The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Greece at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Athens does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
Please review OSAC’s Greece-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
There is minimal risk from crime in Athens. Street crimes (pickpocketing, purse snatchings, mobile phone theft, and other crimes of opportunity) continue to be common. The majority of these cases occur within the popular tourist areas and on the Metro system (rail and bus). Many of the incidents involve multiple perpetrators using various methods to distract their victims. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”
Visitors should be particularly careful on crowded streets and other high-density areas (entertainment areas, department stores, restaurants, underground pedestrian street-crossings, on crowded public transportation). Report any suspicious behavior to the police.
Residential burglaries and thefts of parked vehicles in 2018 showed a slight increase from reports in 2017. Reported crimes involving narcotics, weapons, and explosives also increased compared to 2017.
Sexual assault crimes remain low relative to the size of the population; the number of reported rapes in 2017 was 156, and in 2018 was 157. Sexual assaults of U.S. citizens, including date/acquaintance rape, are not uncommon. In 2018, there were several cases of U.S. citizens assaulted while at nightclubs or bars in the early morning hours.
Drink alcohol in moderation and stay in control. Never leave your drink unattended in a bar or club. Some bars and clubs serve counterfeit or homemade spirits of unknown potency. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”
Reports of cybercrimes, though on the rise, remain infrequent. The Hellenic National Police maintains a dedicated cybercrime division to investigate cyber-related incidents. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Cybersecurity Basics.”
Other Areas of Concern
Athens is generally a safe city, but travelers should specifically avoid the Omonia and Syntagma areas during protests. Exercise caution in Exarchia Square and its immediate vicinity.
Travelers should refuse invitations by strangers met on the street to come into local bars, especially in the Monastiraki, Syntagma, or Glyfada areas. This is a ploy to lure individuals into small bars to extort large amounts of cash for supposedly purchased drinks, with the threat of physical harm if they refuse to pay. The scam is normally run by young women and men who speak excellent English.
Visitors during Easter should to exercise caution when attending the celebrations that occur at midnight on Holy Saturday. Festivities have typically involved the large-scale use of fireworks, some of which are homemade and illegal. There have been incidents in which spectators have suffered severe, sometimes fatal, injuries.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Greece has one of the highest rates of per-capita traffic fatalities in the EU, and available data from 2018 suggests no change in comparison to years past. The rate of serious vehicular accidents involving motorcycles and scooters is substantially higher than elsewhere in Europe. Widespread failure to use safety belts and motorcycle helmets exacerbates the severity of traffic-related injuries. The majority of accidents occur between 1700-0700 hours, with accidents peaking during the summer and the holiday season.
In and around Athens and other larger cities, defensive driving is essential. Daily hazards include excessive speed, distracted drivers, non-compliance with right-of-way, general indifference to traffic laws, obscured traffic signs, and heavy traffic. In addition, motorcycles and scooters routinely weave in and out of traffic and drive between lanes. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Outside of urban areas, narrow mountain roads and cold weather can contribute to treacherous driving conditions and closures.
Public Transportation Conditions
Although there are some concerns with respect to the consistency of timetables and speed of travel, the public transportation system provides several alternatives to driving. The Athens Metro ranks among the more modern rail systems in the world. The bus service serves Athens and the suburbs (along with 24-hour express shuttles to/from the airport). An additional tram system runs from the center of the city to the southern suburbs.
Strikes in the transportation sector can affect traffic and public transportation, to include taxis, ports, and airports. Most are of short duration, but travelers should confirm flight arrangements before going to the airport.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has assessed the Greek Civil Aviation Authority as complying with International Civil Aviation Organization safety.
Other Travel Conditions
Small motorbike and ATV rental firms frequently do not insure their vehicles. Customers are responsible for damages and should review their coverage before renting. Rental firms should require proof of both a driver’s license and an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) before renting any type of vehicle to a holder of a foreign driver’s license. Insurance companies may not cover damages to renters without an IDP.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There is moderate risk from terrorism in Athens. International terrorist groups are an ongoing concern. Police continue to investigate and pursue members of domestic terrorist groups, as well as assess the possibility of collaboration between terrorists and elements of the criminal underworld.
U.S. citizens have not typically been specific targets, but attacks could happen in places visited by foreigners. In 2018, there were incidents involving the use of improvised explosives, incendiary devices, and small arms to attack political party offices and foreign institutions.
On February 12, 2018, at 0300 hours, an IED detonated at the entrance of a company belonging to the wife of the leader of the New Democracy Party. Consisting of gaskets and flammable liquid, the IED caused minor damage to the company's entrance.
- On December 17, 2018, at 0145 hours, an unknown individual contacted the offices of SKAI TV and Radio to inform security that an IED would go off in the building. The individual informed them that the device would explode in 45 minutes, and warned that it was not a hoax. Police were informed. The IED detonated at 0230 hours. According to police reports, no injuries resulted from the blast. The explosion damaged the office’s main and first floors.
- On December 27, 2018, an explosion occurred at 0710 in the Kolonaki area of Athens. A church employee found the explosive device in a metal box outside the church of Agios Dionysios on Skoufa Street, approximately 1.5 km west from the U.S. Embassy. No warning phone call preceded the explosion. Α police officer and one civilian sustained minor injuries.
Revolutionary Struggle, a terrorist group that gained notoriety in 2007 when it attacked the U.S. Embassy with a rocket propelled grenade, advocates an anti-globalization and anarchist ideology. Its members are responsible for bombings of police stations and other symbols of national authority. Police recaptured one of its key leaders, Nikolaos Maziotis, in July 2014 and arrested three associates in May and September 2015, charging them with membership in a terrorist organization. Police arrested Maziotis’s wife, Pola Roupa, as an associate in January 2017.
Radical anarchist groups use arson, gas canister attacks, and Molotov cocktails to promote their anarchist/leftist ideologies. Incidents have targeted journalists, politicians, and political party offices and appear to be an effort to cause property, rather than bodily, damage. Often, these groups make anonymous calls to the media and police or post messages on anarchist websites giving advance warning of an attack.
There are several smaller groups of unknown operational capacity present in Greece, including Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei and the Group of Popular Rebels.
International terrorism continues to be a concern, including the DHKP/C. The Hellenic Police have conducted several high profile investigations resulting in the arrests of DHKP/C members.
Anarchists have attacked U.S. multinational companies, resulting in significant property damage. Anarchists have placed incendiary devices at ATMs belonging to Greek and U.S. banks, destroying several. Anarchists usually conduct attacks against U.S. business interests with the intent to cause damage, embarrassment, or financial loss.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Athens. Demonstrations take place in Athens and Thessaloniki on an almost daily basis. Organizers include labor unions, political parties, leftist anti-authoritarian groups, student groups, and other groups in the public and civilian sector. Demonstrations generally target the political and economic policies of the government, and can vary in size.
In 2018, there were nearly 1,300 protests in Attica prefecture (Athens, Piraeus, suburbs, and townships), with a majority of the demonstrations attracting fewer than 200 people. Demonstrations in Attica decreased approximately 18% from 2017, a particularly active year for protests, and were on par with 2016 levels.
In Thessaloniki, over 100 demonstrations passed or took place very close to the U.S. Consulate, a decrease from 2017; 26 were directed against the U.S. or NATO. Participation numbers varied between 30 and 10,000. Thessaloniki prefecture recorded just over 500 protests as a whole, with a majority attracting fewer than 200 people.
Approximately 1,700 demonstrations occurred elsewhere in Greece during 2018.
Although most demonstrations are peaceful, anarchist groups may infiltrate demonstrations to create chaos. Violent anarchist groups often join public demonstrations to clash with police and vandalize public and private property.
In Athens, violent anarchists often gather in the Athens University or Polytechnic University areas or at Exarchia or Omonia Squares. From there, they usually march toward the city center, particularly to Syntagma Square. In Thessaloniki, the most prominent anarchist gathering areas are the Arch of Galerius (Kamara) and the campus of Aristotle University.
In 2018, the anarchist group Rubicon conducted several attacks on Greek government facilities and foreign embassies, attempting to embarrass the Greek authorities. These attacks seek to cause property damage.
Riot control methods include the use of tear gas/water cannon. Visitors should stay informed about demonstrations from local news sources and hotel security. Find information regarding demonstrations on OSAC’s Greece-specific page, the U.S. Embassy website and on the Embassy Consular Section Facebook page.
Greece is particularly attractive as the first point of entry for migrants coming from the Middle East and Northern Africa to Europe by sea. While most migrants’ goal is to reach other European countries, many remain in Greece due to border closures and a new EU agreement requiring them to apply for asylum or face return to Turkey.
Greece is in a seismically active region and is at risk for earthquakes. The most recent moderate earthquake, measuring 4.3 magnitude, hit Athens on January 15, 2018.
Forest fires are a concern in the summer. The number of fires rose almost 23% in 2016 from 2015. The substantial increase is due to not only extreme weather conditions and lack of rainfall, but also arson and negligence.
On July 23, 2018, a series of wildfires began in the coastal areas of Athens. As of December 15, 2018, authorities confirmed 100 people had died, with 172 others injured. Authorities evacuated or rescued more than 700 residents, mainly from seaside settlements located north of the port town of Rafina (e.g. Kokkino Limanaki and Mati). Wildfires affected more than 4,000 residents.
Disaster preparedness information and specific suggestions to help mitigate the impact of wildfires and earthquakes is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In any natural disaster, follow the instructions of local authorities. The General Secretariat for Civil Protection, which responds to emergencies, may be reached at +30-210-335-9932/33.
The main intellectual property issues are copyright infringement and the sale of counterfeit trademarked merchandise. However, counterfeit sales continue to decline, according to industry sources, due to the codification and legal authority for police to confiscate counterfeit merchandise.
Personal Identity Concerns
U.S. citizens of African, Asian, Hispanic, or Middle Eastern descent have reported being subject to harassment. While such incidences are infrequent, travelers should exercise caution, especially at night near Omonia and Exarchia Squares in Athens, where police frequently conduct sweeps for illegal immigrants. The Hellenic National Police operate dedicated units to combat racial violence; contacted them by dialing 11414.
Greece continues to be a transit point for drug trafficking between drug-producing countries in the east and drug-consuming countries in the west. Drug trafficking remains a significant issue in Greece’s battle against organized crime. Available data through June 2016 reflects an increase in the number of narcotics-related cases for that year.
Although Greece has a large national police department, severe budget constraints and antipathy toward the police have limited their efficacy in deterring crime. Police skills, tactical skills, and emergency response capabilities are adequate, although access to resources fall short of U.S. law enforcement standards in many respects. Significant traffic congestion often hampers police emergency response and emergency medical services.
U.S. citizens should carry their passports or some form of photo identification with them. You may be taken in for questioning by the police if you do not have your passport with you.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
If detained by police, please contact American Citizen Services at +30-210-720-2414. After hours, or on weekends and holidays, call the Embassy Receptionist at +30-210-720-2490.
Crime Victim Assistance
The main phone number for emergency services in English, French, and German is 112. If you are a victim of a crime, the central police phone number is 100. Reach the Athens tourism police by dialing 1571. For racially motivated incidents, please contact 11414.
For local first responders, please refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.
Athens Tourism Police: The specially trained Athens tourism police offer tourists information and help. All Athens tourism police officers speak foreign languages and wear a shoulder patch noting “Tourism Police” on their uniforms.
DIAS: This is a unit of motorcycle police responsible for police patrols and emergency response in Athens, Piraeus, and their suburbs. Each DIAS unit consists of two uniformed police officers on a motorcycle.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD): The mission of the EOD is to identify, collect, and render safe improvised explosive devices and improvised incendiary devices. It assists in crime scene investigations in relation to explosive devices.
Criminal Investigations Police Directorate (Forensics Lab): This Directorate is Athens-based with a subdivision in Thessaloniki and a nationwide responsibility. The Directorate consists of the Department of Fingerprints, Department of Science Laboratories, Department of Chemical Laboratories, Department of Scientific Investigations, Department of Modus Operandi, Department of Statistical Data, Department of Archives, and Department of Internal Operations.
Police Directorate for Countering Special Violent Crimes (Counter-Terrorism Unit): This unit is responsible for the investigations of terrorist-related incidents. The unit reports directly to the Chief of the Hellenic Police. There are two divisions: one in Athens and one in Thessaloniki.
EKAM - Special Suppressive Counter-Terrorism Unit (SWAT): This unit responds to serious, exceptionally dangerous situations, along with incidents contaminated by chemical/biological agents, or radiological/nuclear substances. EKAM supports and participates in search and rescue operations, and coordinates evacuations during major disasters or accidents.
Dial 166 for medical emergencies. The emergency operator will receive the call, assess the nature of the emergency, and direct the ambulance to pick up and transport the patient to the assigned on-call public hospital. This service will not transport patients to private hospitals.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Available Air Ambulance Services:
Travelers should obtain general travel insurance with medevac.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Greece.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Country Council in Athens last met in mid-2018. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions about participation.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
91 Vasilisis Sophias Avenue
Office hours are 0830-1700, Mon-Fri (Greek and American holidays excluded)
Embassy Contact Numbers
Embassy Receptionist (24/7): +30-210-720-2490/2491
U.S. Consulate Thessaloniki: https://gr.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulate/thessaloniki/
U.S. citizens traveling to Greece should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.
Greece Country Information Sheet