One of the questions that comes up a lot for people considering visiting or moving to Albania is “is Albania safe?” and it’s understandable given the bad reputation Albania has internationally. But as a long-term resident I can already promise you that you will be incredibly surprised how safe it actually is.

Albania’s reputation

Albania’s reputation has been tarnished over the years mostly due to organised crime and the portrayal of the Albanian mafia (most famously in movies like Taken, which prompted this video by Taken by Albania).

And organised crime is definitely an issue when it comes to the international drug trade and also corruption inside the country to launder drug money back into the system. Corruption within the country doesn’t just keep to drug money, but also happens when it comes to building permits and you can experience this in everyday situations, when you’re being stopped by the police for no apparent reason for example.

This is further influenced by some government officials blanket stigmatising “Albanians” as criminals.

There is no denying these things are happening, however when it comes to deciding whether Albania is a safe place to live in or visit, you need to take into account what actually affects you as an individual and that’s what I want to talk about.

My top tip is this: Don’t take advice about a place from someone that’s never been there, be it Albania or any other place in the world.

Is Albania safe? Is Albania safe for female solo travelers?

So, let’s talk about what actually affects you as a visitor or resident in Albania.

Petty Crime like Theft

One of the things that still surprises me even after 5 years in the country is how much I am NOT worried about safety on a daily basis, and this becomes evident every single time I travel somewhere else.

I am not constantly watching my handbag, I am not worried about leaving my laptop in the bar while I’m going to the toilet, I simply ask the waiter “to keep an eye”, which he probably doesn’t, and go to the loo.

I haven’t met a single person in 5 years that’s had anything stolen, and I don’t think any of us are particularly careful. So, while it certainly does happen, it’s not something that needs to be permanently on your mind when you leave the house.

Break-Ins

When it comes to renting an apartment, something else that comes up is “which areas are most safe to live in” and whether the building is safe. While it does happen now and again that someone has things stolen, there are often bigger backstories at play. I’ve only read stories in the paper from local people who have a lot of money who have been targeted through a well set-up scheme.

Most front doors of apartment buildings are wide open and anyone could walk in, your elevator may have a chip, but people could still just use the stairs. Most people I hear leaving their apartments in the morning don’t even bother to lock their front doors. So given how lax the “security” is this would be a daily occurrence if it was a problem, but it simply isn’t.

Walking alone at night as a woman in Albania

Again something that will surprise you is how safe even the backstreets of Tirana are in the middle of the night. I’ve walked around all hours and the streets are mostly empty at night. Again I’ve never met anyone that has been approached or followed in the day or at night.

Plus, taxis are super cheap, so you can always get a ride home pretty quickly if you’d rather do that.

What also helps is that Albanians do not have a culture of getting completely drunk when they go out, and I have never seen anyone using drugs in the street. So overall there just isn’t anything happening that would make me feel like it’s not safe to be there.

Personal Relationships

A risk factor particularly for women that I do have to address is to be mindful of your personal relationships and who you get involved with.

There have been a lot of mysterious cases of women falling from balconies in my time here, including the horrific case of Joy Ayoko.

I have heard too many stories from my own friends about their boyfriend becoming overly possessive, things turning physical and the guy turning up at their house after a break up in the middle of the night demanding to be let in.

Another reason why I would be wary is simply due to the fact that organised crime targets those involved and anyone near them, so if you meet a really good looking guy with a big car that doesn’t ever seem to do much work I’d be cautious. Car shootings as well as car bombs are a common way to dispose of people here, and family feuds are also still a thing.

So while these do not affect you on a daily basis, if you are with the wrong people it may inadvertently become your problem.

Is Albania safe for black people?

I have had a couple of friends comment on this issue over the years, and overall they perceived Albania to be less racist than Italy but still more than they are comfortable with for long-term residency. The government is in denial of this being an issue.

While they weren’t concerned about their physical safety, there has been a fair amount of discrimination and being called names by random people in the street. 

We have been told plenty of times in popular bars in central Blloku that we need “reservations” to enter and I know they don’t take reservations, so this was obviously a sign of not being welcome. A friend of mine has been refused a drink in a popular club, prompting all of us to leave. So I’d love to say something kinder, but at this point I can’t.

I have other friends who are living here quite happily and experiencing no issues whatsoever, so again your experience may vary, do ask around in the Facebook Group if you’re not sure.

Is Albania safe for LGBTQ+ people?

In general same-sex relationships are legal. There is a certain amount of weariness in the population towards anything that’s “different” and you will not find as many safe spaces here as you may in other cities.

If you want to party then I’m sure you’ll have no issues at Tunel, and Hana Cafe is a safe space where you will find plenty of like-minded people.

For more advice (and to make new friends) I’d recommend reaching out to @aleancalgbt as they can probably give you more accurate information and tips on where to go.

Cultural Differences

If you haven’t travelled abroad much, when you first arrive in Albania, there may be things that will contribute to the place “feeling unsafe” for you that are triggering from your past experiences but have nothing to do with your actual safety. 

A friend of mine shared with me how uncomfortable she felt in the street when she has to walk through a group of older men. But they’re just taxi drivers waiting for customers and chatting, and they’ll make way and apologise as soon as you’re needing to pass by, it’s just that if you don’t understand the language you didn’t hear it.

It’s nothing unusual in Albania to see groups of men and groups of women sit separately, it’s nothing unusual to see a coffee bar just filled with men and it doesn’t mean it’s not a safe place, it just means the customer base is older and the older men tend to hang out there together, and their women are most likely at home.

Also Tirana is a very messy city in comparison to other places and your environment may also influence how you feel. It’s normal to take shortcuts between buildings and use back alleys, something I’d never do in other cities especially at night, but here it’s the fastest way to get around and everyone does it.

All in all, it may simply take you some time of being here to adjust to the local culture and for your “sense of safety” to return back to normal.

Pay attention in traffic

If you’re driving, pay attention. People’s driving is erratic and you always need to expect someone to just cut you off or undertake you on the slow lane.

People will often not respond in kindness when an accident does happen. We have witnessed an incident in Bllok some time ago where a taxi driver caused an accident and the guy on the motorbike went to beat him up. 

Some people will just drive off because they don’t have insurance as happened to us, some people will get aggressive and most people will just blame you even when it is 100% their fault.

Same goes for using a bicycle or scooter. Pay attention, don’t argue with people. Call the police.

If you’re driving across the country be alert and awake, avoid driving through small roads at night, particularly in the mountains.

The road conditions are often not good, there could be massive rocks that have fallen on the road and sometimes landslides have caused half of the road to disappear and there are no warning signs.

Earthquakes

Something I wasn’t aware of before coming here is that earthquakes do happen and they actually happen quite frequently. Most of them are small enough for you to hardly notice, but it does happen now and again that we have a bigger earthquake.

So, if you’ve never lived in a place that experiences any earthquakes, know what to do if it does happen.

Swimming

When you’re visiting the beach you will automatically assume that it’s 100% safe, because it’s a public beach. However there have been accidents with people renting boats and jet skis and entering an area designated for swimming. And there has been a terrible accident involving a little girl and a police boat, so when you’re swimming stay away from the edges of the swimming zone.

Political Protests

There have been some amount of political protests in the past (mostly on or around the central boulevard) and they have led to some buildings being damaged and the police ended up using tear gas.

If you see a protest, just take another route.

The Local Football Derby (Partizani vs Tirana)

Experiencing the local team derby at the stadium is an impressive experience and I’d recommend it, despite what I’m about to say below. 

Just be aware that you will see very little football and a lot of drama, particularly at the beginning of the second half.

If you choose to go just be aware of a few things:

  • Book tickets on the sides of the stadium NEVER at the ends because that area is full of Ultras. The guy in the ticket office will tell you these are the best tickets, DO NOT fall for it.
  • You cannot bring anything into the stadium, a friend of mine had her phone charger from work in her bag and she had to throw it away. You can’t bring umbrellas, so if it’s raining wear a raincoat. The police will search your bag. If you need a lighter, hide it somewhere.
  • People will throw fireworks and burn stuff in the stadium, and if you’re in the Ultra section you will be at the receiving end of a lot of smoke, people may also break seats at the end of the match if their team has lost, and there will be a lot of police
  • They LOCK the emergency exits with a chain and lock and when a panic happens the guy with the key can’t get to the lock, so that’s why sitting on the side and not in the Ultra section is a good idea

Fire Safety in Your Apartment

You will find that most apartments in Albania (including the ones on AirBnb) do not have smoke detectors.

Buildings also do not have the same fire regulations as you’d expect. There are normally no outside staircases for evacuation, there are no fire doors in the staircases and most buildings only have one central staircase for entrance and exit.

Newer buildings may have fire hoses in the corridors, but older buildings do not and there are no fire extinguishers either.

While major residential fires that spread across floors are rare, there has been a recent fire in a residential building that seems to have spread through the cladding on the outside of the building similar to what happened in London a few years ago.

We once had a fire in our building’s garage from a car that caught fire and then exploded, and while the floor at -2 was badly damaged the rest of the building was only slightly affected through some smoke that spread through the channels in the walls designated for cables and the fire hoses.

So, all in all, when it comes to your physical safety as a tourist or resident in Albania you have very little to worry about. People are incredibly friendly and helpful and you will be surprised at just how unsafe so many other places feel after you leave again.