Greece is one of Europe’s safest destinations. The country was the birthplace of democracy, and today it remains a free, presidential democracy. It has been a member of the European Union since 1981, and joined the Eurozone economic region in 2001; it was among the first group of countries to issue euro banknotes just a year later. There is some petty theft, particularly in Athens near tourist spots like the Parthenon, and some political crimes against institutions, but not against individuals.
The currency in Greece is the Euro. It’s an easy foreign currency to use; denominations, like the U.S. dollar, are based on 100 euro cents = 1 euro. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50-euro cents, as well as €1 and €2 coins. Bills you’re likely to use come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €500 and up. The exchange rate – how much your home currency is worth in euros -- varies according to the state of the world economy. For up-to-the-minute exchange rates between the euro and U.S. dollar, G.B. pound, and other world currencies, go to www.oanda.com and use their currency converter.
Greece is a presidential democracy. The president of the Democracy is elected by the parliament members. The prime minister is the second in the hierarchy but first in responsibility. He and his cabinet are responsible for the internal and foreign policy that Greece follows. The 300 members of the parliament are voted in by the Greeks every 4 years; the president of the winning party usually is the prime minister.
Treatment at public hospitals is either free of charge or costs very little. Health care is generally above average; however the public hospitals don't offer the same services and facilities as private hospitals (which cost more). Tourists are usually treated at minimum cost at public hospitals, particularly if an accident occurs.
Most Greeks speak English, however, it's helpful for tourists to learn a few basic words in Greek, such as please (pa-ra-ka-lo), thank you (ef-har-i-sto), hello and good-bye (both yia-sas). On the larger islands, 90% of locals speak English, 40% speak French, 30% speak Italian, and 20% speak German.
SNORKELING and SCUBA DIVING
Snorkeling is of course wonderful in the crystal-clear waters of the islands, but Greece is not the tropics (no coral reefs!) so there are no tropical reef fish. Scuba diving is not permitted unless you are part of a group with a licensed guide, as there are too many antiquities on the ocean floor that could be taken out of the country illegally. You must carry your diving license, and on some islands, you can rent equipment and join a group for a day or half-day of scuba diving.
DRIVING IN GREECE
Care is strongly advised when driving in Greece -- Greeks are very aggressive drivers who don't always obey the rules of the road! Foreigners visiting Greece must have an international driver's license to rent a car or a motorbike (not advisable if one is not an experienced motorbike driver) available in the U.S. at any AAA office for a small fee if a valid U.S. license is presented.