Situated in Southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula, Albania is blessed with pristine Adriatic and Ionian coastlines and the imposing Albanian Alps. Though undoubtedly beautiful, this small country is still wrestling with its Soviet past and, while there have been positive signs of growth, Albania remains one of the poorest countries in Europe.
Living in Albania as an expat
Although it is not necessarily an expat hotspot, those who have relocated to Albania speak positively of the gorgeous beaches, sunny weather and low cost of living. Albania is a relatively safe country, though petty crime such as pick-pocketing does occur in major cities. Driving in Albania can be harrowing, and road accident rates are high compared to other European countries.
The Albanian government has been working hard to rehabilitate the country's economy and global image. Currently campaigning for EU accession, Albania is already a member of prominent international organisations such as the UN and NATO.
More foreign businesses have migrated to Albania in recent years, and this has created some employment opportunities, especially in the areas of energy, textiles and transport infrastructure. The tourism industry is also rapidly expanding and has become one of the country's main sources of income. Nevertheless, agriculture remains the most significant sector, accounting for one fifth of Albania's GDP and employing nearly half of its labour force. Chief agricultural products include wheat, olives and olive oil, fruit and various other produce.
Accommodation in Albania is quite cheap compared to the rest of Europe. Many expats invest in property here, considering the prices are so low. In many of Albania’s rural areas, older, Soviet-era housing can still be found. In larger cities, apartment blocks are reasonably common, while freestanding and semi-detached housing is quite scarce.
The public transport system in Albania is often unreliable and generally not well maintained. Buses operate in the city but tend to run late, while the train system can be unreliable. That said, public transport is usually quite cheap and expats can save a lot by using it. Getting around by car is fairly easy, although some roads are badly maintained, signage is not always up to standard, and disregard for traffic laws is common. Expats are advised to drive defensively.
Although efforts have been made to improve healthcare in Albania, the sector remains poor and underfunded. Healthcare is mainly public and free, but private institutions have popped up more recently. Expats are advised to get international insurance to cover the costs of private healthcare.
Cost of living in Albania
Albania is a comparably cheap country to live in. With low housing prices, affordable food and cheap utilities, an expat’s biggest expenses would be international schooling and private healthcare. The capital, Tirana, is listed as 153rd out of 227 cities on Mercer’s 2023 Cost of Living Survey. Other similarly ranked European cities include Zagreb, Croatia and Bucharest, Romania.
Expat families and children
The state of education in Albania is gradually improving but it is still hampered by mismanagement. As the local curriculum is taught in Albanian, expats moving to the country largely choose to send their children to international schools. These can mostly be found in Tirana.
Albania is a beautiful country with a rich history. Expats can spend their time hiking in the Alps, taking in the astounding scenery, or they can explore what the cities have to offer. With museums scattered in interesting spots throughout the country, expats can learn much about the local history. Expats should be sure to take a trip to some of the country's secluded beaches or natural hot springs.
Climate in Albania
Albania has a Mediterranean climate with dry, mild summers and wet winters. Around the capital, summers (June to September) spike to around 88°F (31°C). Winters (November to March) can see the temperature dipping to freezing.
Though Albania is a somewhat unusual destination for expats, those who do take the plunge will find that an adventure awaits them. Expats earning in foreign currencies can live especially well, but any newcomer can explore the beauty and unique aspects of this Southern European country.
Population: About 3 million
Capital city: Tirana
Neighbouring countries: Albania is a coastal country bordered by Greece to the south, Macedonia to the east, Kosovo to the northeast and Montenegro to the north.
Geography: The coast of Albania extends along the Ionian and Adriatic Seas. The majority of the country's landscape is mountainous and there is a multitude of rivers as well as both natural and manmade lakes.
Political system: Parliamentary republic
Major religions: Islam, Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity
Main languages: Albanian
Money: The Albanian Lek (ALL) is divided into 100 qindarka. Expats should be able to open an account at a bank of their choice, and ATMs are plentiful in most major cities, though they are rarer in Albania's smaller towns.
Tipping: Tipping is not expected but is appreciated.
Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two rounded pins are used.
Internet domain: .al
International dialling code: +355
Emergency contacts: 127 (ambulance), 128 (fire), and 129 (police)
Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. Albanian drivers can be aggressive and some roads are in need of maintenance. Buses and trains are common and popular modes of public transport.