EU nationals are permitted to open a bank account in any country and to import (or export) unlimited funds in any currency. If you plan to export funds from Greece you need to prove to your bank that the transaction falls within permitted categories (i.e. the transaction is legal). For example, if you export funds as a result of selling your home, you will have to show a copy of the final purchase contract to your bank.
Importing & Exporting Cash
The import and export of sums over €10,000 (in any currency) must be declared at customs. Residents exporting over €10,000 in cash must present a Greek tax certificate stating that taxes have been paid in Greece. Non-residents must present proof, e.g. the ‘pink slip’ (see below) that the amount was declared on arrival.
Importing Funds for Property Purchase
When you import funds into Greece to buy a property, you should transfer the money to a Greek bank who will issue the corresponding ‘exchange certificate’, popularly known as the ‘pink slip’. You should present this certificate with your first tax return otherwise you may be liable for income tax on the imported funds.
International Bank Transfers
When transferring or sending money to or from Greece, shop around for the best exchange rates and the lowest costs. Banks are often willing to negotiate on fees and exchange rates when you’re transferring a large amount of money.
Don’t be too optimistic about the exchange rate, which can change at short notice and can cost you thousands of euros more than you planned.
For example, if you’re buying a home in Greece costing €150,000 and are paying in pounds sterling, this would be equal to £103,500 at an exchange rate of £1 = €1.45 (January 2005). However, if the £/€ exchange rate ‘falls’ to €1.35, it will cost you £111,000 – an increase of £7,500! (In May 2003 the exchange rate was £1 = €1.29!)
When transferring or sending money to (or from) Greece, you should be aware of the alternatives and shop around for the best deal. A bank-to-bank transfer can be made by a normal transfer or by a SWIFT electronic transfer. A normal transfer is supposed to take three to seven days, but it usually takes much longer (particularly when sent by mail), whereas a SWIFT electronic transfer should be completed in as little as two hours (although it usually takes at least a day). It’s usually quicker and cheaper to transfer funds between branches of the same bank or affiliated banks than between non-affiliated banks.
If you plan to send a large amount of money abroad for a business transaction such as buying a property, you should ensure that you receive the commercial rate of exchange rather than the tourist rate. Shop around and compare your bank’s rate with that of least one foreign exchange broker who specialises in sending money abroad (particularly large sums). The leading companies include Foreign Currency Direct (Tel. UK 0800-328 5884, www.currencies.co.uk), Halewood (Tel. UK 01753-859159, www.hifx.co.uk) and Moneycorp (Tel. UK 020-7808 0500, www.moneycorp.com).
When you have money transferred to a bank in Greece, make sure that you give the name, account number, branch number and the bank code; if money is ‘lost’ while being transferred, it can take weeks to locate it.
Always check charges and rates in advance and agree them with your bank (you may be able to negotiate a lower charge or a better exchange rate). It’s usually better to convert money to euros before transferring it to Greece, in which case you shouldn’t incur any charges in Greece, although some banks deduct commission, whatever the currency.
Banks in EU countries are allowed only to pass on to customers costs incurred by the sending bank, and the money must be deposited in a customer’s account within five working days. If you routinely transfer money between currencies, you should investigate Fidelity Money Funds, which operate free of conversion charges and at wholesale rates of exchange.
One of the quickest (it takes around 15 minutes) and safest methods of transferring cash is via a telegraphic transfer, e.g. Moneygram (Tel. UK 0800-666 3947, www.moneygram.com) or Western Union (www.westernunion.com ), but it’s also one of the most expensive, e.g. commission of 7 to 10 per cent of the amount sent! Money can be sent overseas via American Express offices by Amex card holders (using Amex’s Moneygram service) to any other American Express office in just 15 minutes.
Bank Drafts & Personal Cheques
Another way to transfer money is via a bank draft, which should be sent by registered mail. However, if a bank draft is lost or stolen, it’s impossible to stop payment and you must wait six months before a new draft can be issued. Bank drafts aren’t treated like cash in Greece and must be cleared like personal cheques.
It’s also possible to send a cheque drawn on a personal account, although it can take a long time to clear (usually several weeks) and fees are high. It’s possible to pay a cheque drawn on a foreign account into a local bank account, although it can take three or four weeks to clear. Note that personal cheques are rarely used in Greece.
Postcheques & Eurogiro
Giro postcheques issued by European post offices can be cashed (with a guarantee card) for up to €130 at main post offices in Greece. You can also send money to Greek post offices ( Hellenic Post/ELTA) via the Girobank Eurogiro system from post offices in 15 European countries (including the UK); transfers sent by Eurogiro take between three and four days.
This article is an extract from Buying a Home in Greece.