Considering Albania as your new home in Europe? Great, but before you start packing your bags just yet, there are some questions to ask yourself before moving to Albania.
Hey, I’m Jess from the Real Albanian Team and I’ve been in Albania for 5 years at the time of writing this, and today I’m going to give you some things you may want to think about before settling on moving to Albania.
I am a very realistic person and I see the good and the bad. I also know that we as people can be wildly different, and your lived experience based on your needs and background is likely different from mine, so I’d always encourage you to come and check this place out in person.
So, think about these areas of life as I’ve listed them below, write your must-haves, your nice-to-haves and your no-gos. And THEN come and visit Albania and see things for yourself (don’t believe everything you read online, particularly from people who’ve never been here).
So, with this said, let’s dive into the areas that I’ve mostly found to be misrepresented.
Cost of Living
Albania has forever been hailed as an incredibly cheap country. And while the numbers may be cheaper overall than being in central Europe you also get a lot less for that money.
Rents in Tirana have been steadily on the rise over the last few years, inflation has struck here like it has anywhere else, and most products are more expensive already because they are imported.
A bottle of shampoo that would cost 2 EUR at Rossmann in Germany will sometimes set you back 500-700 Lek here.
Laptop breaks and you need to buy a new one immediately? Be prepared to pay 30% more for the same product here than anywhere else in Europe – and have 4 models in total to choose from.
In return of course your fruits and vegetables are local and cheap and the electricity bill will most likely not make you go bankrupt (unless of course you’re paying for 3 other apartments without realising, it happens).
If you are a long-term resident this stuff adds up. We will dive into cost of living in more detail in another article but this is something important to consider.
It’s not just the cost though, it’s also about availability.
If you have sensitive skin, needy hair or a dodgy digestive system, and you need that ONE BRAND of product and nothing else, then you may end up having a difficult time in Albania.
And yes, it’s true, Amazon will not deliver a lot of products here and if they do, be prepared for that import tax to slap you around the head.
So, ask yourself, what are your needs when it comes to products and lifestyle, what do you need a lot of and is it a good idea for you to be here or are you better off elsewhere?
How much are you willing to spend for these items if you do have to buy them locally at higher prices? How often would you be traveling abroad and can you get stuff you need to have there?
Lifestyle and Entertainment
Tirana is the biggest city in Albania, according to the last census in 2011 (always take this data with a grain of salt) there were around 550.000 residents in the municipality and over 900.000 in the metropolitan area of Tirana.
In contrast, Frankfurt has a population of 750.000, Milan has a population of 1.3 million and Madrid has a population of 3.2 million.
Tirana is probably home to most foreigners, followed by Saranda in the South. Despite its fairly sizeable population there aren’t as many activities in Tirana as you may be used to from other cities.
Life here has a much slower pace, and is dominated by a ‘let’s grab a coffee and take a walk around the lake culture’.
Also most people focus on fitting in, instead of standing out, so there isn’t much in the way of cultural diversity as far as modern life is concerned. Being artsy, or alternative or creative or a bit odd is more frowned upon than appreciated and that is evident in the few spaces in the city that are truly diverse, be it through their offerings or the people.
While this is changing, it’s changing slowly.
Plus there isn’t really ONE central place where you can find out about events and stuff, so spending a lot of time scrolling Instagram until you get targeted by an ad is often your best bet.
So, if you spend most of your weekends strolling artisan food markets, visiting craft breweries, going to galleries and exhibitions and watching shows in theatre, then in the long-term you aren’t going to find the same amount of entertainment in Tirana, particularly not in English.
There are signficantly more activities in Summer than in winter, like the outdoor cinema or the odd rave or random cultural festival you stumble upon, and more and more festivals are popping up in the South, however a lot of these activities are geared to foreigners or the odd local person with enough cash flow, because they often cost the same as a similar event in Europe.
So, what does your ideal day look like? Do you like the slower pace in life? Do you prefer to get out the city into nature? Do you mind going to the same places over and over again? Or do you always need to have an activity planned and new input?
This is probably one of the main reason I’ve heard from my friends and acquaintances as to why they aren’t considering Albania as a long-term home.
Health and Wellbeing
The Health System in Albania is by far not as developed as in other countries. There is basic healthcare available on the state system, which if you are permanently employed here and paying your sigurime you have access to even as a foreigner.
This means you will be assigned a family doctor in the family clinic close to your registered address. This person however may not speak English. And you can also go to hospital for A&E.
Everything else you do have to pay for. And you may also need to “tip” some money in hospital to ensure you’re getting attention. And if you need a specific medication they may not even have it in hospital and they may send your loved ones to buy the medication at various pharmacies around town (real experience).
Plus you also have the option to get private health insurance, and some people have been told during their residency application process that they must have private insurance cover. I personally wasn’t told that and have never signed up for private health insurance so I can’t speak to that. Do make sure whatever policy you sign up for is actually useful and covers things like needing to go out of the country for specialist treatment.
Many ailments can be sorted out by visiting the pharmacy who will give you prescription meds over the counter.
If the obvious approach fails or you don’t know what’s going on, you can make an appointment with a doctor. If you go to one of the private clinics you may be recommended a bunch of treatments you don’t need, so I always recommend having a strong will to say No to stuff that doesn’t make sense.
Many Albanians themselves will confirm that the service provided is indeed basic and you will often be told 3 different things from 3 different people and people often travel abroad for serious issues if they can afford to.
So before moving to Albania you’re going to want to:
- assess your overall health and potentially get any treatments where you are currently based if you have insurance cover for it
- check on your medications you need to take, can you get extra supply, are you allowed to bring them to Albania and if you need refills do they have it here and can you get it via the pharmacy (I was surprised that progestogen only contraception wasn’t available)
- What are you doing for health insurance coverage, what will that get you? Where will you go in case of emergency?
The last thing you want is an unnecessary health issue cropping up and then having to travel to Italy to get it sorted.
The Albanian Language
Something else you’re going to want to consider is that you’re moving to a country where the one and only official language is Albanian. Every sign in every shop is in Albanian, TV is in Albanian, subtitles are in Albanian, there are many creators creating content in Albanian. Theatre is in Albanian, most signs in museums are only in Albanian (why IDK). The language spoken all around you all day is Albanian.
Yes, young people do learn English, but not everyone is willing to speak it and most people speak by translating word by word from Albanian, so you’re not really ever getting to know the other person and how they really are. Older people often do not speak English – and why should they, they don’t need to.
Albanian is a truly unique language, it’s a challenge to learn and overall it’s a very rewarding process.
So, you’re going to want to think about how long you’re staying, how much you are looking to integrate, what matters to you and whether or not learning at least SOME Albanian is a good idea.
My personal experience when I moved to Albania in 2018 was that most young people spoke English and very few of the older people did. So I can go to the supermarket and sort out any issue at the cashier who are often younger girls, no problem, but I couldn’t properly buy cheese and meat over the counter with the older lady, without some frustration over price, type of meat/cut amount, slices or whatever (and Google Translate isn’t always the most helpful when it comes to this stuff).
This is fine temporarily, but after a year or two it starts to really go on your nerves that you can’t do things without being on the struggle bus and slinging around google translate all the time.
If you want to have an easier experience learning the language will make you feel so much more functional. I can order food and tell the deliver driver where to bring it, I can find the right bus and what time it’s leaving and chat to the driver so I don’t have issues. I can go to various shops and buy odd items that are hidden somewhere because I can ask for them. I don’t have disagreements with the taxi driver anymore because I can chat to him and he knows I’ve been here long enough to not mess me around.
It literally saves me a tonne of headache. So if you’re staying for more than 6 months, I’d recommend investing a bit of time in at least the basics. It’s just good manners honestly.
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Work & Finances
Before moving it’s clear that you need to know what you’re doing for work. I would not recommend coming to Albania and hoping you’ll find a local job here that pays you enough to have a decent life – particularly without any Albanian language skills.
The local job market isn’t exactly amazing and the salaries are low compared to what we may be used to from elsewhere. Minimum wage is around 400 EUR as I’m writing this. And the average salary is around 600 EUR a month.
Rent for a modern one bedroom apartment in a great condition, reasonably conveniently located with new aircon is going to cost around 600 EUR a month (and some people will ask for as much as 1000 EUR a month for a foreigner).
Rent for an older apartment with ancient windows, no insulation and old furniture or in a really bad location 1 hr + walk from the centre can still be as little as 200 EUR a month, but it all depends what you want, your connections and how much time you can invest in looking – and again if you speak some Albanian and tell people you’ve been here a long time, you can argue the price.
So, finding a local job with local salary and living alone in a nice apartment in a great location isn’t exactly going to happen to just like that.
Of course, if you already have a job offer, then make sure all is clear regarding payments and timelines so that you can plan exactly what will happen when you get here and how much you can afford to spend on rent etc.
If you’re working online or running your own business, then you can move your business to Albania and stay here via that route. You do need to check taxes to find the best option and you may need help from someone to get set up, but overall it’s not a nightmare process all things considered.
So ask yourself what your work and income situation are looking like, what you need from the perspective of work, apartment rentals etc. so that you know if you can afford life in Albania.
Depending on why you’re coming to Albania and what your work situation is, there are a few different Visa options.
These constantly change and the requirements constantly change too (much to the annoyance of all of us).
The government here is also excellently bad at communicating these requirements with people anywhere online and particularly not in understandable English. Plus often not even the staff are aware of latest regulation changes.
The easiest way no doubt to move here is to get married to an Albanian citizen and take family reunification option.
If that isn’t on the cards as yet, then you can move here through registering a business here.
Property is also an option I think, but there are some criteria.
There is also a brand-new elusive Digital Nomad Visa – many people have tried to apply for it, I’m yet to meet someone that actually has received the DN Visa.
Then of course, you can get a residence permit through being employed by an Albanian company.
Plus there are other options for retirees as well as volunteers.
You need to ask yourself what is the best option for you, and then get accurate information on what it takes to obtain that specific visa right now for a person from YOUR country. The best place to do this is at the immigration office in Laprake. Or via a third-party firm that will handle the process for you (the cost for this is going to run into 200-800 EUR).
Once you know which visa to go for, you will then need to make a list of the documents you need. Some of these documents you may be able to obtain via your embassy, some may not exist in your country, and for some you will need to travel home to get them and also get the document apostilled. Again this depends on where you are from.
So, gather as much information as you can, so that you can be prepared for this process.
If you are from the US you can stay in Albania visa-free for one year (they removed this for a few weeks and then brought it back). If you are from Europe, then it’s 90 days only.
If you do want to apply for residency, then you to do so within 30 days from your last entry to Albania, so you may need to do a day trip to Kosovo to reset the 30 days before you apply.
Do not overstay your visa-free period. The fines get massive if you get caught at the airport. Land Border can be a bit more lenient, but just follow the rules, it’s easy enough to deal with it.
There are many things about life in Albania that are great if this is the kinda lifestyle you’re after and you’re generally an easy-going, laid-back person. And then there are many people (my Mum for example included) who would hate the mess and chaos that comes with a developing society that’s undergone a lot of change over last 25 years.
I’ve been here for 5 years, I’m going to stay a few more, and I’ve overall enjoyed my time so far, and I sure feel more easy-going than I used to!