According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Greece has been assessed as Level 1. 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.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Athens as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
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.
Street crimes (pickpocketing, purse snatchings, mobile phone theft, 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.
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 2017 showed an increase from the numbers reported in the same time frame in 2016. Reported crimes involving narcotics, weapons, and explosives also increased compared to 2016.
Sexual assault crimes remain low relative to the size of the population; the number of reported rapes in 2016 was 155 and in 2017 was 156. Sexual assaults of U.S. citizens, including date/acquaintance rape, are not uncommon. In 2017, there were several cases of U.S. citizens being assaulted while at night clubs or bars in the early morning hours. In one well publicized case, a U.S. citizen was beaten to death by nine Serbian and Greek nationals. The case was vigorously investigated by the Greek police, and the prosecution of the nine attackers continues.
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 cyber crimes, though on the rise, remain infrequent. Nonetheless, the Hellenic National Police maintains a dedicated cybercrime division to investigate such instances.
Other Areas of Concern
Athens is generally a safe city, but travelers should specifically avoid the Omonia and Syntagma areas during protests. American citizens should exercise caution in Exarchia Square and its immediate vicinity.
Travelers are warned to 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 where they can be extorted for 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 are strongly urged to exercise caution when attending the celebrations that occur at midnight on Holy Saturday. Festivities normally 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 2017 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. The severity of traffic-related injuries is exacerbated by widespread failure to use safety belts and motorcycle helmets. The majority of accidents occur between 1700-0700 hours, with accidents peaking during the summer and the holiday season.
In/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/out of traffic and drive between lanes.
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 being in compliance 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.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Athens as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
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.
American citizens are not normally specifically targeted, but attacks could happen in places visited by foreigners. In 2017, there were incidents involving the use of improvised explosives, incendiary devices, and small arms to attack political party offices and foreign institutions.
On December 21, 2017, an IED was detonated at the Athens Appeal Court. The IED detonated at approximately 2:50 am with two Greek media outlets receiving warnings of the explosion prior to the detonation. The investigation is on-going.
In May 2017, there was a series of letter bombs sent to targets both in Greece and internationally. One letter was sent to the former Prime Minister who opened it while in his vehicle. The device detonated and caused serious injuries. A second letter was sent to the IMF headquarters in France and detonated causing injuries. Greek police arrested a 29-year-old Greek national, who they believe committed the acts and is linked to the domestic terrorist group Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei.
There was a grenade attack outside the French Embassy (close to Syntagma Square) on November 10, 2016. Revolutionary Self-Defense Group, a Greek left-wing urban guerilla group, claimed responsibility for the attack in protest of France’s foreign policy.
Police believe the 17 November terrorist organization, responsible for a reported 103 attacks and 23 killings (to include four official American government employees and one locally employed staff), was disbanded following the arrests and prosecutions of many of its members in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics. The re-capture of Christodoulos Xiros in January 2015, one of the key members of 17 November, dramatically reduced the group’s operational effectiveness, as police subsequently arrested Xiros’ collaborators and other sympathizers.
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 have been charged with bombings of police stations and other symbols of national authority. One of its key leaders, Nikolaos Maziotis, was recaptured in July 2014. Three associates were arrested in May and September 2015 and charged with membership in a terrorist organization. The last associate, Maziotis’ spouse, Pola Roupa, was arrested in January 2017.
Radical anarchist groups use arson, gas canister attacks, and Molotov cocktails to promote their anarchist/leftist ideologies. These incidents have targeted journalists, politicians, and political party offices and appear to be an effort to cause property damage rather than death or physical injuries. 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 (last attack was against the offices of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises on November 24, 2015).
International terrorism continues to be a concern, including the DHKP/C, believed responsible for the February 1, 2013, attack on U.S. Embassy Ankara. 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. Incendiary devices have been placed at both Greek and American ATMs, destroying several. Attacks against U.S. business interests are usually conducted with the intent to cause damage, embarrassment, or financial loss.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Athens as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Demonstrations take place in Athens and Thessaloniki on an almost daily basis. Demonstrations are organized by labor unions, political parties, leftist anti-authoritarian groups, student groups, and other groups in the public and civilian sector. Demonstrations are generally directed against the political and economic policies of the government. These demonstrations vary in size.
In 2017, there were over 1,597 protests in Attica prefecture (Athens, Piraeus, suburbs, and townships) with a majority of the demonstrations consisting of fewer than 200 people. The number of the demonstrations in Attica increased in comparison to 2016, which had 1134.
In Thessaloniki, over 125 demonstrations passed by or took place very close to the U.S. Consulate, a notable increase from 2017.
Although most demonstrations are peaceful, anarchist groups are known to 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 the Exarchia or Omonia Squares in Athens before marching toward the city center, particularly to Syntagma Square.
In Thessaloniki, the most prominent anarchist gathering areas are the Arch of Galerius (Kamara) and Aristotle University Campus.
In 2017, the anarchist group Rubicon conducted several attacks on Greek government facilities and foreign embassies designed to embarrass the Greek authorities. These attacks are generally designed to result in 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. Information regarding demonstrations can be found on OSAC’s Greece-specific page, the U.S. Embassy website and on our 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 other European countries, many remain in Greece due to neighboring border closures and a new EU agreement that requires 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 earthquakes, measuring 4.3 magnitude, was recorded on January 15, 2018 in Athens.
Forest fires in the summer are a concern. The number of fires rose almost 23% in 2016 from 2015. The substantial increase can be attributed to not only extreme weather conditions and lack of rainfall, but also arson and negligence.
On November 15, 2017 Athens suffered massive flooding from torrential rains. 20 people died in the floods, and several areas of the Attica area where inaccessible for days.
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 are urged to exercise caution, especially at night in the Athens areas of Omonia and Exarchia Squares, where police frequently conduct sweeps for illegal immigrants. The Hellenic National Police operate dedicated units to combat racial violence; they can be contacted 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 the 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. Police emergency response (and emergency medical services) is often hampered by significant traffic congestion.
U.S. citizens are strongly urged to 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 you are detained by the police, please contact American Citizen Services at +30-210-720-2414. For after hours, 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. The Athens tourism police can be reached by dialing 1571. For incidents believed to be racially-motivated, please contact 11414.
For local first responders, please refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.
Athens Tourism Police: The Athens tourism police are trained to offer tourists information and help. All Athens tourism police officers speak foreign languages and can be recognized by the shoulder patch “Tourism Police” on their uniforms.
DIAS: This is a unit of motorcycle police who are 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 based in Athens with a subdivision in Thessaloniki and has nationwide responsibility. The Directorate consists of: 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’s mission is to respond to serious, exceptionally dangerous situations, along with responding to regions having been 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 (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
email@example.com, www.healix-international.com (UK)
General travel insurance with medevac is always recommended.
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 did not meet in 2017. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
91 Vasilisis Sophias Avenue
10160 Athens, Greece
Office hours are 0830-1700, Mon-Fri (Greek and American holidays excluded)
Embassy Contact Numbers
Embassy Receptionist (24/7): +30-210-720-2490/2491
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