Money in Greece

Currency

Greece's monetary unit is the Euro. No other currency is accepted and it is best to exchange dollars or other currency at a bank. The exchange rates are all the same throughout the country and you exchange money at a bank or official exchange shop where you will get the best running rates. Currency exchange shops and banks in very touristy areas charge high commissions, so make sure you know what the commissions are before you commit to a transaction. Banks are open from 9:00 AM until 2:00 PM. At the new airport near the luggage pickup you can find machines that can exchange foreign currency and return Euro. Very nice indeed since you need the Euro for a luggage cart.

It goes without saying that if you come from any Eurozone country you would not have to worry about exchanging any money since the Euro is the common currency of the countries in the Eurozone (but you already knew this, right?).

The EURO

What do the euro banknotes look like? Seven denominations: 5, 10, 20,50, 100, 200 and 500Euro bills photoPictures of Money in Greece
They are all exactly the same throughout the euro area. They illustrate the evolution of architectural styles in the history of Europe: windows and bridges bring people together.

And what do the euro coins look like?
Eight denominations: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 cent and 1 and 2 euro. Photo of Euro coins
One face is common to all the countries and represents cohesion between the Member States of the European Union. The other face shows national symbols chosen by the different countries. Note: All coins, whatever the national face, are accepted in all euro area countries.
This picture depicts the Greek issued Euro coins.

Source: Greek National Tourist Organization. Republished by permission

Cash

While everyone assumes that cash is accepted everywhere, and that's actually true, there have been times when cash in large denominations is not very convenient. I have had banks in Greece refusing to exchange $50 or $100 bills, but I never had problems with $20 bills.

Traveler's Checks (Traveler's Cheques)

Traveler's Checks are accepted in most places and shops, especially in areas where tourists frequent, but if you venture off the tourist track, you will find that people have no idea what they are, so make sure you exchange them for cash at a local bank.

Even in businesses that take travelers cheques, you might have a hard time paying or exchanging large denominations of traveler's checks especially (fifties or hundreds). I have found large bills are treated with suspicion by vendors, and some might not accept them. Exchanging them for cash at a bank is no problem though.

Although their use has been diminished worldwide in favor of more convenient ways to access money (credit and debit cards), they might offer some security for those who prefer to use them. That's because they require the owner's signature,  and if they are lost, they can be replaced. You should have your passport with you when you pay with traveler's checks to verify your identity.


ATM

The best way to access money while in Greece is through the ubiquitous ATMs that are present in every large or small city. If you have a debit card that doubles as a Visa or MC you can access your money right from your bank account back home, and of course you can get cash advances from your credit card.

The ATMs disperse Euro, and the only problem is that I am never sure what exchange rate is used for the conversion, but the convenience is worth the wait until the bank statement arrives. every bank in Greece has an updated currency conversion chart displayed on its window, so you can get an idea how much money you really withdraw (at least your calculation will be close).

Make sure you keep all receipts though for a few months after you return home. A few years ago, a bank I withdrew money from in Greece double-charged me by error. The error was automatically corrected a few days later, but this made me keep all ATM receipts for months after my return from Greece. In the past twelve years that I have been using ATMs in Greece, this was the only glitch.

Here is the Cirrus/Mastercard ATM Locator to find where you can draw money near your destinations.

Check with your bank before you leave to find out what kind of fees they assess for drawing money abroad.

Before you go to Greece, find out if your destination has an ATM. Chances are good that it does, but some small towns don't have a bank. Also, we have all encountered an ATM that is out of service for a period of time. Now think what you would do if the only ATM in the town you stay in Greece is out of order and you desperately need to pay your hotel and fly home in a few hours. This has happened to us and other friends, so I have made it a habit to get money from ATMs a day or two before I need it.

Elafonisos island had no bank the first time we visited (it does now), so I took the ferry to the mainland and drove for half hour after that to find an ATM at Neapoli before I returned to the island to pay for our apartment. Another year I had to drive from Sidari to Roda because the only ATM that accepted my card was out of order for a few days.

Some ATMs don't allow withdrawals above a certain amount. This is usually the case in very busy parts of popular towns (like Fira in Santorini), so there is always another ATM nearby. In Thera the closest machine to us only dispensed $100 at a time, which made it hard to draw the funds to pay for our hotel bill that was many times that amount.

Your own bank will probably have a limit on the amount patrons can withdraw through ATMs. Before you leave for Greece check with your bank to see what the withdraw limit is per day. Also check to see what fees are associated with such withdraws. Most banks charge a fee for foreign exchange as well as for using an ATM that does not belong to them. In addition you will probably charged a fee by the bank that owns the ATM you use in Greece. Banks don’t handle our money for free ;)  

Whatever the case, you must call your bank to let them know that you are traveling abroad so they can make a note in your account. Bank security software flags foreign transactions and they might block your debit card if they find large purchases in another country (a major sign of fraud) until they verify it's you that's using the card, and you you don't want that kind of surprise while you are on vacation.


Personal checks

Personal checks are not widely accepted in Greece, so don't assume that you can use them unless you have checked with the establishment before hand. Cashing personal checks at a bank is also not possible.

Credit Cards

Almost every shop hotel and restaurant accepts credit cards, but many shops in small towns don't.

The signs are usually posted on the door of each store but over the years I have grown suspicious of such signs. In certain instances credit card logo signs are left on the door when an establishment changed owners, or they were simply on a part that was installed at a store. If you pump gas and notice credit card logos on the pumps it could mean that the gas station accepts credit cards, or that the logos were on the pumps when they were installed, or that the previous owner installed them and the new owner left them on for decoration.

It would be best to check with the establishment to see if they accept credit cards before you make your purchases.

Most credit cards charge a fee (about 3%) for currency exchange, which means that every time you use your credit card in Greece (to pay in Euro) you add this fee to the price of goods and services. Check with your credit cart company before you go to see what their policy is.

Also see: prices in Greece

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