Why Become a Greek Citizen?
The entire world knows Greece as the cradle of European civilization. The country boasts a mild Mediterranean climate, delicious cuisine, and spell-binding landscapes. There are many sites from the UNESCO World Heritage list. While some people live on the Greek inland, others choose to stay on the islands and enjoy the sea. Greece is a superb alternative to Spain and is great for those who no longer want to live in northern countries.
The Greek government recognizes the popularity of the country by offering naturalization. Yet the State is also quite protective and does not open the road to citizenship to anyone. Greece only offers passports to its existing nationals. Unless you can prove you are Greek by descent it is very unlikely that you will ever get a passport. Greece also does not support a citizenship-by-investment program, like some other European countries. Instead, the government runs a special Golden Visa program. It offers a residence permit in exchange for buying shares in the country's real estate.
Greek passport requirements
There are four main cases in which a person will be eligible to apply for a Greek passport:
if they are Greek by descent;
if they have an established connection with Greece by way of studies or marriage;
if they are financially independent people;
if they are participants of the Golden Visa program.
It is only in the first case that an applicant will not have to spend any amount of time in the country. Provided they can prove their Greek origin, they join the ranks of other Greek nationals. Those who fall under any of the remaining three categories will be naturalized. This means that they retain their original nationality, while also becoming citizens of Greece. Below we go over each case.
Greek citizen by descent
To claim Greek citizenship by descent, a person must prove that:
his or her ancestors were Greek by birth, or
born in a legal union where one of the parents was Greek.
Official registrars provide such records. Yet, as Greece had its own share of political turmoil, it may be hard to obtain such records for ancestors who emigrated from the country. Moreover, they could have changed their name. So, the quest for establishing their Greek identity becomes even more complicated. The government's stance is firm: the identity of the Greek ancestors must be proved by official sources. Otherwise, the application will be declined.
If you are considering this option, it is best to first consult an official advisor. This person will evaluate the prospects of your application. Perhaps they will help to save money if this is an unlikely case.
Established connection with Greece
This opportunity is open to children who study in a Greek school and have completed 6 years of education. Or, their parents are foreign nationals who have been Greek residents for no less than seven years. A similar option is open to students of Greek universities who finished their degrees.
Financially independent people
This option is open to foreign residents who can prove that their income in their home country exceeds 2,000 euros a month. They have to apply for a residency permit which is valid for 2 years and subject to extension. It is possible to apply with the spouse and/or children. The monthly income will have to be higher in this case: by 20% for the spouse and by 15% for every child. Although this option seems viable, in practice this kind of residency permit is hard to obtain. Each application is thoroughly reviewed by the officials.
Golden Visa program
The Golden Visa program was introduced as a Greek alternative to citizenship-by-investment programs. Participants can buy shares in Greece real estate (e.g. a hotel), open an account in a Greek bank, or purchase a plot of agricultural land for a period of 5 years. At this time, they are not allowed to withdraw the money. In return, they get a residence permit for themselves and their entire family. This includes a spouse, their children, the parents, and the in-laws. They cannot live in any EU country they wish, except their home country and Greece. Yet they can travel throughout the Schengen zone.
Should they wish, they can move to Greece immediately and lay down roots there. Or, they can stay in their country of residence. After 5 years they obtain an indefinite leave to remain. This is followed by 2 years when they must stay and live in Greece to be fully eligible for Greek citizenship. After 2 years they finally get naturalized. They receive a Greek passport and can travel and work anywhere in the EU.
This scheme is open to any foreign national who has the funds to participate in the Golden Visa program.
Fees and Documents
To sum up, a person who is likely to qualify for a Greek passport and citizenship must suit the following requirements:
be over 18 years old;
have a clear criminal record;
have not been deported from Greece;
have resided in the country for seven years.
Under certain circumstances, the applicant may have to wait less. Normally, the waiting period lasts three years on the following occasions:
an applicant is a spouse of a Greek national and has lived in the country in the last three years;
an applicant has a small child who holds a Greek passport;
an applicant is a refugee or has been stripped of citizenship by his native country;
an applicant is a native citizen of an EU country.
Below is the list of mandatory documents for citizenship application:
a copy of the passport;
application for naturalization;
statement of desire to obtain Greek citizenship;
credit history for a specified period;
insurance policy number;
a copy of Greek residence permit;
a birth certificate.
Other documents may be provided upon request from the officials. Some documents will need to be translated into Greek, notarized, and apostilled, e.g. a birth certificate. Other documents must be registered or witnessed by the Greek nationals or government services. The residents of the European Union must have a permanent residence certificate issued by Greece's Immigration Department. The Statement of desire to become a Greek citizen must be witnessed by two Greek nationals.
Speaking of fees, the application may cost as much as 700 euros; in case of resubmission, the applicant will have to pay 200 euros. There are a lot of hidden costs, e.g. translation, notary, and apostille services for any documents in the foreign language. An applicant must be able to speak Greek, to know the country's history and culture, and to take part in the country's political life (e.g. during elections). So, in the case when the person does not know the language and customs of the country, they will have to pay for lessons. Several months after the documents were submitted the applicant may have to attend an interview or take a test. Travel expenses and perhaps a test fee will also rest with the applicant.
All the documents and payments are sent to the Decentralised Administration Department of Civil State in the applicant's native country. The application may be considered for one to four years. It makes sense to turn to a professional counsellor who will be able to advise on the best option and help save time and money.
Visa-Free Countries for Greek Passport Holders
The analyst firm, Henley & Partners, ranked the Greek passport sixth in terms of travel freedom in 2018. The document paves the road to any country that is a member of the European Union. Altogether, Greek passport holders can travel to 174 countries globally.
While the applicant for a Greek passport is awaiting the official decision, he cannot move to another country for work or use social benefits in another EU country. However, he can enjoy travelling within the Schengen zone. He has full access to medical services and can open an account in a European bank. If the application is successful, and the person is naturalized, he can enjoy the EU social benefit schemes. He can reside and work in any European country. Most importantly, he can transfer citizenship by inheritance to his children and grandchildren.
Greece is an enviable country for many. The government recognizes the interest and considers each application very diligently. If an applicant satisfies all the Greek passport requirements, he will have access to over 174 countries worldwide and many social benefits and citizen programs in the EU.