If Europe is on your list of places to explore, but you are worried you won’t be able to afford it, a visit to Crete just might make you change your mind. Though not quite as inexpensive as parts of Southeast Asia and Latin America, Crete’s cost of living is not that far off those Southern Hemisphere options. The other notable benefit that comes with a life on Crete, with the purchase of 250,000 euros of property, is a residency visa—more on that in a moment.
In last week’s Overseas Property Alert, I introduced you to the city of Chania on the northern coast of western Crete. This week we continue our exploration of the northern coastline with a look at the Akrotiri Peninsula, a head-shaped outcrop of land to the northeast of Chania.
Crete is the largest of all the Greek islands at 260 km long and between 20 km and 60 km wide—big enough and high enough in places to have a long range of snow-topped mountains, a well-developed tourism industry, four major cities, two international airports, a cruise ship port, a well-organized bus service, a NATO base (once a U.S. Air Force base), an international school, and all the usual mod-cons of a Westernized country.
Recession Hit And Down-Trodden?
Greece’s shaky economy may make you wonder if it’s a place that should be on your radar. Greece has suffered considerably since the global economic crisis, and this month was declared back in recession. However, the European Commission says that it expects Greece’s GDP to “bounce back” to 2.6%, with the planned injection of cash from EU creditors. As a potential property buyer with dollars, recession is mostly good news for you—though sad for Cretans.
Does Crete feel like a sad, miserable place, riding on the edge of disaster? Not at all. I found it, at least the Chania region, vibrant, welcoming, clean, tidy, and open for business. (You must ignore the graffiti in Chania city—I was told it is just a stage that the local youth are going through.)
That positive feeling, despite recession, is possibly a result of visitor numbers. Crete is a very popular living and vacation destination for many nationalities, with an estimated 18,000 foreign nationals living there (out of a total population of about624,000). According to 2014 data from the Greek Research Center for Tourism, Crete attracts one in five tourists going to Greece. More recent figures from the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority show that Crete’s two international airports (at Chania and Heraklion) had—along with Athens, Thessaloniki, and Rhodes—the greatest increase in passenger traffic from January to April 2017, compared to the same period last year.
Why do all the visitors come? The Mediterranean climate is a huge draw, and climatic extremes are unheard of. The annual average ranges from 14⁰C to 28⁰C (57⁰F to 82⁰F), though it does snow up on the White Mountains and summer months can regularly go up to the mid-30⁰s Celsius (95⁰F). Winters are typically mild (about 13⁰C/55⁰F), wet, and sometimes blustery. Overall there are about 300 days of sunshine a year.
Other major benefits of living on Crete are the cost of living and the price of property—both are low. I estimate a couple could live on a penny-pincher’s budget, renting in Chania town, for just under 800 euros a month. Alternatively, 2,000 euros per month would provide a very comfortable standard of living. And you’ll see from the properties below, that it’s possible to buy a modern condo in a quiet Cretan village for 120,000 euros (about US$135,000), including white goods and a shared swimming pool.
There’s A Big, Greek Carrot Attracting Non-EU Citizens To Crete’s Shores
Here’s the reason why Crete might be particularly attractive to non-EU Overseas Property Alert readers: Greece, and therefore Crete, offers non-European citizens the opportunity to buy property and in return qualify for a permanent residency visa. The minimum qualifying property value is 250,000 euros, which can be invested in one property or several. Or you can buy a property for less than 250,000, and then spend the remaining qualifying amount refurbishing or redeveloping it.
The purchase will provide residency for you and your spouse and dependents (children up to 21 years old). You do not have to live in Crete to maintain the residency status, and you can rent your property out once all the paperwork is finalized. The visa also gives full access to the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area includes most but not all European Union countries. For example, it does not include not Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and the United Kingdom despite them being part of the EU. Additionally, the Schengen Area includes some non-EU countries–Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein. One of this visa’s few restrictions is that you may not work in Greece.
So, What’s The Akrotiri Peninsula Like?
It took me just 35 minutes from the bus station in Chania city, on a modern, air-conditioned bus, to travel to Stavros, a village on the far north-west of the peninsula (where “Zorba the Greek” was filmed). Leaving Chania, the ride winds up a steep hill through residential areas and then up on to a plane, where there is a great view down to Souda Bay to the south and east (the location of Crete’s main port, NATO training base, and the Hellenic Navy) and Chania town to the west.
It’s on this plane that Chania’s international airport is located, no more than 15 minutes from most properties on the peninsula. Looking back towards the main body of the island, the views of the snow-covered White Mountains, running along the center of Crete, are spectacular.
The land is rolling, covered in olive groves, vines, and great bushes of flowering mimosa, with tiny little bays and beaches around every twist in the road. Parts are scrubby and dry, so don’t expect lush greenery everywhere. The peninsula’s main town is Kounoupidiana (population about 8,600), where the Technical University of Crete is located. Mostly the area’s population lives in small villages and individual developments, some multi-property, newly built and sharing facilities, others ancient and basic with chickens scratching about in the yard.
|A typical view of the Akrotiri Peninsula’s landscape and villas|
Akrotiri Property Picks
To give you an idea of what’s available, I’ve chosen a range of properties from total renovation through to ready-to-move-in, and at various prices. I couldn’t find many renovation projects, probably because nothing very much was built here in times gone by.
A Renovation Project
First up, a three-bedroom, detached, 95-square-meter (1022-square-foot) single-story bungalow on a 3,000-square-meter (3,500-square-yard) plot of land. The property was built in 1978 and needs to be gutted. It sits in a quiet residential area among other villas, a 10-minute drive from Kounoupidiana. Listed at 109,000 euros.
Renovated And Refurbished
Next, an attractively renovated two-bedroom, two-story, 68-square-meter (732-square-foot) stone house on a 150-square-meter (1,615-square-foot) plot on the outskirts of tiny Kalathas village. The property is sold with appliances and possibly other furniture. It has a small private terrace and shares gardens with other attached neighbors, and a roof terrace with sea views. Kalathas beach is about 1 km away. Listed at 130,000 euros.
Located in the village of Chorafakia, about 1.5 kms from the previous property in Kalathas, this two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 67-square-meter (721-square-foot), fully furnished, condo-style property lacks character, but might make a good part-year home or vacation let. It’s on a complex of six properties with a shared pool, with beaches at Kalathas and Tersanas, a 5-minute drive away. The property is sold with all electrical goods. Listed at 120,000 euros.
|Fishermen at Stavros Beach on the Akrotiri Peninsula|
Ready To Move In Modern And Luxury
More spacious than the previous property, and more than double the price, this three-bedroom, two-bathroom, modern, condo-style property is a short walk from the center of Kounoupidiana. It has 140 square meters (1,507 square feet) of living space and an 80-square-meter (861-square-foot) basement. This property is part of a complex that shares a large swimming pool. Sold with heating, air conditioning, fireplace, and oak floors. Listed for 250,000 euros.
If you would like something even bigger (146 square meters/1,571 square feet) and more luxurious, this four-bedroom, two-bathroom, furnished villa for sale for 395,000 euros might appeal. It’s a detached property, with a pool, on a complex of residences that share an entrance to the development. The basement, leading to the garden, has two bedrooms and could be reconfigured as a small independent apartment. The property is a short walk (300 meters) to a sandy beach, and Kounoupidiana is a 5-minute drive away.
Increasing the budget to 495,000 euros opens the portfolio of properties up to include some high-end developments, including this 200-square-meter (2,152-square-foot) villa with four en suite double bedrooms. The villa is part of a four-property complex in the tiny hamlet of Tersanas (with one taverna), overlooking the bay and beach. Each has a private garden, swimming pool, garden area with lawn, extensive sundeck area, and shares a tennis court. Sold with all appliances, wardrobes, fireplace, solar heating, air conditioner, and more.
So, there you have six properties that could provide a home, an investment, and the vehicle for an EU residency permit on an island that’s easy to access, has fascinating ancient and natural history, and provides a good quality of living at a low price.
For Overseas Property Alert
I was intrigued by your article on Crete. For investing 250,000 euros, one can get permanent residence without actually having to live there. The question is how long would one have to wait with permanent residency to get citizenship?
My understanding and reading around the subject of citizenship (official government sites in English) suggest that a period of about 12 years’ residency may be required before citizenship can be applied for, and that the length of the application process varies from year to year and may take between three and five years.
There are many conditions that have to be met before citizenship (not to be confused with residency) can be applied for. Visit the website of the Consulate General of the Unites States in Thessaloniki, Greece, where you will find a link to an abridged version of the Greek Citizenship Code.
Note: Once you hold Greek citizenship, and if you are between 19 and 45 years of age, you will be required to perform military service. The U.S. Consulate website, noted above, also addresses this issue.
If you buy a property in Crete which is under the 250,000 euros needed for residency, how long do you have to do work on the house and claim money to make up the difference and meet the 250,000 euros? What bills will qualify?
I have been told by real estate agents that you can take as long as you like working on a property, but you won’t be able to apply for the residency visa until you can prove that you have paid/spent the 250,000 euros. Most renovation and refurbishment costs qualify, you must simply keep all invoices as proof of the money spent. The details of exactly everything that could be included are not, as far as I’m aware, published.
1. How would you compare Portugal and Spain versus one another as a place to launch a soft retirement while working online?
2. I know the Algarve region is expat heavy (a good thing for me), which city in Spain has the most expats?
Thank you so much for your help,
I would say Portugal and Spain are fairly equal in terms of launching a soft retirement with an online business. Having said that, if you don’t speak either language, you’d probably want to be in an area where other English-speaking expats live, and in that case, in terms of cost of living, Portugal just wins.
Which Spanish city has the most expats? I’m going to assume you mean English-speaking expats… Based on information collected by the Instituto Nactional de Estatica (INE), the Valencian Community (Comunitat Valenciana) has the most British people living there, with Alicante the most popular city. Second would be the autonomous region of Andalusia and the city of Málaga. If you’re interested in island life, the Canary Islands of Las Palmas and Tenerife and Mallorca in the Balearic island group all having significant English-speaking populations. You would also be fine in the cities of Barcelona and Madrid, where many locals speak and understand English, you’d just have to work a bit harder to meet expats as they don’t tend to live in enclaves there as they do on the Costas.
If you live, and work online, more than 183 days in either country, you will be considered a tax resident there. Take a look at the European Union’s Europa website, which provides a basic income tax comparison of the two countries that might also help you decide.
Have a question? You can write to Lee (or Lucy) here.