Money, Banks and exchange
Greek banks normally open Monday to Thursday 8.30am–2.30pm and Friday 8.30am–2pm. Always take your passport with you as proof of identity and expect long queues. Large hotels and some travel agencies also provide an exchange service, though with hefty commissions. On small islands with no full-service bank, “authorized” bank agents will charge an additional fee for posting a travellers’ cheque to a proper branch.
A number of authorized brokers for exchanging foreign cash have emerged in Athens and other major tourist centres. When changing small amounts, choose those bureaux that charge a flat percentage commission (usually 1 percent) rather than a high minimum. There is a small number of 24-hour automatic foreign-note-changing machines, but a high minimum commission tends to be deducted. There is no need to purchase euros beforehand unless you’re arriving at some ungodly hour to one of the remoter frontier posts. Travellers’ cheques (best in euros rather than dollars) can be cashed at most banks, though rarely elsewhere. Cashing the cheques will incur a minimum charge of €1.20–2.40 depending on the bank; for larger amounts, a set percentage will apply.
Greece’s currency is the euro (€). Up-to-date exchange rates can be found on wxe.com. Euro notes exist in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros, and coins in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents and 1 and 2 euros. Avoid getting stuck with counterfeit euro notes (€100 and €200 ones abound). The best tests are done by the naked eye: genuine notes all have a hologram strip or (if over €50) patch at one end, there’s a watermark at the other, plus a security thread embedded in the middle. If you end up with a fake note, you’ll have no recourse to a refund. Note that shopkeepers do not bother much with shortfalls of 10 cents or less, whether in their favour (especially) or yours.
ATMs and credit cards
Debit cards have become the most common means of accessing funds while travelling, by withdrawing money from the vast network of Greek ATMs. Larger airports have at least one ATM in the arrivals hall and any town or island with a population larger than a few thousand (or substantial tourist traffic) also has them. Most accept Visa, MasterCard, Visa Electron, Plus and Cirrus cards; American Express holders are restricted to the ATMs of Alpha and National Bank. There is usually a charge of 2.25 percent on the sterling/dollar transaction value, plus a commission fee of a similar amount. Using credit cards at an ATM costs roughly the same; however, inflated interest accrues from the moment of use.
Major credit cards are not usually accepted by cheaper tavernas or hotels but they can be essential for renting cars. Major travel agents may also accept them, though a three-percent surcharge is often levied on the purchase of ferry tickets.