Greece is home to one of the world’s oldest civilisations and remains one of the most popular countries in the world to visit. Travellers flock to its thousands of islands for beach holidays, while the mainland boasts a wealth of ancient Greek ruins as well as the cosmopolitan cities of Athens and Thessaloniki. With the country well-known for its Mediterranean diet, visitors enjoy feasting on souvlaki, kebabs, moussaka or drinking Ouzo or Metaxa.
When it comes to plastic, Visa and Mastercard credit cards find widespread acceptance. However, cardholders of American Express or Diners Club may struggle.
You’ll find cash machines linked to the Plus or Cirrus systems so using your Visa or Mastercard card will be easy. ATMs are in most Greek cities and resorts, including at train and bus stations, petrol stations, shopping centres and popular tourist destinations. Many ATMs charge a withdrawal fee of around €2 to €3 per transaction – this will be in addition to what your UK provider will charge.
Be aware, it can be common for ATMs to run out of cash on the weekends during peak tourist season, with many not being restocked until mid-week. It’s worth having an emergency supply of cash with you and a back-up card you can use over the counter.
Don’t let Greek cash machines which don’t appear to have English instructions put you off – these usually pop up in English on the screen once you put your card in. The cash machines with English instructions tend to run out of cash before the Greek ones so it’s worth keeping this in mind.
Cash in Greece
You’ll need to pay for most small purchases of around €10 to €20 in cash. Keep around €100 to €150 in cash to pay newspaper vendors, cafes, restaurants, bars and small souvenir shops.
If you need to exchange money, Greek banks tend to have the best exchange rates and are open from 9am to 2pm. Come prepared for a wait; long lines are a frequent occurrence.
Greece has moved from magnetic-stripe to chip cards, and all banks in Greece now issue the latter. Chip and PIN cards are most commonly used for most transactions, while contactless is steadily growing in popularity for transactions of €50 and under.
If you have a magnetic-stripe card, you’ll still be able to use it in Greece, although you can expect some confusion. In the switching of technology, some retailers falsely believe that they can no longer accept magnetic-stripe cards while some others will not let you use them, to do their bit in reducing credit card fraud. All they basically need you to do is swipe your card instead of inserting it into the machine, and then get you to sign for the purchase.
If you use a chip-and-signature card, you can use it in Greece just about everywhere you find a manned credit card machine. However, some businesses are hesitant in accepting them because they are not sure if it’s allowed and some others don’t accept them to cut down on credit card fraud. If you’re getting tickets from a machine, you’ll need to enter a PIN, in which case your chip-and-signature card won’t work.
Is it safe to use my card in Greece?
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Greece, you’ll have a relatively trouble-free experience.
Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter the PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs in banks and avoid using ones in the street.
Watch out for “skimmers”. When installed in an ATM, a card skimmer works by stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there is a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
Remain alert to street crime, especially where two or more people work in distracting victims before decamping with their valuables. Instances of theft at airports are not uncommon, so stay vigilant while arriving and departing. There have been numerous instances of thefts from hired cars so don’t leave your wallet or purse in a parked car. In some cases, thieves pose as police and ask to see wallets for identification purposes. In such a scenario, make sure you’re speaking with genuine police officers. It is very unlikely that a real officer will want to sift through your wallet.
Potential credit card fees
Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you’re travelling overseas, so know what you’re up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.
Foreign transaction fees
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, always choose to pay in the local currency.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you are likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is normally higher than your purchase APR. Typically, you will get no grace period and you will start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive this fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card in Greece.
Additionally you can get an idea of costs by using these online currency conversion tools from Mastercard and Visa.
What is a cash advance fee?
A cash advance fee is calculated (and charged) when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.
How to prepare before travelling to Greece
Go with Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two cards on your trip to Greece, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. If you just take an American Express card, you won’t get to use it in many places.
Keep your bank informed. Banks, in their efforts to thwart fraudulent transactions, block credit cards if they detect suspicious activity such as unexpected overseas transactions. To make sure this does not happen to your card, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the UK.
Keep the emergency number handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
Know where you’ll get cash from. Consider using your debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs. If you need to exchange money, stick to banks or official money-exchange offices because possessing counterfeit money in Greece is a serious crime. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in Greece does not hit any roadblocks.
Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard are the favourites. If you are planning a trip, check out cards which give you complimentary airport lounge access. If you are planning well in advance, consider earning air miles for your trip with a frequent flyer credit card.
Have I let my bank know? If you don’t inform your bank about your travel plans, you may end up with a temporarily suspended card.
What fees do I need to pay? If your existing cards come with foreign transaction fees, look for one that does not. Paying in Sterling outside of the UK might come with currency conversion fees.
How will I get cash? Using your debit card at an ATM is the simplest way to access your own money. You can carry cash with you. Exchanging Sterling to Euros is easy and you’ll get several options.
When you’re in Greece, you don’t have to worry about where and when you can use your credit card. Just keep some cash handy to pay for small purchases.
We use banks to take care of all our other financial needs, so surely we should use them when sending an international money transfer, right? Not necessarily. While major UK banks offer money transfer services, they typically present less competitive exchange rates coupled with high transfer fees. Learn how to send money to Greece the smart way.
Visa and Mastercard are almost on a par. American Express follows at a distant third.
There are no currency restrictions, although you’ll need to declare if you’re bringing in more than €10,000 or its equivalent in another currency.
Chris Lilly is a publisher at finder.com. He's a specialist in credit-based products including business and personal loans, mortgages and credit cards, and is passionate about helping UK consumers make informed decisions about their borrowing. In his spare time Chris likes forcing his kids to exercise more.
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