You don’t have to worry about exchanging money in Greece if you come from another Eurozone country. Greece uses the Euro, and no other currency is accepted for transactions.
What You Need to Know About Money in Greece
Greece’s monetary unit is the Euro.
It goes without saying that if you come from any Eurozone country you don’t have to worry about exchanging any money since the Euro is the common currency of the countries in the Eurozone.
No other currency is accepted and it is best to exchange dollars or other currency at a bank or an official exchange shop.
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.
You can expect a commission of around €6 for each exchange at the Athens airport kiosks.
Banks in Greece are open from 9:00 AM until 2:00 PM.
What do the euro banknotes look like? There are seven denominations: 5, 10, 20,50, 100, 200 and 500.
The euro banknotes 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.
Here is what the euro banknotes look like (source ECB):
And what do the euro coins look like?
There are eight denominations: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 cent and 1 and 2 euro.
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.
All coins, whatever the national face, are accepted in all euro area countries.
This picture depicts the Greek issued Euro coins:
The coins issued by Greece have the following depictions:
The 1, 2, and 5 cent coins have depictions of Greece’s maritime tradition from ancient to contemporary times:
- The 1 cent coin is the smallest. It depicts an Athenian trireme (5th c BCE). The trireme allowed Greece beat Persian invasions, and helped the ancient Greek city-states create a robust trade network in the eastern Mediterranean.
- The 5 cents coin has an image of a corvette from the 19th century. Before, during, and after the war of independence from the Ottoman empire, Greece developed into a considerable sea power in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black sea.
- The 10 cents coin has a depiction of a modern merchant ship. After WWII Greece grew its merchant marine fleet to be one of the largest in the world. As recent as 2015 Greece had the largest merchant fleet in the world with 4017 total ships (source: The Economist).
The 10, 20, and 50 cent coins depict important Greeks who contributed to the creation of the modern country:
- The 10-cents coin has an image of Rigas Feraios, whose writings fueled the vision of an independent country when it still under the yoke of the Turks.
- Ioannis Kapodistrias who was Greece’s first statesman after Greece won independence form the Ottomans is depicted on the 20-cent coin.
- The 50-cents coin depicts Eleftherios Venizelos who presided over the creation of Greece’s modern boundaries.
The 1 and 2 euro coins have images derived from ancient Greece:
- The 1 euro coin contains a replica of the ancient drachma. The drachma was a coin used by Athens in the 5th c. BCE. It has a depiction of an owl and an olive branch.
- The 2 euro coin has an ancient scene depiction. Zeus disguised as a bull, abducts Europa, the mother of King Minos of Crete.
Paying exclusively with credit/debit and mobile-pay has become common today, most of us don’t even carry cash.
But if you travel to Greece, you might want to take some cash along. At the very least you should have enough for incidental expenses between landing and getting to your hotel.
Imagine how inconvenient it would be if you could not withdraw money from ATMs when you landed, or if you could not get to an ATM right away, so having enough cash for your first few days in Greece should be the absolute minimum.
Also, it’s not a bad idea to stash away a little cash for the return home. This way you will have enough pay for taxis, porters, tolls, or gas as you make your way back home, without hunting for cash machines after a long flight.
While everyone assumes that cash is accepted everywhere in Greece, and that’s actually true, there have been times when cash in large denominations is not very convenient and in rare cases vendors might refuse to accept them.
The easiest 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 in Greece disperse Euro.
This is convenient but it does present the problem that you will not know what exchange rate is used for the conversion. But the convenience is worth the wait until your 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 transaction receipts for a few months after you return home. Mistakes are extremely rare, but do happen.
Bank Fees and Restrictions
Expect to pay several fees when you use your debit card.
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 Greek bank that owns the ATM you use in Greece.
Before you leave for your trip, you might want to call your bank to find out the following:
- What is the fee they charge for transactions abroad?
- What is the fee they charge for using another bank’s ATM?
Don’t be surprised to find out that they charge at least 1% fee on the withdrawn amount, plus a “currency exchange” or “international transaction” fee, plus a service charge for using another bank’s ATM.
- What is your daily limit for ATM withdraws abroad?
While you are at it, let your bank know that you are traveling abroad so they can make a note in your account. They will ask you for the exact dates and countries you will be visiting. Most banks have an online form you will need to fill if you want to use your debit card abroad.
The reason they need this information is that bank security software flags foreign transactions as suspicious until they verify that it’s made by the rightful owner of the account (usually by phone). You definitely don’t need that kind of surprise while you are on vacation.
You should avoid withdrawing money from ATMs located at the most touristy spots of a town. First, because some don’t allow withdrawals above a certain amount. Limiting disbursals of cash to €100 would not be unusual.
But most importantly, they tend to charge much higher fees (€2.00-3.00 or more) than ATMs from Greek banks farther into town.
Almost every shop hotel and restaurant accepts credit cards, but shops in small towns might not accept them.
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.
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. We 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 the use of Traveler’s Checks has been diminished worldwide in favor of more convenient ways to access money (credit and debit cards), they do 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.
Keep your passport handy with you when you pay with traveler’s checks to verify your identity.
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.