By Ioanna Fotiadi
“I’m in Greece for a week and instead of going on holiday, I’ve been spending all day at the tax office,” says a Greek man who works in Germany. “And the worst of it is that I’ll end up being taxed twice.”
The man, who wished to remain anonymous, is certainly not the exception but rather the rule. The local tax authorities, it seems, dog Greeks however far away they go.
The root of the problem lies in the lack of clarity regarding how taxpayers are registered when they change address, as every tax office (DOY) requires a different set of documents. Officially, an overseas resident is anyone who lives abroad for more than 183 days a year. In the past, taxpayers living abroad could submit a simple declaration and display the tax declaration from their country of residence as proof. Over the 18 months, however, the process has become increasingly complicated, resulting in multiple problems for a growing number of Greeks who have chosen to live and work abroad.
Some tax offices demand a slew of papers, such as a lease agreement, a work contract – specifically demanding that it is an open and not a fixed-term contract – or a certificate of registration at the municipality where the person lives – all translated into Greek and certified. Some tax offices have even gone so far as to demand a certificate from the Greek consulate in the country of residence even though Greece has had to shut down many of its overseas services due to budget cuts. Another taxpayer complained that he had been living abroad for decades since he was student at university but that his local tax branch demanded a translation of his degree.
The situation is even more complicated for married couples where one spouse has left to work abroad and the other has stayed in Greece.
“The Greek tax system requires married couples to file a joint declaration, however ridiculous as that may be,” says a woman who also declined to be named.
The biggest problem, of course, is that there is nowhere to get a proper explanation as even accountants cannot keep abreast of the constant changes in regulations.
“We ask Greek accountants and they just raise their arms in defeat,” said a woman working in Qatar.
“The process of declaring a new residence to the tax authorities has become incredibly difficult and in some cases can take over a year to complete,” Aneza Stavrou, accounting director at the KPMG professional services firm, told Kathimerini. “Tax officers are even more skeptical when workers declare they have moved to a country with a more privileged tax system,” she added, citing the example of the United Arab Emirates.
The prevailing belief among Greeks working abroad is that the process is made difficult on purpose in order to maintain the flow of cash into state coffers.
“We are treated as though it is our intention to rob the Greek state,” said another Greek working overseas.
The issue has reached Parliament after four SYRIZA deputies raised it with the finance minister. In their statement they noted that Greek taxpayers working abroad and who have an income source in Greece, such as from rent on a property, are at risk of being taxed twice on income earned elsewhere. They also noted that while 2013 tax declarations need to be submitted online, there is no special option for declaring tax documents obtained abroad.
Stavrou’s advice for anyone considering making a move is to head first to their local tax office and make their intentions known while asking what steps they will need to take in order to avoid future confusion.