What it Costs to Live in Albania

fruit and vegetable prices Albania

Per-kilo produce prices in Albania – 130 lek to the euro

I know that moving to Albania is not at the top of future expats’ lists very often. After spending some time there recently, I’m thinking maybe it should be.

Most people probably can’t find Albania on a map, but this formerly reclusive communist country is in an enviable spot on the globe. It’s on the Adriatic Sea, north of Greece and south of Croatia. If you had a reasonably seaworthy sailboat you could easily get to the boot of Italy from the coast of Albania. (Or there’s a ferry you could hop on instead.) So there’s a southern European climate, lots of great beaches, and—here’s the important part—costs that are a quarter or less what they would be in Italy.

living in Albania

I interviewed one Canadian expat who worked in the mining industry in the region before falling in love with an Albanian woman who managed the hotel where he was staying. We had a nice seafood dinner at an outdoor restaurant on a lake, just outside of the capital Tirana.

Terry’s quite happy with his life there and will make it his retirement spot. The two of them had just gotten back from Durres beach a couple hours before we met. It’s close enough that you can drive there for the day from the capital or have an easy weekend getaway. (Eva says you can rent a beach chair and umbrella for two there for the equivalent of €2.30 per day.)

living in Albania couple

This country is catching up fast to the rest of the world and the economy seems to be doing rather well. Unlike in Bosnia, there were lots of help wanted signs, plenty of construction cranes putting up new apartments, and a bustling center full of office workers. Typical salaries run €300 to €800 per month though, so if you come here earning a few grand a month from your virtual business or telecommuting job, you’re going to be feeling flush.

Rent and Property Prices in Albania

Terry and Eva bought their 2-bedroom, 2-bath penthouse recently in a new building where they were able to customize a lot of the finishes and appliances. They ended up spending $150K Canadian on the unit itself and another C$30K on the finishing out. This is for a spacious place with an outdoor terrace bigger than most European apartments. “We used to rent a two-bedroom duplex with an office on top,” Terry says, “in the most expensive, most prestigious neighborhood in Tirana. We paid 1,100 euros per month. If we had just rented an average place in an average neighborhood, it would be 1/3 of that probably, but I had company money paying, so I didn’t have to be worry about the budget.”

The cost comparison site Numbeo ranks Tirana at 38 when New York City is 100. The average city center rent there for a one-bedroom apartment is listed as €268, which is in line with what the owner of Good Albania tour company told me too. Figure on about €520 for a three-bedroom apartment or house in the center. The outskirts are less of course and this is the capital. Any other place in the country is going to be cheaper except prime beaches in the summer.

real estate in Albania

Buying real estate here is quite cheap if you take your time and get to know the values. In poking around real estate sites in English I found condos in Tirana for €30-40,000, three-bedroom houses for under €85K, and beach condos with a sea view for less than €50K. The view above is from one of those. Naturally if you spoke the local language or had a friend/spouse who did, you could find deals that aren’t listed on the English sites.

Food & Drink Prices

Here’s where you’ll really save a fortune in Albania. If you indulge in the national pastime of drinking coffee in a cafe several times a day, that’s not going to set you back much. An espresso is typically €0.25 to 0.40 and it’s only slightly more for an Americano or cappuccino. The dinner I had with Terry and Eva was 1950 lek for three: fish, vegetables, rice, and three large beers. That’s 15 euros. “This is probably the biggest line item in our budget,” Terry said, “but that’s because we eat out a lot, several nights a week. We probably spend $1,000 Canadian a month on food and drink, but that’s eating out a lot and drinking good wine.”

cheap lunch in Albania

When I had a meal of kofta meatballs, dill yogurt dip, salad, and bread with my guide, it came out to €2 per person including two beers. When I would order a sandwich at a local kebab place, it was never more than €1.50.

Here are some examples of other cheap prices I ran into while traveling around Albania and hanging out in the capital.
Peppers – €0.25 per kilo
Watermelon – €0.20 per kilo
Potatoes – €0.30 per kilo
Small bread loaves – €2 for five
Olives – €2 per kilo
Beer in a store – €0.50 – €0.80 for 500ml

olives in Albania

“We don’t go wanting for much when it comes to food,” Terry says. “The supermarkets are well-stocked and prices are good. A lot grows in this region plus there are enough imports to get what you’re missing if you’re willing to pay for it. There just aren’t a whole lot of ethnic restaurants though, especially Asian. Albanians meet in cafes, but don’t eat out all that much when they’re not on vacation. So there’s not a lot of variety.”

Transportation Prices

If you live in Albania full-time and have a car, that part is going to cost you. Automobiles are more expensive here than they are in many other European countries, plus gas prices are quite high considering what salaries are like. You can easily spend €20,000 on a basic compact manual sedan. Gasoline was around €1.20 per liter when I was there recently, though at least you won’t get hit with tolls on the roads. Because of the high car prices though, it’s tough to find a rental car for less than €45 per day. A hotel or agency can usually hook you up with a driver for less than that.

Lake Skadar in Albania, on the border with MontenegroPublic transportation is a bargain, though figuring it out isn’t easy. The bus system is rather chaotic throughout Albania, with vans and minibuses that don’t gather in any large central station. As one website put it, “Tirana remains the last major city in the known universe without a bus or train station.” Even traveling between the two biggest cities takes some sleuthing around and you may be shuttled from one van onto another midway. You’ll have to travel pretty far to pay more than 10 euros though for inter-city rides.

Taxis are metered and a bit over two euros to start, then about €0.65 for each km. This goes up during the night and if you’re going really far they might just quote you a price. I paid €20 for a cab to the airport when leaving, but it was a 30-minute drive in the middle of the night. Local buses are €0.25 to €0.50 if you can figure out the route.

Utility Prices in Albania

Electricity is priced progressively in Albania, meaning the more you use, the more you pay per kilowatt hour. Terry says their bill can top €100 when they’ve got the air conditioning cranking all the time, but then it’ll drop down to half that in the temperate months. Water/sewer charges are around €10 per month and propane gas comes out about the same.

A full-blown TV and high-speed internet bundle (60+ mbps) is often less than €30 per month. Wireless charges are quite reasonable in Albania. There’s plenty of competition to keep prices low. I saw Sim cards going for under €4 and you can get a plan or go prepaid with nearly unlimited calls and data for less than €15 per month.

Americans Stay for One Year

Albania goes under the rules applicable to most of Europe where you can only stay three months and then you have to leave the Schengen zone for three months before returning. There’s one odd exception to this that has moved this country way up on my list: Americans can stay for a whole year without a residency permit. If they apply for residency after that, the permit is good for five years.

Citizens of most other developed countries can get a residency permit by applying and going through the usual waiting time and paperwork. This is not known as a country where it’s any more difficult than usual but they’re not part of the EU if you’re looking to move easily from Europe. As always, check the current rules on the embassy sites and check local expat message boards.

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Comments
  1. Collin

    Nice write up, thanks.

  2. John Campbell

    Thanks Tim! I’ve been heavily researching Romania, Bulgaria and even Hungary, for some time now, and have been frustrated by all the red tape and paperwork necessary to stay more than 3 months. This new information regarding how easy it is to stay in Albania for a year, also moves them way up my list too! Thanks again!

  3. Wade K.

    Funny you should mention this. I’ve been researching Albania for a couple of weeks and you are spot on with what I found. A couple of things. Americans are the only nationality given the one year tourist card. If you want to stay longer you have two options. Either leave after one year and then return after 90 days. Or before your year is up, preferably before 10 months, start the residency visa rolling. Albania allows Americans to skip shorter visas and go to 5 year temporary visa. After 5 years you can apply for permanent residency. From what I saw on embassy website it appears pretty straightforward and painless to get the 5 year temporary residency. Why the favorable treatment for Americans? The U.S. saved Kosovo which is about 90% Albanian ethnicity. And they’ve given Albania much needed assistance too. Albania loves the U.S. which is very nice to see!

    The other thing you’ll run across if you are interested is Albania is almost 60% Muslim. Considering the world today that might throw up some serious red flags. However, you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere in the world where Muslims and Christians get along as well. Muslims wear Western clothes, including skimpy bathing suits. Would imagine Iranian mullahs not being thrilled. Albania was the only country in Europe that had more Jewish residents after WWII than before it started. Many Muslims hid Jews from the Nazis. The country’s biggest hero, Skanderbeg, was a Christian leader who resisted Ottoman Turk invasion for 27 years until he succumbed to malaria at 62. And Muslims point to him as a great hero too. It’s said in Albania that the country’s first religion isn’t Islam or Christianity, it’s Albanianism.

    Italy and Greece, as well as Turkey, are big influences on the food. Many Italians reside in Albania and the local pizza is extremely good because of it. And everything I read refers to the friendliness, kindness, and warmth of Albanians. It can get pretty hot and humid in Tirana in the summer. There is a city in southeast Albania, Korce(or Korca) that sits at almost 3000′ and has a much milder, drier climate(the trade-off is much colder winters). Tirana has some nicer parts but overall it’s not that attractive a city looks wise compared to many European cities. But it is a very liveable, walkable city with a lot of parks and greenery. With fantastic beaches, the Albanian Alps, and one of the world’s great boat rides, the Lake Komani Ferry, within easy reach. Albania’s southern beach resort, Saranda, has hydrofoil ferries to nearby Corfu Island, Greece also. And two UNESCO heritage cities, Berat and Gjirokaster, that are amazing to look at. OK, sorry to ramble, but boy do I like this country. And heading there in November to retire!

    • Tim Leffel

      Thanks for chiming in with all this Wade. Great info!

  4. Josh

    Great article and wow, Wade – hat’s off to you, you’ve really done your homework!

  5. Dean

    So then Wade do you know the requirements for an American to obtain the 5-year visa? Generally this means a certain amount of monthly income right?

    • Wade K.

      Google Entering and Residing U.S. Embassy in Albania. They lay it all out. Did see in one section needing proof of at least 30 Euros a day income for an adult. That wasn’t in the section on requirements for residency so not sure if it was referring to short term visits or not. Thanks Tim and Josh.

      • John Campbell

        Ditto, Thanks so much Wade for all the very useful info! As far as income requirement, if it is 30 euros a day (or $1,033 USD a month), that is easily doable for most retired Americans, as the average Social Security income is $1,300. For a beautiful country that loves Americans and makes the residency process so easy, it’s really hard to resist at least giving it a try, eh? Thanks again!

        • Wade K.

          You’re welcome John. Think you’ll give Albania a try?

  6. Amanda Fewell

    Thanks Tim! What a great option for that area of the world. Love this :) My hubby and I are only 35 and we need to keep working… can you point me toward some good resources for people like us? We both have businesses we can do online, but…. I’d like to check into all our options and know the whole story.

  7. Bridget

    Thank you, Tim (and Wade!) for all of this helpful information. I am considering places for later in the year, so this is a potential option. I have two questions. One, do many locals speak any English? And two, are you able to get fast internet (in Tirana, at least)? Thank you!

    • Wade K.

      I’ve seen many posts on Facebook groups saying they got along fine with English when they traveled there. English is much more common among younger adults than older and much more common in Tirana and on the coast. Bradt has a very good guide to Albania and in their recommendations for accommodations and restaurants they note whether staff is Engle speaking. On internet speed there’s one company, Digicom, that’s offering up to 100 mbps and another, Albtelecom(if I remember right), that offers up to 30 but is supposed to be reliable. And that is fiber optic, at least in Tirana.

    • Tim Leffel

      Yes and yes. English is required from first grade to graduation. As anywhere though, you’ll get by a lot easier if you at least get to a basic level in the local language.

  8. Craig

    Any idea whether Albania taxes on worldwide income including ss and 401K if American citizens stay more than 183 days in a year? Their tax treaty is very old and I have no idea if it is followed.

    • Wade K.

      Haven’t run across anything on taxes but there are Albania expat groups on Facebook. Just joined one and they are very helpful. Some of them have been there 10 years or more. I’m not certain but I think Albania has a VAT rather than income taxes. Just search for Albania expat on Facebook.

    • Wade K.

      OK, Googled a bit and yes Albania has an income tax and they go after worldwide income IF you are a resident. Non-residents are responsible for income generated within Albania only. Suddenly staying a tourist looks a whole lot better. The currency is the Lek. Top income bracket is monthly salary of 130,000 Lek or more. On that you’d pay 13,000 Lek plus 23% on anything above 130,000. Current exchange is about 115 to the Dollar. So $1000 USD equals 115,000 Lek.

  9. Dancebert

    Yes, the US saved Kosovo. President Bush went to Tirana to announce that the US backed Kosovo as an independent country. He was the first US President to visit Albania. I suspect Albanians appreciated and remember the effort.

  10. Agness of aTukTuk

    It was great to learn more about this developing country! Excellent post and aspects elaborated, Tim!

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