Thursday, February 23, 2017

'Road trip to Residency': The Next Great Greek Adventure

We’ve been two-stepping to the ‘Schengen Shuffle’ long enough. It’s time to put a year’s worth of research and planning into action. It’s time for our next Great Greek Adventure:

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Inner Mani, Peloponnese, Greece
We are setting off on the ‘road to residency’ ~ our destination:  Greek residency permits.

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Our Stone House on the Hill - The Mani, Greece
Those of you who’ve been with us since we bought our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese two years ago are probably shaking your heads, thinking, “Wasn’t that enough of a 'great adventure'?!?!”

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Road sign in the Peloponnese - It's all Greek to me
Admittedly the house purchase was an adventure – and in the beginning, a misadventure as well. After its closing we needed a lengthy ‘breather from bureaucracy’. But during our last two years we’ve pondered the pros and cons of continuing to do the ‘Schengen Shuffle’ or seeking residency status which would give us more flexibility in travel as well as the option to spend more time there. It would give us the option to live there fulltime if we chose to do so. And it would provide some lifestyle options, like owning a car, instead of renting as we currently must do as tourists.

We didn’t need to be ‘residents’ to buy a home in Greece; we could do so as tourists. We had some requirements, like getting a tax identification number and opening a bank account. But we could stay up to 90 days every six months because of. . .

The Schengen Treaty


Schengen Area Member States Map
The Schengen Treaty (aka Schengen Border Agreement) established criteria for travel for those living within the ‘Schengen Zone’  and for those of us those entering from other countries.

The agreement, while making borders hassle- and visa- free for residents of the 26 European Treaty countries, puts a time limit on visa-free travel for Americans, like us. Basically, 90-days-in and 90-days-out.  To stay longer, you need a visa.

So strict is the rule, that it can impact you even if you are transiting through an airport within the Schengen area. If you've hit your 90-day limit in one country and are heading home via an airport in another Schengen country, the authorities can deny you entry into that country for the few hours you planned to spend at the airport waiting for your next flight if your schedule has you exceeding the limit.

Penalties for over-staying the 90 days in Greece range from 500 – 1200 euros ($530 -$1,272) and violators are denied entry back into the Schengen Zone for at least three months, sometimes longer.  Don’t let people tell you ‘not to worry’  - they do check passport entry and exit stamps, closely! We know from first-hand experience.    
    
Schengen Countries (shown on the map):
    • All European Union countries, except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom, are members of the Schengen Borders Agreement.
    • In addition, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein are also members of the Schengen Borders Agreement (but they are not European Union members).

Hitting the 'Road to Residency'

Obtaining an ‘entry visa’ is the first of a two-step process required to apply for a Greek residency permit, which if granted, will be good for two years. This first step takes place before leaving the United States. We must meet with the Greek consulate serving our region (in our case, that is San Francisco). If he determines we meet the thresholds set by the Greek government, he will grant us the ‘entry visa’.

That visa, good for a year, allows us to start (and hopefully complete) while in Greece the process for obtaining a residency permit. There, we will need to have our documents first translated into Greek. Then we will be interviewed by Greek immigration officials and our documents reviewed. They will determine whether or not to grant the residency permits.

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The Peloponnese Greece
 
Conversations began with our Greek attorney (yes, you need one) a year ago. We’ve had two telephone conversations with the Greek consulate in the US (basically, the ‘gatekeeper’ who determines whether or not you can begin the application process in Greece). They were in agreement, that we should set off on the road to an ‘Economically Independent Individual Visa’. ( There are any number of visas from which to choose including for those who want to work in the country or for students, just as there are for people coming to the U.S.)

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Peloponnese, Greece
During the year we’ve been actively preparing for this ‘road trip to residency’ the requirements for the permit have changed, new requirements have been added and thresholds raised. We respect the fact that Greece, like many countries is grappling with immigration issues, but it has made the document gathering a bit of a task.

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Preparing our application packets - Sunday morning sorting
We are applying as individuals, so each of us must present an application packet. Our packets include information which is required at this point in time. . .they are always subject to change:
  
1. Completed Application form plus two color passport size photos

2. A copy of our property contract showing we own a home there (those who are renting must provide a rental agreement with address)

3. Itinerary for the flight to Greece 

4. A clearance letter from the FBI based on a fingerprint background check (this review in the U.S. takes 12 –15 weeks, so we sent finger prints for review back in August 2016 and received letters from the FBI in October 2016.)

5. Health form completed by our U.S. doctor after an exam which says we are in good mental  health, with no contagious diseases, specifically tuberculosis and syphilis. The form must be signed and stamped by the physician.

6. Proof of medical insurance coverage in Greece. The threshold on insurance is strict and includes coverage for illness and accident, hospitalization and guarantees a level of our co-pay. (Our U.S. insurance company has written a letter detailing the coverage we have. We’ve also included a list of physicians and hospitals in Kalamata and Athens who fall within the coverage ‘network’)

7. Proof of medical evacuation/repatriation insurance back to the United States. I’ve underlined a part of this requirement, because many companies we found will only evacuate to the nearest facility that can treat you. Greek authorities require that it be back to the country of residence. (This is a new requirement. We have purchased membership with Air Ambulance Card, a company based in the United States that offers both medical evacuation and repatriation of ‘mortal remains’’ for both travelers and ex pats.This company serves US and Canadian citizens. Their representatives have been a breath of fresh air in a bureaucratic world – hope we never need their services, but if their care is anything like their customer service we’ll be in good hands.)

8. Copies of W2 or 1040 income tax filings for the last two years.

9. Proof of income which presently is 2,300 – 2,400 euros ($2,438 – $2,544) a month, for each of us. (The income threshold has increased from 2,000 per person, per month to the amounts I listed. We are presenting information on our Social Security payments, pension payments, letters verifying accounts we hold at financial institutions as well as monthly bank statements).

10. Passport, plus a photo copy of the first page – the one with info and photo.

11. Any additional documents that prove you have the means to stay in Greece. (We’ve included our Greek tax identification numbers, receipts showing we’ve paid our taxes there, and information about our Greek bank account.) 

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The road trip to residency - Peloponnese, Greece
Next week we make our first stop on ‘the road trip to residency’: San Francisco, California. We are set to meet with the Greek Consulate and he’ll review our application packets and determine whether we continue on the ‘road to residency’ or not.

While I’ve tried to provide a ‘just the facts’ review  of our timetable, the we’ve steps taken and the current requirements, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t tell you the process of gathering ‘proof’ has been at times stressful and mentally taxing. “Just” getting a notarized letter or a verification of insurance coverage has introduced us to new levels of bureaucracy within U.S. corporations.

It has also been a humbling experience. We’d liken it to our young adult years when we suffered nervous ‘am-I-good-enough’ jitters and doubts when applying to colleges or for those first jobs. Now comfortably settled into our 60-something-lives it has seemed strange to be gathering proof of our very being – health, wealth, and law-abidingness.

But it is an adventure, no doubt about it. It has certainly shaken up the rhythms of our normal preparation for a return to The Stone House on the Hill.

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Road to Residency - where will it lead?
We will be off next week to California's rain-drenched  'City by the Bay'.  After that whirlwind trip and meeting with the Greek Consulate I’ll let you know where this ‘road trip’ takes us next. Hope to see you back for part two of our Great Greek Adventure. Kudos to you for hanging in to the end on this post.  It’s  rather long but I know some of you reading it are contemplating residency visas and we wanted to provide as much information as possible.

For those new to TravelnWrite, and who want to see what lead us to this post, click here: The Stone House on the Hill.


Safe travels to you and yours~

Linking this week:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration .











31 comments:

  1. beautiful pictures of a great landscape

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    1. Thanks much Suza! It is difficult to find a 'bad scene' in Greece, that's for sure. Thanks so much for stopping by~ Jackie

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  2. Oof, people like you they should thank for coming.
    But think of the job security you have provided to so many bureaucrats. ;)
    But really, good onya for going through all this and may it be well worth your while. Have a happy and long time in your new home.

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    1. Well, thank you for the kind thoughts. If my interview were with you, perhaps I would be less nervous about it. We do hope to spend a bit more time there and also have some flexibility to travel more in the area without always counting the days to see if we've exceeded that number 90! Thanks for the visit ~ xxx

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  3. It's interesting to see the enormous differences in the process of obtaining a Greek residency visa versus a Portuguese residency visa but your reasons for going through the exercise were very similar to ours. I especially liked your soul baring telling of the "Am I good enough jitters" as we both felt the same thing, almost like a job interview or first date! Good luck on your application interview next week and I'll be hanging on edge right along with you guys as you navigate this next big adventure. And, it may not feel like it now, but the freedom to stay or go really is worth it!

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    1. I knew you'd understand! It really has been interesting and someday over much wine I will tell you some of the side stories that go with obtaining those documents. I thought I was going to have a stroke a couple of times in the last couple of weeks. I've now resigned myself to the fact that 'this is me' take me or leave me. More soon - xxx J.

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  4. Jackie Ihave to agree with Dina above, they should thank their lucky stars to have you. I wish you all the luck in the world and I know that in the end they will have no reason to say no. After all you provide them with free advertising for the country. Goodluck and keep us posted.

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    1. Oh Mary I wish you and Dina were on that interview committee we keep hearing about. Thanks much for the good wishes and thoughts and I will keep you posted!

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  5. Hope all goes well with this new adventure. Seems like the next logical step. I wouldn't want to keep remembering when it is my time to get out of the area. #TPThursday

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    1. Thanks Ruth. It has been an adventure just getting to this point so I am hoping we conclude it successfully. And you should see us when we dig out the calendar and start counting days to figure out travel dates!

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  6. Wow, I'm exhausted just reading the process. You said it would be lengthy --it's a good job you have an in-house attorney to get through the minefield! We'll keep everything crossed for you and wish you the best of luck for next week.

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    1. Actually, this in-house attorney, has been relying very heavily on our Greek attorney who is a wonderful lady - efficient, yet wonderfully encouraging and supportive!

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    2. Well that's a blessing, having a sympathetic Greek attorney to help you.
      After all the hard part of the paperwork, I'm sure your interview will be just fine. Advice: don't be shy to admit your real reason--that you simply fell in love with Greece!

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  7. Hello Joel and Jackie,
    This is all very interesting and also very time consuming and complicated.
    I am surprised at the requirement of 2,400 Euro per person, per month. (after tax) That does seem high when compared to the average monthly salary in Europe and the USA.
    It will be all worthwhile.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Helen xx


    e

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    1. It is high when compared to the average salaries here and there, but I guess they have their reasons, and they don't want a bunch of economically dependent people arriving on their shores (they already have their hands full carrying for the refugees). We are hoping to look back one day and chuckle at the stress of this application. . . Thanks for your encouraging words. It is always so nice to hear from you! xx Jackie

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  8. I have read books before about the process of applying for residency from an American perspective and it was indeed very trying. I have a feeling that you will survive the process and I for one, can't wait for you to be able to stay longer than 90 days. My fingers are crossed for an easy as possible navigation of the bureaucratic
    road.

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    1. It is certainly more complex than it is for our friends and neighbors from England and the European northern countries who make their homes there. A visit to the local police station seems to be their process -- ours has a few more steps. Keep those fingers crossed, Jan, and thanks for doing so!

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  9. What a monumental task! I can 0only say good luck, and I can't wait to hear how everything turns out! Thanks for linking up with #wkendtravelinspiration, see you next week!

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    1. Thanks for the good luck wishes Jim. Here's hoping we meet the thresholds! #wkendtravelinspiration

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  10. In Malaysia, we were lucky enough to have my husband's company handle all the visa issues. I'm sure that both of you will be approved. It will be so nice to have the flexibility to come and go as you wish. Hopefully, home ownership will be a plus for you.

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    1. It would be nice to have a third party that could do all this, but it has been a good exercise in looking at our total worth as humans (beyond the money side of worth). Guess we'll know tomorrow whether or not this has been an exercise in futility.

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  11. All I can say is good luck. It looks complicated!

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    1. Thanks much Lyn. It has been and interesting exercise, that is for sure!

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  12. Wow, what a crazy road, with lots of little bumps along the way trying not to get lost through all the paperwork. Knowing your on your way to the next step I'm hoping for all the best.

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    1. Many thanks Gaelyn! It is one interesting journey to say the least!

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  13. Jackie, yours and Joel's love of Greece SHOULD be enough for you to obtain your Greek residency visa, for your enthusiasm, passion and respect for this country is more than evident. Hang in there; I truly believe you two are perfect candidates and you will, in the end, be granted this precious honour. Your love will conquer all!

    Sending positive thoughts and energy your way,
    Poppy xx

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    1. Oh Poppy, such a nice comment! I wish love alone would do the trick but the authorities want a bit more than our enthusiasm. It is a precious honor, and I realize now how hard 'green card' citizens in the U.S. have worked to obtain that right. . .every citizen should be put through the process. I think attitudes about immigration would definitely change. Hugs to you and thanks for your continuing support! xxx Jackie

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  14. Good luck with your Greece residency adventure! We had a similar, although apparently much less complicated, overseas residency adventure some years ago. May it all be well worth it for you!

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    1. Thanks for the good wishes Denis. I am comforted in knowing that others have had similar experiences and lived to tell about them and that they had interesting adventures after obtaining them (my light at the end of the tunnel). Thanks much for sharing your experience.

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  15. Really interesting adventure you've taken on. I love the photo of your little stone house on the hill and do you have that killer view from the front/back of the house? I look forward to reading more as you continue this journey.

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    1. One of the selling points of the house was its view which stetches from the Messinian Gulf to the Taygetos Mountain range. . .so yes, I have to admit it is one killer view. Thanks for stopping by, Patti!

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