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Safety Travel Safety: Europe: Greece

Greece: Hellenic Republic
Capital: Athens
Population: 10,645,343
Currency: euro (EUR)
Languages: Greek 99% (official), English, French
Religions: Greek Orthodox 98%, Muslim 1.3%, other 0.7%
Borders: Albania 282 km, Bulgaria 494 km, Turkey 206 km, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 246 km

Greece is a developed and stable democracy with a modern economy.

In the post 9/11 environment, Greece shares with the rest of the world an increased threat of transnational terrorism. The U.S. Government remains deeply concerned about the heightened threat of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests abroad. Certain Greek domestic and anarchist groups have in the past targeted U.S. government personnel and commercial interests. Like other countries in the Schengen area, Greece's open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity. While strikes and demonstrations are a regular occurrence, civil disorder is rare. Visitors should keep abreast of news about demonstrations and avoid places where demonstrators frequently congregate, such as the Polytechnical University area, and Exarchion, and Syntagma Squares, and Aristotle Square in Thessaloniki. The presence of unattended bags and other suspicious occurrences should be brought promptly to the attention of the nearest police or security officials.

Crime against tourists (purse-snatchings, pick-pocketing) is on the rise at popular tourist sites and on crowded public transportation, particularly in Athens. Reports of date or acquaintance rape have also increased, with most of the offenses occurring on the islands. The usual safety precautions practiced in any urban or tourist area ought to be practiced during a visit to Greece.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Greek laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Greece are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Medical facilities are adequate, and some, particularly the private clinics and hospitals in Athens and Thessaloniki, are quite good. Some private hospitals have affiliations with U.S. facilities, and generally their staff doctors have been trained in U.S. or other international teaching institutions. However, English is not as widely spoken as might be expected. Public medical clinics, especially on the islands, may lack resources; care there is often inadequate for American standards and often, little English is spoken. Many patients, Greeks and visitors alike, are transferred from the provinces and islands to Athens hospitals for more sophisticated care. Others may choose to transfer from a public to a private hospital within Athens. Americans choosing to do so would arrange for an ambulance belonging to the private hospital to transport them from the public hospital to the private one. The cost of the ambulance for this transfer, as well as all expenses in a private hospital, must be borne by the patient. It is not uncommon for doctors and patients to smoke in the wards, although the newer hospitals are increasingly strict on this matter.

Nursing care, particularly in public hospitals, may be less than adequate. For special or through-the-night nursing care, it is suggested that a private nurse be hired or a family member or friend be available to assist. One parent or a private nurse should always plan to stay with a hospitalized child on a 24-hour basis, as even the best hospitals generally maintain only a minimal nursing staff from midnight to dawn on non-emergency floors or wards.

According to the Greek government, all of the 12 designated �Olympic Hospitals� will be required to have English-speaking staff. The government is actively implementing plans to upgrade many hospitals, develop mobile medical units, purchase new equipment, and improve emergency and trauma response capacities.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Greece is provided for general reference only and may not be accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Condition/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Condition/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair and improving. There are a number of nationwide auto-service clubs and plans similar to those in the U.S., that provide towing and roadside service, which a tourist can call and pay for per service. The largest, quite similar to AAA, is ELPA, nation-wide phone number 10400.

Visitors to Greece must be prepared to drive defensively. Drivers and pedestrians alike should exercise extreme caution when operating motor vehicles or when walking along roadways. Heavy traffic and poor highways pose hazards, especially at night. Extreme care is warranted in operating a motorbike. Moreover, tourists who rent motorbikes either on the Greek mainland or its islands must wear helmets and take special precautions on local roads that are typically poorly maintained and frequently pothole-ridden. The majority of U.S. citizen traffic casualties in Greece have involved motorbikes, and Greece leads the European Union in motorcycle deaths.

Drivers must carry a valid U.S. license as well as an international driver's permit (IDP). Failure to have both documents may result in police detention or other problems. The U.S. Department of State has authorized two organizations to issue IDPs to those who hold valid U.S. driver's licenses: AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. Issuance of an IDP is quick, easy, and inexpensive, but must generally be done before a traveler leaves the United States. Vehicles may not properly be rented without the IDP, although sometimes they are. A driver without one, however, will be penalized for failure to have one in the event of an accident, and may be open to civil suit as well. Fines are high. Small motorbike rental firms frequently do not insure their vehicles; customers are responsible for damages and should review their coverage before renting.

For specific information concerning Greek driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Greek National Tourism Office via the Internet at

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Greek Government's civil aviation authority as Category 2 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Greek air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, the Greek air carriers currently flying to the U.S. will be subject to heightened FAA surveillance. No additional flights or new service to the U.S. by Greek air carriers will be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet web site at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the United States. Local exceptions may apply. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

Labor strikes in the transportation sector (national airline, city bus lines, and taxis) occur frequently. Most are announced in advance and are of short duration. Reconfirmation of domestic and international flight reservations is highly recommended.

The Government of Greece does not permit the photographing of military installations. In 2001, several British and other nationals who photograph military aircraft as a hobby were arrested while taking photographs of aircraft taking off and landing at a military base. Although they were eventually acquitted, the Embassy strongly recommends against participating in such activities.

The 2004 Olympic Summer Games will be held in Athens from August 13-29. The Paralympic Games will take place in Athens from September 17-28. The Embassy's web site at has a direct link to the Embassy's Olympics web page, available directly at, which itself has a link directly to the general Olympic Games web site.

The Government of Greece does not permit the photographing of military installations. In 2001, several British and other nationals who photograph military aircraft as a hobby were arrested while taking photographs of aircraft taking off and landing at a military base. Although they were eventually acquitted, the Embassy strongly recommends against participating in such activities.

People traveling in Greece who do not speak Greek may call 112 if they require emergency services. This is a 24-hour toll-free number, designed especially for visitors. Callers will be able to receive information in English and French (as well as Greek) and to request assistance from, or be connected directly to, ambulance services, the fire department, the police, and the coast guard.

Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

July 12, 2004

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