The allure of stunning beaches, dazzling islands and hospitable locals has caused many an expat to consider moving to beautiful Greece for good, but it is one thing to visit and a totally different experience to actually live here. Let’s not forget that it is no coincidence that statistics show that almost 74 percent of Greeks aged 22-35 would opt to emigrate and one in three local families would jump at the chance to leave.
Life has never been easy in Greece at the best of times, but it has become even harder since the country became a modern-day debt colony. So before you start packing your bags and consider swimming against the tide, here’s a reality check of what you’ll be up against:
1. FINDING A JOB
Finding work is not easy for Greeks let alone for non-EU citizens. The mentality that you need to know somebody hasn’t changed in a land where nepotism reigns supreme (just look at the make-up of the members of government ruled by family dynasties). People will ask if you have a ‘meson‘ (contact) but if you forget getting a job in the public sector, you may be lucky enough to find a vacant position that makes its way to the classifieds rather than be spread by word of mouth. In that case, you’ll find yourself up against many desperate and educated candidates in the land of roughly 25% unemployment (50% for those under 25 years).
2. ADJUSTING TO WORK
When you manage to land a job, your problems will be far from over with businesses shutting down at lightning speed leaving behind thousands of jobless and an unemployment rate that is double the Eurozone average. Many companies are taking advantage of the situation by paying employees “under the table” or “black” – this means that you get no health benefits and will be at the mercy of the tax squad if you get caught. Language schools, filled with expats teaching foreign languages, are a common target of tax spot-checks and once caught it isn’t just the employers bearing the brunt of the fine, but employees too.
3. PITIFUL SALARIES
Already low salaries have been slashed by half since the economic crisis began. It is not unusual to find university graduates getting paid 560 euros per month (with unpaid overtime + weekends considered a matter of course). Figures say that the average wage is around 700 euros per month, but this is far from the truth (though, yes, there is a dwindling middle class still making 1,000 euros per month with taxes). Many employers are now recruiting staff on a part-time basis with flexible contracts and low pay. There are teachers grossing 800 euros per month at a posh private school at upmarket Kefalari work 8-5 p.m. (extra hours for afternoon clubs), who are all sacked over summer and then rehired again in September in a work arrangement that is routine at many private schools and language institutes where expats work. Furthermore, don’t be surprised if the wage that you agree upon during your recruitment translates to a lower amount once your first pay check comes through (yes, even in companies considered respectable on the Greek market). Another problem is actually getting paid on time – because nobody does. You may have to pay the rent on the first of every month, but in Greece it is commonplace for employers to delay paying wages. Nobody says a word because it is considered a blessing to actually work for someone who actually does pay for services rendered at a time of economic crisis.
4. DIFFERENT MENTALITY
Working with Greek people is a different ballgame to the lovely locals you meet when on holiday. It is one thing having a laugh over coffee and quite another matter hearing views that may be racist and non-politically correct on a daily basis. People express themselves quite freely and no-nos – such as swearing on the world or sexist banter – is apparently quite acceptable. Though Greeks work long hours and willingly put in unpaid overtime rather than stick with each other and demand their rights, their productivity is low due to a lack of organization. You’ll find that deadlines are mere suggestions. Don’t be lured into a false sense of security in thinking that these people are your friends because they want to know personal information. Be warned that everything you say can, and probably will, be used against you. On the plus side, dress codes are mere suggestions and, in a land where the country’s leader shows up at White House functions without a tie, you are free to wear pretty much anything you want at work – even flip-flops and a swimming cozzie under pink shorts.
5. FINDING A FLAT
Apartment prices have dropped since the crisis began, however this doesn’t mean that finding accommodation is easier. In downtown Athens, you can find a 20+ year flat of around 70 sq. metres, but finding a flat that you actually want to live in is another matter as not all of the pickings are freshly painted or in mint condition. Also bear in mind that when Greeks say “unfurnished” they mean unfurnished all the way without a refrigerator or stove.
Transport strikes are plentiful, so you would do well considering finding accommodation near your work. Wages are too low for taxi fares and hectic traffic means that the time it takes to get to work should be taken into consideration. The days when you could just meet a stranger who’d offer to take you somewhere nearby have disappeared since the abolition of the drachma.
7. THINK OF THE FUTURE!
Sure, Greece is great when you’re single with only yourself to take care of, but imagine the problems that will arise once you have a family and dependents. Consider the life that your kids will have here. By law, they won’t automatically be entitled to Greek citizenship just because they were born here so imagine the bureaucracy that they’ll be up against.They’ll have to go through a tough education system that is far from organized or truly inducive to learning. The health system is riddled with shortages and it is not uncommon for doctors to expect fakelakia (bribes) so that they can perform operations in order to supplement their own pitiful 1,000-euro per month salaries (in the state health system). As for retirement packages, they are in a state of flux with the state pensions constantly being lowered. In a radio interview with Praktorio 104.9 FM on August 23, Greek Labor Minister George Katroungalos said that nobody in Greece will be poor with a state pension at 384 euros per month… just so you know where it’s all headed.
MINUS 1 – GREECE!
Most people who come to Greece from English-speaking countries or Western Europe come for emotional reasons rather than for the hope of economic stability. If you seek to take the road less travelled and prefer a life of struggle and chaos rather than routine, then Greece is for you. Throw caution and sensibility to the wind and live in a fractured land of sunlight and uncertainty, but don’t say that you’ve not been warned!