The euro ? comes in seven paper notes and eight coins. The notes are in different sizes and colors. They are in the following denominations: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500.
(Considering that each euro is worth over $1, those last bills are quite pricey!) Six of the coins are officially "cents" -- but in Greece they have become referred to as lepta, the old Greek name for sums smaller than the drachma.
They come in different sizes and their value is 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50. There are also 1? and 2? coins. Although one side of the coins differs in each of the member E.U. nations, all coins and bills are legal tender in all countries using the euro.
Warning: The 1? and 2? coins look similar to a 1 lira Turkish coin -- worth less than half the 1?, so count your change carefully.
It's a good idea to exchange at least some money -- just enough to cover airport incidentals and transportation to your hotel -- before you leave home, so you can avoid lines at airport ATMs.
You can exchange money at your local American Express or Thomas Cook office or at some banks.
The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM. Cirrus (tel. 800/622-7747; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe; look at the back of your bank card to see which network you're on, then call or check online for ATM locations at your destination.
If your bank, credit, or debit card is affiliated with one of the major international credit cards (such as MasterCard or Visa), you should not have any trouble getting money in Greece.
Credit & Debit Cards
Credit cards are another safe way to carry money. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs provided you know your PIN.
In Greece, Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted cards.
Diners Club is less widely accepted. And American Express is still less frequently accepted because it charges a higher commission and is more protective of the cardholder in disagreements.
If you are traveling with a debit card you should already know your PIN -- just make sure it is only four digits (and if you have been punching it out via the alphabet, learn how to assign those letters to their appropriate number keys).
In commercial centers, airports, all cities and larger towns, and most tourist centers, you will find at least a couple of machines accepting a wide range of cards.
Smaller towns will often have only one ATM -- and it may not accept your card. Commercial Bank (Emboriki Trapeza) services PLUS and Visa; Credit Bank (Trapeza Pisteos) accepts Visa and American Express; National Bank (Ethiniki Trapeza) takes Cirrus and MasterCard/Access.
But for all the prevalence of ATMs around Greece, you should keep at least one fallback currency for those occasions when even all the ATMs you can locate are out of order or out of cash. Keep enough euros or your own national currency or travelers' checks hidden somewhere to get you through at least 24 hours.
Warning About Credit Cards -- Greek ATMs use only numeric PINs (personal identification numbers), so before you set off for Greece be sure you know how to convert letters to numerals as the alphabet will be in Greek. Note: Greek ATMs accept only a 4-digit PIN -- you must change yours before you go.
Meanwhile, perhaps you have been reading about the new "Chip-and-PIN (aka Smart Cards) credit cards that are being introduced throughout much of the world.
Unlike the long-standard credit cards that have only a magnetic strip, these have a small chip embedded in them and then require the user to enter a PIN. The European Union is requiring all its member nations to introduce these by 2011, but as of this writing American issuers of credit cards have not adopted them.
This means that Americans abroad may face a problem when presenting their standard magnetic strip cards: some places may claim that they are no longer acceptable.
But, in fact, they are: If the individual doesn't already know this, he must punch in your card number manually -- but then you must provide them with that card's PIN.
So, if you do not know your card's PIN, you must call your card issuer and obtain one (for MasterCard, call tel. 800/622-7747; for Visa, tel. 800/857-2911). Allow some time for this as it may involve sending mail from and back to the issuer. Note: This problem does not arise if you are using a card as a debit card.
Credit cards are accepted throughout Greece in the better hotels and at most shops. But even many of the better restaurants in major cities do not accept credit cards, and certainly most restaurants and smaller hotels in Greece do not accept them.
Also, some hotels that require a credit card number when you make advance reservations will demand payment in cash; inquire beforehand if this will be the case.
Currency Exchange Offices
Private and commercial foreign-exchange offices are found in major cities, larger towns, and centers of tourism throughout Greece. They are generally competitive, but their rates vary, so shop around if you must use one.
Traveler's checks are something of an anachronism from the days before the ATM made cash accessible at any time. Traveler's checks used to be the only sound alternative to traveling with dangerously large amounts of cash.
They were as reliable as currency but, unlike cash, they could be replaced if lost or stolen.
It should also be said that although in Greece today most hotels and shops still accept traveler's checks, many no longer do, and in any case they usually charge a small commission or give a poor exchange rate.
Do not expect any Greek operations to cash your traveler's checks, however, unless you are paying for their services or goods.
You can buy traveler's checks at most banks. They are offered in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and sometimes $1,000. Generally, you'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%.
In an emergency, you can arrange to send money from home to a Greek bank.
Telex transfers from the United Kingdom usually take at least 3 days and sometimes up to a week, with a charge of about 3%.
Bank drafts are more expensive but potentially faster if you are in Athens. From Canada and the United States, money can be wired by Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000) or MoneyGram (tel. 800/666-3947).
In Greece, call Western Union in the United States (tel. 001-314/298-2313) to learn the location of an office. For MoneyGram, call tel. 001/800-926-9400). For a fee (4%-10%, depending on the sum involved), money can be available in minutes at an agent for Western Union or MoneyGram.
Cost of Greece
For many decades after World War II, Greece was one of the great bargain destinations for tourists.
But since the 1990s, there is no denying that it can no longer be described this way. It may not be in the category of London or New York or Paris or Tokyo, but in the major cities and hot spots, hotels are no longer bargains and the upscale restaurants are comparable to such restaurants in most other developed countries.
Admission to major museums and archaeological sites is now comparable to fees in major cities. Flights within Greece are expensive, as are car rentals -- especially in high season. (Gasoline/petrol will seem expensive only to Americans!)
But all that said, it is still possible to have a reasonably modest holiday in Greece. You can start by visiting outside the high season -- July and August.
Pick midprice hotels and restaurants -- and make sure breakfast is included in your hotel price. Look around for deals on car rentals. Fly off-peak hours, and avoid expensive services such as spas or purchases such as jewelry.