki, gyros and moussaka.
I find it easy to find home comforts and fresh, excellent quality ingredients from the supermarkets here, and one of my favorite things about living in Greece is the weekly farmer’s markets that are held in various neighborhoods around Athens. Fresh fruits and vegetables taste much better here than I have noticed anywhere else, perhaps because they are locally sourced and not plagued with pesticides and preservatives.
Living in Athens provides the additional benefit of having a more international selection of eateries to choose from. Though the number of foreign restaurants in the Greek capital is relatively small, I am happy that I can still find authentic eats from Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, India and beyond from here if I desire it.
Downsides to Living in Greece
It’s Difficult to Integrate into Society
One of the most challenging aspects of living in Greece for me has been being accepted by Greeks and integrating into the society. I have a Greek partner and a handful of Greek acquaintances. That said, most of my friends are fellow foreign people living in Greece. In my case, this is surely not helped by the fact that I work alone from coffee shops as a Digital Nomad, rather than being among Greek people.
I have however felt largely unwelcome by my partner’s friends and family. In Greece, people hold strong traditional values and a powerful sense of pride in their culture. That’s fine, but as a foreigner, I feel that you will always be seen as an outsider. I have been excluded from family events and essentially looked down upon because I am not Greek. I think this is something that depends largely on the background of people you involve yourself with in Greece. However, in my experience this seems to be the norm rather than the exception: Greek parents expect their kids to marry Greek. Anything outside of the status quo will cause headaches for all involved.
Unfortunately, many of my foreign friends living in Greece have reported the same. Foreigners are fun to experiment with, however, ultimately it is expected to have a serious relationship with only Greeks. If you fall in love with a Greek person living in Greece it’s likely that you will have a lot of battles with their family.
Traditional Gender Roles and Perceptions of Women
Sometimes living in Greece reminds me of England in the 1950s. Traditional gender roles are still very much the norm here and I can’t identify with the expectations of women nor the attitudes that are commonly expressed towards them. We complain about gender inequality in the west and indeed it definitely is not obsolete in my native England, however, the acknowledgment of the issue, the push for equality, and the progress that has been made is light-years ahead of Greece.
I will frequently hear things that I cannot or should not do because I am “a lady” or proclamations that women are less capable in certain areas. Following the economic crisis, it is not uncommon for both partners to work in Greece. Women are not expected to be stay at home housewives. However, they are expected to take on their hours of long work IN ADDITION to their domestic responsibilities.
A woman in Greece should still assume the “traditional” tasks associated with her gender – cleaning, cooking, taking care of the children, and all the while looking perfect while doing all of it.
Living with a Greek man, the early stages of living together saw some disagreements of how things were going to work. He expected his dinner on the table when he came home. I expected him to appreciate the fact that I worked just as hard as him, and neither one of us was deserved of being treated as though they were on a pedestal by the other. As someone who grew up in the west, where genders are enforced as being more “equal” and where I have studied and worked in masculine industries. I will never be able to identify with this Greek perception of genders.
I have always felt empowered in the west. I am a woman that graduated top of my class in Business School, set up a six-figure business and travelled the world alone. However, all of that is overlooked in Greece by people who judge me because I cannot make a bechamel sauce. Because after all, making the perfect Bechamel sauce is the life skill that all women should possess.
With all of the above considered, it should go without saying that Greeks are expected to follow the traditional route of aspiring to marriage and having children as a priority. As a 28-year-old female entrepreneur living in Greece, I am something of an oddity here. People actually tell me I’m going to become baron!
Economy and Taxes
Everyone has heard about the economic crisis that hit Greece. People living in Greece may not be very affluent, but the problem is caused by a vicious cycle that could be resolved if the government took action. Only one in five Greeks pay their taxes.
One thing I find startling is that tax evasion is so blatant. Everywhere you go, people are trying to avoid documenting their income and paying taxes. Everywhere.
Imagine my surprise when I had to have dental surgery in Athens to remove a wisdom tooth and the dentist began haggling with me about the price of the surgery. He was bidding prices as of we were haggling over a scarf at an Arabian souk. Arguably he had an unfair advantage following my anesthesia and swollen chipmunk cheeks.
You can’t blame the locals though, the tax is incredibly high. People that are self-employed such as me have to pay huge fees upfront that cripples them. I don’t see this situation going anywhere fast. Living in Greece, this is not necessarily such a problem as it is something I find a little different to what I am used to. Arguably I should not complain as I am able to negotiate tax-free prices in most shops and service places but it still looks unusual to me nonetheless.
Lack of International Community
It can be difficult to make friends and meet people with common interests living in Greece. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great group of friends here. However, since there are incredibly few international companies with headquarters in Greece, there are also few professional expats. To work in most jobs here you would need to speak Greek (unless teaching English or you are able to secure a gold dust position at an English speaking multinational company).
Most foreign people living in Greece stick around anywhere from a few months to a year, typically in temporary style jobs that they do for the experience – volunteering in a refugee camp, working as an au pair, being an English Tutor, etc. As such it can be sad to constantly make friends and then have to say goodbye again.
Are you considering moving to Athens or dreaming of living in Greece? Feel free to reach out to me via email or through the comments below. For more practical advice, I have written this guide on moving to Greece.