Thursday, July 26, 2018

Expats in Greece: Among America’s Homeless

‘There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.’
                   - Jane Austin

Looking back - Kardamyli Harbor

Looking back I am not sure when the realization hit, but there’s certainly no doubt about it: by choosing to become full-time ex pats of the sort we are, we’d become part of America’s homeless population. We’d chosen to severe all traditional ties to the Mother Ship.

Now before you start sputtering, but that’s not real homelessness, the kind of which headlines shout . . .let me tell you that it very much is homelessness – just of a different kind. Headlines aren’t interested in this kind of homelessness even though thousands of ex pats -- not just American ex pats -- experience some version of it.

A homeless boat out of water - Kitries, Greece
This kind of homelessness is brought about by choice. And with its pleasures comes its problems as well. And I have to admit that when we ex pats get together we often entertain ourselves with tales of the latest challenges and how similar they are no matter from which country we hail. Today I thought I’d tell you a few of those tales. . .

‘Just for the record darling,
not all positive change feels positive in the beginning.’
-- S. C. Lourie

How difficult could it be?

That was what we asked ourselves last summer as we put our Pacific Northwest home of 30-years up for sale. We’d spent a lot of effort to obtain our Greek residency permits. We’d also spent a lot of time here over the last few years before deciding to live full-time under the Mediterranean sun.

How difficult could it be to pull up stakes and try something new for a full-time while?

Step One: pack up old life
So having squished our belongings  into a metal storage unit on an upper floor of a factory-sized building in a Seattle suburb last October, we headed to Greece.
No U.S. home. No U.S. residential address. No U.S. phone.

‘Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute for experience.’
-- Paolo Coelho

Your Address Please?

For those of you reading this in the U.S. let’s begin with a question:

Kardamyli kiosk: the village business center

How many times in the last week have you contacted some firm, service provider, health care provider, financial institution, store or other-keeper-of-your-information and been asked to ’verify the home address associated with this account’ in order to get any closer to reaching the person or information you were seeking?

While we no longer have a residential address, we certainly do have need to stay in touch with many of the agencies and firms listed above. And therein lies a problem. . .at times.

Our address is Agios Dimitrios, mail comes to Agios Nikolaos

Ahh, but being the wily sorts we are, we’d rented one of those private mailboxes that offered a choice of ‘box’, ‘apartment’ or ‘suite’ numbers before we left the country. We cleverly picked apartment and thought we’d mastered the ‘game of address’. The first call to a credit card company to register the new address dashed that hope – in a nano-second they knew it wasn’t a residence!

That same private mail service failed us within the first two months of using it by losing dated material, haphazardly forwarding items and as a grand finale forwarding  mail to us addressed to someone else.  Thankfully last January friends stepped in letting us use their home address and forwarding our mail regularly.

So while we have no ‘real’ address we are up to three ‘maybe’ addresses: our old home, the ‘fake home’ mailing service or our friend’s address? Which one did we put on which account? Did we change it. . . if so to what?  It has resulted in some convoluted conversations on this end. If  it involves an automated answering machine, we kiss the conversation goodbye at the start.

We get our mail in Agios Nikolaos but technically our home is in Platsa, another village

Sometimes we have simply given our Greek address which really puts things in a tale spin as we don’t have a house number or road name, but a very long address all the same. Bottom line, as many of you know, we pick up mail at the village café.

In a couple of cases that Greek address has done nothing more than to label us as ‘a foreign address’ and let me tell you red flags fly high when you are labeled with that!

As an example, we sold some investments in one of our accounts and wondered why the proceeds were kept in a holding account and not deposited to our cash account. All transactions were within the same firm we've used for nearly 40 years.  When we called and asked why it was still in a ‘holding’ account we were informed that it couldn’t be deposited as they don’t deposit money from 'foreign' sources. (The money was earned in the US, saved in the US and never left the US. . .Ah ha. . . but "we"  did!
A fork in the road - which one to use?

Phone number – but which one!

We went from no phone to more phone numbers than we know what to do with. And most of  them don’t help at all when dealing with American financial or health institutions or retail outlets.
We’ve got a mobile phone number that we pay for month-to-month and activate when we are in the U.S.

A few weeks ago we purchased a Skype number with our old US area code that we give to businesses/agencies in the U.S. in case they need to reach us. . .but we quickly add, 'it's a local number for you, but we are 10 hours ahead of you, so keep that in mind if you call’.

For several years, we've had a Greek mobile phone that we use in Greece.  (And that Greek number doesn’t fit on any US forms.)

Even the simple things. . .

Google Gods know where I live and when my birthday is. . .
Let me tell you – I love and Book Depository, an on-line book vendor also located in the United Kingdom. They don’t balk at our crazy-long Greek address that isn’t really an address and our Greek phone number fits perfectly in their forms.

However, if I try to shop on line stores back in the States (I do that in advance of our return trips back to the U.S)  the Google Gods know where I am now when I am ordering and retail sites like Macy’s and Chico’s come up with my Greek zip code and all items show up in euro, not dollar, prices. A pop up on each site offers deals on shipping and customs charges to Greece from the U.S. (I go in and manually change location and currency).

Village home in Kardamyli

While the pleasures of being homeless in America – by choice - still outweigh the problems, the reality is that while the acclimating to Greece has been great, the American homeless part has been a challenge.  Not insurmountable, but often-times not for the thin-skinned or faint-of-heart either.  It is something to keep in mind if seriously considering a stab at being an ex pat.

Our type of chosen ‘homelessness’ has made us much more empathetic to the real homelessness that exists in the world.  Just as our experiences with the immigration processes has made us far more sympathetic towards those seeking residency in other countries – not by choice as we did, but by circumstances beyond their control.

P1040949 (2)
A storage unit that feels like a morgue back in the States
And it hasn’t been our intention to be homeless in America forever.  Living out of that storage unit and a hotel room on our trip through the Northwest last winter didn’t cut it. We are taking steps to change that. . .and if you want to know where those steps are leading, you’ll just have to join us here next week to find out!

Thanks for the time you’ve spent with us today as we looked at ex pat life from a slightly different perspective.  Safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend


  1. I loved this. I learn so much from you. I know at times you wonder who reads it but I do. Are you involved with the fires there at all. The media always makes the fires here seem much worse than they are so, I thought I would check int.

    1. Thanks much! Glad you are enjoying the tales from your old roomie! Sadly, the fires are as bad as the media is reporting them to be. . .they are still searching for dozens of people yet unaccounted for and the death toll has reached 80. We are about four hours away by car so have been blessed in this one. Greece is a tender box this time of year, so always holding our breath that we don't run out of water and also have a fire strike. Be sure to read next week's post! ;-) Hugs to you and Art. Jackie

  2. It certainly is a challenge! The address thing is such a PIA as we still have rental property and need to do things regularly. Chosen homelessness is a thing and we are delighted so far. Hope you guys are well.

    1. We are well and glad to hear you also understand the quirks of our chosen homelessness! Hope all is well with you up north!! Hugs, Jackie

  3. Wow, never thought about things like that but can see how that can create problems. Life was simpler when computers weren’t so smart. And I thought I had problems having a PO Box address in a different city from my physical address. Things are set up to fit into a certain mold and when they don’t fit it becomes a game of trying to outsmart the system.

    1. Some of my examples border on the absurd and I wonder why people ask us if it is difficult to deal with the Greeks -- it is usually far more difficult dealing with America when you don't quite fit the mold. Thanks for commenting Kathy!! xx J.

  4. I shouldn't laugh - but sometimes you just have to to get through the trials don't you. Just grin and smile sweetly and try to sound polite even when you are grinding your teeth! Have a fabulous weekend Jackie. It's been awful seeing the tragic images and news reports about the fires in Greece. I hope that no one you know has been affected.

    1. Sometimes you do just laugh and other times mumble obscenities. . .but as I wrote this I thought of all those unfortunate folks near Athens who have no homes at all now and some who've lost family and friends. I have nothing to complain about and really am counting my blessings! Thanks for the good thoughts Jill.

  5. How lucky we were to have had the foresight to establish my sister's home as our official residence back in 2012 although we had no idea at the beginning of our expat life how complicated things can become if you don't have an official address. It's almost like being told you don't exist and I can really appreciate how very difficult it would be for someone who is homeless to search for a job, establish a credit trail, etc. And to try to explain some of the weird conundrums that can happen to us expats to friends who have not lived outside the States is very difficult! There are a lot of challenges to living the expat lifestyle but, as you so richly describe in your posts, there are a lot of rewards too!

    1. It would have been nice to have a family member whose home we could use as an official residence, but that wasn't the case (and no one offered among our few dwindling left family members). Most of our ex pat friends here use their grown kids' address. . .guess we should have had kids! It does make me thankful that my homelessness still allows for a roof over our heads elsewhere in the world but it would be nice if America were to quit seeing its citizens who chose to live differently as 'foreigners'. And yes, the rewards still outweigh the downsides.

  6. What an interesting perspective Jackie. I never thought of all these problems that can crop up. Good luck to you.

    1. Thanks Mary! As I said to Anita above, it would be nice if America and its institutions would quit seeing its citizens who chose to live differently as 'foreigners' But living in Greece has been worth those annoying American frustrations!! xxx

  7. Boy, the things I'd never think of! This was so enlightening. I'm sure most people think about the dreamy aspects of being an expat,and not the annoying practicalities. Glad you shared this info!

    1. That's one reason I wrote this as I hope those who are contemplating a move somewhere 'different' will keep in mind that even paradise can have its pimples!

    2. Thanks for sharing at Best oF The Weekend!

  8. I admit to being a little envious, my dream is to one day live in Greece


    1. Well Molly - you can make it happen. If we could do it, you could do I! Go girl!! xx Jackie

  9. Thanks for sharing the more detailed parts of your journey. Sometimes it sounds so romantic to live an ex-pat life, but day-to-day life is more complicated. Sounds like you will be changing up things again! I'll stay tuned!

    1. Hopefully just enough to meet all the requirements of having a foot in two countries. It can get a bit crazy, but that's what keeps life challenging isn't it?


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