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How to Do Business in Greece

Greece is one of the birthplaces of European civilization. Concepts like democracy and political science, as well as Western philosophy, literature and drama all originate from Hellas, the predecessor of modern Greece. The country is located on the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula, creating a gateway between Asia, Africa, and Europe.

 

Greece is a developed country; its economy is the largest on the Balkan Peninsula. It’s a member of the European Union, NATO, and OECD.

 

Greece is a developed country; its economy is the largest on the Balkan Peninsula. It’s a member of the European Union, NATO, and OECD.

 

The 2008 financial crisis hit the country hard. Due to a decade of government overspending and structural problems, Greece’s economy went into a recession in 2009. From 2010 onwards, the international community (including the European Union and the IMF) offered three large, emergency short and medium-term loans ($412 billion altogether) to avert the collapse of the Greek economy. In return, Greece is supposed to reform its healthcare and pension systems, the labor market and civil service, while cutting government spending and increasing tax revenues.

 

The population reacted unfavorably to severe austerity measures that reduced the deficit to 5% in 2016. However, the economic reforms remain largely unfinished, since the opposition of the general public and the powerful trade unions have forced subsequent governments to backtrack from the most unpopular measures.

 

Although the GDP and unemployment figures have been slightly improving, the economy is still stagnant and uncertainty about the future of economic reforms surrounds Greece.

 

Greek GDP was $289.3 billion in 2016. The main contributor to the GDP is the services sector (80.2%), followed by industry (15.8%), and agriculture (4%). The most important products of agriculture are wheat, olives, wine, corn, sugar beets, barley, tomatoes, tobacco, dairy, beef, and potatoes. Greece’s main industries are tourism, textiles, chemicals, food and tobacco processing, metal, petroleum, and mining. Tourism is a major contributor to the Greek economy, as well as agriculture and fisheries.

 

 

International trade is important for the Greek economy. In 2016, exports totaled at $27.1 billion, with the most important commodities being food and beverages, textiles, chemicals, petroleum products, and manufactured goods. Greece’s main export partners are Italy, Germany, Turkey, and Cyprus. The US is Greece’s 6th biggest export partner, receiving 4% of Greek exports. Greece exports mostly food and agricultural products, clothing and apparel, tobacco products, cement, marble, and petroleum products to the US.

 

Imports amounted to $45.45 billion in 2016. Greece mostly imports machinery, chemicals, fuels, and transport equipment. The country’s main import partners are Germany, Italy, Russia, and China. US companies sell IT and communications equipment, medical and pharmaceutical items, machinery, wood pulp, and agricultural products in Greece.

 

Imports amounted to $45.45 billion in 2016. Greece mostly imports machinery, chemicals, fuels, and transport equipment.

 

While the economic situation is far from ideal in Greece, US small businesses should still consider trading with Greek partners, or even investing in the country. The strategic location of Greece is beneficial for international trade with many European, Asian, and African countries. Sectors like tourism, shipping, IT, beauty products, security services, maritime, defense, border protection, and hydrocarbon exploration are relatively shielded from the general economic situation and provide many opportunities for US companies.

 

Major Cities

 
Greek Map with a Pin in Athens
 

Greece is a presidential unitary-parliamentary republic. The country is divided into 13 regions (in Greek: perifereies), and comprises of 50,949 square miles. Apart from mostly mountainous mainland Greece, there are 6,000 islands (out of which 227 are inhabited) scattered across the seas surrounding the country.

 

Greece has a relatively homogenous population of 11 million people (93% of inhabitants are Greek). The country is quite densely populated (212.4/sq mi, compared to 90.6/sq mi of the US). The most populated area surrounds the capital, Athens, with one third of the population living here. The majority of Greek citizens (78.6%) live in urban areas. The official religion is Greek Orthodox (98%), with a small minority of Muslims (1.3%) and other religions (0.7%).

 

Athens

Located in the Attica region, Athens is the capital and most populous city of Greece, with 3 million inhabitants. As one of the oldest cities in the world, Athens has a long history of over 3,400 years. The financial capital of Greece, Athens is home to many banks, as well as the regional headquarters of multinational companies like Ericsson, Siemens, Motorola, and Coca-Cola. Piraeus, the main port of Athens is the largest passenger port of the country. Tourism is an important contributor to the city’s economy.

 

Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is located in the administrative region of Central Macedonia (not to be confused with the Republic of Macedonia, officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) which neighbors Greece to the north). The city has 789,000 inhabitants and is the second largest economic, financial, and commercial center of Greece. The Port of Thessaloniki is an important hub for European trade, and the city is known for its culture, trade, IT, transport, and finance.

 

Patras

Located on the Peloponnese peninsula, Patras is the third largest city in Greece (population: 214,000) and the capital of the region called Western Greece. Patras is known for its logistics, retail, and financial sectors. Its port is a major gateway to Western Europe.

 
 

Currency

Greece is a member of the Eurozone, and uses the euro as its official currency. Recently, there have been talks of Greece’s exit from the Eurozone due to the country’s financial difficulties.

 

Greece is a member of the Eurozone, and uses the euro as its official currency. Recently, there have been talks of Greece’s exit from the Eurozone due to the country’s financial difficulties.

 

But since such an exit is largely unprecedented and its consequences unforeseeable, decision-makers in both EU headquarters and Greece have shied away from the decision, opting for large bailouts instead.

 

The value of USD is usually behind the euro. 1 euro is generally worth between $1.1 and $1.4 USD.

 
 

Language

 

The official and national language of Greece is Greek. The distinct Greek alphabet is the source of many scientific and mathematical symbols (including alpha α, pi π, and omega Ω). Greek is one of the oldest languages; many old scientific, cultural and religious texts are written in ancient Greek, and today, many scientific words have Greek roots.

 

Although English is the first foreign language taught in Greek schools and is spoken in some degree by 51% of the population, you shouldn’t assume that your Greek partner speaks perfect English. If you’re preparing for a meeting with Greek partners, it’s best to inquire ahead whether you’ll need to bring an interpreter.

 
 

Holidays in Greece

 

There are 14 public holidays in Greece when businesses tend to be closed.

 

HolidayDateObservance
New Year’s Day (Protochroniá)January 1Nationwide
Epiphany (Theophánia)January 6Nationwide
Clean Monday (Kathará Deftéra)48 days before EasterNationwide
Independence Day (Ikostí-pémpti Martíou)March 25Nationwide
Good Friday (Megáli Paraskeví)The Friday before Easter SundayNationwide
Easter Sunday (Kiriakí tou Páscha)The first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the spring equinoxNationwide
Easter Monday (Deftéra tou Páscha)The Monday after Easter SundayNationwide
Labor Day (Ergatikí Protomagiá)May 1Nationwide
Pentecost (Pentikostí)49 days after EasterNationwide
Whit Monday (Deftéra Pentikostís)50 days after EasterNationwide
Assumption (Kímisi tis Theotókou)August 15Nationwide
Ochi Day (To Ochi)October 28Nationwide
Christmas (Christoúyenna)December 25Nationwide
Boxing Day (Sínaxis Yperagías Theotókou Marías)December 26Nationwide

 

Communication from the US

 

Email

Email is a common form of communication between Greek businesses, even though face-to-face meetings are preferred. When emailing your Greek partner, always start and finish with a few pleasantries. Try to keep in mind that English is not their first language; it’s best sticking to simple sentences. However, avoid sounding curt and condescending.

 

Making calls from the US

The international calling code of Greece is +30.

 

Follow these steps to place a call from the US:

 

  1. Dial 011 to exit the US;
  2. Dial 30 for Greece;
  3. Dial the 10 digit number;
  4. If you’re calling a cell phone, the first of those 10 digits will be 6.
  5. Example: 011-30-(6)x-xxxx-xxxx.

 
 

Traveling to Greece

 

Greece uses EET (Eastern European Time), which is UTC + 2 hours. The country is 7 hours ahead of Washington, DC. Greece uses the metric system for measurements, and cars drive on the right side of the road.

 

Visas

Greece is part of the Schengen Area. This means that US citizens don’t need to obtain a visa if they intend to visit the country for touristic or business purposes for a period of less than 90 days. If you want to stay longer, you can apply for your visa through the Greek Embassy.

 

Using a Cell Phone in Greece

Your US cell phone may not work in Greece, because companies in Europe use the GSM 900/1800 network. However, since roaming charges are quite expensive, it’s advisable to buy or even rent a phone for the duration of your stay in Greece. Several companies offer cell phone rents for short terms.

 

If you plan to return to Greece more often or have business dealings with other European countries, it may be a good idea to buy a European cell phone. Since the EU abolished roaming costs for any EU-based cell phones in its whole territory

 

If you plan to return to Greece more often or have business dealings with other European countries, it may be a good idea to buy a European cell phone. Since the EU abolished roaming costs for any EU-based cell phones in its whole territory, you can use your Greek cell phone in any other EU countries. Cosmote, Vodafone and Wind are the best known Greek cell carriers, offering both pay-as-you-go and contract phones.

 

The Internet

Internet connectivity is very good in large cities and most touristic areas where many cafes and restaurants offer free wifi. About 56% of the population uses the internet regularly. However, bear in mind that some more remote rural areas have little or no internet connectivity.

 
 

Major Trade Shows

 

Trade shows are an excellent opportunity to showcase your business to both customers and potential partners, and make valuable new connections throughout your industry. Here’s a list of major trade shows in Greece.

 

WhatWhere
WhenWhat about
International Greek Tourism ExpoAthensWinterTourism
Beauty MacedoniaThessalonikiTwice a YearBeauty and fashion
GEMIN InternationalAthensWinterMinerals, gemstones, and fossils
ArgoticaThessalonikiWinter Every Two YearsAgriculture machinery
Hellenic Shoe FairAthensTwice a YearShoes and accessories
Femmina Pret a PorterAthensTwice a YearFashion
Mostra RotaAthensTwice a YearInterior design, decoration
HO.RE.CAAthensWinterHotels, restaurants, cafes
Hellenic Jewellery FairAthensWinterJewellery
Furnidec BusinessThessalonikiWinterFurniture
KEM World Franchise ExhibitionAthensWinterFranchise
Food ExpoAthensWinterFood
PosidoniaAthensSummer Every Two YearsShipping

 

Business Culture

 

As one of the cradles of European civilization, Greece is very proud of its culture. Family, loyalty, and trust are at the core of Greek business culture. Since tourism provides the backbone of Greek economy, people are usually open and warm to foreigners, receiving them with the famous Greek hospitality. Learning the basics of Greek business culture will help you build a successful relationship with your Greek partners.

 
people working on electronics over a table with the greek flag on it
 

Working hours are usually from 8am to 5pm, though that may vary according to the nature and location of the specific business. Religion and the church play a great part in everyday life, influencing the way people think and act. Respect for hierarchy, family elders and senior members of a business is a strong trait of Greek life. Personal and professional lives are not separated from each other; family members often work together and rely on each other for both emotional and material support.

 

Many Greek businesspeople have extensive informal networks of contacts, mostly comprising of family members and trusted old friends. Asking somebody’s nephew’s wife’s brother for a favor is a normal part of business, and is often the way business people deal with any arising problems. Nepotism (favoring one’s relatives and friends when offering business deals or positions) has long traditions in Greece and is not frowned upon.

 

Hierarchy in Greek Businesses

Greek businesses tend to have a traditional hierarchy where the CEO is seen as an all-knowing wise person very much respected by their subordinates. Decisions are always made at the top level, and junior members of the company usually don’t have the authority to make a major decision on their own. In fact, since many businesses are small-family enterprises, the CEO is quite often an older family member, usually male.

 
 

Business Communication

 

Since trust and loyalty are very important to Greek businesspeople, they prefer face-to-face communication instead of emails or phone calls. First impressions are crucial for the future of your business relationship, so make sure you follow our tips on communicating with your Greek business partners.

 

Greek people tend to prefer informality over rigid formal relationships.

 

Even though Greeks are generally friendly and good natured people, their business relationships usually start out on a more formal level. That said, Greek people tend to prefer informality over rigid formal relationships. Once the necessary trust is established between you and your Greek counterpart, you can expect a more relaxed attitude to replace your initial formal relationship.

 

Greeks need about an arm’s length of personal space when conversing with somebody. This might be even less if they talk to close friends or family members. Physical touching during conversations is common, especially on the shoulder or arms.

 
 

The First Meeting

 

Attire

Initially, it’s best to stick to formal wear, although later in the relationship a more casual dress style may be allowed. Suits and ties, skirts reaching below the knee, and conservative colors are expected in a Greek business environment. If you’re invited into the home of your Greek partner, make sure to dress nicely as a sign of respect to your host.

 

Timing

Scheduling a meeting 1-2 weeks in advance is the custom. Confirm your meeting on the day before. Greeks have a relaxed attitude to punctuality. Being 30 minutes late is not considered being late at all. Don’t be frustrated if your meeting starts late and finishes later than originally scheduled.

 

Introductions

Usually, introductions in Greece occur via a third person. If possible, wait for someone to introduce you to your prospective business partner. A firm handshake and eye contact accompany introductions. For friends or close acquaintances, two kisses on the cheek or a friendly slap on the shoulder are customary greetings.

 

When first meeting somebody, stick to calling them Mr. or Ms. Once your relationship deepens, you may be invited to switch to first-name basis.

 

Business Cards

There is no special ceremony associated with the presenting of business cards. If you want to impress your Greek partner, make sure to have one side of your card written in Greek. You should present this side to them first.

 

Small Talk

Expect a significant amount of small talk to precede and follow any meeting. Safe topics are your positive impressions of Greece and Greek culture, sports, and family. Avoid politics, especially the tensions between Greece and Macedonia (FYROM), Greece and Turkey, and the issue of Cyprus altogether.

 

Gifts

Gift giving is not a necessary part of negotiations. However, to mark an important holiday like Christmas, or a name day (the memorial day of the saint a person was named after), you may offer a small gift. Since gifts should always be reciprocated, make sure not to bring something too valuable as that would burden the recipient with finding a gift of equal value.

 

If you’re invited to the home of your Greek partner, bring a bouquet of flowers, a good bottle of wine, or a box of chocolates. Gifts are usually opened in front of the gift-giver.

 
 

Business Negotiations

 

Since the value of personal relationships is high in Greece, expect your first two meetings to be largely about personal issues, getting to know each other, and establishing trust. The general process of negotiations will most likely be a bit slower paced than what you’re used to. Accept delays as a normal part of the process. Try not to rush the process, as impatience is considered to be rude and may even stop negotiations altogether. Imposing deadlines will not help speed up the process.

 

Before scheduling your first meeting, inquire whether you’ll need to bring an interpreter. If you’re providing any background material, try to have it translated into Greek as a courtesy and hand out both English and Greek versions of the same text.

 

Before scheduling your first meeting, inquire whether you’ll need to bring an interpreter. If you’re providing any background material, try to have it translated into Greek as a courtesy and hand out both English and Greek versions of the same text. When detailing your offer, emphasize how cooperating with you will enhance your Greek partner’s social standing and reputation.

 

Even if there’s a written agenda for the meeting, your partners may deviate from it if the natural course of conversation leads them to other issues. Greek people tend to interrupt each other when talking and use a great amount of body language and gestures to underline their point. Similarly, frequent interruptions may occur when somebody else enters the meeting room with an urgent matter. All of these are considered a normal part of communication and are not meant to offend.

 

Integrity and honor are very important for Greek businesspeople. Try not to question somebody’s honesty or statements in public as this would imply your doubt in their integrity.

 

 

Even though the atmosphere of most international negotiations with Greeks is relaxed, don’t act casual as it could be interpreted as disrespect. On top of this, some parts of your negotiations may be even tougher than you’re used to, as most Greek businesspeople are experts at haggling.

 

Business meals and other forms of socializing are a normal part of international negotiations with Greeks. You can expect a lot of discussion during meals, as they’re considered a great opportunity for socializing. Before the meal, wait to be shown to your seat. The host usually opens the meal with a toast; you (or another guest if they’re older or more senior) are expected to return the toast after the main course. A common toast during formal meals is “Eis igían sas!” which means “To your health!”

 
greece-business-meal
 

Dining etiquette is largely similar to that of Continental Europe; knives are held in the right hand the forks in the left. Don’t start eating until everybody is served and the hostess reaches for her cutlery. Usually the eldest person is served first. Try to eat everything on your plate and compliment the food. Refusing food is usually considered impolite. If you absolutely have to refuse, explain why you’re doing so without offending your host. Greeks love it if their guests ask for seconds. When finished, place your napkin on the table and your cutlery on the plate, handles facing right.

 
 

Making a Payment

 

Whether you’re importing to or exporting from Greece, the number of international payments you’ll need to handle is going to increase. Transferring money internationally can be a hassle if you choose to do it the traditional way, via bank transfer.

 

Veem is an innovative platform using unique multi-rail technology for international payments. With Veem, you can send and receive payments quickly, easily, and securely. There are neither hidden fees nor unpleasant surprises: with Veem; both sender and recipient know all necessary payment details (amount, scheduling, fees). Let Veem take the burden of international payments off your shoulders.

 
 

Regulations and Permits

 

As a member of the European Union, all Greece’s imports and exports are subject to EU tariffs and regulations.

 

The Common Customs Tariff is applied to all imported products at the external border of the EU. Import duties are based on the nature of the goods, their origins, and their customs value. The classification of goods is determined by the Combined Nomenclature (CN).

 

Any company wishing to export to the EU (and consequently, to Greece) needs to apply for an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number. Once your goods reach the EU port of entry (or even before that), you have to file customs declarations for your goods. You may do so electronically, or include a Single Administrative Document (SAD) with your shipment. The SAD form is available here.

 

The Common Customs Tariff is applied to all imported products at the external border of the EU. Import duties are based on the nature of the goods, their origins, and their customs value.

 

Once you declared your goods and the authorities at the Greek border have reviewed your documents and the shipment, you need to pay all duties and other applicable fees before your goods are ready to be released from the border.

 

The TARIC (Tariff of the European Union) website includes all the necessary information on exporting to and importing from the EU, including tariff measures, quotas, agriculture measures, and trade defence instruments in a searchable database.

 

Imported goods from Greece to the US are subject to a basic tariff fee (less than 3%). Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the agency responsible for handling all customs processes at the port of entry.

 

If you want to import goods from Greece, you need to comply with all US customs procedures and regulations. The CBP’s website includes all the necessary information about the process of importing products into the US.

 
 

Useful links

 

Travel information, visas:

Travel State Gov: Greece Country Information

Hellenic Republic: US Visa for Greece

 

Information on EU tariffs and trade:

Taxation and Customs Union: TARIC

Taxation and Customs Union: The Combined Nomenclature

Taxation and Customs Union: Tariff Quotes

US Mission to the European Union: EU Imports and Exports

Taxation and Customs Union: Economic Operations Registration

Taxation and Customs Union: The Single Administrative Document

Taxation and Customs Union: TARIC Consultation

 

US government site helping US companies export to Greece:

Export Gov: Greece

 

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