Although costs have risen astronomically since Greece switched to the euro currency in 2002, the country will seem reasonably priced to travelers from the United States and Great Britain. Popular tourist resorts (including some of the islands) and the larger cities are markedly more expensive than the countryside. Though the price of eating in a restaurant has increased, you can still get a bargain. Hotels are generally moderately priced outside the major cities, and the extra cost of accommodations in a luxury hotel, compared to in an average hotel, often seems unwarranted.
Other typical costs: soft drink (can) €1, in a café €2; spinach pie, €1.80; souvlaki, €2.20; local bus, €1.20; foreign newspaper, €3–€5.30.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Discounts are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
ATMs and Banks
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you'll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a significantly safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash for your entire trip. However, it's normally a bad idea to use your debit card to make purchases abroad; if there's any kind of fraud or problem, that money is gone from your bank account until you can contact the bank and dispute the transaction. Save your debit card for cash withdrawals, and use a credit card for purchases.
PIN numbers with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in Greece. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave. Letters do not generally appear on Greek ATM keypads.
ATMs are widely available throughout the country. Virtually all banks, including the National Bank of Greece (known as Ethniki), have machines that dispense money to Cirrus or Plus cardholders, but in the rare instance that you still have an ATM card without a chip, you may need one to access your account at many European banks. You may find bank-sponsored ATMs at harbors and in airports as well. Other systems accepted include Visa, MasterCard, and less often American Express, Diners Club, and Eurocard. The farther away from the capital you go, the less likely you are to encounter card machines and ATMs, so make sure you always carry some cash with you, particularly when traveling to smaller islands or mainland towns. The word for PIN is pronounced "peen," and ATMs are called Ei Ti Em after the letters, or just to mihanima, "the machine." Machines usually let you complete the transaction in English, French, or German and seldom create problems, except Sunday night, when they sometimes run out of cash. For most machines, the minimum amount dispensed is €20. Sometimes an ATM may refuse to "read" your card. Don't panic; it's probably the machine. Try another bank.
At some ATMs in Greece you may not have a choice of drawing from a specific account. If you have linked savings and checking accounts, make sure there's money in both before you depart.
It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you don't travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you're prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost, but you're better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank's number is usually printed on your card.
Most credit-card transactions in Europe now require a chip-and-PIN or chip-and-signature card. Most credit cards in the United States now have these, and you can sometimes get a PIN from your bank to make transactions abroad easier. If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances from an ATM (which we strongly advise against), you'll certainly need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it's usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there's a problem), some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they're in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won't be any surprises when you get the bill.
Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether or not he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). They will normally ask you if you want to "pay in euros or dollars." In such a transaction the credit-card processor (shop, restaurant, or hotel, not Visa or MasterCard) converts the currency and charges you in your home currency rather than euros. It's an expensive transaction since in most cases you'll pay the merchant an additional 3% fee for this service on top of any credit-card company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges.
It's always safer to use a credit card for purchases while traveling. A credit card allows you to delay payment and gives you certain rights as a consumer, including the right to dispute a fraudulent charge before you have to make a payment on your account and a limit of $50 for fraudulent charges to a lost or stolen card (provided you report the loss as soon as you discover it). A debit card deducts funds directly from your checking account and helps you stay within your budget, but you may not receive an automatic credit if you dispute a charge. When you want to rent a car, though, you may still need an old-fashioned credit card.
Shop owners in Greece often give you a lower price if you pay with cash rather than credit, because they want to avoid the credit-card bank fees.
Reporting Lost Cards
American Express. 800/917–8047; 273/696–933; www.americanexpress.com.
Diners Club. 800/234–6377; 514/881–3735 ; www.dinersclub.com.
Discover. 800/347–2683; 801/902–3100; www.discover.com.
MasterCard. 800/627–8372; 636/722–7111; 800–11/8870303; www.mastercard.com.
Visa. 800/847–2911; 303/967–1096; 800–11/638–0304; www.visa.com.
Currency and Exchange
Greece uses the euro. Under the euro system, there are eight coins: 1 and 2 euros, plus 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 euro cents. Euros are pronounced "evros" in Greek; cents are known as "lepta." All coins have the euro value on one side; the other side has each country's unique national symbol. Greece's images range from triremes to a depiction of the mythological Europa being abducted by Zeus transformed as a bull. Bills (banknotes) come in six denominations: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 euros. Bills are the same for all EU countries.
Off Syntagma Square in Athens, the National Bank of Greece, Alpha Bank, and Pireos Bank have automated machines that change your foreign currency into euros. When you shop, remember that it's always easier to bargain on prices when paying in cash instead of by credit card.
If you do use an exchange service, good options are American Express and OneExchange (formerly Eurochange). Watch daily fluctuations and shop around. Daily exchange rates are prominently displayed in banks and listed in the global edition of the New York Times (www.global.nytimes.com). In Athens, around Syntagma Square is the best place to look. In some tourist resorts you might be able to change money at the post office, where commissions may be lower than at banks. To avoid lines at airport exchange booths, get a bit of local currency before you leave home.
Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there's some kind of substantial, hidden fee that can be as much as 8%, often in the form of a bad rate. And as for rates, you will always get a better exchange rate for euros at an ATM .
Bank of Greece. Greece's Central Bank offers foreign exchange at competitive rates. 21 Panepistimiou (El. Venizelou) Avenue, Syntagma, Athens, Attica, 10250. 210/320–1111. Mon.–Thurs. 8–2:30, Fri. 8–2.
Kapa Change. Filellinon 1, Syntagma, Athens, Attica, 10557. 210/331–3830; www.kapachange.gr. Mon.–Sun. 8:30–8:30.
National Bank of Greece. This central branch of Greece's oldest lender offers foreign exchange transactions Karageorgi Servias 2, Syntagma, Athens, Attica, 10562. 210/334–8015; www.nbg.gr. Mon.–Thurs. 8–2:30, Fri. 8–2.
OneExchange. 27 FX booths in Greece. Karageorgi Servias 2, Syntagma, Athens, Attica, 10562. 210/322–0005; www.onexchange.gr. 9–9 daily.