When people talk about wanting to move overseas, Albania isn’t usually the first place you have in mind. And yet here we are, happily living in this often-overlooked Balkan country.
I came here as a Peace Corps volunteer—and liked Albania so much, I decided to stay. When I tell an Albanian why I am here, I usually get a puzzled look and an offer to swap passports which may (or may not) be a joke.
When I talk to my expat friends about their reasons for coming (and staying) to Albania, the response is much more enthusiastic. Here is what they have to say:
- Albanians are warm and welcoming. I come from New York, where no one talks to strangers and people march down the street ignoring anyone near them. If a stranger starts talking to you on a train or bus, you inch away as quickly as possible because there must be something wrong with them. So, it took me a little while to get used to chatting openly with my neighbors, the person at the table next to me, and others who were trying to be friendly. But isn’t that the way life should be? In addition, it is relatively easy (compared to other European countries) to get visas and residency permits from the government to stay in Alania longer term.
- It is a very affordable place to live here. My Tirana apartment was basic but had everything I needed and was in a trendy neighborhood near Artificial Lake. I paid about 10% of what I would have paid for a comparable apartment an hour outside New York City. When I lived in the north, I had a brand-new apartment in town that no one had ever lived in before for 18,000 Lek per month. You just can’t beat that.
- It is very safe. Unfortunately, Albanians have gotten a bad rap by the media. Yes, there is a problem with organized crime but if you’re not involved in illicit behavior, you have nothing to worry about. I’ve lived in Albania for four years and have never felt unsafe walking down the street in Tirana or any other town, at any time of the day or night.
- The country is stunningly beautiful. The Albanian Riviera coastline rivals that of better-known Mediterranean countries and is becoming increasingly popular with tourists. But its mountains should not be overlooked. Hiking can be a little tricky because the trails are usually not well marked and there aren’t always English-speaking locals in the smaller towns and remote villages. For that reason, it is highly recommended that you go with a native speaker who is familiar with the mountains.
- The food is unbelievably fresh and tasty—and affordable. The definition of “fresh” in Albania is quite different than what most Westerners think of fresh. My friends can taste the difference between fruits and vegetables that are grown in a greenhouse versus those that are picked out of a garden. On many a hike, the guide stops at a local restaurant before we head up the mountain to tell them how many people will be coming back later in the day for a meal so they can run in the backyard and grab enough chickens or turkeys to feed everyone. Pigs, goats, and cows roam the fields and woods for food and the taste of the meat far exceeds the industrialized, tasteless kind Westerners are used to buying at the market.
- Relaxed COVID restrictions. These days, COVID is unfortunately at the forefront of everyone’s mind. At the beginning of the pandemic, Albania put in strict measures to limit movement and the spread of the virus. It’s not gone 100% of course, but life has returned to a state closer to normality than many other countries. And there have been a number of expats who came to Albania this past year to escape the conditions in their home countries.
- Close to travel destination. The country is strategically located and is a perfect launching place for exploring other European, Middle Eastern, and African countries. Before the pandemic, it was easy to find affordable flights or drive to other countries for vacation or short jaunts. Hopefully, borders with other countries will open soon, and exploring other locales will again be possible.
I could go on and on about what is great about Albania. Honestly, if I did not have family back in the U.S. I would not go back. I would be very happy to stay here indefinitely.
Food picture courtesy of Fustanella Farm
This is a typical day in the outdoors only 20 min drive from Tirana – “Petrela & Fustanella”