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A PhD Student's Guide to Living in Greece

by Mark Bennett

Greek higher learning has been attracting foreign students and scholars for over two-thousand years; Alexander the Great was privately tutored by the famous Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and, following the rise of the Roman Empire, it was common for wealthy patrician families to have their children educated on Greek principles. Today's overseas students in Greece are somewhat less likely to be interested in the conquest and maintenance of global empires, but other aspects of the country's appeal still play an important role in attracting international postgraduates.

Greece's Mediterranean climate, diverse geography and excellent food and wine make the country as appealing for today's travelling scholars as it was for their ancient predecessors. Meanwhile, Greece's unparalleled cultural heritage ensures that there will always be something to see and do when taking a break from your studies. Wherever you are in Greece, you won't be far from places that have played a seminal role in western history; ranging from the temples of the Delphic Oracle to the mountain pass at Thermopylae, famously defended by a Spartan army during the Greco-Persian wars (and by Gerard Butler in the film, 300). The Greek landscape also lends itself to several spectacular sites, including the Acropolis above Athens and the monasteries of Meteora, built atop thousand-foot high sandstone pillars.

Key facts

  • Greece has a population of a little under 12 million people, around a third of which is settled in the capital city of Athens and the surrounding region of Attica.
  • Modern Greece is governed as a parliamentary republic (known officially as 'The Hellenic Republic'), with a presidential head of state appointed by an elected parliament. Voting is compulsory, according to law.
  • The country comprises a mountainous peninsula and a large number of associated islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas. In the south the climate is Mediterranean, with mild winters and hot summers. More mountainous regions experience heavy annual snowfall.
  • Greece is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, with over 17 million visitors each year.
  • The currency of Greece is the Euro (€).
  • Orthodox Christianity is the predominant Greek faith, but full religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed for other beliefs.
  • The official language is Greek, but English is widely spoken in major cities such as Athens.

Culture, leisure and everyday life

As a PhD student in Greece you are likely to be living and studying in either Athens or Thessaloniki. These are the two most prominent university hubs in the country, though institutions of higher learning are established elsewhere in Greece, including the island of Crete.

Daily life in Greece is fairly relaxed, with an afternoon siesta often breaking up the day during hot summer weather. Traditionally, evenings serve as a time for social congregation and relatively long meals with multiple dishes. In some Greek cities you can still find tavernas where a selection of meze can be sampled whilst listening to live bazouki music. An evening at such restaurants often ends with diners coming together for traditional folk dances before saying a warm farewell. Of course cities such as Athens are also busy metropolitan centres and there's something quite remarkable about watching traffic stream along a busy main street with buildings such as the Parthenon distantly visible in the afternoon sun.

Food and drink

Modern Greek food is a fusion of traditional Mediterranean cuisine with dishes derived from the country's time under Ottoman rule. The cultivation and preparation of olive dishes has long been an area of Greek expertise and other foods such as feta (a salted cheese made from sheep or goat's milk and popularised in ancient times as a convenient military ration) are well known outside the country. Greek cooking also specialises in grilled meats such as seasoned chicken souvlaki or more hearty winter foods such as meat and aubergine moussaka. Lamb is particularly popular at Easter, when it is traditionally spit-roasted slowly over an open fire. Greece is also one of the world's oldest wine producing regions and, whilst its modern vintages are less well known internationally than those of competitors such as France or Italy, you'll have a chance to discover indigenous varieties such as rich Nemean reds, or sweet Mavrodaphne dessert wines. Greece's other most famous beverage is, of course, ouzo and a good evening's food and conversation isn't complete without a glass mixed with a little water and served as an aperitif.

Accommodation and living costs

Greece is a relatively inexpensive place to live once you have your bearings. A good meal at an inexpensive restaurant is easy to find and will still feature quality ingredients (many of which may be locally produced) for around €10-12 ($14-17). Upmarket catering is likely to be more expensive - particularly if it is designed to target groups of holiday-makers - but, as a resident, you should be able to take advantage of local markets and purchase cheap groceries to prepare yourself.

The provision of student accommodation in Greece varies. Not all institutions will offer their own residences, but, where available, these will usually be the most economical option. Private rental arrangements may be set up to cater to students in university cities such as Athens or Thessaloniki, with apartments sometimes costing for less than €300 ($410) per month and hostels potentially available for less. The best course of action is usually to contact the international office at your university and ask about local accommodation when you begin your application process. Most universities will be used to receiving foreign students and, if they don't offer accommodation themselves, they may maintain records of reliable private alternatives.

Working as a PhD student in Greece

As you might expect in a country with large numbers of international tourists, there is a strong demand for English speaking workers in Greece. Though regulations govern rights to work in Greece, attitudes to employment within the country can appear quite casual (particularly for irregular or seasonal work). Nonetheless, you should be wary of any apparent loopholes: less scrupulous employers may allow you to work without proper registration, but you'll have little recourse if they refuse to pay you as agreed.

Casual work in the summer will usually be easy to obtain in hospitality and related services, though you may need to undertake some initial health and safety certification in order to work with food. EU citizens will usually be able to work upon receipt of their resident's permit (see our Article on studying for a PhD in Greece for information on visas and immigration for international students in Greece). Nationals of other countries are best advised to contact a Greek embassy in order to inquire about their employment rights in Greece.

Don't forget that you can also use PostgraduateFunding.com to search a comprehensive database of small grants available to all postgraduate students. These could be a great way of topping up your funding if you have difficulty finding work alongside your studies.

Other useful information

Travel and transportation

Major cities such as Athens are well served by subway systems and fares on these are relatively inexpensive (indeed, full-time student status may entitle you to reduced prices or even free tickets for some services). Taxis and buses also operate, though the heavy traffic in metropolitan areas can make these less convenient for longer journeys. Greece's urban areas are quite concentrated, meaning that you are unlikely to undertake many inter-city journeys within the country unless visiting heritage sites or other areas of local interest. In such cases the best option can be to join a guided tour group. These come in a range of packages and prices and are often the best way to see multiple sites that are too far apart for personal travel to be economic or practical. Greece has a number international airports and ferry travel is also possible to coastal cities or between the mainland and islands such as Crete.

Money and banking

Banks are common in Greece's cities and are usually open between Monday and Friday (though you should be aware that many branches are likely to close on Friday afternoons). Banks will usually be able to exchange currency for you and you should also be able to open a local account by presenting documentation confirming your identity, student status and residency permit.


Greece has a modern healthcare system and students from within the EEA will usually be entitled to some form of free provision without insurance (though services may incur supplementary charges according to the complexity of the treatment required). Non-EEA students may need to take out some form of private health insurance, depending on the arrangements (if any) between Greece and their home country. The Greek embassy or consulate in your home country should be able to advise you as to your entitlements and requirements.

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