After 67 days my wife and I left Albania and traveled to the Middle East. It has been an amazing stay and Albania stood out from the 27 countries we have lived in since 2019. Kathleen and I are full-time nomads since leaving the US in Feb 2019 and we have never looked back or regretted our decision. At ages 68 and 70, she and I decided that the rest of the world was much too enticing and beautiful—plus more affordable—and we have no plans to stop.
BUT, at some point, we do need to slow down; cool our heels. Chill. And there will come a time where we just can’t carry backpacks as easily, or trudge up too many flights of stairs to get to our room. And so far Albania is at the top of our list of places to settle.
We recently had a vid call with Paul, a friend and fellow traveler, who we met in Split, Croatia 15 months ago. At the time he was living in the town we just left, Sarande, Albania, and he was looking at options of how to get to Split, since it was not that simple or direct. When he got there the three of us became fast friends, though he was an unhealthy influence—forcing us to join him for way too many desserts after dinner.
We loved Croatia, and that was our third time there, then we moved on to Turkey, which we loved much more than we expected we would. It was amazingly affordable and we lived so easily there that we obtained a two-year residency and made plans to possibly make it a more steady place to live.
When Paul was done with Croatia we encouraged him to visit Turkey as well, and since then he has stayed there twice. He told us how it compared to Albania, and since we had planned to visit it anyway, we made it a top priority.
On our vid call he asked me, “Now that you’ve been to both which do you prefer; Turkey or Albania?”
After a moment of reflection I said, “Albania.”
As a matter of fact, I put this tiny, Balkan country at the TOP of my very short list of places that I think expats should consider living. Between the cost of living, which is comparable to Turkey, and the weather (also comparable), the Albanian people are lovely, and this town where we lived, Sarande, is just the right size, and offers most of what we need. And, there’s a bonus for US passport holders: you can stay visa-free for 12 months.
Mind you, there are only a few places in the world that are so generous, and we Americans can thank Bill and Hillary Clinton for their largesse. During the Balkan/ Bosnian Wars, Mr. Clinton was president and the Albanians believe that he did them a great service against their enemies from Kosovo. Hillary was also part of the picture and the Albanians responded by offering the gift of 12 months visa to Americans. The locals in Saranda think so highly of Hillary they erected a statue of her in the center of town.
We knew about this before we got here, and after staying for two months and feeling the energy of this town along with the friendliness and helpfulness of the expat community, this has become a pivot point in our travels.
For most travelers who live outside the European Union, we know the stringent rules and timelines of the Schengen Zone. This joint agreement among 27 countries ties them all together under one visa and limits non-Schengen members to just 90 days visitation. That means if you stay 89 days in any one of those countries, you have just one day left among the rest.
Over the years we have learned—and taught others—how to play what I call the “Schengen Chess Game,” and it involves jumping back and forth between member countries and those outside the Schengen Zone.
Albania is not part of the EU, nor is it part of the Schengen Zone, which makes this a great “safe haven.”
One of the best features of the Balkan countries, those that were previously part of Yugoslavia and Communist rule, is that they are kind of like the countries that Europe ignored, and in many cases, get less respect. Croatia was “non-Schengen” until this year, which totally screwed up a LOT of peoples’ plans since it was a desirable place to hang out while your Schengen clock resets.
Fortunately, the world is a big place and many of the Balkan countries fill that void, but Albania alone allows a one year stay.
Add on to that the expense of staying where we are just leaving, which is called the Albanian or Balkan Riviera. When we arrived we enjoyed a one bedroom apartment with an unbelievable view of the ocean and the island of Corfu. It was a bit further from “downtown” than we wanted, about 20 minutes, but we considered it the best place we ever stayed. As we got to know more people over our time here we had many conversations with lots of Americans and other expats, and the Americans shared their stories of how they got here and the advantages of the 12 month stay. A good number of them went so far as to get legal residency, which is quite easy, and that allowed them even more than one year.
We are on a five week journey to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and then we will return to Sarande, Albania for three more months.
The weather will be warmer, the low key town will be more alive, and we will renting an even nicer two-bedroom apartment with an even better view of the Adriatic and Corfu. For $500 USD.
Should you add this “under the radar” country to your Bucket List? Are you ready to enjoy the rest of your life with less pressure financially?
Albania: Stay for a year, and maybe stay for a lifetime…