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Banking in Greece

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Two words come to mind when one considers opening a bank account in Greece: capital controls. Although the easing of capital controls is part of the agreement between Greece and creditors in order to help the economy to recover, they are still in place -- and expected to remain in effect until the end of 2018 at least. What does that mean for expats? First and foremost, you need to consider keeping your bank account in your home country, at least as a fail safe.

Choosing a bank in Greece

The Greek banking system has taken quite the hit these last few years: several international banks have left the country, smaller banks shut down or bought out/merged with larger ones. Currently, the largest banking groups remaining in Greece are Piraeus Bank, Eurobank EFG, National Bank of Greece and Alpha Bank, whereas some international banks such as HSBC and Citibank also operate in the country. When choosing between them, you should keep in mind that if another wave of crisis or capital controls hits, the government is more likely to assist a domestic bank like the National Bank of Greece first (that’s the bank where pensions are being deposited each month). On the other hand, a privately owned bank like Piraeus Bank is more likely to offer services like internet banking in English or an easy-to-use mobile app.

Opening a bank account

Once you’ve chosen the right bank for you, you should also take a moment to consider what kind of account would most suit your needs (and also compare commission rates for money transfer to and from Greece). Most Greek banks will provide savings and current accounts, monthly income savings accounts, investment accounts, student accounts, time deposits and deposit accounts in foreign currency. Along with your account you can get a cheque book (although only companies use cheques in Greece), account statements, a debit card for ATM use, and you can also issue standing orders for the payment of utilities bills and credit cards.

To open an account, you’ll need the following:

  • Your identity card and/or passport (to open an account you need to be older than 18).
  • A nine-digit tax number (AFM) which you can get from the local tax office.
  • Some proof of address (usually in the form of a utility bill)
  • A formal statement declaring that the account will not be used for trade.

What’s interesting to note is that post-crisis, most banks do not require a minimum deposit for opening an account anymore -- although Alpha Bank still has a minimum of 300 euros.

Cash VS Everything Else

Although the use of debit and credit cards is increasing (more than two out of three Greeks are now using debit or credit cards for their daily transactions), you are still advised to carry some cash with you -- as a lot of small businesses, especially in remote areas of Greece, only accept cash. The current withdrawal limit from an ATM is 840 euros per 14 days, but this might change so make sure to check the screen of the ATM as it will inform you of the current limit at the time of your withdrawal. Almost all ATMs have the option to choose English so it is unlikely you’ll encounter any problems.

If you’d like to be issued a credit card, be aware that things won’t be that simple nowadays: due to the significant amount of debt, banks have become very wary with issuing new credit cards. You may be required to obtain a reference letter from your bank back home, to show some proof that you have a steady income (or provide your latest tax statement) and even then you’ll probably start with a relatively low credit limit. Note that getting a loan is even harder.

 Useful links:

National Bank of Greece
Piraeus Bank
Eurobank
Alpha Bank

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