Country Specific Information
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February 03, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: ece is a developed and stable democracy with a modern economy. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Greece for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Greece is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Greece for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet . For other entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Greece at 2221 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 939-5800, or Greek consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Tampa, New York, and San Francisco, and Greek embassies and consulates around the world.
Holders of official or diplomatic passports visiting Greece as tourists must obtain visas prior to arrival.
Visit the Embassy of Greece web site for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The U.S. Government remains deeply concerned about the heightened threat of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests abroad. Like other countries that are members of the Schengen Agreement for free cross-border movement, Greece’s open borders with its European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity. Greece’s long coastline and many islands also heighten the possibility that foreign-based terrorists might try to exploit Greece’s borders.
In addition, there are domestic radical organizations that engage in violent acts in Greece. These activities have been against both domestic and foreign targets. From the mid-1970s until earlier this decade, the domestic Marxist terrorist group November 17 (N17) targeted Greek officials, as well as officials from NATO countries residing in Greece. During that period, five U.S. Government employees were murdered by N17, which was responsible for 23 killings altogether. Many of the N17 terrorists were apprehended by Greek authorities in 2002 and tried for their crimes. Since then, successor groups to N17 emerged and engaged in violent attacks against Greek and foreign targets. On January 12, 2007, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the U.S. Embassy, causing property damage but no injuries. On January 5, 2009, terrorists attacked police guards outside the Ministry of Culture, leaving a policeman shot and severely injured. The Greek domestic terrorist group Revolutionary Struggle (RS) claimed responsibility for those incidents, as well as others against Greek government and foreign interests.
Strikes and demonstrations are a regular occurrence. Greece is a stable democracy and these activities for the most part are orderly and lawful. However, a wave of incidents started when a teenager was shot and killed in an encounter with the police in December 2008. Incidents occurred throughout Greece, but the primary sources of violence were in Athens and Thessaloniki., Protestors there engaged in violent confrontations with the police and carried out destructive vandalism and rioting in localized areas, some of which are areas frequented by tourists, injuring numerous police officers. Riot control procedures often include the use of tear gas. Visitors should keep abreast of news about demonstrations from local news sources and hotel security. When there are demonstrations, visitors should be aware of and avoid places where demonstrators frequently congregate, such as the Polytechnic University area, Exarchia, Omonia, and Syntagma Squares in Athens, and Aristotle Square in Thessaloniki. Greek police are generally prohibited from entering Greek public university campuses. As a result, the campuses are sometimes exploited as a refuge by people who may engage in petty crime and vandalism. Information regarding demonstrations which have been brought to the attention of the U.S. Embassy can be found on the Embassy web site.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crimes against tourists (such as purse-snatching and pick-pocketing) have occurred at popular tourist sites and on crowded public transportation. Pick-pocketing is especially common on the Athens metro and in some shopping areas in and around Thessaloniki. Reports of date or acquaintance rape also occasionally occur. The majority of these offenses take place on the islands. The usual safety precautions practiced in any urban or tourist area should be practiced during a visit to Greece.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The Local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Greece is: 100-Police, 166 - Ambulance, and 199 for Fire Brigade
See our information on Victims of Crime.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Greek laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Greece are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Greek customs authorities have strict regulations concerning the export from Greece of antiquities, including rocks from archaeological sites. Penalties range from large fines to prison terms. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Greece in Washington, or one of Greece's consulates in the United States, for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our Customs Information.
In addition to being subject to all Greek laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Greek citizens. Greek males between the ages of 20 and 45 are required by Greek law to perform military service. This applies to any individual whom the Greek authorities consider to be Greek, regardless of whether or not the individual considers himself Greek, has a foreign citizenship and passport, or was born or lives outside of Greece. If remaining in Greece for more than the 90-day period permitted for tourism or business, men of Greek descent may be prevented from leaving Greece until they complete their military obligations. Generally, obligatory non-voluntary military service in Greece will not affect US citizenship. Specific questions on this subject should be addressed to the citizenship section of the US Embassy in Athens. For additional information, see our information on Citizenship and Nationality. For additional information regarding military service requirements, contact the nearest Greek embassy or consulate as listed above.
Labor strikes in the transportation sector (national airline, city bus lines, and taxis) occur frequently. Most are announced in advance and are of short duration. Reconfirmation of domestic and international flight reservations is highly recommended.
Users of public transportation in Athens should be sure to buy the appropriate ticket and to validate it correctly, mindful that the metro line to the airport is more expensive than other bus and metro services and that ticket inspectors circulate among passengers assuring compliance with ticketing regulations. Fines are heavy for passengers without tickets or with the wrong ticket.
The Greek islands are extremely popular tourist destinations in the summer months. With overall tourist numbers markedly up since the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, and with an increased emphasis on ferryboat safety reducing the total number of vessels in daily inter-island service, airline tickets and ferryboat berths to the Aegean Greek islands can be hard to come by in July and August without prior arrangements. Visitors to Greece are urged to book their island travel in these months as early as possible. There are numerous local travel agencies that can provide such bookings; the agents usually speak English and the costs are no higher than if dealing with the carriers directly.
The Government of Greece does not permit the photographing of military installations. In 2001, several foreigners who photograph military aircraft as a hobby were arrested while taking photographs of aircraft taking off and landing at a military base.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities are adequate, and some, particularly the private clinics and hospitals in Athens and Thessaloniki, are quite good. Some private hospitals have affiliations with U.S. facilities, and generally their staff doctors have been trained in U.S. or other international teaching institutions.
Public medical clinics, especially on the islands, may lack resources; care there can be inadequate by American standards, and often, little English is spoken. Many patients, Greeks and visitors alike, are transferred from the provinces and islands to Athens hospitals for more sophisticated care. Others may choose to transfer from a public to a private hospital within Athens or Thessaloniki. Americans choosing to do so would arrange for an ambulance belonging to the private hospital to transport them from the public hospital to the private one. The cost of the ambulance for this transfer, as well as all expenses in a private hospital, must be borne by the patient.
Nursing care, particularly in public hospitals, may be less than adequate. For special or through-the-night nursing care, it is suggested that a private nurse be hired or a family member or friend be available to assist. One parent or a private nurse should always plan to stay with a hospitalized child on a 24-hour basis, as even the best hospitals generally maintain only a minimal nursing staff from midnight to dawn on non-emergency floors or wards.
For information on avian influenza (bird flu), please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Greece is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Drivers and pedestrians alike should exercise extreme caution when operating motor vehicles or when walking along roadways or crossing streets. Visitors to Greece must be prepared to drive defensively. Heavy traffic and poor highways pose hazards, especially at night or in inclement weather. Extreme care is warranted in operating a motorbike. Moreover, tourists who rent motorbikes either on the Greek mainland or its islands must wear helmets and take special precautions on local roads that are typically poorly maintained and frequently pothole-ridden. There are a number of nationwide auto-service clubs and plans similar to those in the U.S., that provide towing and roadside service, which a tourist can call and pay for per service. The largest, quite similar to AAA, is ELPA, nation-wide phone number 10400.
Tourists and temporary residents who will stay in Greece less than 185 days must carry a valid U.S. license as well as an international driver's permit (IDP). Failure to have both documents may result in police detention or other problems. The U.S. Department of State has designated two organizations to issue IDPs to those who hold valid U.S. driver's licenses: AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. Issuance of an IDP is quick, easy, and inexpensive, but must generally be done before a traveler leaves the United States. Vehicles may not properly be rented without the IDP, although sometimes they are. A driver without one, however, will be penalized for failure to have one in the event of an accident, and may be open to civil suit as well. Fines are high. Small motorbike rental firms frequently do not insure their vehicles; customers are responsible for damages and should review their coverage before renting. Individuals who expect to spend more than 185 days in Greece should either obtain a Greek license or convert their valid U.S. license for use in Greece through their local Nomarchy’s Office of Transportation and Communications. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Greece’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Greece experienced serious forest fires during the summer of 2007; during the summer months, travelers should be particularly mindful of the risk of fires, taking care not to inadvertently spark one through carelessness. Barbecue and camp fires are restricted in many areas during the dry summer season.
Greece experiences frequent seismic activity; tremors are common and serious earthquakes have occurred. Detailed information on Greece's earthquake fault lines is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
In 2006, the H5N1 Avian Influenza was found in migratory birds in Greece; no human infections or deaths were reported. For more information on avian influenza, please see the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site.
Disaster preparedness information and specific suggestions to help mitigate the impact of wildfires, floods, earthquakes, and landslides is available from the U.S. Federal Management Agency (FEMA). In any natural disaster, follow the instructions of local authorities. The General Secretariat of Civil Protection which responds to emergencies can be reached at 210-3359932/33 or visited at http://www.civilprotection.gr/.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Greece are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Greece. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Athens is located at 91 Vasilissis Sophias Boulevard, tel: (30) (210) 721-2951. The U.S. Consulate General in Thessaloniki is located at Plateia Commercial Center, 43 Tsimiski Street, 7th floor, tel: (30) (2310) 242-905. The e-mail address for the Consular Section is firstname.lastname@example.org. The U.S. Consulate General Thessaloniki e-mail address is email@example.com.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 27, 2008, to update sections on Safety and Security.