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March 31, 2006

Bureaucratic chore day

Statue_in_plateia_1866Although EU citizens can stay in Greece for 3 months as a tourist without doing any paperwork, if we want to stay for longer than that we need to get a residency permit. There appear to be a couple of types, depending on whether you are going to get salaried work in Greece or not. It is quite a battle finding this sort of information in English on the web, so we felt we needed to visit someone and clarify the situation.

We think it is the local police who handle the applications, but we don't know where their office is in Hania. However, we do know where the Tourist Police are, so thought that might make a good place to start. I should add that the Tourist Police in Greece are there to address complaints about the leisure industry. They enforce the regulation prices of hotels, taxis etc, and are not there to police the actual tourists themselves.

Despite having a map I found them difficult to find. In real life the spot on the Lonely Planet map where the police icon was printed was in fact a large building I took, with my limited Greek, to be the town hall. There didn't seem to be any signs in English, and I wandered around the forecourt of the building looking bemused. There were loads of doors and offices open, but I didn't know what they were. Just I had given up I turned back into the main street and saw a small handwritten sign - "Tourist Police". It was one of the offices in that building after all.

The office seemed to be divided between some officialdom on one side, and a small little tourist information office on the other. I thought I'd start there. I was seen really quickly and began to explain: "Hello, we've just arrived, but we are planning to stay for longer than 3 months and so we need to get a residence permit. How do we apply?"

The woman looked at me very strangely for a moment.

"Where are you from?"

"The UK. In the EU"

She moved slightly closer to me, and in the tone of voice parents usually reserve for comforting small children after nightmares, she said slowly:

"Nobody is going to chase you out of the country"

After a moment of further thought she said she would check, and made a couple of phone calls. After a bit she came back and said she was trying to speak to the magistrate who would know such things, but they weren't available, and I should come back another day.

I left kind of reassured, but with the strong feeling that I don't understand the difference here between the letter of the law, and the general custom and practice. We shall learn, I'm sure.

My next port of call was to a bank to ask about what kind of papers and ID we would need to open an account in Greece. Every time we draw cash out of an ATM over here it is costing us money, and I've no idea how favourable the exchange rate is - probably not very I suspect. Really we'd like to transfer a large-ish sum of money over in one fell swoop. It doesn't seem that it will be too hard to set up an account, but we are of course still in a chicken-and-egg situation - we can't open a resident account as we don't have a permanent address here, and we won't be able to pay the rent here without a bank account. Ho-hum.

I popped into the supermarket after that. It was the one on Plateia 1866 that we had given a wide berth to a couple of days previously, but inside it turned out to be much nicer than the one we ended up in. They certainly knew the Brits had arrived, as I cleared out their alcohol section and merrily clanked my way back home to my wife.

I must confess I found myself beginning to like the craziness of it all. When we'd first walked through the modern bit of the city it had seemed so much busier than we expected that we were a bit taken aback - especially having just come from a week spent in tiny places in Kefalonia. I've now begun to recognise a couple of the local characters, and had a real spring in my step as I wandered around in the sunshine, negotiating my way through the frenetic traffic, singing along to my iPod looking like a loon. Now, if only I can find a way to earn some money...

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This is indeed very amusing. Being a Greek myself and living in Athens I think that most of what you write helps us reflect on situations very common in Greece. Of course, we know all these things and criticize them as well, but a fresh look is irreplaceable.
Keep up the good work.

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