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.
So there are beaches of course, plus mountains to hike, big lakes to explore, and even a UNESCO World Heritage historic town with a castle: Gjirokaster.
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.)
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 to Live 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.
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.
Albanian Food & Drink Prices
Here’s where you’ll really save a fortune if you live 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.”
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
“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.”
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.
Public 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.
Overall, this is a wildcard place to consider for moving abroad, a European destinations that’s one of the cheapest places to live in the world.
Want to learn how to move abroad successfully, to the right place for you, with the fewest hurdles? Get your copy of A Better Life for Half the Price.