Tirana, Albania Report of what it's like to live there - 03/31/08
Personal Experiences from Tirana, Albania
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I've also lived in Budapest, Bangkok, and Madrid.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. 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.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I work for the U.S. government.
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.
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.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Cheese, flour tortillas, baking supplies, American candy.
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.
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.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
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.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
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.
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.
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.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Same as the U.S.
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).
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.
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.
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.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Vonage or Skype.
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.
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.
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.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Moderate; if you have sinusitis, allergies, or asthma, the pollution can aggravate it.
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.
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.
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.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small - 200 Americans max
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.
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.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Maybe - Albanian men are typically macho.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Read the HRR from State.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Rainboots, sneakers, hiking boots, scuba gear.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
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.