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Living and working on Symi, some questions answered

We often receive emails from people asking what it’s like to live and work on Symi. Well, this blog, and my two books, Symi 86500 and Carry on up the Kali Strata, should go some way to telling you what it is like to live here, from an ex-pat, foreign resident’s point of view of course. This post was written for the blog in January 2010 and is about working on Symi…

Sometimes people have posed questions about what people would do if they decided to make the move here. More precisely, what would people do for work if they moved to Symi?

This could take a while to answer, but as I am waiting for the music files to upload to so that I can produce the Symi Dreams music CD again, I thought I’d fill the time with some thoughts. Now don’t hold me to these, these are just my thoughts and observations. There is a part in Symi 85600 which goes into detail about the legalities of working here, but these laws and rules change, and so I always advise people to check with their own consulates or embassies, and the local authorities when considering moving abroad; that’s anywhere abroad. And there is also that part of Symi 85600 called ‘How to move to a Greek island, or other place in the sun’ which has some tips and tricks, and probably, by now, some rather out of date details too. So, check out your own position, according to your nationality, for Visas and permits, before you do anything else.

So, you've decided to move here for the summer season, or for longer, but you’re going to need to survive. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t need an income from a job then you will need to work. First you will need to find a place to live, and there are various ways to do this. The best, that we found, was by word of mouth, asking the local property owners and residents, but if you can’t do that then start with the likes of Symi Visitor Accommodation, Kalodoukas (Holiday accommodation but a holiday let is a place to base yourself while you start to look), other holiday companies, and the local estate agents may be able to help – though renting and buying are of course two different things. See our Travel links list on the right of our main blog pages for other ideas.

And as for what work to do: I guess people are asking what jobs there are. And once again that is going to depend on you. Maybe these days it is getting harder to find employment, but there are still as many tavernas, bars, and shops running as there were when we first moved here, so presumably there are still jobs. As we have our own business now and work for ourselves, we’ve not been in the job market for a while, but friends of ours are still looking out for summer work and trying to find something for this year, and they are doing it now.

There are beach tavernas which, though often family run, still look for other staff; as do the local shops in Yialos, and to a lesser extent Horio, where there are fewer shops and businesses and where ‘things’ are generally already covered. Even the holiday companies may be looking for people to maintain and clean summer lets, so that’s another idea. Then there is general labouring work, if you can find it, work on building sites and if you have a particular craft or skill then you may be able to find more specialist employment. I can’t comment on that too much as I don’t have anything useful to the building trade apart from a diploma in the basics, a masters degree in the theory of it, and several years experience of working in it, membership to a Charted Institute and so on. But all that experience and those qualifications are no use to me now as all that was UK based, and if you move here to work, your qualifications may not be accepted, or appropriate. Another thing to bear in mind.

But whatever you find, expect to work hard. In our first year, as I've said before, we worked seven days a week for seven months of the summer, sometimes working for 16 hours a day – though it was more common to work for only eight or nine, it depends on the job. Some tavernas will want you for a morning and an evening shift, some bars may want you to work during the night, some shops may also want you to work double shifts; so you’re in for long hours, hard work and not much time off. Don't expect to do a few hours then spend the rest of the day on the beach; expect to put in many hours for not a huge wage, frankly.

And then, along comes the winter. There are some residents here who are able to pop back to their respective homelands to top up the coffers from time to time, there are others who have to stay and make a living through the quiet winter months. That’s when you can really run into problems. We keep our shop open all year round but rely on the summer business to provide money to cover the winter bills – at least that’s the theory. Many businesses do this, while some business owners find work away from the islands over the winter. Some people find all year round jobs, but there are not that many of those; more in the building trades than retail I guess. So that is something else to bear in mind: how you will survive in the winter. Again, there is a section in Symi 85600 which mentions things like tax and IKA (National insurance etc.) but you should check on the current situation with these things. It used to be, and maybe still is, that you would have to work for someone who paid your IKA for a few months before receiving health care cover, and for two seasons before receiving unemployment money in the winter. If you are going self employed then that’s a whole new ballgame and you really will need to speak to an accountant or solicitor, in Greece, before you start things running.

By the way, I’m not trying to put anyone off. I just thought this might be a useful page to have around for anyone interested.

So, if the cold weather is getting you down in Britain, Denmark, Poland or wherever you happen to be, and your thoughts are turning to the idea of working and living on the magical island of Symi… Check out everything first, make enquiries, learn some Greek, be prepared to work hard, and follow your dream.

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