Monday, July 13, 2015

Finance update for travelers to Greece - July 13, 2015

The Parthenon temple on the Athenian Acropolis in Athens GreeceGreece has a deal, or at least the start of a deal, a €96B bailout deal after a marathon negotiating session lasting 17 hours. They will stay in the Eurozone.

Greece wanted the IMF (International Monetary Fund) out of the agreement. The IMF is owed about €32B. The EU said no and finally Greece agreed, so the IMF is part of the deal, as are all the debt holding banks, central banks, and others holding Greek debt.

A privatization fund was set up and up to €50B of Greek assets is to be put into this fund which is like a trust fund. The money while in the fund, stays in Greece, but the money is specifically to pay down debt, pay down bank recapitalization, and there is a portion for Greek growth, which is something Greece wanted and finally got. It's perhaps the single major difference between the prior plans the EU wanted and what this agreement has in it.

Greece's next task will be hard. It has to pass some tough laws, laws that many in Greece are going to be outraged by. Greece has just days to pass these laws to meet the requirements of the bailout. It also has to commit itself to future reforms.

Under the agreement, once Greece has passed the new laws and its parliament has agreed to commit itself to future reforms, the negotiations will continue and once that agreement is consummated, the actual full bailout will begin with money flowing into Greece.

The final negotiations will likely take weeks, and in the meantime, the banks will likely remain closed, the limits on withdrawals remain, and for travelers the need to have serious cash when they enter Greece remains a necessity for now. Greece has to move through the negotiations as quickly as possible because actual euro cash is running out in the country.

So, to be clear, for travelers to Greece today, nothing's changed. For the Greece people, however, there is real hope for real improvement in a matter weeks, though the deal isn't what they wanted. The deal, however, is far better than many who were realistic, expected.

More than a few stores continue to refuse to accept credit or debit cards, though at this time major hotel chains continue to accept them. This is unlikely to change either way as long as Greece moves along in a timely way toward a final deal.

During the financial negotiations, it's unlike the banks will reopen. I believe they will only reopen once a final deal is complete and euro bills are again available from the European Central Bank to fill teller's drawers and ATM machines fully.

The US Embassy in Athens has not changed its stance since June 28. It continues to state, “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 remains that if you're traveling to Greece, you need 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, continued reports of increased pickpocket activity remain, 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. Spot strikes, and demonstrations could very well break out later today and at least for the next few days as the Greek people are being asked for far more austerity than most of them anticipated would be in the final deal. If the negotiations drag on more than a few weeks it's possible fuel shortages could occur causing travel disruptions anywhere in Greece.

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.

1 comment:

Nick said...

This never seems to end in Greece.

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