Note that you’ll need a PIN number. Many foreigners living in Greece (particularly retirees) keep the bulk of their money in a foreign account (perhaps an offshore bank) and draw on it with a cash card locally. This is an ideal solution for holidaymakers and holiday-homeowners, although homeowners will still need a local bank account to pay their bills. Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Diners Club cards are commonly accepted in major cities and tourist areas, although in remote rural areas cash is the most common and sometimes the only form of payment acceptable. Some shops may offer a discount for cash payment.
Most banks in major cities have foreign exchange windows and there are banks or bureaux de change with extended opening hours at major airports and railway stations in the main cities. Here you can buy or sell foreign currencies, buy and cash travellers’ cheques, and obtain a cash advance on credit and charge cards. Note, however, that some Greek banks refuse to cash travellers’ cheques. Bear in mind that airport banks and other outlets usually offer the worst exchange rates and charge the highest fees.
There are many private bureaux de change in Greece, with longer business hours than banks, particularly at weekends. Most offer competitive exchange rates and low or no commission (but always check). They’re easier to deal with than banks, and if you’re changing a lot of money you can also usually negotiate a better exchange rate.
Never use unofficial moneychangers, who are likely to short change you or leave you with worthless foreign notes rather than euros. The official exchange rates for most European and major international currencies are listed in banks and daily newspapers.
If you’re visiting Greece, it’s safer to carry travellers’ cheques than cash, although they aren’t as easy to redeem as in some other countries, e.g. the US. For example, they aren’t usually accepted by businesses, except some hotels, restaurants and shops, all of which usually offer a poor exchange rate. It’s best to buy travellers’ cheques in euros when visiting Greece.
You can buy them from any Greek bank, usually for a service charge of 1 per cent. There should be no commission charge when cashing euro travellers’ cheques at any bank in Greece (you must show your passport), although charges and rates vary considerably for travellers’ cheques in other currencies. Banks usually offer a better exchange rate for travellers’ cheques than for banknotes.
Always keep a separate record of cheque numbers and note where and when they were cashed. American Express provides a free, three-hour replacement service for lost or stolen travellers’ cheques at all of their offices world-wide, provided that you know the serial numbers of the lost cheques. Without the serial numbers, replacement can take three days or longer. Most companies provide toll-free numbers for reporting lost or stolen travellers’ cheques in Greece.
There isn’t a lot of difference in the cost of buying Greek currency using cash, buying travellers’ cheques or using a credit card to obtain cash from ATMs. However, many people carry only cash when visiting Greece, which is asking for trouble, particularly if you’ve no way of obtaining more cash locally, e.g. with a credit or debit card or travellers’ cheques.
One thing to bear in mind when travelling anywhere is not to rely on only one source of funds!