Stay safe in Greece
Greece is generally a safe destination: the vast majority of people you deal with are honest and helpful. The above information is intended to warn travellers of the risks that can affect them with little but not zero probability. There is also a serious social problem with right-wing extremist youth who are racist and attack people they perceive as illegal immigrants.
Crime and theft
Rates of violent crime and theft are low; public disorder is rare and public drunkenness is generally frowned upon. Visitors should be assured that this is a safe and welcoming destination, but foreign tourists are always advised to take basic precautions as they would at home. Recently there has been an increase in thefts (or at least perceived thefts), which some locals will unhesitatingly attribute to the influx of immigrants.
The places where the visitor is most likely to encounter crime and theft are probably Athens’ handful of crowded and overheated metro stations and tourist resorts populated by young foreigners attracted by cheap flights, cheap rooms and cheap alcohol. The most famous places include Faliraki on Rhodes (quieter since the election of a stern new mayor), Kavos on Corfu, Malia (currently the ‘hottest’ destination) on Crete and Ios (although it has quietened down recently).Most visitors to these places return home unmolested, but there are increasing reports of theft, public indecency, sexual assault and drunken violence; both perpetrators and victims are usually young foreigners, although sometimes locals are involved. The authorities have increased police presence in these areas to suppress these activities. Nevertheless, visitors to these places would do well to avoid anything that looks like trouble, especially late at night, and to remember that their own excessive drinking increases their chances of getting into trouble themselves.
The most frequently reported major scam against travellers is the Greek version of the old clip-joint routine. It is mainly reported in the centre of Athens, but also occasionally in other cities and even in large island towns. A solo traveller is approached, usually at night in an area where there are many bars, by a friendly Greek who engages in a conversation that ends in an invitation for a drink at “this really cool bar I know”. Once at the bar, they are joined by a couple of beautiful ladies who immediately start ordering drinks, often champagne, until they are presented with an astronomical bill at the end of the evening, the payment of which is forced by the sudden appearance of a pair of beaming thugs. If this ploy works, it is because most Greeks have a tradition of being friendly to visitors, and almost any Greek who starts a conversation with you will have no ulterior motives. However, if you are approached as a solo traveller by a Greek in the circumstances described above, it is safer to politely but firmly decline an invitation. Also, do not agree to change your money on the street and if someone asks you if you can change a 20 or 50 euro note, decline (you might end up with a counterfeit note).
Restrictions for photography
It is strictly prohibited to photograph military installations or other strategic locations. The authorities will take violations very seriously. Pay attention to the signs prohibiting photography. In fact, it would be best not to photograph anything of military importance, including Greek Navy ships, airports and aircraft, even civilian ones: The Greek authorities can be very sensitive to such things. Many museums prohibit photography without permission; some only prohibit photography with flash or tripod, and many ask visitors not to take photos of objects (statues, etc.) where people are standing nearby, as this is considered disrespectful. Museum staff will shout at you if they see a camera or even a mobile phone in your hand.
Greece also has very strict laws regarding the export of antiquities, which can include not only antique items but also coins, icons, folk art and pieces of stone from archaeological sites. Before buying anything that could be considered an antique, you should familiarise yourself with the current laws on what is allowed to be taken out of the country. In short, all objects made before 1830 are considered antiques and are protected by the Ministry. Never think of exporting or buying an object of archaeological value, as it will be a fake or you will quickly be stopped at the airport for smuggling goods of archaeological value.
Greece has some of the strictest and best enforced drug laws in Europe, and tourists are not exempt. No matter what anyone tells you, it is absolutely uncool to use drugs in Greece, including marijuana. Moreover, such behaviour is strongly disapproved of by the locals and it is almost certain that someone will call the police to have you arrested. Note that even a very small amount is enough to get you into serious trouble. Do not even think of offering even the smallest amount of drugs to someone else. You could be prosecuted for drug trafficking, which can result in several years in prison!
Probably the biggest danger for travellers in Greece is just crossing the road: traffic can be bad even in small towns and terrible in Athens and other Greek cities, and the accident rate is high. Pedestrians should take care, even when crossing at traffic lights. Similarly, 1400 people are killed on Greek roads every year – a statistic that is one of the highest in the European Union. Most of these deaths are attributed to aggressive driving or talking on a mobile phone – by the driver or the pedestrian. Drivers often switch from one lane to another to lose less time. Stay safe.
Stay healthy in Greece
Despite calls for health reform from voters and the political establishment, the national health system has received high marks from the World Health Organisation (WHO), a branch of the United Nations. However, many citizens prefer private health care for long-term hospitalisation. Depending on the age and type of hospital or clinic, the service varies from adequate to excellent. Health care is free and universal for all citizens, as well as for all EU citizens upon presentation of an EHIC card (formerly form E111). For third-country nationals, only emergency care is free.
A network of helicopter ambulances serves the islands and transports patients who need immediate help to the nearest island or town with a large hospital.
The country‘s pharmacies and medicines are of the highest quality and the pharmacists are highly qualified experts in their field. Many medicines that are available on prescription in the UK and USA can be purchased over the counter in Greece. In the case of a simple and common ailment, a visit to the pharmacy will enable you to obtain the medication you need. If you are looking for a specific medicine, make sure you know its generic name, as brand names can vary. Most pharmacies are closed on Sundays, but a sign on the door indicates the nearest pharmacies that are open.
Health care differs from that in Anglosphere countries as there are many specialists in the community. General practitioners are replaced by community pathologists. Hotels and tourist offices can advise you where to go if you are ill.
Sexually transmitted infections
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) exist in Greece as elsewhere, and travellers who may be sexually active while in Greece should bear in mind that even if you are on holiday and your sexual partner is also a traveller, perhaps from your own country, none of these circumstances override the laws of biology. According to recent reports in the Greek and British media, unprotected sex between visitors to Greece, leading to an increase in STIs and unwanted pregnancies, is particularly prevalent in resorts favoured by young people such as Ios, Malia, Kavos and Faliraki. Condoms are available in all pharmacies and in many kiosks.
Sun and heat are risks that summer visitors need to take precautions for. Wear a good, light sun hat and sunglasses, and drink plenty of water.
In late spring and summer, the government broadcasts public commercials on TV reminding Greeks to wear their sunscreen on the beach. The Mediterranean sun tends to get quite strong and can burn skin that has not been in the sun for a long time. Excessive daily sun exposure can also cause long-term damage to the skin. Sunscreens are available throughout Greece in supermarkets, grocery shops, pharmacies and shops specialising in beach items, although they are generally expensive and blocks of high SPF are hard to find.
In the warmer months, wear tank tops, umbrellas and water when visiting archaeological sites. Daytime highs are around 35-38°C (95-100°F). The sun is relentless. In recent years, Athens has regularly experienced summer heatwaves where the temperature can reach over 100°F (38°C), putting some people at risk of respiratory problems and heat stroke. Be aware that many islands, especially in the Cyclades, have very little shade to mitigate the summer heat. When walking on these islands, even to remote beaches, it is especially important to wear a hat and sunscreen in hot weather, carry water and avoid walking during the hottest part of the day.
Jellyfish periodically infest certain beaches and their stings can be severe. The red ones are particularly dangerous. Sea urchins are common along the Greek coast and usually cling to shallow underwater surfaces such as smooth rocks and sea walls. They usually live in shallow water and are therefore easy to see. Care must be taken not to step on them as their spines can be painful.
It is not advisable to walk cross-country alone in Greece: even in popular places, the countryside can be surprisingly deserted, and if you get into trouble while out of sight of houses or roads, it may be a long time before anyone notices you.
Lifeguards are rare on Greek beaches, although most beaches where people gather to swim are considered safe locally. Some beaches have shallow water far from the shore, others break suddenly. If you have any doubts about the safety of swimming conditions, contact the local authorities.
There are no compulsory vaccinations for Greece and the water is safe almost everywhere (see above under “Drinking”). Look for “blue flags” on beaches for the best water quality (which usually also have good sand and facilities).