UK and Greece have a long-standing relationship, going back to the founding stages of the Greek state. Economic ties are strong and Greece is both a touristic destination for UK citizens as well as a preferential business partner. UK’s decision to leave the EU did cause an uproar, mainly because of the ambiguity deriving from the political bras-de-fer and the justified concern over the unknown, as it was the first process of a state leaving the EU – so far, only enlargement and convergence agreements have been launched. Nevertheless, it is important to focus on opportunities that arise from this event, while maintaining rights and expanding profits.
Travelling amid the Covid-19
Greece is one of the most popular summer destinations for UK holidaymakers. British nationals usually make more than three million visits to the country each year, amounting to £62.3 billion spent abroad by tourists from the UK. According to the Withdrawal Agreement (WA), UK nationals will be able to travel to and from Greece and the rest of the EU Schengen Area, with a valid passport, visa-free, for up to 90 days in any 180-day period, for purposes such as tourism or business. This is a rolling 180-day period.
Nevertheless, the Covid -19 pandemic resulted in the British government banning travelling to Greece with the exception of the islands of Rhodes, Kos, Zakynthos, Corfu and Crete, based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks. The British government is expected to include Greece in the “green list” of countries where travelling will be free without further restrictions.
Regarding entry requirements imposed by the Greek authorities, a negative PCR test for Covid- 19 undertaken within the 72 hour period before arrival into Greece must be presented. Alternatively, UK travellers with proof of two COVID-19 vaccinations completed at least 14 days before travel are exempt from self-isolation. Furthermore, passengers travelling to Greece are obliged to complete an online Passenger Locator Form (PLF), regardless of the way they are travelling. The PLF must include all passenger’s details; for families’, one PLF with the information of all household’s member is sufficient.
*This section was last updated on May the 13th. For up-to-date information, please see: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/greece/entry-requirements
The Withdrawal Agreement (WA) was put into force on 31 January 2020. Through its second part entitled Citizens’ Rights, the WA safeguards the residency rights of over 3 million EU citizens in the UK and over 1 million UK nationals in EU countries. As it is, two categories of UK nationals living in EU are formed: those falling within the scope of the WA and those not. The former are those who did exercise free movement rights and lived in the EU prior to the end of the transition period (31 December 2020); the latter are those who are seeking to achieve some sort of bond with an EU state following the end of the transition period.
Regarding the individuals of the first category, the WA sets forward two procedures in order for UK citizens already residing in an EU state to acquire legal residence status, namely the constitutive system, where a mandatory application is a condition for the employment of rights under the WA, and the declaratory system where an application is not a prerequisite and those who comply with the conditions set forward by the WA will automatically benefit from it. Greece has opted to follow the latter, thus confirming the right of UK nationals and family members already residing and wishing to remain in Greece after the end of the transition period, to apply and receive a new residence document, according to the terms of the WA and under the conditions laid down for EU citizens in the EU Free Movement Directive (Directive 2004/38/EC). It is important to note that, exactly due to the declaratory scheme, the deadline set by Greek authorities to apply for the residence document pursuant to the WA (30th June 2021) is indicative, meaning that rights under the WA are protected. These rights refer to their capability to take up employment or carry out an economic activity as a self-employed person, while their workers’ rights will be based on EU law. It is important to note that the WA has extended to UK nationals the right to equal treatment compared to host state nationals, a right reserved for EU citizens. Furthermore, UK nationals will maintain their right to healthcare, pensions and other social security benefits, and if they are entitled to a cash benefit from one country, they will in principle be entitled to receive it, even if they decide to live in another country.
Regarding the individuals of the second category (the ones not covered by the WA), for the purposes of the Greek Law, UK nationals are dealt with as third country nationals, whose status is laid down by the Greek Immigration Code (Law 4251/2014). Therefore, acquiring a national visa or residence permit is obligatory for a prolonged stay in Greece –beyond the three months visa- free period. Under the Greek Immigration Code, specific residence visas, such as investor permit or permit for dependent work, may be issued. It is important to note that pursuing economic activity without a visa or residence permit is not allowed – UK nationals no longer benefit from the free movement of persons principle that applies within the EU.
Residency alternatives for High-Net Worth Individuals
Complementary to the abovementioned choices, the Greek Immigration Code offers alternative paths in acquiring residence permits in Greece. These provisions apply mainly to High-Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) and aim to secure their bond with assets located in Greece.
The first option is related to the “Golden Visa” program which applies to third-country citizens, owning real estate property in Greece, provided the minimum value of the property is €250.000€ or having signed either a lease agreement of at least 10 years, for hotel accommodations or a timeshare lease. The residence permit is granted for 5 years and upon its expiration, it can be renewed for another 5 years, under the condition of maintaining ownership of the property. The residence permit, if approved and issued, extends to cover the immediate members of the beneficiary, namely his spouse, children, parents and parents-in-law.
The other option is the “Financially Independent Person” Visa which applies to third country citizens, who have sufficient resources in terms of annual income to meet their subsistence needs. The residence permit issued in accordance to this provision is valid for 2 years, can be renewed every three years and is extended to members of the immediate family, for whom a personal residence permit is issued. The minimum of proven income amounts to 2.000€, increased by 20% for the spouse and 15% for each child.
It is important to note that both these visas do not grant access to the labour market.
Further opportunities arise from the legislation introducing tax benefits for those foreign citizens willing to transfer their tax residency in Greece. Even though the provisions do not directly lead to a residence permit, they can serve as a presumption for administrative procedures in accordance with the Greek Immigration Code. Their newness does not yet allow for concise conclusions and their effectiveness and usefulness will be drawn upon their application.