So, Greece is a Mess — What Does That Mean For Travelers?
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With the recent financial collapse of Greece and its subsequent July 5 referendum, travelers are not sure how to handle trips planned to Athens, the Greek Islands and beyond. Here’s our guide to what’s happening, and what it means for you.
Previously in Greece
So, how did we get here? Let’s recap. No spoilers!
- 2008-2009: The global financial crisis occurs; money (read: bank credit) stops growing on trees. Greece asks for credit, but can’t get any.
- 2010-2014: Greece asks for a bailout from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (collectively known as the Troika). The Troika continues to ask for austerity measures. The Greeks give in to these demands in order to keep getting money from the bailout fund. Also: riots. Lots and lots of riots.
- 2015: Everything came to a head on Sunday, June 28, when the European Central Bank cut off all support for the Greek banking system. There is a subsequent run on ATMs, and the government orders all banks closed for a minimum of six days. The Greek government then calls for a referendum on July 5, when the people will vote whether to accept new austerity from the Troika or to continue to tell the rest of Europe where to stick their austerity measures.
What This Means If You’re In Greece
Greece as a whole is in a holding pattern until the July 5 referendum, although businesses — especially those in the tourism sector (which accounts for 9 percent of the Greek economy) — are functioning as best as they can. And while Greeks have limits at the ATM, the BBC is reporting that “tourists’ credit and bank cards issued abroad can be used at functioning cash machines freely — subject to queues and the amount of cash in them.” Because if the banks are closed, no one is around to put more cash in the machines.
If you’re presently in Greece, you have two choices: Either wait to see what happens on July 5, or cut your losses.
But that doesn’t mean you need to come home, necessarily. Greece is the Aegean hub for travel, and there are plenty of airlines that can get you out of Athens and into a more economically stable country pretty much anywhere on Earth.
What This Means If You’re Going To Greece
Some official sources are advising those who have not yet left for Greece to stock up on euros before going, and on the face of it, this makes sense. Already, it’s been reported that hotel managers and other tourist-heavy businesses are asking for full payment in cash. Per the Wall Street Journal:
“There are many rumors about capital controls next week so I am asking clients for cash, as returns from credit cards won’t be readily available,” said Apostolis Gionas, a souvenir-shop owner in the central Athens district of Plaka. “In return I offer them discounted prices, but many tourists just leave. Every day that passes we are heading closer to total financial ruin.”
Not to be alarmist, but we can’t think of anything that would make a foreigner more of a target for petty crime, and we feel it would be irresponsible to recommend doing so. And please note that per the US Embassy in Athens, “There is no limit to the amount of declared currency a tourist can take out or bring into Greece. However, currency in all forms (cash, traveler’s checks, and checks) equal to or exceeding €10,000 (approximately $13,400) must be declared at entry / exit from Greece at the Greek customs offices.” Also, albeit less likely, depending on the outcome of the referendum, there could be more chaos and even a return to the Greek drachma, its pre-euro currency.
So, again, your choices are the same: Wait, or cut your losses and either delay your trip until things stabilize or choose another destination.
But note that if you do go through with your travel plans and things go awry, your trip insurance may not cover expenses or losses. The exclusions in Allianz’s fine print reflects the average approach to exceptions, which include “acts of war, military duty, civil disorder or unrest […] expected or reasonably foreseeable events or problems; financial default of a travel supplier; terrorist events; travel bulletins or alerts; and government prohibition or regulations.”
In terms of your personal safety, civil unrest throughout this crisis has traditionally happened in Syntagma Square in Athens, but pretty much everywhere else has experienced relative calm.
Our final advice would be to say goodbye to your summer lovin’ of Greece, and wait until things become more stable.