Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Financial tips for travelers to Greece in summer 2015

The Parthenon temple on the Athenian Acropolis in Athens GreeceIt's not often I write an article in this blog, which seemingly has no link to photography at all, but the finance situation Greece finds itself in, as it approaches national default on its debt is most definitely affecting travelers, including those in Greece primarily for photography. For travelers, Greece's financial situation has been sometimes perplexing, sometimes disruptive, and this week very difficult to overcome.

Greece closed their banks this week, but they are expected to open on Monday, July 6. At this time the ATM's throughout Greece are being refilled, but they are being emptied by travelers and Greeks as fast as they're being filled. Many travelers are reporting they have had to try as many as ten ATM's before they could obtain any cash.

Some stores are refusing to accept credit or debit cards, though at this time major hotels continue to accept them.

Earlier today, the Greek government made a new bailout offer, however, it's anyone's guess if it will be accepted. A national referendum coming up may result in Greece going off the Euro and back to the Drachma.

Once the banks reopen, cash should be easier to get, however, the financial situation in Greece will be unstable and chaotic for some time to come.

If there is one thing we know for sure about Greece's financial picture for travelers this summer is that it looks unpredictable, which isn't good for anyone.

The US Embassy in Athens is currently stating, “US citizens are encouraged to carry more than one means of payment (cash, debit cards, credit cards), and make sure to have enough cash on hand to cover emergencies and any unexpected delays.”
My advice is to arrive with enough euros to cover your full stay, emergencies, and unanticipated delays. Make sure that quite a bit of the cash is in smaller denominations, as many taxi drivers, restaurants, shops and other Greek businesses may be unable or unwilling to provide change.
While I suggest checking with your hotel to ensure they are accepting credit or debit cards, don't depend on it, even if they say they are and are part of a major chain. Circumstances can change daily at this point in Greece.

Pickpockets and thieves are aware how the financial situation in Greece is affecting tourists. Particularly in Athens, there are reports of increased pickpocket activity, especially in the Acropolis area. More than ever, tourists are being targeted for theft. Only carry the cash you'll need, while out. Put the bulk of your cash in your room safe. If traveling with others, divide your “walking-around money” among everyone. I typically keep my cash and credit cards in my neck wallet while traveling. Make it as hard as possible for pickpockets to rip you off.

The US Embassy in Athens “recommends you maintain a high level of security awareness and avoid political rallies and demonstrations as instances of unrest can occur. Exercise caution and common sense: Avoid the areas of demonstrations, and if you find yourself too close to a demonstration, move in the opposite direction and seek shelter.”

Please remember that peaceful demonstrations can turn confrontational and become violent.

Expect long lines and sometimes long delays especially if you're trying to get cash from an ATM. Yesterday in Athens, lines with 100 or more snaking around the block from ATM's were commonplace. Speculation is that over the next weeks, until some kind of deal exists, spot strikes, demonstrations, and possible fuel shortages could cause travel disruptions anywhere in Greece. So far, demonstrations have been sparse, and fuel remains plentiful.

Finally, my experience in Greece has historically been wonderful. The Greek people are among the warmest and most outgoing in Europe. Unfortunately, this financial crisis has the country turned upside down. Whenever traveling away from home you always must be prepared for the unexpected. At this time in Greece, you have to be more financially prepared than ever, and more vigilant, but the Greek people are still a terrific bunch.

UPDATE (July 1, 2015, 2:02 AM EEST) Greece has official defaulted on their debt with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) exacerbating the country's precarious financial condition and increasing financial uncertainty for travelers there.


Wendy said...

How long do you think this will last Ned? I'm leaving for Greece in three weeks.

Ned S. Levi said...

I wish I knew Wendy. If I did, I could likely make a killing in the stock market. I do think it's safe to say, I doubt there will be a settlement anytime soon, and if there isn't one, the situation is only going to get worse. Monitor the situation before you leave, and be prepared to bring plenty of Euros to Greece, and be prepared to protect your cash to prevent its theft. Good luck.

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