Tirana, Albania Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Tirana, Albania

Tirana, Albania 04/16/18

Background:

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).

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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.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We have lived here almost 2 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

US Embassy.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Embassy mail - DPO and Pouch.

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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.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

One main indoor gym (Nobis) with indoor pool.

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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.

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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.

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Transportation:

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.

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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.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Vodafone.

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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.).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Expat Life:

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.

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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!

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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!

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Tirana, Albania 08/02/16

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. I have lived in Kazakhstan, Chile, Moldova, and Cambodia.

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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?

Hometown in the Midwest. Fly through Vienna or Munich to Chicago. About 20 hours but quite comfortable.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Four years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Embassy housing includes both on- and off-compound housing. There are a few apartments but most employees live in villas. Overall the housing in quite nice. I live on compound which is great for pets and kids--but it can be overwhelming to always be with your colleagues and there is a bit of everyone knowing everything about your life.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

International food can be expensive, but overall there is good access to food at relatively cheap prices. The fish and produce are very good.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Sauces, cereal, and cleaning supplies without scent.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Good delivery and wide availability. There are a few Asian places, an Indian restaurant, a few Mexican-ish restaurants. The food in restaurants is very good and affordable.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

No.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO or diplomatic pouch.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

I have loved my household help. Price is about 500 lek an hour but very very good both with my daughter and the house.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Use cash.

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4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Not much.

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5. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes. It would be quite difficult to get around.

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Transportation:

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?

SUV especially if you plan to travel, but it doesn't need to be huge.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is good. I routinely use Facetime or stream without issues.

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Pets:

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?

Yes.

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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?

Embassy mostly. Some people in development have found limited work on the local market but the pay isn't great and it can be hard to find.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

No more than any other place.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

You will need to be medevaced if anything bad happens but we are close to the rest of Europe.

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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?

Overall quite good.

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4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

No. The winter is rainy and grey but not terrible.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Wet in the winter, hot in the summer.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are several choices for pre-school and kindergarten.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Not much.

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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 several good choices for pre-school and kindergarten.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes. Rock climbing. Dance classes. Albanians love children.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Medium to small.

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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?

Movies, bars, restaurants, going to peoples' homes, hiking.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This is a great family post.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes. While the LGBT community is not completely accepted, there is a vibrant NGO scene with LGBT activists that are working to build a safe and open community.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

This is still a conservative society in terms of gender roles.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Getting to know the local people. Traveling around the country.

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7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

You can save money, the food is great, and it is relatively safe.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes. I have stayed longer than originally planned.

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Tirana, Albania 08/02/15

Background:

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.

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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.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We are two years into a three-year tour. We extended our tour immediately upon arriving.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government

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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.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries are very cheap.

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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.

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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.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Flies in the summer.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO and Pouch. We are very lucky.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are some.

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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.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Very difficult. Don't come here.

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Transportation:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pets:

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.

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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.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are many.

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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.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

None

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

The international school has an elevator.

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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).

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

There are karate, gymnastics, swimming, and dance classes here.

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Expat Life:

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.

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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.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

All.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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10. Can you save money?

Without a doubt.

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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.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Without a doubt.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Safe driving, credit cards, experiences with high prices.

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4. But don't forget your:

Adventurous attitude, humor, cash.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

This place is fantastic.

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Tirana, Albania 08/12/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Our previous post was in Manila, Philippines.

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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?

Florida. Depending on your travel route, the trip could take either one or two days. From Dulles, we took Austrian Air to Vienna, had a 5 hour layover in Vienna, and then a direct flight to Tirana. When returning to Florida, we prefer to use our overnight stop to make the trip easier. We take Austrian or Lufthansa to Vienna, Vienna to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Orlando. These are United code shares. Other options include Alitalia (Delta code share) through Rome, but I do not recommend flying Alitalia if you can avoid it. Friends and family have found flights on Turkish Airlines through Istanbul and Lufthansa through Munich.

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3. How long have you lived here?

A year and a half.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Embassy - our second Foreign Service tour.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Post housing is generally very good. There are four neighborhoods in which Embassy personnel are housed:

The Ridge - first choice for families with children and dogs. This is the Embassy compound, with comfortable houses, easy access to the pool, gym, and playground, and lots of green space. Children aged 4 and over can run free. The driving commute to the Embassy is 5-10 minutes, and walking is 15-20 minutes. The big park with the artificial lake is within walking distance.

Blur - second choice for families with children and dogs. Newly constructed townhouses inside a gated neighborhood with small yards and a community pool. There are several families who live here, and it is next to TEG, the big shopping mall with a movie theater, Carrefour, etc. There is also a bowling alley and rec center close by. Commute to Embassy is 15-20 minutes.

Touch of Sun - great choice for singles, couples, and people with cats. Very nice, newly constructed apartments with a pool and a playground. A lot of expats live in these apartments.

Selite/Dianamo - suitable for all types of families. These are nice, big houses that are built in the Albanian style in an Albanian neighborhood. Request this area if you are looking for an Albanian experience. Couples, families, singles, and people with pets all live in this neighborhood, and they seem to be generally pretty happy.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries are relatively cheap, even at the most expensive stores (Conad and Carrefour). Produce and staples such as eegs purchased from the local markets are clean, high quality, and very inexpensive. You can find almost everything you need.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

We are a consumables post (for the present time). We shipped peanut butter, Mexican food, unscented laundry detergent and stain removers, and toiletries. You do not need to ship anything typical of Italian cooking.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There are suflaque (greek style pita sandwiches), pizza, and byrek (greek style pastries filled with meat, cheese, spinach) take-away stands all over. There is also Kolonat, which is a fake McDonald's. A Cinnabon just opened up in the Blok. There are plenty of good restaurants, including Asian and Indian. A few places will deliver. There is a bagel place close to the Embassy that has decent bagels and bagel sandwiches, especially if you can't remember what a NY style bagel actually tastes like.

It is hard to get a good steak here, but there are a couple of restaurants that bring their beef in from Western Europe. A restaurant called D-Town recently opened that specializes in American food and is the only place in town for Sunday brunch.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Bees and wasps!!! Termites & ants, but insect treatments are available. Mosquitos. I've heard of scorpions, but they are the little ones all over the mediterranean region.
However, these are all normal insect problems. Nothing dramatic around here.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We have diplomatic pouch. There are rumors of getting a DPO at some point in the future.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Domestic help averages at US$3-5/hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

The Ridge gym is great and is access is included with your AERA membership. There is a big park with lots of paths for runners, including those who like to run on uneven terrain. There are two yoga studios close to the Embassy.

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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?

We use our credit card in many places and the ATM at the Embassy. We have also used ATMs around town on occasion, especially if we need euros.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

It depends on how much you want to converse with the locals, but you can definitely get by with only knowing a few phrases and greetings. Speaking more Albanian makes life easier, but is not absolutely necessary in Tirana. It is necessary in the villages.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes - sidewalks are intermittent and uneven. Elevators are occasional. There are open man holes scattered around like traps for the unwary.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis, yes, although they are not cheap. I don't know if buses are approved by RSO, but expats use them all the time. Albania is not on Eurorail. Most locals take a mini-bus called a furgone for long distance trips.

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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?

I strongly recommend bringing a SUV with good ground clearance for the roads, and a high safety rating. The driving here is erratic and traffic rules are optional. However, the driving is not so bad that it will keep you at home.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes and it is more or less reliable.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

AERA sells good plans with data. Bring an unlocked smart phone and you'll be able to use it.

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Pets:

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 and yes; good vet care is available. The kennel varies in quality of care, but there are housekeepers and babysitters who are happy to also be dog sitters and walkers.

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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?

Yes! But you have to search for them. This has been a great post for me in finding opportunities to work in my field. If you have a graduate degree look into teaching classes at the local English-speaking universities.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many spouses volunteer at a local orphanage.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business dress at work (suits, etc.). In public, workout clothes and sneakers would be out of place, but in general, there is no dress code.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Snakes on the Ridge.

In general, no. Tirana is a very safe city. Last year there were a couple of car bombs, but they had nothing to do with the U.S. Embassy. There are long standing blood feuds and we have been instructed not to go to certain coffee shops owned by certain families.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The medical care in Albania is in general very poor, but the Embassy's health unit is very good and is currently staffed by a FSHP and a NP who is an EFM. For mid-pregnancy OB ultrasounds you are sent to Hygeia, a relatively new Greek hospital, and there is at least one good doctor who does these screenings. There is a good dentist here, and the cost is much lower. I have heard mixed reviews about a new dermatologist.

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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 is, in general, good. It can get dusty in the summer and smoky in the winter, but the air quality has rarely kept me indoors. Seasonal allergies abound at certain times of the year.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

There are four seasons, with beautiful springs and falls and relatively mild winters* and summers. This is mediterranean climate. The sun is STRONG. Bring sun gear and sunscreen for protection.
*The winter before we arrived was reported to be extremely rainy and cold, but it rarely snowed.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Embassy children go to Tirana International School, World Academy of Tirana, and Viktor Hygo (the French school). Parents report that they are generally pleased with all of these options. We do have a few high school-aged children at post, but the population is mostly children under age 13.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Special needs children will have challenges finding support in this country, but there are some resources available.

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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?

My son went to Puzzles Preschool, located immediately outside the Ridge gates. I cannot recommend this school enough. Daily half day rate is 20 euros, 5 half days/week are 300 euros/month, and full time is 400 euros/month. There is an English speaking and an Albanian speaking program. The English speaking teachers (one teaches preschool and another kindergarten) are the owners and are both fantastic.
Babysitters charge US$5 (500 leke) per hour. There are some wonderful babysitters whom I would absolutely recommend, and others who will keep your children safe but pretty much let them do whatever they want. Albanians are not big on rules. Many of the babysitters speak English, but some do not.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

TIS offers sports programs, and AERA organizes swim, soccer, and ballet lessons.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

This is a medium-sized Embassy with around 50 direct hires. However, there is a relatively large expat community here in Tirana, and expat social groups are very active. Morale is generally high, and has significantly improved within the Embassy community in the last year and a half.

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2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

YES.

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3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Albanians do not in general accept homosexuality, but I have not been aware of any incidences of violence. There is an active LGBT group that holds events unmolested. I'd say it is a good post for LGBT community members.

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4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Other than non-violent intolerance of homosexuals, Albanians are incredibly accepting of diversity. This is a secular country where religion is a personal choice. There are not very many people of color living in this country.

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5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Travel - we have been to Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Vienna, Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Paris, and a few places in Albania thus far. All with a toddler in tow. We hope to make it to Greece and Istanbul before we leave in a few months.
Food - the grocery shopping is straightforward at Carrefour and Conad, and the local markets are wonderful. The fresh produce is AMAZING. This is a good post for anyone who likes to cook. As for restaurants, Albanian food is good but menus are repetitive.

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6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Cable cars up Mt. Dajti, which is 15 minutes from the Ridge; walking in the big park with the lake. There are also wineries and nice clean beaches within day trip distance of Tirana.

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7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Albania is a wonderful country and a great post. Special advantages include fantastic fresh produce, friendly locals, great weather (4 distinct seasons and mild winters), and many opportunities to take trips outside of the city in the Balkans by car and Western Europe by plane. Driving in Albania can be a trial--bring a nice, comfortable SUV with good ground clearance and lots of air bags. You can definitely save money here, especially if you do not travel.

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8. Can you save money?

Absolutely.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely - we would have extended if we had had that option.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Canned produce.

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience for the roads and driving. And bring a SUV.

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4. Do you have any other comments?

I have loved our time here, and hope to make it back someday! This is a fantastic post for small children, especially at the Ridge.

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Tirana, Albania 05/18/13

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Have lived in: San Salvador, Panama City, and Santiago.

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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?

Home base is Salt Lake City, Utah. It takes about 24 hours door to door. Most connections are through Vienna, Rome, or Munich -- then on to the U.S.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Assigned from 2011-2013

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Embassy

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

There are three main housing types for Americans with the embassy: Homes for families with young children, plus a few special positions-- like the Ambassador and DCM -- are located on a housing compound. The compound is maintained by the embassy's grounds crew and includes a swimming pool, gym, playground, and lots of green space for the kids to run around in. Nobody can get on or off the compound without going through security, so children often play and roam freely. This has been the most ideal living situation we've experienced with our three young children. Homes were built by Canadian contractors in the 90s and are very American in style, with wood floors, central a/c and heat, drywall instead of concrete walls, carpeting in bedrooms, etc. Housing on the Ridge also includes a garage and a ton of storage space. This is the most storage we've ever had and it is unheard of in Europe. The Ridge is about half a mile from the embassy. Singles, couples, and some families live in large Albanian homes about fifteen minutes' drive away in an older residential area of Tirana. Homes there are larger than those on the Ridge, have nice enclosed yards with citrus trees, and are of Albanian construction. Heating and cooling can be a frustration in some of these homes, but you do have more space. A third area is located next to the large shopping center and Carrefour grocery store. These are very new townhouses and apartments. The apartments in particular seem to have nice amenities, including access to a community swimming pool. They are spacious, and about a ten- to fifteen-minutes' drive from the embassy, but they are located a little further out of town (about 3.5 miles from the embassy). Although housing on the Ridge has been ideal for us, if you don't have children, or if your children are older, you might not appreciate all the children and close encounters with your colleagues from work.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Local produce is very cheap,and is often purchased at small markets near your home. Locally-consumed products, like rice, pasta, tomato sauces, fish and lamb, is all relatively cheap. Imported goods are very expensive. Overall, our grocery bill here is higher than in Washington, but we purchase a lot of imported goods (Italian cheeses, imported produce, imported meats). If you have access to the diplomatic pouch at the embassy, there are few things you won't be able to get here. Some things require a little searching (i.e., horseradish was spotted in a German drug store in the Block neighborhood, vanilla beans are sold at one grocery store on the highway to the airport, and one store near Embassy Row sells cheddar cheese). This is currently a consumables post, but a lot of people think that will change. With the opening of Carrefour last year, a lot of products are now available that weren't before.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Salsa is hard to find, and the stuff they stock in some of the stores is pretty nasty. Chinese ingredients are available but expensive - soy sauce is like liquid gold. If you don't use it much, that is not a problem. Tortillas can be ordered through the pouch, and there are some available on the local market. Vanilla extract is a must. I have never seen any on the local economy - they use powdered vanilla here - and it won't come through the pouch. We use peppermint extract around the holidays a lot, too. The commissary at the embassy has improved drastically and now carries a great selection of everything from holiday baking goods and specialty foods to frozen meats like ground beef, good steaks, roasts, and ribs.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

U.S. fast food is totally non-existent. Even McDonald's has not yet come to Albania. There are a couple of knock-offs -- Albanian Fried Chicken, and Kolonat - like McDonald's -- but my family went once and has not returned. Fast food here really revolves around pizza, gyro-type sandwiches, and local meatballs (qofte). There are also a few rotisserie chicken places that are good and cheap. For nicer restaurants, there is a selection of very good places. 97% of restaurants in Albania serve the same menu of pasta, thin-crust pizza, and grilled meats. The 3% of original offerings, however, are very good and very reasonable. There is good Thai, decent Chinese, very good sushi, semi-terrible-but-not-too-bad-when-you-really-need-a-fix Mexican restaurant, and a handful of very good European continental cuisine restaurants with creative chefs in the kitchen. If you want a nice dinner out, there are places to go to and you won't be disappointed. The most my wife and I have spent on the nicest restaurant we have found for dinner was $75 for both of us, not including wine. It was an amazing meal.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None that would bother most people. I think we have fewer insect issues here than we did in the U.S. We just discovered this last year that they have lightning bugs in Albania! (Not a problem -- it was fun for the kids). We didn't remember seeing them our first year, but they are out at night during the late spring/early summer evenings.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We use the Diplomatic Pouch at the embassy. With restrictions on lithium batteries being removed, the Pouch covers about 95% of the things we want shipped. Liquids are still a problem, but we've managed to cope. Mailing out is restrictive - only the size of the smallest USPS flat-rate box. However, product returns can go out in their original packing.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Readily available and not too expensive. Going rates are around $4.00 an hour. Many of the nannies (particularly the younger ones) speak very good English.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

U.S. Embassy employees have access to the gym on the housing compound, although for some people who don't live on the compound it is a hassle. There are a couple of very nice gyms in the cities, but their prices can be exorbitant.

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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?

ATMs are all over the city and work fine with U.S. bank cards. We use our debit card at Carrefour, and that's it. Everywhere else we use cash. There is a bank with an ATM inside the embassy.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Some. There is a Christian church near the embassy that does have an English service available. I've heard that the Catholics hold an English mass, but I'm not sure when or where. Mormon services are all in Albanian, but one congregation does provide English interpretation for foreigners.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

There is an English-language newspaper, but almost everyone gets news off the internet. AFN is available. More and more people are using internet-based streaming for news and entertainment, either through slingbox or a VPN service.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Inside Tirana, very little. Cashiers at grocery stores and waiters at restaurants all tend to speak a little English or can find somebody that does. The local language can come in handy in some situations, but not generally on a daily basis. If you leave Tirana, though, it becomes a little more necessary.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Tirana would be a very difficult city to live in with physical disabilities. Sidewalks are non-existent in many parts of the city. Many buildings are not reasonably accessible. There is a burgeoning disability awareness, but it is still nascent. Many multi-story buildings have elevators, but they require you to go up a flight of stairs to get into them.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

You can use local taxis. The dispatcher at the embassy can call a taxi for you. There are very few local trains, and they are in deplorable condition. Buses are all over the city, but none of the expats use them.

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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?

High clearance is nice, even inside the city. Roads, including major highways, will go from beautifully paved to gravel in the blink of an eye. Construction means lots of potholes, some that would swallow a small sedan's car tires. Missing manhole covers and sewer grates are normal all over the city, making dangerous pitfalls for smaller cars. During the winter, with the rain and the mud, we have used our four-wheel-drive in areas where you wouldn't think it was necessary. However, the power of a larger car with higher clearance has to be balanced with the inconvenience of parking a large American-style SUV in a European city.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, at about $25 per month. Speed varies, though. The Ridge was wired many years ago, and so it cannot accept higher bandwidths and has the slowest connections. But you can still stream movies and television there. Off the compound, you can get slightly faster connections.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

For U.S. Embassy employees and family members, there are plans available through the embassy that are very reasonable. About $15-$20 per month.

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Pets:

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?

Unsure. The biggest concern pet owners seem to have is getting the pets shipped in and out with connecting flights out of Tirana. Airline policies, coupled with State Department restrictions on what airlines you can use, seem to be an enormous headache for pet owners here.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

We don't have pets, but we have heard that the pet hospital is very good, and that the vet/owner is also very good. He speaks perfect English. I believe they may have a boarding/kennel there as well.

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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?

Teachers can get jobs, although they don't pay extremely well. There are a handful of jobs at the embassy for spouses.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business with suit and tie at work. Women are generally fond of tight-fitting clothing and the highest heels possible. Older men and women generally dress in suits (men) and black (women), even to go out for a stroll. But the younger generation is definitely dressing like modern Europe.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

No. This was one of the reasons why we selected this post. You can walk around Tirana at any time of day or night without serious concerns. Crime does occur, but Americans are not targeted. It is just a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. We have not heard of any Americans being victims of crime here during our two years, except for perhaps minor issues like a bag being taken that was left on a table in a public place or a cell phone getting swiped while you were distracted. Things like carjackings are unheard of. Albanians LOVE LOVE LOVE Americans, almost to an absurd degree. If you ever need help, you'll have no problem finding someone to assist you.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

There are a couple of hospitals that can handle minor and moderate health issues. The Hygeia Hospital outside town is supposed to be very nice. People who have gone there have said the inside looks very modern and nice, just like in the U.S. The American hospital in town is Turkish-run, but has modern equipment for standard issues. Anything serious gets medevac'd to London. Unless you have ongoing serious health issues, I wouldn't let health care necessarily deter you from coming.

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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?

Relatively speaking, the air quality in Tirana is excellent. I cannot recall any days when there was such heavy smog from pollution that you could feel it (as in Santiago, Mexico City, or Beijing). If you get out of the city and look down, you can often see the brown haze that hangs over the city, but it is no worse than what I see at home in Salt Lake when we head up the mountains there. Amongst all capital cities where we could be assigned, I would guess Tirana would rank in the top 25%.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

We have four seasons, although conditions are not extreme. Summer can get very hot (into the 90s during some days), accentuated by the fact that air conditioning is not universal in office buildings, restaurants, etc. Obviously, the embassy, shopping malls, theaters, etc. are all cooled very nicely. Fall is short but very pleasant. Leaves on the trees in the mountains do turn colors. Winters are cold, gray, and wet. It snows in Albania, but almost never in Tirana -- and it never sticks in Tirana. During the winter you will get tired of the constant rain and mud. Spring is beautiful but always too short, with very pleasant days.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The Tirana International School has been just okay with our elementary-school children. We have two children that attend, and the oldest is in second grade this year. We have loved the teachers. Administration has been okay, not the best (nor the worst) that we've experienced. The facilities are bad, but a new school campus is already under construction, and this issue should be resolved by next summer, 2014. Classes are small, which we love for our young kids, but we would not be thrilled for high-school children. Available extra curricular activities are limited by the number of students It's hard to have a high-school orchestra if you only have 25 students. On the other hand, some families have said they really enjoy the smaller classes, and their children get a lot more attention. Other than TIS, there are a couple of other options. Embassy families in the past have used GDQ, a local school run by missionaries, but there are no embassy children attending there currently. Embassy kids have also attended the French School. TIS is halfway between the embassy and the Ridge housing compound, about a three-to-four block in from either direction.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

This would be a difficult post for special-needs kids. I do not believe TIS makes many accommodations. I'm not sure about the other schools, but they are all fairly small, and special education is not well-developed in Albania.

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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?

Some families have used local preschool and daycare. There is a place behind the embassy that some families have liked. Many families just hire a nanny.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Some. For very young kids, soccer and ballet are offerred by private teachers on the Ridge. I've heard that some families have their kids in Tae Kwon Do or karate. The school has some sports programs as well. If you look, you can find most things here, but they may be a bit inconvenient, and facilities may be something of a compromise.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Medium, maybe? Most of the international community seems to be tied either to another embassy or to a Christian missionary community. There are quite a few other European expat communities here. A lot of the community is centered around the school or work.

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2. Morale among expats:

It varies. Most people agree that you need to get out of town at least every few months, even just to Italy, to relax and escape. However, people generally love living here. Family life is excellent. Morale for embassy employees is currently low because of managerial issues at work, but turnover during summer/fall 2013 is going to be huge, and an entire new community will be here. Based on the country: morale is good. Based on work: morale is not great.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

A lot of people entertain at home. Couples and singles in the Selite/Dinamo area get together often at local restaurants, bars, and at each other's homes. Families with kids on the Ridge often get together for evening activities, including playground parties, outdoor movies, pool parties, etc. If you have kids, birthday parties are a huge deal, often involving the entire family. For singles, there are a few clubs and pubs that are decent, and a couple of sports bars that aren't bad.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It is excellent for families with young kids but can be difficult for families with high-school children if your kids are very social and enjoy going out. Couples can do a lot of exploring and enjoy some of the travel opportunities. This can be a great city for singles, if they aren't looking for a booming social life. Entertainment in Tirana is limited, making it difficult if your social life is dependent on going out. There are some great restaurants, clubs, bars, etc., but after two years, everything starts to look stale. There just isn't a great variety. A lot of people entertain at home.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

The LGBT social scene is small but very active and very young. Older couples or individuals (i.e., over age 35) may have trouble finding other similarly-aged couples or individuals to socialize with. Most of the active LGBT crowd are in their late teens and early twenties, with a few exceptions. Many of them are still students. The government is very tolerant and goes out of its way to protect the LGBT community, so couples have nothing to worry about with respect to official harassment. Socially, though, Albania is still very conservative, and couples that engage in public displays of affection may attract unwanted comments or attention. As a foreigner, it is extremely unlikely that you would have to worry about physical attacks. If you are a little discreet, you can enjoy the city without any concerns. There are a handful of LGBT expats currently in Tirana, and all of them seem to be enjoying their time here.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not serious ones. Individuals with darker skin (of Indian or Pakistani descent, for example) may be mistaken for Roma, but it isn't serious enough to impact your stay here. African Americans may be stared at somewhat, simply because there are almost none here. Non-white (i.e., African, Asian, Hispanic) expats may get an occasional comment, but for the most part Albanians are very tolerant people. Religion is a non-issue and the Albanians are very tolerant of all religious communities. Gender prejudice can be an issue, but mostly in the home. Women will notice some differences in the way they are treated in comparison with their male colleagues on occasion, but for the most part it is fairly mild, and people get over it quickly once they get to know you.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

We loved taking family vacations around Europe while serving at a 20% hardship post -- the best of both worlds. It is surreal to drive out onto a dark blue Mediterranean beach with white pebbles -- not a soul to be seen for miles -- and jump into the Adriatic all by yourself. I wouldn't say that Albanian cuisine is a highlight, but there are specific food items that I have loved here: the olive oil is delicious, the seasonal fruit (particularly the cherries in May-July) is wonderful, the availability of fresh produce, feta cheese, and good Italian cheeses, and charcuterie. We have loved living on "The Ridge" housing compound. It has been a highlight for our family, and we would love to take this housing arrangement with us to every post while we have young children.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Beaches in the summer are beautiful, and the very best ones are only a few hours away from Tirana. There are some old ruins worth exploring, although nothing on par with some other spots in Europe. The mountain communities are beautiful.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Wood carvings and chests. Woven wool rugs. Local artwork. Lacework. I wouldn't say Albania has a huge souvenir market (and a lot of the stuff is imported garbage), but there are a few very nice things you can pick up.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Albania is a cheap European post with excellent travel opportunities. The cost of living here can be fairly low. Flights to much of Europe, particularly Italy, can run $125 round trip. Albania is still off the beaten path, and if you venture out of Tirana, you can find some beautiful and still undiscovered spots. The beaches (the good ones) are a few hours away and can be breathtaking, but good accommodations there are still limited. Eating out is extremely cheap, and there are several good restaurants with very nice ambiance -- although the variety is limited.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't go crazy with travel. This post will allow you to save a good amount of money or spend it like crazy. A lot depends on your own personal priorities.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

ABSOLUTELY! This has been a wonderful family post. We've managed to save money. We've seen Europe. The Albanians love Americans, and the city gets more accessible and easier to live in every year.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

fancy, low-clearance car.

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3. But don't forget your:

patience while behind the wheel, rain boots for the winter, and willingness to go off the beaten path.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Anything by Ismael Kadare.

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Tirana, Albania 12/27/12

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

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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?

Our home base is DC, and it takes about 16 hours with one layover in Europe, usually Vienna, Munich, Frankfort, or Rome.

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3. How long have you lived here?

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and has been living in Tirana for two years, a first expat experience.)

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

We live on the Ridge, the U.S. Embassy compound that is like 1950s America. The grass is always cut, the kids run free, there is a playground, a pool and a soccer field. For families with kids, this is somewhat ideal. Some people don't like it because it is such an American bubble, and your neighbors are right there all the time, but we have loved it. It is about a 5-minute commute from the Embassy. There is other housing - some in the city (big Albanian houses) and some in the Blur neighborhood about 10 minutes past the Ridge. It's nice and is right next to the big, new shopping mall and local Chuck-E-Cheese-type kids play area.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Fruit and vegetables and cheap and good. It's very nice. Everything else isn't that much more expensive, if at all. You can find most things.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Since this is a consumables post, I recommend people bringing any of these they use a lot: mostly canned goods items - black beans, refried beans, chili beans, canned green chilis, salsa (anything Mexican related - it's hard to find a pepper spicier than a green pepper if you like heat, though some can be found if you try hard enough), soups, cream of mushroom/chicken if you cook with that, marinades, bbq sauce, salad dressings, creamed corn if you cook with that, peanut butter, syrup and anything liquid used in baking. Laundry detergent and stain removers for clothes/carpet. Deodorant that you know works for you.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

This is one of the downfalls of Albania. There is not much food variety. If you like thin crust pizza and pasta, you should be good. And it is usually pretty cheap. Besides that, you have to search a little harder. There are a few places that are different, and they deliver! Chinese, Thai, and a new Mexican restaurant that just opened and is ok.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Not at all. I've seen fewer bugs here in my house than I did back in the States. I have heard of a couple of scorpion sightings, but have not experienced that myself.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch. We can get pretty much anything that isn't liquid, has a lithium battery, or supersized. Mailing out is the main problem. You can only send out envelopes and book-sized packages.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Nannies and housekeepers are available, and relatively inexpensive, about 500 leke an hour (100 leke ~ 1 dollar)

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

On the Ridge there is a gym. I've heard of other gyms in the city, but I think they are pretty expensive.

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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?

We've used credit cards occasionally at the big stores, but that's about it. There's an ATM at the Embassy, and there are a few others in malls that have been used without any incidents.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

I know the Catholic church has an English mass and the Mormon church has English translation. There are some other churches. I know there's a big missionary community, I just don't know where their churches are or if they are in English.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

AFN is available, most people have VPN to stream Hulu, Netflix, and other websites.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Not much. Most of the people at the stores know enough English to get by. Hand gestures work for those who don't. Learn a couple basic phrases, and you should be fine.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Bad sidewalks, no ramps, not great.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Not recommended. Don't use them because of pickpockets.

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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?

Four-wheel drive, high clearance. Some people have small cars, and they are fine for the city, but it you want to get out and about, we'd recommend bigger cars.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is available, and the speed is fine. Though there are times in the evening when you know everyone is streaming because it gets a little choppy and slow. Internet goes out occasionally, but overall it's decent.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Through the Embassy, they have plans.

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Pets:

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?

I don't know about this one, but I've heard both good and bad stories about people getting their pet into the country.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Someone just took their dog to the vet when he was sick, and I think it was a good experience. There are pet sitters available.

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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?

Nope.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Most people wear normal DC standards of business dress.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Not really. People love Americans here. There are no "bad" parts of town. Just be as conscious as you would in any major city, and you should be fine.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

This is probabaly why this post is still considered a "Hardship" post. There is the Health Unit at the embassy, which is great for the average cold and random doctor visit. Anything else that is considered major would probably require you to be medivac'd to London. Just don't get seriously sick or injured here and you should be fine.

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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?

I hear that the air quality isn't the best, and there are some days where there is smoke in the air, so you can see the pollution. But over all, the air quality has not been an issue. We also live on a hill, so that might make a difference.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Climate is great. Really hot in July and August. Rainy in Nov-Jan. Beautiful the rest of the time.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

All of the kids I know of go to Tirana International School, which is right behind the Ridge. For younger kids it's fine. As kids get older, it is harder for them because there are smaller classes of higher grades, and the curriculum isn't what it should be, or so I've heard.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Not many. There are stairs up to most of the classrooms. One child had broken her foot and was on crutches, and before she got the hang of them, she couldn't make it up the stairs for half of her classes and just went home for that half. I have heard of an Albanian woman who has worked with Autistic children.

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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?

Both are available, but like most places, it is pretty expensive. I hear they are decent. There are options for English or Albanian-speaking classes.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

There have been ballet, Tae Kwan Do, and soccer classes offered. There are tennis courts and people have had a private instructor come and teach.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Not very big.

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2. Morale among expats:

I think it depends on who you ask. Home/ community morale is pretty good. Work morale is currently pretty low.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

It is what you make it. I think it's decent at the moment.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

You can make it the expereince you want it to be. I don't know how good it is (or is not) for singles, but some of the couples I know of get out a lot and really look into all the events that are offered. It's a little more difficult with families. Overall, there just isn't a lot to do. It's a small city for a capital. Things are changing, but it's still small. You can get out and about in the country, and there are some neat things to see.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

There has been a big push in the LGBT community, but that is about all I know. I don't have a feel for what it is like for that community.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

It is a pretty homogenous, patriarchal, country, so if you aren't white, you stick out, and if you aren't male, they may think you somewhat incompetent. But I haven't heard of much racial prejudice, nor have I experienced overt gender prejudice. People seem to be pretty accepting of religion, maybe because there hadn't been religion during the communist era.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Highlights have been the great travel opportunities. We've been to 11 contries since we've been here, plus a couple trips back to the States.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

There are beaches, mountains, caves, historical ruins/cities, and lakes. If you travel within Albania, there are some pretty places to visit. One of the best things about Albania is its close proximity to the rest of Europe and realitively inexpensive flights - Have fun!

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Antique dowry chests (beautiful!) Venecian Masks (The guy who makes them has a factory here where you can pick them up for cheaper prices than in Venice) Tablecloths, and other random things

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

This is a great post to live in for many reasons. The best part for us is that Albania is an inexpensive country to live in, so you can save, but the having rest of Europe right at our fingertips has given us some great travel opportunities.

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11. Can you save money?

If you are overindulgent about when, and how often, you travel, maybe not. But yes, I think it is very possible to save. It is also currently at 20%, so the student loans coverage is available.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yup, though two years was enough. Maybe if the work moral was better would we have wanted to stay longer.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

American standards for order, organization, and obeying rules.

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3. But don't forget your:

patience, car horn, rain boots, Mexican food cooking supplies, and gumption. This will be needed when driving around, and trying to get those Albanian grannies from getting in front of you in line since queuing is not yet a thing here.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

While there is some traffic, it's really not bad at all, especially compared to some of the other countries you may be coming from. Our commissary is getting more and more organized, so runs to the commissary in Kosovo are getting better items stocked up like meats and cheeses. This is a great post if you have young kids!

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Tirana, Albania 10/01/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Yes

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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?

From Washington DC with connections the trip will take you about 14 hours through Munich or Vienna. There is more to do at the Munich airport if you have a choice between the two.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Summer 2009- Summer 2011

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

The Embassy compound is nice with a playground and pool and is easy walk to the Embassy. The embassy also offers housing downtown and just outside the city. Traffic can be bad and embassy housing outside the city usually required a 25 minute commute each way.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Most Americans shop at Conad(Italian), Euromax(German)and/or Mercator(Slovenian) grocery stores. The food at these stores is good quality but it can get expensive for Tirana. Unlike many smaller stores, these stores have generators. The power goes out many times a day on some days, so keeping food refrigerated and frozen is an issue.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, salsa, tortilla chips, chicken broth, and any ethnic food items, baby and child meds, Dramamine (for driving through the mountains), Pepto and Immodium.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

People seem to get sick here a lot from food and water, you cannot drink the water. The local fast food is byrek- cheese, spinach or meat baked in phyllo dough. There are not American chains here but some of the Americans like Albanian Fried Chicken (like KFC) and Kolonat (like McDonalds). Eating out here is inexpensive, but groceries can be expensive. There is not a lot of variety here but good food is available. Make sure to look at expiration dates when buying food at the grocery store, you will see expired food being sold. Most food you find in restaurants is Italian.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There is some variety at the grocery stores mentioned above, but it can be difficult to find ethnic foods. There is also a little German store that tends to carry a lot of difficult to find items. There is also an American store in Selite run mby the missionary community which sells American food items. The embassy is also trying to expand its minimal commissary to offer more foods that are difficult to find here. Vegetarians seem to do well here.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

We didn't have any problems with insects, but did find a few scorpions in our house. I'm not sure if they were poisonous.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch mail through the embassy takes about 3 weeks.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Nannies can be hard to find depending on your timing. Domestic help is very affordable and easy to find. Both charge around $3-$4/hour. The Mike Center near the US embassy has a babysitter training and referral program, but expect a babysitter with minimal experience from there.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes but outside gyms can be very expensive if they are decent quality. There is a gym, pool and tennis courts all located on the embassy compound.

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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?

Be very careful about using credit cards and ATMs here, there is a risk. There is an ATM at the US embassy, and many places only take cash.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are some English speaking services available at Grace Church in Dinamo and the Catholic Church on the Lana river downtown.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

There are some English speaking TV stations on DigiTalb, Albanian cable and on American Forces Network TV if you get a box from the US embassy.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Older people generally do not speak English, but some young do. Knowing basic niceties, phrases to ask directions and grocery store vocabulary will get you by.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

This city is not at all accessible for someone in a wheelchair or with limited mobility.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

There are a few trustworthy taxis, but most will rip you off if you're not a local. We were advised not to take public transportation, but not forbidden to do so.

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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?

Roads here are getting much better but can still be pretty rough in some areas. I would also keep the car locked only because there are a lot of beggars knocking on your car windows, but I have not heard of carjacking here. Traffic is crazy, so bring something that will keep you safe, but that you don't mind getting a little banged up.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes but it goes in and out all the time. It costs about $30/month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Cell phones are expensive here as are minute plans. The embassy has a good plan for employees and families.

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Pets:

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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

I don't know the quality but pet care/vets are available.

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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?

No!

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Dress code for work is the same as in the states and in public, but Albanian women dress in more revealing, tight clothes and generally wear high heels when out.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There was rioting last January that resulted in 3 deaths revolving around elections. Petty crime is also a concern, I've heard on city buses especially but we never took them. Security here was much more an issue in the past than it is now. I felt relatively safe here as far as crime is concerned. However, Albanians are not particularly safety conscious compared to US standards and driving here is crazy so be prepared for fender benders.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care here is poor and anything major requires a trip outside the country. The embassy health unit is fairly good but small. There are a couple American missionary doctors here that are often used by Americans. The air quality in Tirana is not great. People also frequently get sick from the food and/or water, especially in the summer.

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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?

Air quality in Tirana is not great and car exhaust can be nauseating. Move a little outside the city for better air.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Weather here is relatively mild and much like Washington DC. Winters can be wet and snow is very unusual. Summers are hot and can be dry one year and humid the next.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

We were very please with Tirana International School, but some families with high school aged children were not. A few people sent their children to GDQ run by the missionary community and were happy with it. There is also a Montessori school.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?


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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?

The Montessori school has daycare and preschool that appeared to be good. TIS has a preschool that we were very happy with. There is a local preschool with an international program called Topolino that was gaining popularity. There is also an Albanian daycare next to the embassy that some Americans use and seems to have mixed reviews called the Mike Center. The Mike Center planned to open another location with an international program in 2011.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

There are sports programs for students at TIS. There is a new soccer field on the embassy compound and soccer lessons are offered periodically. I have heard there are martial arts offered in Tirana and there is a dance studio that offers dance lessons by the soccer stadium.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Fairly small, you will know almost everyone. There are also many American missionaries here.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There are many bars, clubs, and good restaurants. You can go see the symphony orchestra and the opera. There are art openings and film screenings often. People tend to entertain a lot from home. The cafe scene here is also big and people go out to drink coffee and sit for hours.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Tirana is a rapidly developing city. Most singles and couples without children like it here. There was not a lot to do with young children when we first arrived, but there are increasingly more things to do with children. There are indoor playgrounds for babies and toddlers at most shopping malls and a new mall has an indoor ice skating rink. There are also a number of outdoor cafes and resorts with swimming pools and playgrounds, one with a few zoo animals. There are beaches nearby, although most of the clean beaches are at least a 4 hour drive.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?


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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

I'm not sure about racial prejudices. If you look different, you will get some looks, only because there aren't many other nationalities here. Albania is mostly Muslim, and there are some Christians. Because Albania was under communism for so long, most people are not very religious. People here seem very religiously tolerant. This is still a very male dominated society, and women in general are not treated equally.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Travel- we have enjoyed traveling quite a bit in and out of Albania. It's probably one of the last places on earth without American chains like McDonalds. You can see amazing historical sites and ruins up close. Albanians love children and you can bring them anywhere, but be ready for strangers to try to hold, hug, and give candy to your children.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

You can visit lots of castles and historic ruins. I've heard of people hiking in the mountains and white water rafting. There are beautiful beaches in the south of the country and traveling around nearby countries is great. The beautiful drive from Albania to Dubrovnik is not to be missed.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Antiques and paintings from Kruje

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Albania is such a great place to travel from. In less than 8 hours you can drive to Greece, Croatia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. You can also take the ferry to Italy and Greece, and fly most places in Europe relatively quickly. Hungarian Malev airlines has great deals to many cities from Tirana. Istanbul is a direct 90 minute flight.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Nothing I can think of.

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience! Especially driving, and waiting in line anywhere. People will constantly try to cut in front of you.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Albania Bradt travel guide, Lonely Planet Western Balkans, Tirana guide by In Your Pocket

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Lamerica

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Tirana, Albania 03/31/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, I've also lived in Budapest, Bangkok, and Madrid.

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2. How long have you lived here?

6 months.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

I work for the U.S. government.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

It can take a bit of time, depending on which airline you use and where you connect. No major U.S. carriers fly into Tirana. You will connect either in Milan, Munich, Budapest, or Ljubljana.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

We live 2 miles from the Embassy and in the evening it can take 30 - 40 minutes to get home; in the morning it is 15 minutes. There are two compounds: The Ridge for heads of section and one for the military (only heads of section). Off compound housing is available, all housing is secured with a fence and you will have a patch of grass with numerous citrus trees, olive trees, flowers and possibly grapes. All housing comes with a large generator.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

This is a consumables post. There are two grocery stores here: Euromax and Conad. At Conad you can get Italian products. Euromax has mostly German products. The items at the grocery store are expensive. There is local, fresh produce available. Markets are everywhere. Check what you buy as it may not always be the freshest.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Cheese, flour tortillas, baking supplies, American candy.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

No - unless you count Kolonat (McDonald's wannabe). Amour is a decent restaurant and has good (real) steak. Chocolate is another good restaurant and offers good pizza and Italian food. ERA is a pizza parlor (they also deliver) and the pizza is pretty good. Food can be tough here, watch where you eat, ask around for recommendations.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

There is a pouch here. It can be slow to non-existent. The Italians recently had a strike and refused to send the pouch. What mail did arrive was wet, rusted, and opened. However, when the Italians don't strike, mail comes about once a week, sometimes twice.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

ATMs are everywhere now. Credit cards are accepted at most places, including the grocery stores.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, Tirana Daily News, Wall Street Journal. Most Embassy personnel have AFN. DigiALB is the cable provider here and some programming is in English.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Most Albanians speak English. You can get by with pointing and speaking English slowly.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

There is no wheelchair accessibility within the city. There are elevators, but no ramps. Albania is still considered 3rd world and there streets suffer, though some streets are paved or in the process of being paved, or just totally unpaved. Sidewalks are pretty poor to non-existent.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Same as the U.S.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

It has been recommended that Americans avoid using the buses and trains as they are overcrowded and can be a place for crime (pick pocketing).

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3. 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?

SUV - because of the road conditions. There are many large potholes and missing manhole covers. A lot of roads are still unpaved. You will most likely need to bring auto parts with you or order them via the internet.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes; the embassy provides it.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

You can buy plenty here at local markets. Embassy provides cell phones to direct hires and spouses.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Vonage or Skype.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

I don't know about kennels, but there are vets. Some speak English, some don't. Care is relatively inexpensive. Again, like people, anything requiring surgery and you will have to take your dog or cat elsewhere, they are not equipped for it here.

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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?

This is changing are jobs are becoming available.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business and casual at work. Albanians wear everything from jeans to track suits. Women do wear high heels - why I don't know as sidewalks are very bad or non-existent and there are still dirt roads here.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate; if you have sinusitis, allergies, or asthma, the pollution can aggravate it.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Crime is low, though like any city, beware of pick pocketing. Corruption is a problem here.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Anything major and you will need to be med-evaced. The Embassy has a nurse practitioner and there is an American missionary doctor available. There are no trauma units here.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Mild winters with little snow, hot summers, and warm spring days.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Small - 200 Americans max

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2. Morale among expats:

Okay, a little low. American products are not here. There is not much in the way of tourist activities and it is difficult to drive as there are no real, well paved highways. Flights are limited and can be expensive, depending on where you want to go. Power goes out up to 5 times a day. Generators are included with embassy housing. Hot water is limited as hot water tanks are not that big. With that said, it is what you make it. If you like adventure and don't mind third world living, you'll be fine here.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

It's a fishbowl community to an extent. The Marines have a happy hour, Trivia Night, and the embassy does some day trips. Restaurants can be hit or miss. The Sheraton has a movie theater and movies are in English.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Maybe - Albanian men are typically macho.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Read the HRR from State.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

The Embassy has a Hash Harriers program that goes on hikes every Saturday. Due to road conditions, driving out of town can take some time, but go to southeast Albania (Saranda, Gjirokaster). Kruja is a nice trip out of town and where many go for souvenir shopping. Be sure to take the ferry from Durres to Bari (Italy) to go to Naples to use the commissary.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Handmade wooden chests, kilim carpets.

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9. Can you save money?

Depends...the dollar is not doing so hot, but Albania is relatively cheap. If you feel the need to travel all the time, it can get expensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes; I love to travel and experience a new culture.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Sandals.

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3. But don't forget your:

Rainboots, sneakers, hiking boots, scuba gear.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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7. Do you have any other comments?

The Albanians are incredibly friendly people. Progress is being made here and eventually Albania will achieve 1st world status. Traffic is a problem as there doesn't seem to be much in the way of rules of the road. It is not uncommon to see drivers running red lights, making illegal turns, making 2 and 3 lanes on an already two lane road, or double parking. My advice is to be open to the experience. Also, take the ferry to Bari, Italy to buy the American items you miss at NSA Naples. Also, the base is like little America and can really help with your morale.

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