Cyprus is a slightly less prevalent tourist destination than other European countries, but is a beautiful Mediterranean island just below Turkey and just to the West of Syria. How widely spoken is English and is it possible to get by without using the official language of Greek?
As a country formerly under British rule until the mid 20th century, English is very widely spoken in Cyprus, with around three quarters of the population (76%) being able to speak it. All road signs are also in English as well as Greek and many shops sign, menus, public notices and advertisements etc. are also in English.
It retains a distinctly British feel there with many expat Brits retiring there, so English speakers will have no problem getting by there.
Cyprus was placed under British administrative rule in the late 1800s, before officially gaining full independence in 1957. However, culturally Cyprus has still retained many British traits and also military ties with several British military bases still present in Akritori for example.
English is still widespread there – the latest stats indicate that 73% of Cypriots can speak English (update, this is now reported a bit higher at around 76%), with the overall fluency of that proportion also higher than in other European countries like Spain and Italy.
Foreign languages are compulsory in Cypriot school from the age of 9, with many schoolchildren thus learning English from an early age, and possibly also speaking it at home if their family still uses English alongside the official language of Greek.
Therefore going round shops, restaurants and bars in any major city in Cyprus, you will usually have no problems speaking English. In some cities you will find many of the bars are owned by Brits – no language barriers issues there!
The only problem you may run into is if you venture in the more remote villages in Cyprus, where the older generation may only speak Greek. Even in these cases though you may just need to find someone younger who will likely have learnt English at school and you will be fine from there, or else use some basic Greek – see below.
You Can Mostly Get By With English in Cyprus
The unanimous view from tourists and expats who visit Cyprus is that you can get by there holidaying or even living there long term speaking just English. Many Brits report living there for many years, even owning businesses, and not needing to speak Greek to get by, such is the prevalence of English there among the population.
Of course just living there for a couple of years will automatically lead you to pick up a bit of Greek, which is one of the easier languages to learn anyway. You don’t need to worry about learning Greek for a short vacation though.
On the downside, one particular area where it does help long term stayers in Cyprus to learn Greek is that all official government documents are always written only in Greek. This can lead to difficulties when you are dealing with residence documents, permits and other government paperwork. The same may also be true for other documents like bank and phone contracts – it is important to know what you are signing.
In these cases it can help to either learn some Greek or have some Cypriot friends who can help translate documents for you. These days you can also get documents translated very cheaply online using freelance service such as Fiverr.
Learning Some Basic Greek
As as additional measure though, it can also be useful to learn some Greek, to help with understanding any government documents and other contracts you may have to sign, and also communicating with any older Cypriots who may not be so fluent in English.
It also opens up more social and work opportunities to learn the native language anywhere, and integrates you into the culture better, although in Cyprus you are in the more fortunate position of being able to get much easier with only English compared to other European countries.
Greek is considered one of the easier languages to learn, at least in spoken form, with many expats reporting that they picked up Greek without even formally making an effort to learn simply by being there and interacting with Cypriots on a daily basis over a number of years.
Of course the entire written form of Greek is totally different to other European languages, with a distinct alphabet which has to be learnt from scratch. However, learning some basic spoken Greek is not too hard. Here are some of the more common phrases.
|English||Pronounced in Greek as||Greek|
|Nice to meet you||Harika||Χάρηκα|
|How are you?||Tee kanis?||Τι κάνεις|
|I'm fine thankyou||Kala, ef-hareesto||Καλά, ευχαριστώ|
|Do you speak English?||Mi-lah-tey Agglika?||Μιλάτε Αγγλικά|
|I don't understand||Den kata-laveno||Δεν καταλαβαίνω
|Where is the bathroom/restroom?||Poh-ee nayee tua-lay-tah?||Πού είναι η τουαλέτα|
|A beer please||Me-ah mpira parakalo||Μια μπύρα παρακαλώ
|Cheers! (drinks)||Yamas||Γεια μας|
|A coffee please||Enan kafe parakalo||Έναν καφέ παρακαλώ|
|The bill please||Ton logga-ree-as-mo parakaló||Τον λογαριασμό παρακαλώ|
Note that the Greek spoken in Cyprus is a particular dialect of Greek known as Cypriot Greek, which does have some differences in some of the words and pronunciation from standard Greek, but is broadly similar. However, if you ever do need to speak in standard Greek, you will still be understood in Cyprus, and they will happily convert their dialect to normal Greek or English to help you out.
Travel Essentials For Visiting Cyprus
- Essential stats on Cyprus:
- Population: 1.25 million
- Time zone: EST +7 hours (winter); +8 hours (summer); GMT +2 hours (winter); +3 hours (summer)
- Currency: Euro
- International calling code: +357 (see here for getting a working local SIM card/number when abroad)
- Drives on the left
- Languages – for learning Greek with more verb based learning see also the Michel Thomas Greek Course on our courses page.
- Luggage allowances – see here for an excellent guide on luggage allowances (checked and cabin) for all major airlines worldwide.
- Banking – If you don’t want to get stung with high ATM fees, check out our article on the Wise Borderless Card, which allows you to open up balances in many different currencies (including Malaysian Ringgit) and spend for free on your card.