Tirana, Albania Report of what it's like to live there - 08/02/15
Personal Experiences from Tirana, Albania
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
This is our third tour. We were previously in Guayaquil, Ecuador and Ottawa, Ontario.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
We divide home leave between Huntsville, Alabama and New Orleans. It takes between 19-21 hours door to door.
3. How long have you lived here?
We are two years into a three-year tour. We extended our tour immediately upon arriving.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We live on a compound, which has the biggest and nicest green space in town. There's a playground, gym, and basketball court. We've been quite happy. Not everyone lives on compound. Others live downtown in apartments or nearer the school in villas. We are about three minutes by car from the Embassy. Lots of people walk to work.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are very cheap.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Any ethnic foods, lady products, dry shampoo, cat litter, dryer sheets, laundry detergent, animal treats.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No American fast food exists here. There is a "Knock off" McDonald's called Kolonat, and it's decent. Other restaurants here are crazy cheap. We can eat a three-course dinner with wine for about US$50 per couple.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Flies in the summer.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and Pouch. We are very lucky.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Maximum US$4 per hour. Very affordable. Many people just pay salary.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
They do exist, but the Embassy has a small gym. The compound also has a great gym, which is included in the local commissary association's dues.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Credit cards are technically accepted in many places; however, the machines very rarely work. Cash is where it's at. ATMs are not difficult to find. The Embassy has an ATM.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are some.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I had four months of language, which helps me get by. Everyone 40 and younger is pretty fluent in English. Language is a great thing to have but not entirely necessary.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Very difficult. Don't come here.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No trains exist. Buses are forbidden and unsafe. Taxis are pretty okay and about US$4-$6 for anywhere in town.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
We have a Nissan Cube and have had no issues.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
US$200 per year. The housing compound has the slowest internet in the city, max 12mbps.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked smart phone.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
No issues with pets. No quarantines, decent vet care.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
The international school is about it.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are many.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Casual summers. Suits and dresses the rest of the year.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is substandard. The Embassy has two medical officers. We medevac for anything serious.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
The air quality varies. It's smoky in winter and can get very dusty in Summer, but we haven't really had any health problems because of it.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There are some children with nut allergies, and I know that eating out is very difficult for some. Seasonal allergies are a problem.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The winter rainy season is a challenge. The rest of the year makes it worth it. You can grow anything in this country.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The majority of kids go to the international school, which is adequate. The campus is new and very nice. There's also a Montessori school, which some have been happy with. That said, I've heard that some of our kids have had trouble, as the majority of the kids there are non-native English speakers.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The international school has an elevator.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There are a few wonderful options, all no more than 500 euro per month. The international school also has preschool; however, it is prohibitively expensive (around US$1100 per month).
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are karate, gymnastics, swimming, and dance classes here.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Around 70 Americans. The high majority of people absolutely love it here.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Eating, clubbing, game nights, dancing, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
My guess would be no. Homosexuality is still very taboo in Albania, with many LGBT youths beaten and exiled.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
All the religions get along very well here. There are no issues.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The travel all over Europe and throughout the Balkans has been wonderful. The beaches in Albania are stunning.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are mountains and coast here. There are gems everywhere and probably many more waiting to be discovered.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Honey, raki, handmade filigree jewelry, olive wood.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
We have been on so many trips and have still managed to save a ton of money. Nine months of the year, this is a beautiful place. The winters are cold and rainy, with only about 7 hours of sunlight per day.
The people here love Americans and we have never feared for our safety.
10. Can you save money?
Without a doubt.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That the winters were so gloomy.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Without a doubt.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Safe driving, credit cards, experiences with high prices.
4. But don't forget your:
Adventurous attitude, humor, cash.
5. Do you have any other comments?
This place is fantastic.