If you are moving to Europe, and climate, cost of living, safety, and long-term potentials are important considerations for you, then Albania should be on your list.
Across the Adriatic from Italy, Albania is a 2-hour flight from anywhere in Europe, and easy to reach from air, sea, and land.
Who is Albania for?
Albania can cater to any means, from modest budgets to modern luxury living. Though laid-back generally, Albania can also satisfy the active, even adventurous, lifestyle seekers.
Albania’s main seasons are basically spring, summer, and autumn. Most cities experience moderate winters; cool temperatures with a snow flurry being a once-in-three-year event. If you enjoy the snow, Albania offers numerous snow-capped mountain escapes.
Summer days can average 90°F/32°C and dry. Late autumn is a wet season of approximately 2–3 weeks and rains can be torrential with occasional flash floods in low-lying areas. Typically, only a momentary issue though.
The urban and modern capital city, Tirana, is a day trip to the full gamut of outdoor life, from the mountains to the pristine coastlines.
Demographically, Albania is a Muslim country, but the people embrace a secular existence. Nevertheless, Eastern and Western Rite Catholic, Christian, and Muslim holidays are recognized and represented in the country.
Albania cannot be considered an LGBTQ destination, and such public displays of affection are not advisable. However, there isn’t any prolific or aggressive harassment towards the community, politically or socially.
An official EU candidate with accession talks started in 2020, Albania joined the Council of Europe in 1995, and NATO in 2009. The official currency is the LEK, which has held strong against the Euro and US dollar, while still providing a low-cost standard of living.
Can foreigners live in Albania?
Yes, foreigners can come and live in Albania as long as they comply with the immigration rules.
Foreign visitors are significant to Albania’s economy, and foreigners are welcomed everywhere. Albania is already a European vacation secret, with most tourists coming from the UK, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Germany, Russia, and the Balkans.
Albania has a long list of countries whose citizens are allowed visa-free entry. As a rule, if you are allowed to enter the country without a visa, you are permitted to stay for a period of 90 days. To stay for longer you need a residency permit.
The expat community grows every year. It’s composed of nationals from all regions of the globe, with a significant presence from Italy, the UK, and the US. And, with embassies representing virtually the entire international community, no one is ever far from their home or services.
Getting residency in Albania
Residency needs to be initiated within 30-days of entering the country. If you miss the 30-day mark, just leave the country for one day and enter again.
The process can be started using Albania’s electronic portal, e-Albania, offered in Albanian and English. But you will need to go in person to an immigration office.
As we mentioned before, Albania’s entry visa scheme is rather liberal, providing most travellers with visa-free entry.
The UK and EU have the typical 90-days, while Albania provides US citizens with a very generous 1-year stay. US citizens should consider the potential costs of being subjected to both US and Albanian taxes if stay in Albania long term.
In 2021, Albania approved its version of the Digital Nomad visa; availability is expected in 2022.
Another consideration is real estate. Albania provides permanent residency to anyone who purchases real estate, though there isn’t a Citizenship by Investment scheme.
Is it expensive to live in Albania?
Albania provides a low-cost but quality standard of living for foreigners. However, the cost of living, specifically rent and nightlife, is subjective to the time of year and area.
You will find that rent and nightlife along the Adriatic and Ionian coastlines are very expensive during the summer season. It can be very difficult to negotiate an annual rental agreement close to a tourist area for a reasonable price. Generally, if you move a bit away from tourist areas, you will find good value for your money.
The capital, Tirana, is the most expensive place to be. It’s especially noticeable with new property development prices in Tirana. Albania is undergoing a massive residential development phase with dozens of apartment complexes springing up all over the capital city.
These complexes are very modern and well-equipped, with all the essentials from markets, cafes, pharmacies, dry cleaners, barbershops /salons, gyms, etc. However, they average around $1400/1200€ per sq. meter.
Many are offered for long-term rental around $400-$500/350€-425€ a month for a 2-bed 1 bathroom apartment. Utilities can run approx. $100/85€ a month. Existing real estate is cheaper even in the same areas.
Near the beach in Durres, older 2-bed apartments can be found at around $50K/40K€. Rents for the same apartment could average $300/250€, depending upon the apartment’s summer rental history.
Tirana has a cheap public transport system (less than half a dollar/Euro) and is very walkable and bikeable.
General items at the market are reasonable. A week’s worth of groceries for a typical family will average around $100/85€.
Local restaurants are cheap and offer various food from traditional fare to hamburgers, doners, and pasta. An expresso averages $.70/.60€.
There are some KFC and Burger Kings in Tirana that will cost more.
Tirana’s Blloku district is the country’s preeminent drinking and dining scene, and prices there will be very US/UK like.
Other everyday items in Tirana:
- Petrol – $1.60/1.40€ per litre
- A haircut – $4.50/4.00€, and
- Typical monthly phone/10GB data packages – about $14.50/12.50€. You will need an Albanian SIM card for any long-term stay.
Is Albania safe?
Albania does have an issue with organized crime, but the most you’ll see regarding that is the Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Bentley’s showing-off in Blloku on a Saturday night in the summer. Even with that issue, the US rates Albania at Level 2. In truth, unless you’re involved in such behaviour, it will not impact your experience.
If you chose to live in one of the luxury residential communities, then those types of individuals, as well as ambassadors, politicians, and celebrities, will be your neighbours. But, regardless of where you live, encountering any violence is rare.
The most common crime you’ll see is traffic violations. Albania is very safe for single travellers, females, families, LGBTQ, and the elderly.
Regarding COVID, Albania handled the issue comparatively better than many other countries. Albania has an effective vaccination program (including US and EU approved vaccines), and everyone is eligible, including non-residents.
Albania has maintained one of Europe’s lowest infection and fatality rates from COVID, has had only 1 national lockdown, and restaurants/cafes are functioning as normal, with masks and other health security precautions.
Healthcare and health insurance for expats in Albania
Albania has a functional nationalized healthcare infrastructure, and everyone is eligible for emergency treatment. Anyone can go to a local doctor’s office and get basic treatment and prescriptions for approximately $25/20€.
However, valid health insurance is a residency requirement.
Albania has a very modern private medical sector, with hospitals accredited from the US, Italy, Greece, and Turkey. These private hospitals and clinics are equipped in all medical areas, including cosmetics for both men and women. They’re very affordable and depending upon your deductible, the bill is usually quite affordable.
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Taxes in Albania for expats
The most common tax in Albania is a sales tax of 20% on virtually everything, already in the price. Paying income taxes in Albania requires an accountant.
Personal income tax (23% average) is based on residency status. Residents pay taxes on all global income, but pensions are tax-exempt. US citizens will pay both US and Albanian taxes. Non-residents pay taxes only on Albanian income.
Can I retire to Albania?
Along with the Digital Nomad visa, Albania has modernized its retirement permit. The new policy allows retirees to receive residency based upon basic requirements including a pension, a notarized rental agreement, and private health insurance.
Considering the cost of living, modern private healthcare and caregivers, affordable housing, year-round good weather, and tax-exempt pensions, Albania is an appealing retirement option.
The pros and cons of living in Albania
As with any destination, there are good and could-be-better elements in living in Albania. Regarding the Balkans though, Albania has much more to offer than most other countries. Nevertheless, some things are lacking, but Albania is working to improve as it moves towards EU membership.
The pros of living in Albania
1. Best food scene in the Balkans
Tirana undeniably has the best food scene in the Balkans. The majority of the options are concentrated in the Blloku district but you can find amazing places to eat all throughout Tirana.
From US-style steakhouses to some incredibly fresh and excellent sushi, virtually every cuisine is available. There is even an all-you-can-eat sushi event (average $20/17€) every weeknight.
2. One year entry stay for US citizens
Albania is one of only a handful of countries that offers such a generous length of stay on an entry visa. US citizens need only to leave Albania for 3-months to re-start the year after the 12-months have lapsed. Unfortunately, exits during the year don’t reset the clock.
3. Amazing nature and history
Running the full length of the country’s western border Albania’s Adriatic and Ionian coastlines are an absolute joy for the eyes. The picturesque mountains offer an unparalleled alpine experience all year long, from camping to skiing.
Albania is littered with ancient Greek and Roman remains and has four UNESCO sites and numerous more under consideration.
4. Very hospitable locals and culture
Albanian people are incredibly welcoming and hospitable. The millenniums old culture strives to maintain authenticity while working towards modernization. The Albanian code of ‘Besa’ invokes a duty upon every Albanian to provide warmth and security to all visitors to the country.
The cons of living in Albania
1. National bus system
Though there is an effective public transport system in place within the cities, going from one city to another can be very time-consuming and overwhelming.
You may need to take four buses and nearly two hours just to get from Tirana to the beaches of Durres (30 minutes west) in the summertime. And, these buses terminate rather early, often the final return is around 19:00 (7 pm).
2. Import tax
It’s very expensive to have anything internationally mailed to you in Albania. The import tax (Dogana) is nearly 25% and applies to the total value including the cost of shipping.
3. Albanian is a difficult language
To learn Albanian may be a bit too difficult for many people. With an alphabet of 36 characters, some are pronounced with sounds most native English speakers will find difficult to make.
Italian is widely spoken in the country. English is common in Tirana, people in all private hospitals, many government agencies and tourist areas speak good English. Most of the youth and young professionals also speak English.
Where expats live in Albania
The expat community is scattered throughout the country, as Albania offers every environment.
Those who prefer a truly urban setting live in Tirana. The beach life is focused in cities such as Durrës, Vlora, and Saranda. If you desire history and tradition, head inland to Berat, Shkoder, Gjirokaster, and Korca.
For more information on various locations read our “Best Places To Live In Albania As An Expat” guide.
What you should know before you move to Albania
Albania is still very much a cash-based society. In the malls, large markets, hotels, Blloku district, and tourist venues, credit cards are accepted. Expect to pay rent in cash. Always use the local currency as a very high conversion rate is applied.
The communications infrastructure is modernized and provides very good and reliable internet. The significant exception being in the mountains, and some places in the northern regions.
Albania has three international airports and three international ferry ports. Be cautious of ‘fake’ taxis due to excessive prices, real taxis have a yellow license plate.
Tirana has several very nice malls filled with high-end brands. Regardless of where you chose to live, you may need to go to Tirana to get certain things done or find certain products.
Expect to drink only bottled water.
Pork and spicy foods are available but not common.
Smoking is ubiquitous, and driving can be treacherous.
As locals earn roughly $18/15€ for an 8-10 hour shift, a 10% tip is considered generous and very appreciated.
Living in Albania – summary
Albania is very much a diamond-in-the-rough and you do need to know it better before making decisions about relocation. Start with Albania as your summer getaway, and then let it become your home.
The greatest element of Albania is the ability to enable you to invest in a very promising future while being able to fully enjoy today as well.