If you’ve ever vacationed in the Greek islands, you may have found it hard to leave. What if you didn’t have to?
Retirees will discover that it costs less to live in Greece than in most places in the United States – or in Europe.
The worst of the country's financial crisis seems to be over, though the Greek economy is still far from strong. However, the massive austerity measures levied on Greek citizens generally have less effect on expatriates. The country’s political instability, strikes and unemployment have kept property values low, so in some ways, this is a good time to invest. (But putting your hard-earned retirement savings in a Greek bank isn’t advised; better to use a large international bank instead.)
Retirees can get a residence permit for Greece by providing proof that they have an independent income of at least €2,000 per month. (In late October 2018, the exchange rate was one euro to USD 1.14, so that’s approximately $2,279.) The average monthly U.S. Social Security benefit is $1,413. While that alone probably wouldn’t be enough to live in Greece, you can survive comfortably by adding $700 or so from your retirement savings. And if you’re married, chances are your spouse will also be getting a Social Security check.
Greece’s mild year-round climate means you won’t be paying for any high-priced down parkas. However, you will need to factor in the cost of healthcare. Medical care in Greece is excellent and relatively inexpensive compared to the United States. But you’ll need to pay for private health insurance, as you won’t be covered by the Greek social security system. Your best bet would be to extend the coverage you currently have in the U.S.
Here are three scenarios to consider for retirement in Greece, depending on your budget: average, cost-conscious or high roller.
A Middle-of-the-Road Budget
Many first-time visitors to Greece start by touring Athens, then head to the beaches elsewhere on the mainland or on the islands. If you’re a city person, you might choose to live in Athens, or at least on the city's outskirts. (Despite tourist attractions like the Parthenon, the city center can be noisy, crowded and polluted.) Living in or close to Athens also gives you ready access to medical care and makes it easier to get to an airport for vacations and flights back to the U.S. to visit family.
A one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Athens will cost you about $278 a month (all figures are taken from Numbeo.com). Factor in basic utilities – electricity, heating, water and garbage pickup – which adds about $162/month (the average for a 915-sq.-ft apartment). The indispensable internet connection? Another $33 a month.
Groceries are well priced in Greece: Breads and cheeses, olive oil and wine are all locally produced and excellent, and fresh fruits and vegetables abound. But of course, you may not want to cook for yourself all the time. Eating out is one of the pleasures of this country and a great way to connect with others in your community. Restaurants throughout Greece are good and reasonably priced.
If you’ve been able to provide evidence of the required income of $2,279 per month, you should be in good shape here. Besides the housing costs mentioned above, which total $472/month, you might spend $300 on groceries, $35 on transportation and $150 on monthly household expenses. That leaves you about $1,322 for health insurance and other medical costs, plus dining out, entertainment and travel – and enough left over to deal with emergencies.
The Peloponnese peninsula, southwest of Athens, offers some less expensive options to the city while keeping you close to good healthcare options and overseas flights.
The city of Kalamata (yes, like the olive), with a population of about 54,000, has an attractive old town, museums, decent restaurants and beaches nearby. Getting here is easy: There’s an airport, and it's about a four-and-a-half hour bus ride from Athens.
A one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Kalamata will cost you about $257/month; utilities and internet will bring the total to $453/month. Groceries cost about 5% less than what you’d pay in Athens, and restaurants are more reasonable (but, of course, fewer in number). A monthly income of about $1,800 should be enough to enjoy your retirement in Kalamata.
For High Rollers
If lively nightlife and fancy restaurants appeal to you, consider an island in one of Greece’s more heavily touristed areas, such as the Cyclades. Mykonos is famous for its luxury hotels, high-end restaurants and glamorous shops and nightclubs. You can reach the island by air or by ferry from the port of Piraeus.
If you choose to retire on Mykonos, you’ll get a revolving cast of characters from the constant stream of vacationers. Expect to pay more for a one-bedroom apartment: about $627/month, or as much as $817 for the same space in the center of town (Chora, say). Add in $191 for basic utilities and $31 for internet. And while dinner at an inexpensive taverna in Athens costs about $11, the same meal will be $23 on Mykonos.
One thing to bear in mind: The large tourism infrastructure on Mykonos keeps the money pouring in, so this destination isn’t suffering as much from the fiscal crisis as other parts of Greece. You’ll probably need a monthly income of about $3,000 to live here, especially if you want to avail yourself of all the island has to offer – short of maxing out your credit card at the Louis Vuitton store.
The Bottom Line
Greece is known for having one of the lowest costs of living in the European Union – generally 30% less than many other European countries, according to Expatinfodesk.com. The climate is welcoming, the beaches are superb, and it's a short flight away from dozens of other world-class tourist destinations (Rome, anyone?). Not every Greek island has equal appeal, so you’ll need to research your options fully. But overall, you’ll find a huge range of places for retiring in Greece.