While the process for opening a bank account in Greece is straightforward there are some important issues to remember because of the country’s ongoing financial issues. Indeed, when credit controls were in place it was virtually impossible for anyone to open a new bank account in the country.
Expats could do so to receive their salary but needed a legal document from their employer to prove the need for a new Greek bank account. This requirement is no longer in place.The first point to bear in mind for an expat moving to Greece is that they should not close their home bank account and should keep it open and active as an effective insurance policy against what may, or may not, happen to the Greek economy.
While many expats may try to open an account while still living abroad, it’s easier to do this in person and it’s easy enough to arrange an appointment, though anyone opening an account outside of Greece must be over the age of 18. They will still need to attend a branch so that their signature can be ratified before the account is opened fully.
In addition to current accounts, expats can open external and foreign currency accounts as well as student accounts. It’s also possible to ask the bank for a credit card, though these are not easy to obtain and the Greek banks may ask for a credit reference from the expat’s home country. Credit cards are used widely but they can be expensive.
Also, before accepting a credit card application, the Greek bank may request the expat’s most recent tax return and they may also need proof of income from an employer and a residency permit. Expats should also appreciate that the credit limit often begins with a low amount, some expats may be offered a limit of €250, for instance.
Things are a lot better for Greece and the Greek people in recent times but there is no doubt that the banking industry has been through a lot of turmoil, with smaller banks having to close and many international banks refusing to do business with Greek banks.
However, there are still lots of banks to open an account with as well as international banks, including Citibank and HSBC, who operate in Greece.
Buying property in Greece
Expats who want to buy property in the country will have to prove that the money they are using to buy the home has been brought into Greece legally. Expats must also prove that they can maintain the property effectively and will be required to open a bank account for transactions.
Expats should also take on board recommendations from friends and colleagues about which bank account they should open and be aware that the government may not support all banks should the country run into financial difficulties again, so it’s perhaps advisable to choose one the government is probably going to help such as National Bank.
Other banks in Greece worth considering for expats include Alpha Bank and Emporiki Bank, which have branches dotted around the country, though the process of opening an account should be fairly easy for all EU citizens so long as they can provide documentary evidence that they are a citizen of an EU member country.
However, like many countries there will be banks in Greece which will refuse to have US expats as clients because they do not want the administrative burden in meeting the requirements of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). There are other options including utilising the services of a US-based bank which has branches in the country.
There’s also the option of Piraeus Bank which may be a boon to expats who cannot speak or read Greek since it offers internet banking in English. Most of the major banks in Greece offer customer services in English.
Opening a bank account in Greece
The process of opening a bank account in Greece is straightforward but expats need a tax number, known as the AFM or the Arithmo Forologiko Mitro, which is easy to obtain. Indeed, an expat does not need to prove residency with a residence permit to get a tax number and they can visit a tax office, show their passport and their birth certificate and the nine-digit AFM number will be created and given to them.
Once they have the number they can then visit a Greek bank branch along with their relevant identification documents; the need for these will vary between banks. Some banks may also need a utility bill to show proof of address.
A Greek bank may also ask the expat to provide them with statements from their current bank account provider in their home country. It’s also fairly common for the Greeks to ask for a letter of reference from their home country’s bank detailing their credit rating – for obvious reasons an expat’s credit rating is very important to banks in Greece.
Of the paperwork that needs to be signed by expats, some may be surprised that they may have to give a written undertaking that the account will not be used for a trade – a specific business account will need to be created if so.
Many banks in Greece also require a minimum deposit to open the account, though some do not make the request. These amounts vary from €50-€300, though €150 is about the average amount. The expat should also appreciate that with the country’s credit controls in place they may be asked to prove where the money for their initial deposit came from.
The banks are open Monday to Thursday from 8am to 2.30pm. On Fridays they close half an hour earlier. Bank opening hours will vary between areas, and larger banks in towns and cities may also open on Saturdays or for longer hours during the week.
Because of the need to use cash extensively there are a lot of ATMs or cashpoints available in the country with most having the option of conducting transactions in English. However, expats may find that in remote areas these machines only use Greek which may cause some confusion.
The cashpoints tend to use Visa and MasterCard – so look out for the logo on the machine before trying to use one – which are also commonly used around the country. American Express and Diner’s Club are less popular.
Expats wanting to open an account should also check beforehand what the interest rates are and what the costs of running the account will be. These will vary from bank to bank and will generally be much higher than an expat is used to paying.
Expats should also be wary about any potential charges for using a debit card with their current account since not all banks offer a free service and those who do charge offer a variety of rates.
Some banks have a monthly charge for running a bank account and will charge extra for cheque books and bank cards. Opening the account however does not usually have an administration fee and it’s also possible for the expat to have an account with an overdraft facility and to create standing orders to pay utility bills.
Expats looking to transfer funds regularly between Greece and their home country when using a normal bank are advised by financial experts to look carefully at the exchange rates and transfer fees since other options are available which may be much cheaper, for instance using a currency specialist firm.
Cheques are rarely used in Greece and many firms and restaurants prefer cash. Many bars and eating places will only accept cash, so expats should always carry some money on them, particularly in major tourist locations.
Another issue facing expats is the question of obtaining bank loans. It is almost impossible for a non-Greek resident to be granted one, particularly when banks’ lending criteria have become much tighter.
Essentially, it’s important that expats moving to Greece maintain their current bank account in their home country and they should never expose all of their savings and banking transactions to the Greek system because there are still question marks over the future of some of the country’s banks. Some financial experts say that expats should not have more than €10,000 at risk with a Greek bank which leaves the opportunity of having an international bank account open at the same time.
An international bank account for an expat living in Greece makes sound sense, particularly if they are conducting regular currency transactions, and there’s a lot to recommend them. The biggest attraction is managing money in several currencies and an opportunity to contact the bank 24/7 by telephone.
However, many international banks require the expat to have a minimum level of income or, alternatively, maintain a healthy balance with them either in savings or a current account and the bank may also allocate a relationship manager to ensure the expat is making the most of their money.
The other big attraction is that by utilising an international bank account, an expat will not be impacted by any restrictions that may be made on the Greek banking system. Indeed, in 2015, the UK government issued an advisory note to the 2,000 British expat retirees who live in Greece to ensure they can access their benefits and offered help to set up a UK bank account or switching payments to another bank altogether to avoid any potential credit crunch.
There’s more help and advice for expats interested in holding an international bank account from the likes of Barclays, HSBC as well as Citibank, for instance.
This article about how expats can open a bank account in Greece also touched upon their ability to speak or read Greek and it helps that the banks can supply a customer’s statement in English.
And for those expats who expect to conduct lots of regular currency transactions then it is a good idea to file their receipts because they may be needed if there are questions about residency raised or if the tax authorities want to know why so much money is being exported from the country. It’s also worth noting that currency transfers worth more than €10,000 will have to be declared.
Finally, while there are some very good banks in Greece most expats should appreciate they are going to be slow in dealing with transactions.
It may also help the expat to take their passport if needing a cashier or bank teller as this will help deal with any questions about residency (the passport is preferred to a residency permit). Some Greek banks also have the frustration of having people queue up twice – one to make a request for a cash withdrawal and another queue for the request to be processed.
This may also help explain why internet banking has grown in popularity, since transactions can be conducted instantly and in English. Expats looking to open a bank account in Greece will find a variety of banks to choose from – though some are still in the process of being taken over by the government – and with careful research they will find one that meets their needs.