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Greek Currency

Greece is part of the Eurozone and all euro bank notes and coins are accepted. It is unusual for businesses to accept other currencies so you will need to convert your home currency into euros, either before you go, or, at a bank, hotel or ‘change outlet’ when you are in Greece. Always compare exchange rates before changing money – there is no official, compulsory exchange rate.

Banks in Greece

You can exchange your home currency and travellers’ cheques at banks. Remember to take your passport with you and details of where you are staying.

Greek banks are usually open from Monday to Thursday from 8 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. On Fridays they close at 2.

You should ask for smaller denomination notes, €20 maximum if possible, since the larger notes can be difficult to change for small purchases and they can be treated with suspicion, as are large notes in many currencies.

ATMs (Cash Machines)

ATMs are widespread throughout the islands with only one or two of the smallest islands not having at least one. On some islands, only the port and the main town (Chora) might have an ATM, so if you’re staying in a remoter location, make sure you withdraw enough whenever you can. You should not assume that all airports have ATMs so always arrive in Greece with enough euros to keep you going for a few days.

You can check the following websites for ATM locations. It’s probably best to do this before you move on from one place to another in case you need to stock up with cash before you leave.

ATMs, and/or your bank or card issuer, often have a limit on the maximum you can withdraw per day, usually €300 or €400, so think ahead if you’ve got a large hotel bill to pay and draw out the money over a few days. In busy resorts, the maximum can be even lower, €100 per day in some places at certain times.

Wherever you stay, you should always maintain sufficient cash for all your needs for a few days ahead. ATMs may be empty or out of action and the next one may be some distance away and, in some cases, possibly on another island.

You should avoid using your credit card to withdraw euros since you will usually be charged a fee and interest on the cash advance until you pay your credit card bill.

A better option is to use your debit card to withdraw euros which will then be debited directly to your bank account and will not be treated as a cash advance as it would with a credit card.

With non-euro-based debit and credit cards, the card issuing organisation will convert the euro amount to your home currency. Generally, the exchange rate is quite good. You may also have an amount deducted by the bank owning the ATM.

What Money and Cards to Bring

There are several choices on how to make sure you have enough money, when you need it, without having to risk carrying huge amounts of cash. We present our favoured option first.

Please blog us if you have any further information on this topic.

The Best Option – Bring Some Euros and a Debit Card

This option is the safest because you are not carrying large amounts of cash around, usually just enough for a few days since you can withdraw more euros using your debit card as and when you need to.

You should buy enough euros at home before you leave to last you a few days until you acclimatise and and suss out the location of the local ATMs. The same applies when you move to a new island; make sure you have enough until you can find the next ATM. On all but the absolute tiniest of islands, there will be an ATM where you can use your debit card to withdraw euros. See the general section on ATMs above and the links to locate the nearest ATM.

If you live in the Eurozone and have a euro bank account, you can use your normal bank debit card.

Non-Euro Debit Cards and Pre-paid Euro Debit Cards

If your bank account is not euro-based, you can still use your home currency debit card, but, you are not in control of exactly what exchange rate you get. However, the Visa and MasterCard organisations usually convert at a reasonably fair rate.

If you don’t have a euro-based bank account, you can still obtain a euro-based debit card – it will give you more control and is more flexible. The easiest way to do this is to apply for a pre-paid card before you leave home. The card account can be accessed on-line, either via a web page or increasingly via an app on your phone or tablet. You can load more money onto the card account on-line or by using the app while you’re travelling, as well as checking your credit balance. Any money you load onto your account usually becomes available to use via the card immediately. Your pre-paid account is normally linked to your home bank account, either via your bank debit card or via a direct debit arrangement, however, money is only taken from your bank account when you explicitly request a card account load, not as a result of normal usage of the card to pay for purchases. This actually gives added peace of mind if your card is lost or its security is breached in some way, because the maximum you can lose is the current credit balance on the card account. If you only ever want to use the card to withdraw cash, and not for general purchases, you could load the card account on-line with just the amount of cash you need shortly before visiting the ATM; your card would then always have a zero balance.

The main difference between a normal credit card and a pre-paid debit card is that you can only successfully use the pre-paid card if there is a sufficient credit balance on your card account. With a normal credit card the transaction would go through and you would pay off the entire amount owed at the end of the month.

When you load the card account, you use your home currency to buy euros at the exchange rate indicated on that particular day. Once the euros are loaded onto your account, subsequent currency fluctuations do not affect the money you’ve already loaded, in the same way as if you’d bought paper euros. Of course, when you come to load again, the rate may, and almost certainly will, have changed.

You use pre-paid cards in exactly the same way as a normal credit or debit card if you’re buying something in a shop or restaurant. If you use a pre-paid card to draw cash at an ATM, it functions the same as a debit card – that is to say, there is usually no extra charge made, because the amount you are withdrawing is not a ‘cash advance’ but is already sitting in your card account. Some ATMs may make a charge for withdrawing cash but we’ve found that most bank-based ATMs in Greece make no charge.

With both your home currency-based debit cards and pre-paid euro debit cards, you should be aware that the Greek bank does not know what the currency of your account is and it assumes that your home bank or card supplier will convert the euro amount to your home currency. It therefore, ‘very helpfully’, offers to do the currency conversion itself and to pass the transaction to your bank in your home currency. You should decline this offer for 2 reasons, 1) the exchange rate offered is usually very poor, and, 2) if you’re using your pre-paid euro card, your card supplier will then need to convert that amount back to euros and you’ll incur double exchange rate losses.

Bring Your Home Currency and Change It As Needed

This option is only really valid if you’re talking about the major international currencies since you might find it difficult to exchange other currencies anywhere but in a proper bank, with all the restrictions on opening days/hours. You’ll probably find that you get a better exchange rate for your home currency in Greek banks than you will at home. Avoid changing currency at hotels or ‘change outlets’ without first comparing rates with those of the banks. Taking small denomination home currency notes gives you more flexibility.

However, as always, carrying large amounts of cash is not advised.

Bring all Euros

This option has the benefit of you not having to worry about finding banks to exchange currency or ATMs to withdraw cash from, however, you have to ask yourself “is it wise to carry large amounts of cash?”.

Take smaller denomination notes, €20 if possible and certainly no larger than €50, since the larger notes can be difficult to change for small purchases and they can be treated with suspicion, as are large notes in many currencies.

Bring Euros and Use Your Debit/Credit Card to Pay Bills

This isn’t a reliable option in Greece since Greek retailers are universally averse to accepting debit or credit cards. The larger hotels might accept them, but, except in the most cosmopolitan of tourist resorts, you will find it difficult to use cards in smaller shops or bars and restaurants.

Travellers’ Cheques

Travellers’ cheques are not widely accepted so it would not be advisable to rely on them as the only source of payment. You will need to go to a bank to change them, although some hotels and ‘change outlets’ will exchange them but not at very favourable rates.

The Best Pre-Paid Euro Debit Cards

We plan to update this section as a result of more information from travellers via the blogs. At the moment we have experience of only the UK market and would welcome information on offerings in other countries.

The UK CaxtonFX Card

We’ve tried a number of pre-paid cards in the UK and the one that comes out way above the others is the CaxtonFX card.

The CaxtonFX card doesn’t just provide for use in the Eurozone, you can pre-load it with any mix of the following 15 currencies:

  • GBP GB Pound
  • EUR Euro
  • USD US Dollar
  • AUD Australian Dollar
  • CAD Canadian Dollar
  • CHF Swiss Franc
  • DKK Danish Krone
  • HKD Hong Kong Dollar
  • HUF Hungarian Forint
  • JPY Japanese Yen
  • NOK Norwegian Krone
  • NZD New Zealand Dollar
  • PLN Polish Zloty
  • SEK Swedish Krona
  • ZAR South African Rand

Each currency maintains its own balance on your on-line account and you can transfer money between currencies at the currently prevailing exchange rates so, if you don’t spend all the euros you loaded, you can convert them to the currency of your next destination.

The exchange rates beat most of the competition. The card is free and card-loads and normal card transactions incur no extra cost. The telephone support, in the unlikely event that you should ever need it, is fast and efficient.

It’s the perfect card for international travellers. Give it try – you’ve got nothing to lose.

Money Tips Before Leaving Home

  1. Buy sufficient euros to last you for at least the first few days
  2. Get yourself a pre-paid euro debit card
  3. If you intend to use your debit card and/or you credit card, inform your bank and card issuer so that they do not stop any seemingly fraudulent transaction they see coming from Greece. The last thing you want is for your card to be blocked if it’s your main source of funding.
  4. Ensure that you have the ‘lost or stolen’ phone number written down separate from your cards. This number is usually on the back of the card and you should choose the international one that can be dialled from abroad if there is a choice of local and international numbers.