Showing posts with label Greek residency visa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greek residency visa. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Year in Greece. . .maybe, just maybe

‘. . .You start dying slowly. . .
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself, at least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice.’
                    ~ Pablo Neruda

Arriving Athens, Greece
I suspect every ex pat out there whether part- or full-time understands Neruda’s words. We are learning that to be an ex pat, in the truest sense of the word, you need to embrace them all.

In fact, those words if set to music could be our theme song right now: we are going after a dream, challenging the uncertain – and as many of our friends and family seem to think -- we are running away from what is sensible.

At the door of our U.S. 'landing pad' in the Seattle suburbs
When we return to our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese countryside this fall we plan to stay.  Not for a couple months, as we did during the Schengen Shuffle years, but really stay ~ as in live there. It will be our home, our landing pad in the world, for at least a period of time.

In our case though, with our belongings in storage or farmed out to family and friends, we will set off in September to write another chapter in what we are calling our Last Great Adventure.

Our Kirkland home

The news isn’t a surprise to many of you regulars at TravelnWrite – you were reading between the lines of that earlier post when I wrote about giving ourselves permission to live differently.  You saw it coming the minute I wrote our summer goals were ‘discarding and downsizing’.

Our house and neighbors are near and dear to us, but in the last few years we’ve become visitors, not residents. More time has been spent in Greece and living out of a suitcase than was spent ‘at home’.

With the new plan we are simply reversing what we have been doing. Greece will be the base but we will still return to the Northwest once or twice a year and without yard work and household chores (at least for awhile) we'll have plenty of time to visit friends and family.

Opening and Closing Doors

 Provins, France
We’ve been inspired and helped by the experiences and stories of our ex pat friends – those in our real life world and our blogosphere virtual world -- who’ve already taken the leap into the unknown. They tell us they've not regretted their moves; each describing a feeling of freedom not to mention the joy of fully immersing themselves in a new culture and country.

For that matter we have friends who’ve upended their sedentary lives in the Northwest and headed out to other destinations in the U.S. They also report that same sense of well-being that comes with change.

Proud of those residency cards
Ours wasn’t a snap decision.  At the time we applied for a residency permit we toyed with the possibility of actually living on ‘our’ hill in the Peloponnese. By the time we got through the process we had decided the time was now or never.

Fish or cut bait.
We could stay longer.
We aren’t getting any younger.
What were we waiting for?

And besides, the bottom line is, we really like living there.

But there’s a vast difference between making a decision to go after a dream and embrace the unknown and actually putting yourself in a position of doing so.  First step in opening a new door is to shut another.

The Dream and The Reality


The reality of the new plan is that the time has come to put our home of 30 years in the Seattle suburbs will go on the market. (And that type of downsizing activity is not so unusual for 60-something people - many of our friends are doing just that!)

What we were dreading and rightly so it seems is the enormity of the task of cleaning out and discarding. The day-to-day tasks of packing and storing a lifetime of memories, belongings and every day things that it takes to make life run is a real ‘slog’ as one expat friend calls it.

My special doll from childhood tucked away in a bureau drawer. . .The extra deodorant and toothpaste in the bathroom cupboard. . .The clothes that are relegated to the closet by travel destination: Hawaii, Greece, Northwest. . . Dish soap and laundry detergent. . .Everything
in the house.

Everything needs to go somewhere by summer’s end. . .and getting it there is where we are right now in this journey.

Between Stoupa and Ag. Nikolaos on a winter's day
It also means rethinking life beyond the belongings.  The daily routines: What about the snail mail? How many memberships and services will be discontinued? Health insurance? What do we do with our cars? Or who will take my houseplants so carefully tended by my neighbor while we are gone –  soon to be orphans?

The Change Begins

Our summer calendar was created by our realtor. It sets out our tasks and timelines. A ‘stager’ hired by the realtor has toured our home and told us what can stay and what needs to go before it can be shown to potential buyers. (Half the furniture needs to go as does all art and decorations, throw rugs and towels. We can leave the coffee pot on the kitchen counter though!)  We have photo shoots and drone schedules on the calendar. We speak realtor talk of  “launches’ and ‘showings’.

Sunset at the Stone House on the Hill

But we are keeping in mind why we are doing all this; how blessed we are to have a chance to dream the dream and challenge the unknowns.  Sitting on a deck at The Stone House on the Hill is a much better idea than at an old folks care facility – that’s for sure!

While we aren’t doing a lot of traveling in the real sense of the word this summer, it is an interesting journey we’ve undertaken. Once in Greece we’ll give ourselves some time. . .maybe a year. . .maybe just a few more months than we could stay before . . .to enjoy that other world of ours. 

Our Stone House on the Hill this spring caption
I don’t want to dilute the travel emphasis of our blog with mundane moving tales, but we know some of you reading this are going through similar down-sizing processes or giving some thought to some major changes in lifestyle.  We thought you'd like to know you aren't alone in this time of adventure.

Want to share some of your experiences with us?  Leave a comment below, shoot us an email or comment on the FB post. It would be fun hearing from you and what you are up to. Until next time, our thanks for your time and wishes for safe and happy travels.

For those stopping by for the first time, you can read more about our ex pat life in Greece at: The Stone House on the Hill

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Road Trip to Greek Residency ~ Journey’s End

Just like that it was over.

So quickly and easily that it didn’t seem possible our long and winding Road Trip to Greek Residency had come to an end with only a 10-minute stop at the Greek Immigration office in Kalamata on Friday.

That's all the time it took to pick up our permanent residency cards.

Road in the Peloponnese wine country

After more than six months on this ‘road trip to residency’ our journey's end was remarkably . . .unremarkable.

We even managed to end the journey on our own – we didn’t have our steadfast attorney at our side as we stood at the Immigration office counter. We handed over our paper ‘temporary’ permits, the official checked our files in the computer, double-checked our passports and issued us the small plastic cards that make us Greek residents.

Our Greek residency ID permit cards

These cards, similar in size to hotel keys, are the keys to our future travels in Europe and time spent in Greece. And that part really is quite remarkable!

As our long-time reader-friends know, we hadn’t envisioned this road trip back when we purchased our Stone House on the Hill two and a half years ago. The Schengen Treaty guidelines for tourists were going to accommodate us well we thought at the time: 90 days in Greece and 90 days out of all Schengen countries.

The Stone House on the Hill 2017
No way were we going through the bureaucratic hassle of getting a residency permit, we’d emphatically vowed back then. We’d had enough translations, costs, and legal fees in buying the house we proclaimed to anyone else who unwittingly asked about our part-time ex pat lifestyle.

Gare du  Nord - Paris, France
One thing we should have known even back then was that we – of all people – should never say never.  Sticking to a 90-day schedule is a rigid way to travel. There’s no flexibility for things that might happen during or outside that window of time  – health issues, special events, spur of the moment side trips - anything could cause a misstep while doing the Schengen Shuffle.

Schengen governs travel in so many countries on this side of the Atlantic that the travel time clock was constantly ticking. Penalties are severe for overstaying the Schengen welcome and don’t let anyone tell you that they don’t check arrival and departure date stamps in the passport. We’ve been checked every time we’ve arrived and left Greece and once even cautioned about the 90-day limit.

A look in the rearview mirror

A look in the rearview mirror

Looking back we realize we began pondering this road trip to residency more than a year ago. We researched while in Greece and in the U.S. We had numerous email conversations with our Greek attorney and phone conversations with the Greek consulate serving our region of the United States.

The journey really got underway last September when we met with our attorney and she outlined out the route we’d need to travel.  Our first stop in February was at the Greek Consulate in San Francisco. An initial interview with each of us and review of our application documents was completed there. We each left with an entry visa which gave us 12 months in which to start (and hopefully complete) the process in Greece.

An appointment with our attorney at a Kardamyli village coffee shop

With our documents approved by the consulate staff we proceeded to get them notarized and apostilled in the U.S. Then, immediately upon our arrival in Greece, they were turned over to our attorney for translation into Greek.  We made our offical application in early April at the Immigration office in Kalamata. Officials there would review documents, perhaps require more documents and/or an in-person interview before a panel of five persons before determining whether to grant the permanent residency permit.

Many forms were filled out, fees paid and office visits made
We hit a roadblock of sorts as the result of timing. Greece decided to comply with a decade-old European Union rule for immigration which changed the visa/permit process from one of a stamp in the passport to one of an ID card that conforms with all other EU immigration cards.  We applied as the change over was implemented so we needed fingerprints, photos and more fees had to be paid. Those little cards hold much information about us in them.

We finally -- in late May learned that we’d been approved. We didn't speak much about it because until the cards were in hand, nothing was guaranteed. We have friends who were ‘that close’ when laws or minds of officials changed, and it was back to the drawing board for them. We crossed our fingers and waited. . .

But getting the cards in hand proved to be quite a waiting game in itself as they are delivered to the Kalamata Immigration office on Thursdays. They come from the police department. However we had no indication of which Thursday.

Bottom line:  Had we not extended our stay in Greece by a few weeks we would have returned to the States this spring without the permanent permits. They arrived on a Thursday a few weeks after being issued. The day we picked them up was day 93 of this stay.

Road to Kalamata

Immigration isn’t for the faint-of-heart

I’ve always admired those folks who moved to another country – immigrants, who for whatever reason wanted a life (or who were forced to make a life) in a new country.  Now that we’ve been through this process – and this is nothing compared to those seeking citizenship – I have only the highest regard for anyone who undertakes a road trip to residency or citizenship in another country.

It is tough. It is expensive. It is humbling. It is frustrating. And it is all beyond your control. You put your best self forward and present your life story to unknown officials who will determine whether you do or don’t qualify for that precious residency permit.  In our case, a permit that will make travel easier and allow us flexibility in our lifestyle. For some though it means freedom and security from a war-torn country or pursuit of a professional goal or educational endeavor.

Journey’s End. . .or Beginning?

We are set until April 2019 – we can stay as long as we want. Why, we could even move here and live full-time!  Should we seek a renewal we will go through a modified application process again in two years. The next permit under current law would be for three years.

It has definitely been an interesting process ~ one that generated tales we can share and laugh about with others who’ve traveled the same road to residency. We have several friends here from the US who’ve become residents in Greece. Our journeys to residency have each had their own twists, turns and roadblocks, but we all agree we are better for having completed the journey.

The Scribe and The Scout - Greek residents!
Our little key-card sized permit stands ready to unlock doors to new adventures for us.  While waiting for the permits to arrive, we’ve dared to discuss some possibilities. . .some that sound downright improbable right now. But five years ago who’d have thought we’d buy a house in Greece? Two years ago who’ve have thought we’d be Greek residents? 

As I said earlier, we, of all people, should never say never. . .

Thanks to so many of you who’ve served as our cheerleaders along the way.  Your words of encouragement and enthusiasm for our efforts have meant more than you'll ever know! We have appreciated both your interest in our lives and your continued time spent reading our tales.  Hope to see you back here next week – and I promise this is the last you’ll hear of this road trip – it’s been a long one!

Safe and healthy travels to you and yours~

Linking up this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Greece ~ If I Could Save Time in a Bottle. . .

If I could save time in a bottle. . .  If I could make days last forever. . .”
        -- Lyrics from  Time in a Bottle, 1970’s,  Jim Croce

Since I first heard this song way-back-when, I’ve loved the idea of putting time in a bottle and making some of my favorite days last forever. . .

Mani - Greece
I’m certain we’ve all had milestone moments we’d like to stockpile  – an incredible trip, a significant birthday, a reunion of family or friends – and be able to relive them by simply popping a cork.
This song was penned and sung by Jim Croce, to mark a milestone in his own life: he wrote it for his wife after learning that after many years of trying, they were going to have a baby.

PicMonkey Collage
The Stone House on the Hill - Peloponnese, Greece
As the month of May, like April and March before it, has hurtled past at breakneck speed in Greece, I am humming that Croce song more often and wishing I could put even the most ordinary of days at The Stone House on the Hill into a bottle. One that we could tuck in the suitcase and then pull out as needed when we return to that other life of ours in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. As we come to the end of our longest-to-date stay on the European side of the Atlantic, we suspect it could be a bit more difficult to get into the swing of the other life we live.

Pantazi Beach afternoon - our house on the hill in the distance
We comment every so often on how easily we’ve become a part of this simple, rural lifestyle which is so different than the one in the U.S.  We wear different clothing, eat dinner at a time we’d be preparing for bed back there, eat an array of tree and plant-ripened foods that we can’t even hope to get back there. We don't focus on politics nor fret over health issues when together with friends here. We spend far less time on the computer. So removed from that life is this one that I was surprised when it took a FB post by a friend to remind me it was Memorial Day weekend in the States.

Tractors hauling fishing boats - a common sight here

Facebook posts and news media (traditional media) have become our links with life back in the States. We’ve noted that aside from a couple of friends who write regularly, we have heard very little from friends and family ‘back there’ this spring. An occasional email is a pleasant surprise but I’ve quit opening the inbox first thing each day and then fretting over why we may not have heard from someone. Invariably, when I write to check on them, they respond 'been busy'.  After awhile their message sunk in: it was time to get busy with life here.

So busy we have been with day-to-day life on a hill in the Peloponnese that those months that  stretched before us with promise of a nice long stay are nearly over.

The teeny-tiny olives are between those leaves at the top of the photo

We've watched the baby olives make their appearance in the grove, new flower beds are filled with promise and other projects have been undertaken and completed at a leisurely pace. We've taken road trips. We've had houseguests.

‘Kalo Mina, Happy Month,’ we’ve called out in greeting – just as the locals do – at the beginning of each new month and how quickly those new months have been arriving!

PicMonkey Collage
We completed the gravel pathway in the upper garden
I’ve become unabashedly wistful as I go about our routines here, thinking of those every-day times I’d save in a bottle while wishing our days here would last at least a bit longer, if not forever. We continue to add to our 'to do' and 'to visit' lists for the ex pat life.

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them. . .
Time in a Bottle, Jim Croce

So, you are likely thinking that  if we like it so much here, why aren’t we staying longer? Excellent question! We’ve asked ourselves the same thing several times, and it has come back to each time. . .

Exploring the backroads of the Deep Mani

That Road trip to Greek Residency

We’d originally planned this stay as if we were traveling on our tourist visa (doing the Schengen Shuffle with 90-days here and 90-days out). We scheduled our departure for this coming Friday, leaving just enough time per Schengen rules to make a stop in France and Geneva on the way back to Seattle.

We weren't counting on getting residency permits this spring; we’d anticipated our Road Trip to Residency might be a slow journey. So far it has lived up to our expectations. (We understand why they issue a year-long entry visa to allow enough time obtain a residency permit.)  Our flight plans had to be in place to obtain the entry visa way back in February in San Francisco.

However, since I last updated you on our journey, we've inched forward. We were fingerprinted by Greek immigration officials, our electronic photos have been fed into the computer system. Our translated-into-Greek and apostilled documents have been under review for several weeks.

The Scout receives his temporary permit, our attorney explains it to him.

We have been granted a temporary residence permit – good for a year while the review continues. It is much like the entry visa we obtained in San Francisco, just a bit closer to the real thing. 

However, with no permanent permit yet in hand and no promise that it would be issued (immigration officials can still require more documents or an interview before a panel) we decided to make the most of our temporary visa.

We threw logic to the wind.
We bit the bullet.
We paid the price to change our airline reservations.
We extended our stay in Europe until the end of June. . .exceeding that Schengen 90 day allowance by a couple of weeks!!

Our accommodations in France and Geneva are non-refundable so we’ll turn that segment into a vacation – we'll still leave Friday but instead of Seattle will fly to Athens on June 12th.

Sunset from the Stone House on the Hill
I’ll have a chance to bottle up a few more days and memories on this side ‘of the pond’.  We hope you are making memories and that your travels are healthy and happy ones! Thanks, as always, for your time!

A bit of foreshadowing: Our attorney has sent an update on our permanent residency permit . . .I'll save that update for next week. . .

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Road to Greek Residency ~ Timing is Everything

As all travelers know, timing is everything.  A missed connection, a traffic jam, a detour, any number of things can impact the timing. And timing can make or break a trip.

Road to Karyovouni village - Greek Mani
One thing we’ve learned in our years of travel is that sometimes – even with the best laid plans and preparation – timing is beyond our control. Such is the case of our Road Trip to Greek residency. . .

Our Journey thus far: 

Highway between Kalamata and The Mani - Greece
For those just joining us: We are part-time U.S. expats from the Seattle, Washington area who own a home in the Greek Peloponnese. Two years ago when we entered this lifestyle it seemed our tourist visa stays (90 days in and 90 days out per the Schengen Treaty) would be just right. But the rigidity of those limits have us wanting a bit more flexibility to travel, or stay longer, or return more frequently and the way to do that is to have a resident visa.

P1030134We set off on our Road Trip to Residency in February  – with bulging application packets of documents proving health, wealth and honorable citizenship. We traveled to San Francisco for an interview and review of those documents by the Greek Consul there who serves the U.S. area in which we live.

Our documents needed to be current, so there was a tight timeline between the California trip and our return to Greece. Timing is everything.

Having obtained a 12-month entry visa as a result of that San Francisco meeting – we then made a quick trip to our state capital Olympia, Washington. There we had those stacks of documents notarized and later apostilled by the Secretary of State’s office so that the Greek government could accept them. Tight squeeze in scheduling, but timing is everything.

On the Road in Greece:

Our mid-March return to Greece where we plan to be until early June – seemed back then more than enough time to make it through the Residency permit process. So optimistic were we about being approved and the process going smoothly that we decided we’d buy a car this spring as well. (A resident permit is required of foreigners registering cars here).

However, the first month came and went as our packets of documents were translated into Greek and the new documents stamped and added to that pile of paperwork we’d brought with us.

The Scout waits in the Immigration office
Last week was – finally -  ‘the’ week. With our Greek attorney in the lead we took those documents to the Greek immigration office in Kalamata. It was a sparsely furnished, stark, sort of place. Only a handful of other hopefuls were ahead of us, and we waited our turn to talk to one of three clerks behind a glassed-in counter.

With luck we’d be issued a temporary visa, the authorities would keep and examine the documents closely and with more luck we’d be issued a permanent visa before we leave. We’d given up hopes of buying the car this trip.

The clerk smiled at us and welcomed us in English – a good start, I thought. But then in Greek he told our attorney why we wouldn’t be getting any permits that day nor would we be leaving our documents for review:

The immigration laws changed April 1st (no joke!).

New forms, new fees - paid them at the post office which is also a bank

We would need to pay another fee to the bank, have photos taken and put on a CD, and we would have to have fingerprints taken by immigration officials. The conversation at the counter went:

“Can we do that today?”  The Scout asked, trying to salvage a bit of the ground we seemed to be losing.
“That is a problem,” explained our attorney. “The equipment is here but the law is so new it isn’t hooked up”
“When will it be hooked up?’ asked The Scout.
“Maybe next week,” she replied. “But they also need a technician to operate it. . .”

We quit asking questions.

The official how-we will-look-as-residents photos
The directions for the photos advised no smiling. We had them taken after leaving the immigration office – it wasn't difficult to not smile.

On Road Trips - Pay attention to the Road Signs

P1030503In early March we’d read a Greek news article about an overhaul of the country’s immigration system for foreign residents.  It sounded really slick as it changed from a sticker pasted into the passport, to a plastic card - a residence card, with computer chip, that doubles as an identity card.

The change was initiated back in 2002 – 15 years ago! – when all European member states agreed to introduce the new cards The aim is to have a uniform residence permit for the European Union. The regulation was updated in 2008. Some countries have completed the process, for instance, Germany rolled them out in the fall of 2011.

Basically it uses electronic photo identification and fingerprints and other data on a chip in the card and sounds much like the U.S. Global Entry card used many thousands of travelers there.

So that explained the need to go get photos taken, pay an additional fee, and await the fingerprint machine and technician. We seemed to have timed our effort to put us right in the middle of the conversion. . .and that is where I intended to end today’s post.

Stop! Listen to other travelers

Stop sign near our home in Greece
Monday morning we had a conversation with a fellow American who lives down the road from us. He’d also been in the pursuit of a residency permit and obtained it back in mid-March. We congratulated him on his timing, having avoided the new system.

'No,' he said. 'I had my photos on a CD and they fingerprinted me in the Kalamata office. And issued a residency card - not a sticker in the passport.'

(Now it had taken him a half dozen visits to the Immigration office to get it done, but obviously he timed that March visit correctly.)

So as I wrote in the beginning, timing is everything when you travel -  even on Road Trips to Greek Residency.

Thanks for being with us again this week. Next week, I’ve got a Greek ferry tale for you. Should we resume the road trip, you’ll be the first to know! As always, happy travels to you and yours!

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

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Greek ‘Road to Residency’ ~ First stop: San Francisco

We set off this week on our Greek Adventure; traveling on the ‘road to residency’. First stop: San Francisco, California to meet with the Greek Consulate serving this region of the United States. 

Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco
What prompted this journey through American and Greek bureaucracy is the constraint of doing the ‘Schengen Shuffle’ (90-days-in Greece and  90-days out, per the Schengen Treaty zone agreement). We want greater flexibility in the time we spend at our Stone House on the Hill and the only way to do that is to become a resident-card-carrying person. The card, to which we refer, is the Greek equivalent to a ‘green card’ as it is called in the U.S.

The residency application process for Americans has two parts.  The first must be completed while still in the U.S.  So Monday we headed to San Francisco for a Tuesday morning meeting with the Greek consulate. The session was part interview and part a review of our documents which (we hoped) showed that we met Greek thresholds for income, health, medical coverage and repatriation.

One quick trip 

At just over 24-hours our trip to the ‘City by the Bay’ may have been one of our shortest on record. Northern California has been drenched with rain storms in recent weeks. Hotel prices were breathtakingly expensive, ($300 and above in the city’s center where we needed to be). So we weren’t inclined to stay any longer than necessary. We’d decided to make the most of our few free hours there and celebrate The Scout’s recent birthday in this city where crooner Tony Bennett left his heart. . .

One of San Francisco's famed cable cars
‘I left my heart in San Francisco.
High on a hill it calls to me
to be where little cable cars
climb halfway to the stars!’
-- Lyrics from Tony Bennett’s, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco

Our Posh (Hotwire) Hotel on Nob Hill

In hopes of finding a reasonably priced room, The Scout turned to, the internet site on which you book a hotel by its star-rating, price and location, then find out its name after you’ve hit the purchase button. He chose Nob Hill as it was about a mile from the Consulate’s Office; walking distance, if you are up for hill climbing.

PicMonkey Collage
The Scarlett Huntington Hotel - Nob Hill, San Francisco
We were delighted to find we’d be at The Scarlett Huntington, originally built back in 1924 as an apartment house but long ago converted to a hotel. It was shut down a couple years ago for  a $15 million renovation.  While room rates begin at the $350 range, our Hotwire prices was $175 plus taxes and fees. They upgraded us at check-in to a high floor with a room that overlooked the Episcopal Church’s Grace Cathedral.

A great, reasonably priced room and not a cloud in the sky.  It couldn’t get any better . . .but then it did.  We began the birthday celebration with a half block walk to the towering Mark Hopkin’s Hotel and headed to their lounge, aptly named for its location, the Top of the Mark for a glass of wine and a birthday toast.

The Scout and The Scribe - Top of the Mark - San Francisco
What unbeatable views we had. . .

View from Top of the Mark - San Francisco
From the sweeping city skyline and bay, to a view overlooking Nob Hill and Grace Cathedral. . .so many views in any direction. (For those wondering, our glasses of wine were $12, about what we pay when we go out in Kirkland these days – with no views like these.)

Nob Hill from the Top of the Mark - Grace Cathedral, center left
Then we headed a block beyond that park pictured above and returned to one of our favorite San Francisco eateries.

We found the tiny Nob Hill Cafe, 1152 Taylor Street, is as wildly popular as we remember it being decades ago.

We got there just before 6 p.m. without reservations and lucked out getting a table. When we left an hour and a half later the restaurant was full and foodie fans stood in clusters on the sidewalk waiting for their chance to get inside the small Italian restaurant.

Tuesday Morning: Back to Business

The Consulate’s office is in a residential area of historic homes and tree-lined streets, not far from Pacific Heights and Nob Hill.  The neighborhood’s architecture was postcard perfect:

San Francisco's Historic Homes 
We were early for our appointment so we strolled for a few blocks soaking in the beauty of the area and speculating on the history of its many building styles. Who had occupied them? What was the narrative they could tell?

Loved the ornate entryway

To Get or Not To Get ~ The Entry Visa

The time had come. Our journey would continue or stop inside this lovely old building which was painted blue and white, the colors of Greece.

Greek Consulate Building - San Francisco
P1030085Dimitri, the consulate with whom we were meeting and who’s name has been a household word for a year now – greeted us warmly. We spoke of the Peloponnese, our shared love of Greece, olive harvests, olive oil, fishing and villages. It was an enjoyable start to the meeting.

Then we got down to business.  We were applying as individuals, so our documents were identical, but had to be presented as though we were on our own.

I went first presenting and explaining each of the documents. It took an hour.

P1030082It wasn’t a slam dunk.

The insurance letter wasn’t written to specific categories of coverage as defined by the Greek entry requirements. ‘The insurance company wouldn’t write it that way. But it says the same thing,’ I explained.  He sighed.  The FBI fingerprint check, was deemed somewhat dated, it was three months old, dated last November. . . My doctor hadn’t used the correct stamp on the medical form. . . 

The Scout’s turn. The documents were identical to mine. Another hour passed as documents were moved from The Scout’s stack to Dimitri’s.

Dimitri left the room to enter our information into the system. We sighed. 

We paid the non-refundable application fee ($390 for both of us). He collected our passports and self-addressed, stamped envelopes so they could be returned once the application process was complete – two or three days, most likely.

Then Dimitri said we were approved. Done. No fanfare. Just step one completed.

Now the clock starts running. We have a year in which to obtain the residency permit. This visa is a one-time-shot. He made it clear he wouldn't issue a second one.

Then our conversation turned back to Greece. 
We told Dimitri to come for coffee the next time he’s in The Mani.

Back at the hotel an hour later, our mobile phone rang. It was Dimitri. Our passports could be picked up. . .the visas were attached. . .with visa photos as flattering as those in the front of the passport – no mistaking us!

PicMonkey Collage
Entry visas - set the process in motion

So our road trip to residency journey continues. It requires one more trip and a bit more bureaucracy before we leave for Greece. Hopefully you can join us on that journey next week. Thanks again for sticking with us on this rather long and winding road.

We can’t end this segment without sending a big, make that HUGE thank you to all of you who sent us good luck messages both in the comments, on Facebook and via email after reading last week’s post about heading out on this journey.  It is a humbling process and your words were just the confidence builder we needed.  If you missed last week’s post, you can find it here.

Safe and happy travels to you all.

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

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:

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

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'?!?!”

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.

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.)

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.

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.) 

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.

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 .


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