Athens, the capital of Greece, is a place like no other. Modern apartments and fast food chains sit side-by-side with some of the most famous ancient sites in the world.
Home to 3 million people in the city and another 1 million in the suburbs, Athens is thriving. Businesses from all over the world have found a place in the city. If you choose to intern in Athens, be sure to embrace the Greek way of life: work hard so that you can play hard. Athens is not a city that be seen completely in one trip, but it’s worth a try.Photo credit: Travel Coffee Book.
Internships in Athens can be found in almost any field year-round. Most typically last 1-3 months and the field you choose may determine when you go. Business internships are available in large numbers at any time of the year, but tourism and hospitality internships are not only going to have much more availability from April-October, but will also be a better experience at that times.
Business: A large number of international companies and many of the national companies have offices in Athens. You can get internships here or in local businesses year-round.
Tourism: Athens has by far the largest number of tourists in Greece. Tourist season runs from April to October, so they are much more likely to be looking for interns during this time.
Finance: Though you may not think of going to Greece for a finance internship, Athens is the fourth largest capital city in Europe, as well as Greece’s financial hub. There are positions open year-round.
In Athens, there are positions available at any time of the year that you want to go. Most employers will ask for applications about 2-4 months before you plan to start. Some of the large internship programs, which offer positions in several fields, will fill the spots on a rolling basis. Apply earlier rather than later not just to secure a place in a field that specifically interests you.
When and Where to Look for an Internship
There are so many places to look to find an internship in Athens. If you have a specific business in mind, you can always look on your own and correspond with them directly. Your university may have some connections or programs that you can make use of to find a position. Though, independent internship programs are the most popular. University and independent programs provide support while you are abroad, and will sometimes include housing in program fees.
Programs will expect you to apply for positions 2-4 months in advance, so keep that date in mind. Most fields will have internships available to start at any time of the year, so you can begin your search at any point. Other fields are primarily seasonal and are more likely to hire during a specific period of the year.
Cost of Living in Athens
The cost of living, in such a large capital city, is surprisingly reasonable. The biggest challenge will be finding a cheap apartment. If you are lucky, your internship program may provide you with housing, which will save you a lot of money every month. If not, there are many housing agencies in Athens that can aid you in your search.
The prices and styles range from the bare bones to the extravagant. The lowest you will find in Athens is €350 per month, though there are plenty listed in the €450-600 range. Happily though, you get more for your money in Greece. In other countries and cities, €350 would probably get you a small studio; in Athens, you find a one bedroom and the occasional two-bedroom apartment listed at this price.
Food is the unavoidable expense – you have to eat! If you cook for yourself and eat in as many meals as you can, your costs will stay low. If you follow the Greek diet (produce, grains, and fish – almost all seasonal), your grocery bill could be as low as €150 per month, though €200 is fairly typical.
Eating out is another option if you’re willing to spend a little more. There are dozens of options for eating out and you can spend different amounts depending on the place you choose. A take-away souvlaki may be as little as €2, but a sit-down place charges around €6 for the same dish. For dinner, get a few people together and go to a taberna (pronounced taverna). At a taberna, the table eats family style, ordering dishes for the whole table. Whether it’s a group of 5 or 25, a taberna usually costs around €15 per person.
Work Culture in Athens
The work culture in your particular field may vary, but there will always be some consistent Greek customs. In general, Greeks are a hospitable, laid-back people and that will come across in the work environment. Business casual should be appropriate for day-to-day work in most fields. If you are at certain corporate offices, they may expect a little more, so always check before you start packing your bags. Many employers in Europe frown on being underdressed and you’ll want to make a good impression.
The Greeks, like most other Europeans, value interpersonal respect. When you meet someone, use the formal greetings the first time, especially at work or with someone older than you. Many will follow and tell you not to worry about formalities or after you’ve known each other a while. When you pass someone on the street or at work, if you make eye contact, you have to say hello. It is very rude not to say anything. Go with Kalimera and Kalispera (good morning and good evening).
Most Greeks will be happy to help you if you don’t know how to say something in Greek, even if they can’t understand any of what you say in English. Many people who work in business or tourism/hospitality will speak a decent amount of English, but you should still attempt to communicate a little in Greek. Before you start your internship, learn to say hello, goodbye, please, thank you, excuse me, and I don’t understand in Greek, as just knowing these few words will gain you some respect.
Work and Labor Laws in Athens
In Greece, the workweek is the standard five-day week of eight-hour days. Most internships are unpaid, but if you do find one that pays, there are a few things to know. Unless there is a pre-arranged amount, remember that there is no minimum wage in Greece. Unlike in other European countries though, you can earn overtime pay, though it is not much; you can only get paid for earn three hours a day or 120 hours per year. Regular full-time employees in Greece get 20 days off per year. Interns are not guaranteed any days off, so if you need the time, you’ll have to talk to your supervisor about it.
In the rare case that you may need to worry about termination, it will never be a surprise. It is a legal requirement that you have to have been given prior warning and your supervisor is required to give you a written copy of that warning. On top on that, they must provide a legitimate, legal reason for why they want to fire you before they actually can.
Things to Remember
- Many study abroad students and expats run along the top of the Olympic Stadium just south of the National Gardens. Feel free to join them.
- Go find the €2 souvlaki place in Kolonaki. It’s named Maria’s and is on a southeast corner on Aristodimou (street). It's delicious! Order it with everything and ask for sauce (pronounced tsauce).
- Buy an ISIC card (international student card). Every museum and site is free if you have one.
- There are protests in Athens on a regular basis, but don’t be afraid of them. Most are peaceful, though on occasion things can happen. Mostly not a danger, but still best to just avoid it.
- If you hear music or singing in Syntagma Square (across the road from Parliament), avoid the square for the rest of the day as best you can. The music means there will be a rally/protest soon.
- Mount Lycabettos (pronounced lie-ca-vet-tos) is the highest point in Athens. It’s a steep walk to get up there, but you will get some amazing photos of the city from there.