Tirana, Albania Report of what it's like to live there - 04/16/18
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?
Yes, this was our first post overseas as a family (and my first time living overseas).
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 are from Northern Virginia. The flight from Dulles usually connects in Frankfurt or Vienna and then onto Tirana.
3. How long have you lived here?
We have lived here almost 2 years.
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 in a beautiful 3-story stand-alone villa with a fenced-in small yard and an apartment-style pool in the community common area. There are about 20 other homes in our neighborhood. We are within walking distance to the largest mall (TEG) and grocery store (InterSpar), 8 minutes from the embassy, and 3 minutes from Tirana International School.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The cost of food here is very inexpensive compared to the prices in the States. Our family of 6 can eat out at nice restaurants for under $30. The produce is extremely fresh and if you're smart you can save a lot of money on food.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Ethnic spices and foods (salsas, seasoning mixes, chili powder, hot sauce, green chiles), canned white tuna, black beans, good paper towels and toilet paper (quality not bad here, but rolls seem SMALL), school snack foods, oatmeal, baking mixes, food coloring, and coconut oil.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Not a ton of variety in foods here but a few popular Indian, Sushi, and Mexican places.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy mail - DPO and Pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Amazing household help and childcare. Both are very affordable.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
One main indoor gym (Nobis) with indoor pool.
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 can be used at large retailers or some restaurants. Be prepared to always have cash on hand and carry small bills. ATMS are plentiful and the name brand ones are safe to use. Some will give leke or Euro.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. It's very easy to get by here. Most people speak English.
1. 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 drive a Honda minivan and have gotten around just fine. It's difficult to park it in the city, but we have loved being comfortable on our road trips. The roads outside of town can be rough but unless you're really going off the beaten path any car should be fine.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Very quick to install and pretty reliable. Good customer service.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Health & Safety:
1. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There are nuts in everything here and they do not understand food allergies because it's not common. My son is very allergic and we just stay away from all baked goods (hazelnuts are in all chocolate) and are very careful about what he eats. I have celiac disease and have been okay sticking with meat, veggies, rice, etc. Don't expect to find any gluten-free options in restaurants other than what is naturally gluten-free. There are gluten-free grocery items available in several stores (bread, pasta, crackers, cereal, etc.).
2. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Tirana definitely has four seasons. March can be very rainy, but then spring comes and it's amazing almost every day. Summer is hot, and winter is cool.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Our four kids are at Tirana International School, a QSI school and we have been very happy there. The campus is beautiful and the teachers and staff are all very friendly. They have great student-teacher ratios and the director listens to parents concerns and is open to changes. All of our kids have thrived at this school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
TIS has a reading specialist and has been very accommodating to my son with ADHD and processing issues. He has done very well there.
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 preschools to choose from (Puzzles, TES, TIS). Our kids are at TIS and love it. The classrooms are beautiful and there is so much enrichment that happens each day.
There are no day cares that I know of for English speakers, but TIS has opened a class for 18+months and there is a full-time option.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are not a lot of options outside of school. A few Kung Fu studios, a rock-climbing gym, and soccer.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Fairly small expat community. Most love living here and the morale is high.
2. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Travel is so easy from here. It's a beautiful country to see, but the bordering countries offer a lot as well. And cheap flights to European destinations!
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat. It's been an amazing 2 years and we just wish we had more time!