Who are you?
My name is Tanya Korteling from England, but now living in a little village called Didyma in Ermionida, Argolidas, in Peloponnese Greece, with my husband Andy. I work as a freelance SEO, Marketing and Data Consultant and also as a Travel Content Creator for our travel blog Can Travel Will Travel and YouTube channel Living in Greece.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
We left the UK to travel, live and work abroad in September 2016. We sold almost everything we owned, rented out our two UK properties and headed to SE Asia with nothing but a big backpack and a daypack each.
We’ve travelled, lived and worked abroad since then, with the exception of a couple of extended trips back to the UK for family reasons. During that time, we’ve travelled and lived in Asia, Latin America and Europe. Our most recent move was our relocation from Siem Reap Cambodia to Greece mid-pandemic in July 2020. We moved to renovate an old stone Greek house in a tiny village called Didyma in Ermionida, Argolidas in Peloponnese Greece.
What challenges did you face during the move?
As I mentioned above, as we moved to Greece mid-pandemic from Cambodia, alongside all the normal relocation challenges we also had the added complications of travel restrictions and lockdowns to contend with. This made navigating all the red-tape required to gain Greek residency and buy a property even more difficult, especially as we were racing against time to do it within the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
The majority of the time we were in lockdown which meant we only had 2 hours per day when we could leave the house for property viewings, meeting with estate agents, lawyers, notaries etc, and that was in addition to grocery shopping etc.
Also, because we purchased a house in the middle of nowhere we absolutely had to buy a car. This was very difficult when there were only two car yards in the region, and we were not permitted to cross into neighbouring regions. This resulted in us buying a horrible, old, but trustworthy, purple-coloured Toyota Corolla, the best of a bad bunch.
Did you need to obtain a visa, residency permit or work permit? What was the process like?
Yes, we had to obtain a residency permit, and as we purchased a property and transferred our tax residency here, we also had to obtain a Greek tax number (AFM) and a social security number (AMKA) so we could access Greek healthcare and a Greek driving license.
To be honest the whole process was extremely painful as there’s a lot of red-tape to plough through in Greece, and a lot of things weren’t fully digitalised here. This was all exacerbated by trying to do it during Covid-19 lockdowns. Let’s just say there were occasions for tears of frustration (from me, not Andy).
How does the cost of living compare with your previous country?
Well, we were living and working as digital nomads in Siem Reap, Cambodia, previously so everything is much more expensive in Greece. However, when compared to England, some things such as fuel and groceries are comparable, whilst other things such as food and drink in tavernas and restaurants are cheaper.
Is it easy to open and use an account with a local bank?
This was quite a long, drawn-out procedure, we had to go into a branch to open an account and take photocopies of many, many different documents with us. So nowhere near as straightforward as opening a bank account in the UK. We’ve also faced challenges with using online banking and apps, for example if you forget your pin or password, it can be difficult to get these reset, without going into the branch as there aren’t (or weren’t) English language options on the online or phone helpdesks.
How did you find somewhere to live?
We actually found the house we purchased online whilst we were still living in Cambodia. In all honesty, the reason we bought it and where we bought it, was because of the price. It was ridiculously cheap, a real bargain.
Are there many other expats in your area?
There are no other full-time expats living in our village, although about a year or so ago, another English couple bought a house to renovate at the end of our road, so they visit a couple of times a year to work on that.
Other than that, there are several other expats dotted about in the surrounding villages and towns like Ermioni, Porto Cheli and Nafplio within about an hour’s drive, many of whom we’ve become good friends with.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
The locals in our village have been extremely welcoming and we have made a couple of good friends in the village. Everyone else is very friendly to us and we stop to exchange pleasantries with many of them. However, we are still struggling with the Greek language and as the majority of the locals in our village don’t speak English. I think our lack of Greek at the moment is seriously hampering our efforts at making closer local friends here. It’s something we’re working on.
What do you like about life where you are?
Of course, the weather (except for in the winter when it does get surprisingly cold here), but also the importance of family and community here and that in Greece, people ‘work to live’ and not ‘live to work’. I also love the Greek food and where we live, the knowledge we’re learning from the locals about how it’s possible to ‘live off the land’, for example collecting wild greens (horta), asparagus, oregano, and many other things.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
The language barrier, which is a big hurdle in us making good friends with the locals in our village. Another thing is that it’s quite expensive to travel from Greece, which makes it difficult for us to visit family and friends in the UK.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
This is a very difficult one for me to answer as we haven’t lived in the UK for 8 years and most things I would mention have already been mentioned above.
One other thing would be time management and work ethic – it can be very difficult to get things done on time when they’re promised. Meetings or appointments with contractors are often late or cancelled with no notice or reason and getting a commitment to do a job can be a challenge.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
If living as an expat is something you want to do, then just follow your dreams and do it. If it doesn’t work out you can always go home, but if you don’t try, you’ll never know!
If you’re going to move to Greece as an expat, building a community and making friends (whether with other expats or locals) is very important. It can be very lonely otherwise. The best way to do this is to find Facebook Groups in the area and once you meet and make friends with one or two people, just keep networking.
As an example, when the final Greece lockdown finished in Greece, Andy and I had ‘0’ expat or local friends. However, within 3 months of making a concerted effort, we’d built a network of around 20 of us, which has continued to grow. For Greek Easter (Pasca) this year, we hosted a big traditional lamb BBQ and must have had 40 people drop in and out during the day. We would never have imagined that possible in the early days.
What are your plans for the future?
We will finish with the house renovations and then hopefully get more spare time to enjoy our expat life in Greece. Workwise, I will continue with my freelance SEO, Data and Marketing consultancy and Andy will continue teaching English online and doing YouTube consultancy.
We will also both continue working on our travel blog and YouTube channel, publishing lots more content on Greece and neighbouring countries. This year I worked with the Mythical Peloponnese tourism board during the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) conference in Kalamata to promote Nafplio and Laconia and hope to work with more of the tourism boards of various municipalities in Greece in the coming year.