Difference between revisions of "Albania"
Revision as of 10:49, 18 April 2018
While most people in Albania are Muslims, there are also many large religious minorities. As in other western states, the idea of religious tolerance is so normal as to be completely uninteresting, differences of ideology will more often be political.
Traditional Albanian culture honors the role and person of the guest. In return for this place of honor, respect is expected from the guest. Albanians enjoy long walks in the city streets, drinking coffee and, among the younger generations, participating in nightlife activities such as cafe lounging and dancing.
Following the defeat of the Axis powers at the end of World War II, a Communist government was established, presided over by resistance leader Enver Hoxha. Albania became famous for its isolation, not just from the free market democracies of Western Europe and the United States, but also from the Soviet Union, China, and even neighboring Yugoslavia.
The Communist party relinquished power several years after Hoxha's death, and Albania established a multi-party democracy with a coalition government. The transition to democracy has proven difficult as governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, a dilapidated infrastructure, widespread gangsterism and disruptive political opponents. Today Albania is moving closer towards neo-liberalism, with EU integration as its goal; Albania signed the SAA in June 2006, thus completing the first major step towards joining the EU. In 2008, Albania received an invitation to join NATO.
With its coastline facing the Adriatic and Ionian seas, its highlands backed upon the elevated Balkan landmass, and the entire country lying at a latitude subject to a variety of weather patterns during the winter and summer seasons, Albania has a high number of climatic regions for so small an area. The coastal lowlands have typically Mediterranean weather, whereas the highlands have a Mediterranean continental climate. In both the lowlands and the interior, the weather varies markedly from north to south.
The lowlands have mild winters averaging about 7°C (45°F); summer temperatures average 24°C (75°F). In the southern lowlands, temperatures average about 5°C (9°F) higher throughout the year; the difference is greater than 5°C (9°F) during the summer and somewhat less during the winter.
Inland temperatures are affected more by differences in elevation than by latitude or any other factor. Low winter temperatures in the mountains are caused by the continental air mass that dominates the weather in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Northerly and northeasterly winds blow much of the time. Average summer temperatures are lower than in the coastal areas and much lower at higher elevations, but daily fluctuations are greater. Daytime maximum temperatures in the interior basins and river valleys are very high, but the nights are almost always cool.
Average precipitation is heavy, a result of the convergence of the prevailing airflow from the Mediterranean Sea and the continental air mass. Because they usually meet at the point where the terrain rises, the heaviest rain falls in the central uplands. Vertical currents initiated when the Mediterranean air is uplifted also cause frequent thunderstorms. Many of these storms are accompanied by high local winds and torrential downpours.
Nationals of the United States may enter Albania visa-free for up to one year. US passport cards may also be used for entry in lieu of a passport if arriving by air.
Nationals of all European Union and European Economic Area member states, plus Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the Holy See, Israel, Japan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Malaysia, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and Taiwan may enter Albania visa-free for up to 90 days. Those from the European Union, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland may enter using a national ID card in lieu of a passport.
Nationals of Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Barbados, Brunei, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Georgia, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Macau, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay and Venezuela may enter Albania visa free for up to 90 days, however nationals of these countries or territories staying for more than 90 days within a 180-day period are required to obtain a type "D" visa. Those from Hong Kong and Kazakhstan may enter using a national ID card in lieu of a passport.
Nationals of any country who hold a valid multiple-entry visa issued by a Schengen Area country, the United Kingdom or the United States may enter Albania visa-free for up to 90 days. Visas must have been used at least once before arrival to Albania. The visa exemption also applies to valid United States Green Card holders, holders of resident permits issued by a Schengen Area country, or holders of refugee and stateless travel documents issued by an EU or EFTA member state.
Nationals of any country who have Albanian ethnicity may enter Albania visa-free for a maximum stay of 90 days within a 180-day period.
There is no longer a visa charge for any foreigners upon entering Albania.
You don't pay on entrance and exit to/from Albania by car. The former €10 entrance fee per person has been abolished.
Border with Macedonia - Struga is famous for frequent border controls. I personally had car inspected there for 40 minutes, just like with special scanner. I also witnessed other cars on foreign plates having the same procedure. Guards are polite, yet suspiscious.
Tirana's "Mother Teresa" International Airport  is located just 15 minutes away from the city. It is served by numerous European flag carriers such as British Airways, Alitalia, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Austrian, and the low cost carriers. A new, larger and modern terminal was opened in 2007. A tourist information centre was opened in 2012.
At the airport exit, there are numerous taxis 24/7 that can take you to the city. The taxi fee to the city center is €15 (2000 lek). Taxi fees to other locations are posted on a placard just outside the exit doors.
There is a bus called Rinas Express that runs once an hour between the airport and Skanderberg Square. It costs ALL350 each way and leaves on the hour from both the airport and from Skanderberg Square. It runs from about 08:00-19:00. The trip takes around 25-30 minutes. From the airport exit doors, walk towards the parking lot past the taxi touts to find the bus stop. At Skanderberg Square, the bus stop is located around the northwest corner, near other bus stops. The bus is not only punctual but sometimes even early, so plan to be there a few minutes in advance. Do not be intimidated by the signs not mentioning "airport" or any variation of it at the Skanderberg Square stop. "Rinas" means the bus goes to the airport. If in doubt, ask the locals, who will be happy to point you to the correct bus.
Another cheap and convenient way to reach the Albanian Riviera in Southern Albania is by landing in Corfu and taking the hydrofoil to Saranda.
It is not possible to enter or leave Albania via train. There are, however, trains that operate within the country. Though the service is limited, the price is inexpensive. There is no direct service to Tirana due to closure of the capital's only railway station. However, Tirana is served by the renovated Kashar station located 10 km west of the capital. You can go to Librazhd from Elbasan by train, Shkodra and Lezha from Tirana.
You can reach Tirana by coach from
You can reach Korca by coach from
There is a daily bus link between Ulcinj in Montenegro and Shkoder, with buses departing from the bus station at 06:00 or 07:00 (this can be confirmed by calling the Ulcinj bus station on +382 85 413 225) and 12:30 (€5). There is also a shared taxi (minibus) from the parking place next to the market in Ulcinj; it departs at 13:00 and costs €5, and the trip takes 1.5 hours. The stop is not marked, and a reservation can only be made by finding the driver in the cafe at the corner of the parking place. Ask around and be persistent, as not all the locals know about this.
There is also (as of May 2016) a daily bus from Podgorica to Shkoder and Tirana, leaving Podgorica at 10:45 and going via the Hani I Hotit border crossing
Buses also run daily from Ioannina across the border at Kakavia and on to Gjirokaster. In Gjirokaster, you can buy a bus ticket to Athens, Greece or anywhere in between. The buses are new, cheap and air conditioned, and they stop at some service stations along the route.
Yachts can be anchored at Albania's only marina in Orikum, south of Vlore. You can also an anchor in the ports of Sarande, Vlore, Durres, and Shengjin. By the end of 2019 there is another 5-star marina "Porto Albania" expected to open.
You can reach Albania from anywhere by car by crossing through one of the major cities of the neighboring countries such as:
No road tax anymore for foreigners (as of 2017). You don't have to pay anything while entering Albania by car
To enter the country, make sure that your International Motor Insurance Card (Green Card) is valid for Albania (AL) along with the Vehicle Registration and a Power of Attorney from the owner if the car is not yours. The border guards are very strict about allowing cars through without these documents. Insurance can be purchased at the border if you do not have a Green Card. Gasoline (petrol) stations are numerous and staffed with attendants who will pump the gasoline for you. Police checkpoints are numerous. Most consist of two officers standing alongside the road waving over selected vehicles.
The road between Ioannina, Greece and Tirana (E853/SH4) is in great condition since it has recently been renewed as of 2013/2014. When you are in Gjirokaster you will be about 2 hours and 45 minutes from the capital. But still travel with caution. This is the main north-south route between Montenegro and Greece.
The road between Struga, Macedonia and Tirana (E852/SH3) is of decent quality. There are a lot of slow moving vehicles along the curvy, mountainous route, so extra caution must be exercised, especially around corners and during over-taking. A new motorway is being constructed between Elbasan and Tirana. Sections of the motorway and a long tunnel are now complete (May 2017) allowing high-speed travel in some areas. However, other sections are still under construction. As of May 2017, it appears that most motorway construction will be completed within a year. The winding highway down the mountain pass from Macedonia to Elbasan has yet to see significant change.
The road between Prizren (Kosovo) and Tirana (Albania) (E851/A1) is comparable in quality to that found on roads in other parts of Europe. Much of the road is dual carriage (autobahn/motorway style), but some is single carriageway. Extra caution should be exercised along some bridges near the Kosovo border, as they have not been widened to dual carriageways. Also be aware of the fact that cows run free on the motorway: there is no fence, and before dusk they return home using the motorway itself. As of March 2018 the road is tolled and a fee must be paid to use the motorway.
The road between Shkoder (border of Montenegro) and Tirana (E762/SH1) is of sufficient quality for driving, but there are a lot of slow-moving vehicles and uncontrolled access points, so extra caution must be exercised, especially during over-taking. A portion of the road between Milot and Thumane has been widened to motorway standard as of 2012.
The road between Han i Hotit (north of Shkoder) and Vermosh (beside the border crossing with Montenegro in the mountains) (SH20) is half unpaved as of summer 2015. The first 30km from Han i Hotit is a high quality new asphalt road; however the road abruptly turns into a stone track for the remaining 30km until Vermosh. The unpaved section is suitable for 4x4 vehicles and motorbikes with good suspension and tires.
Tirana: New highway construction is underway (May 2017) in and around Tirana. Until the highways are complete, the only way through Tirana is on secondary streets which are unbelievably congested and unruly. Best to avoid driving through Tirana during the morning and evening rush hours. However certain routes will require driving through downtown Tirana.
In the north of Albania there are three border control points with Montenegro. The narrow road from Ulcinj, Montenegro to Shkoder via Muriqan/Sukobin (E851/SH41) is used mainly by locals. As of 2012, the Montenegrin section is under construction. However, it is worth a try to avoid heavier traffic on the main road (E762/SH1) to Hani i Hotit which has almost finished (2012). Ask any police officer to point you in the right direction from Shkoder; they are helpful, courteous and friendly. The border crossing in the mountains (SH20) near Vermosh is accessed by a 30km section of unpaved mountain track (as of summer 2015), although there is construction work ongoing. This road is only suitable for 4x4 vehicles and motorbikes designed for off-road use.
There are multiple border crossings with Greece. The biggest and most famous one is the Kakavie Border, which is about 45km from Gjirokaster. Another border crossing, which is less frequently used, is Qafe Bote, which is after Butrint and about 43 km from Saranda. This road can get you to many calm beaches in Greece and the city of Igoumenitsa. The border crossing Tre Urat is best used only if you are going to Permet or want to see some wonderful scenery; this border crossing is about 35km from Permet. Another important border crossing with Greece is Bilisht. This crossing is mainly used for traveling to Kastoria, Thessaloniki, Istanbul, and/or other parts of Eastern Greece. The closest major Albanian city from this border crossing is Korca at about 35km away.
There are two major border control points with Macedonia. The most well-known and often-frequented one is Qafe Thane This border crossing is the fastest way to get to Ohrid, the Albanian parts of Macedonia and Skopje. This crossing is about 65km from Elbasan and 30km from Pogradec. The other border crossing, named Tushemisht, is the closest one to Pogradec at only 6km and is mainly used for tourists and locals who want to see the St. Naum Church and the Macedonian parts of Lake Ohrid.
Albania is a small country and as such it is possible to leave the country by taxi.
Your hotel will be able to arrange a taxi to the border, where you should be able to change to a taxi on the other side. For example, a taxi from Tirana to the Macedonian border, a distance of 70 miles, will take three hours and cost about €100. A metered Macedonian taxi from the border to Struga should cost no more than €6 (December 2009) and take 20 minutes, while a taxi to Skopje would take 3 hours on much better roads and cost about €120 (prices January 2008). Getting through passport control will take about 30 minutes.
A taxi ride from downtown Pogradec to the Macedonian border at Sveti Naum costs about 5 euros and takes less than 10 minutes. After Albanian exit procedures, walk about .5km down the road to the Macedonian border control point. The beautiful Sveti Naum Church is very close by, and from there you can get a bus north around the lake to Ohrid (110 denars) (prices April 2010).
A taxi from Ulcinj in Montenegro to Shkoder in northern Albania costs about €30 and takes 1 hour. You do not have to change at the border; the taxi will bring you all the way (price June 2010).
Some taxis can take you into Greece; however, most will not go farther than Ioannina.
Most people in Albania travel by public bus or by private minibuses (called "furgons") which depart quite frequently to destinations around Albania. Furgons have no timetable (they depart when they are full) and in addition to big cities provide access to some smaller towns where buses don't frequently run. Furgon stations aren't always in obvious locations, so you can ask around to find them, or keep an eye out for groups of white or red minivans gathered together. Destination place names are generally displayed on the dashboard; prices are never posted. Furgons are loosely regulated and provide a real "Albanian" experience.From Tirana, many furgons a day depart to Shkoder,Korca, Durres, Elbasan, Fier and Berat. Furgons departing to southern destinations like Gjirokaster or Saranda tend to depart fairly early in the morning. Generally, furgons cost a little more and go a little faster than buses, but can be uncomfortable over long distances because of the close quarters with other passengers. The following approximate operating schedule for services leaving Tirana was provided by the tourist information office there.
One publicly-edited list of the departure locations and times of furgons and buses in Albania may be found at: here -- but of course these should be viewed with caution. The latest (2016) bus schedules are available here, verified by locals and including detailed information about the bus stops, their GPS coordinates, prices etc.
A train ride is a must, as there are few such enjoyments in Europe these days. Tickets are very cheap, journeys are very long, and the views and the atmosphere are usually priceless. Among the things you will see along this unforgettable journey are people working their land with primitive tools, beautiful landscapes and wild terrains, houses under construction with various things hung on them to ward off the evil eye, and a chance to meet interesting passengers, mainly from rural areas. At most stations you'll find people selling sunflower seeds, fruits, chewing gum and many other different things.
No direct service to Tirana has operated since September 2013, due to planned relocation of the capital's only railroad station and redevelopment of the previous site into a residential area. Kashar is thus the closest rail station, at a distance of approximately 10 kilometers. The station was completely renovated in May 2015. Rail replacement bus services are reportedly operating between the old station sites at Tirana and Kashar, departing twenty minutes prior to the advertised train departure from the Kashar station.
Train timetables are available here: .
Albanian trains are still in relatively poor condition. Wealthier Albanians never use trains and, if not traveling in their own cars, use the many mini-buses. On the other hand, trains offer more space than the often overloaded minibuses.
Note that the train from Durrës to Librazhd in eastern Albania (via Elbasan) takes about four hours. So instead of going up to Kashar from Tiranë to catch the train, you might want to consider taking a bus to Elbasan, which is only about 30 kilometers away.
No service has operated between Librazhd and Pogradec since 2012.
Roads between important destinations have been re-paved and fixed recently and offer most of the security measures one would expect on a highway. There are no fees for using the highways.
Beware of minor roads: road surfaces can be poor, deeply pitted, or non-existent, and sometimes a decent paving can suddenly disappear, necessitating a U-turn and lengthy doubling-back. This is the case for the road between Tirana and Gjirokastër. It seems that all the expensive cars in Albania are SUVs rather than low-slung sports cars - and for good reason. Consult the locals in advance if you are planning to travel away from a highway.
Highways have frequent changes in speed limit, sometimes with little apparent reason, and there are frequent police mobile speed checks. Police will stop you if you have not turned on your car lights. Police will often stop foreign cars (often owned by Albanian and Kosovan expats returned home), which seem to be good targets for extracting fines or other money. However, it seems that once the police recognize you as a foreign driver, they wave you on with minimal fuss, sometimes without even checking your documents. Expect to be stopped by police once per hour while driving in Albania (that frequently!). Beware of temporary lane closures and temporary rules such as no left turn which serve no apparent purpose but are watched by police who are ready to stop you if you misinterpret the confusing signs. Make sure you travel with a proper driver's license and insurance documents (ask your car hire company for these) to present to the police.
Car-driving behavior on the highways is not as orderly as elsewhere in Europe. Expect cars to pull out in front of you, little use of indicators, and hair-raising overtaking. Lanes on dual or triple carriageways tend to be observed. Also expect pedestrians, horses or donkeys to cross highways or walk on them. Especially beware of cows on the motorway.
Navigation is pretty easy, although some maps of the country are out-of-date or contain errors. It is strongly recommended to have an up-to-date GPS in your vehicle, as new roads are constantly being added to the Albanian road network. In case the GPS does not work, have a paper or internet-based map available as an alternative.
In the cities, especially Tirana, many roads are being upgraded and fixed. As a result, traveling by car inside the city is slow. Be aware that Tirana in particular suffers from great traffic congestion during mornings and midday.
The Vlorë-Saranda mountain road is a very nice ride. It is a typical Mediterranean road, and offers an amazing view of the sea from the mountains.
Gypsy and beggar children may approach your car at major stop lights. Nudge slightly forward to get them off your car and, if necessary, go into the traffic intersection to get rid of them. The locals will understand.
Note that around Greek holiday seasons, including Orthodox Easter, the roads leading to and from Greece can be crowded with cars with Greek plates of Albanian immigrants going to Albania or returning to Greece after their holidays.
Renting a car is a good option to choose, but the practice is fairly new in the country. Rental companies are available mainly at the Tirana Airport and in Tirana proper. Various travel agencies may offer such services as well.
There is a lack of respect for people riding on bikes on the highways. Also, there are few places to put your bike. These and other challenges make Albania a difficult cycling destination, but a rewarding one. Often asking around to see if you can stay in somebody's home or camp in their garden is the only option. Food and water are easily available in the many roadside cafes and bars.
It is OK to camp in all not-strictly-private places, and even if a place is private, there should be no problem with your stay; just ask someone if you are in doubt.
Be aware that it's very hard to get parts or repairs for modern bicycles. Be careful with the dogs while riding bicycle... Many stray dogs walking the roads, some of them in groups and can be dangerous. Just like the dogs guarding the sheep and cows. That's why it's the best to travel in group or have something "special" for the dogs.
Hitchhiking is not very common in Albania; however, many people will pick you up if they are able.
Travelers can get assistance from Albanian travel authorities like Albanian Tourism Association (Albania Travel Assistance), . and other non-government sector, too. It's always advisable for travelers to request information from the relevant organization/s before traveling to a destination.
There are many things to do in Albania. Many roads are paved; however they are very windy
In southern Albania you can see the influence of Turks and Greeks. In northern Albania you can see many ancient Illyrian ruins and very little foreign influence.
There are plenty of things to do in Albania. The Albanian seaside is perfect for those who prefer a relaxing holiday. The beautiful beaches of the Ionian and Adriatic seas, great Mediterranean climate and some delicious, freshly-caught seafood make for a great holiday.
For those who are interested in World History, historical tours around the towns of Butrint, Gjirokaster, Berat, Durres and many others will not leave you disappointed.
Albania also has a lot to offer the traveler who prefers a more active holiday, including sea kayaking in the Albanian Riviera; rafting on the Vjosa, Osum, and Black Drin rivers; trekking, cycling, and snowshoeing; paragliding; and hiking the peaks of the Balkans 
Albanian is the official language. Other useful languages include Italian, which is often viewed as the de facto second language and is spoken mainly in the western part of the country (which received Italian TV and radio broadcast stations until the bandwidth was occupied by local Albanian stations). English is widely understood in Tirana and to a lesser extent in cities frequented by tourists. In the southernmost areas of the country, you might also encounter minority speakers of the Greek language.
From a country of 3 million, there have been about 1.2 million emigrants, and many of them have returned to Albania from countries such as Germany, France, Greece (especially those in the south of Albania) and Italy, so you'll find a lot of people in Albania who speak those languages. Of the large number of Albanians who have emigrated to Greece over the years, around 200,000 people have returned and now live in Albania, Greek is widely understood. Macedonian is occasionally understood in areas near Pogradec and Korca.
Many Albanians will also have a decent command of Serbian. However, due to the political problems with Serbia, it is best to avoid speaking Serbian unless you absolutely have to.
The national currency is the lek (ALL). It is subdivided into 100 qindarka (singular qindarkë), although qindarka are no longer issued.
Notice that some Albanians will say prices with an extra zero. They are not trying to charge you 10 times the going rate; they are merely using the old currency. The accurate price is in the new currency and can be found on a written sign or posting.
Hundreds of new ATMs have been installed in most major cities. Use the MasterCard ATM Locator.  or Visa ATM Locator  to find them. ATMs accept most international VISA and MasterCard Credit/Debit cards.
Many rural convenience stores will not accept any other method of payment other than cash. However, supermarkets, the better book stores and the better boutique stores will accept credit or debit cards. The most widely accepted cards are VISA, MasterCard, and Diner's Club.
Today many, if not all, Albanians accept the Euro. However, the rate of exchange may be poor, so pay in lek wherever possible.
In all Albanian cities you can find numerous shops which offer different goods of well-known brands. Of great interest to tourists are the traditional bazaars of Kruja, Korca, Shkodra, and Gjirokastra dhe Tirana, where you can find artisan works produced by Albanians over the years. You can buy carved wooden objects, ceramics, embroidered things with popular motifs, and copper objects. Albanian shops are usually open from 09:00 to 20:00 (until 22:00 in the summer). Most shops are open on Sunday.
Souvenirs: raki, alabaster bunker ashtrays
As of June 2016
Restaurants are very easy to find. Albania, like the Balkans in general, has a primarily Turkish influence in its cuisine. This influence stems from over 400 years of Ottoman rule in the region. Recent influences after the fall of communism in the early 1990's have been from Italy and Western Europe in general. Most of what is available in neighbouring countries such as Greece and Italy will be available in Albania, particularly in the larger cities.
Many people grow fruits and vegetables around their houses, most popularly all kinds of grapes, (red, black, green), that are used to make raki.
Albania is a very mountainous country, and these mountains have scattered olive trees that influence Albanian cuisine. Salads are usually made with fresh tomato and onion. Most Albanian people make their own bread, but going out for meals is very common.
Some sort of hearty stew is commonly included in Albanian dinners. These stews are easy to make, and flexible with ingredients. They include potatoes, onion, rice, etc.
Lastly but not least, don't forget to check out the many pastry shops (pastiçeri) offering a wide variety of tasty pastry including delicious cakes.
The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18.
The preferred alcoholic hard drink is raki that is locally produced in small towns as well as in many homes in the countryside; in some instances you may run across men washing down breakfast with a few shots. Try the mulberry rakia - Albanians are the only people in the world that produce this drink with mulberry and plum, and its very delicious, especially around Gjirokaster. The number of homemade beers, wines and raki is as varied as the population itself; the quality of these drinks is as varied as the quantity available. Non-alcoholic drinks range from the well-known international and regional soft drink brands to the locally produced ones. You can find any type of soft drink in Albania, as well as natural mineral water,energy drinks, etc. Qafshtama water is especially good, and found in all of the country. Boza, a popular sweet drink made from maize (corn) and wheat is a traditional Albanian drink, and Albanians have been known as the best boza makers in the world.
Inside the cities, hotels are abundant and prices per night start as low as €15. Hotels are usually clean and their staff in major cities generally speak English and/or Italian.
Outside the big cities, hotels are less common, but in places like Gjirokastra can be excellent value (eg ALL1000).There is a great opportunity to experience local traditions, hospitality and cuisine by staying at one of the guesthouses in the North. The price of full board accommodation will not be more than €25 a person. If, for any reason, you find nowhere to sleep, the Albanian people have always been known for their hospitality, and will treat you like royalty as you stay with them.
Take the usual precautions. Foreigners are generally not targeted by the local crime scene, though pickpocketings do occur.
Take extra caution when driving, especially in big cities like Tirana. Most drivers drive like crazy and do not follow any round about rules, give ways, etc. They will also honk their horn constantly which can make any foreign driver even more nervous and frustrated. Just keep yourself calm and ignore the honking. Be careful of animals and little children crossing the roads.
It's best to drink bottled water, but potted water is usually drinkable too. The food in Albania is mostly safe anywhere you go in the country, but in the summer be aware of possible high temperatures and inadequate refrigeration. You can walk around to stay fit, as many people do in the capital, but be aware that the city suffers from severe air pollution. In summer, insect repellent should be used, as the mosquito season is very active, especially near former swamps and along the Western Lowland. Be careful at the beaches because shards of glass and sea urchins are common on the sea floor. Health clinics in small towns or village areas are not well equipped, so trips to nearby cities can be expected. The government banned smoking in bars and restaurants in August 2014.
Albanians are very hospitable. Even more so than in the rest of the Balkans, elder males expect to be shown respect on account of their age. Men of the family have to be respected in particular. Shake hands with them and do not argue about topics such as religion and politics. Certain topics are strictly taboo in Albania despite the fact that they are fine in the United States and other countries. Homosexuality is one good example: Don't speak about gay rights, no matter what. In the north, avoid topics that go beyond local understanding. On the other hand, rest assured that in Tirana you will find very cosmopolitan people who are as open to new and modern ideas as citizens of Western Europe are. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is to respect local people at least as much as you respect people back home.
In Albania it's common for men to kiss the cheeks of other men their age or younger, even the very first time they meet. This is especially true in the regions of Fier, Tepelena, Vlora and Gjirokastra. In northern Albania, men touch each other's cheeks but do not kiss them. Women also kiss one another, sometimes from the very first time they meet, but men and women do not kiss each other on the cheek unless they have been friends for a long time. Kissing on the cheeks is very common among young people 15-20 years old. If there is a baby in an Albanian family, always ask to see him or her, and don't forget to add a compliment (usually "qenka i shendetshem, me jete te gjate" or "what a sweet baby" works best). If you are a man, or a woman with a group of men, don't compliment females unless they are under 10-12 years of age.
If you don't speak English, but a language where "you" in informal and "you" in formal are not the same, be aware that some Albanians do not use the formal form in their language. Sometimes even the prime minister is adressed with "ti" if a journalist is a friend of his. However, when meeting people for the first time, it's better if you address them in formal form, although they will shortly after ask you to address them in an informal way.
Policemen in Albania are often polite. Police at checkpoints will very often stop foreign cars, many of which are owned by returning Albanians or Kosovars who are good targets for extortion. When police see that you are a foreign tourist, they will usually tell you to go on (usually with a "ec, ec, rruge te mbare" which can be translated in "go on, have a nice trip"). When this happens, it's very polite if you respond with a "Faleminderit" (thank you in Albanian).
Albanians love dancing, especially at weddings. If you are attending a party, don't be afraid to dance! Maybe you don't know the traditional dances, but try to learn.
Officially 220V 50Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types. Generally speaking, US and Canadian travellers should pack an adapter for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Albania.
Unexpected power outages are common in Albania. These is largely dependent upon the amount of rainfall the country receives in any given year, as virtually all Albanian electricity is generated by hydroplants.However, this is becoming more and more rare. With the exception of Tirana, one can anticipate power outages in other cities. Although all major cities and most towns have back-up generators, it is best to err on the side of caution and ask beforehand whether or not the place has a generator to avoid risking(for example)getting stuck in an elevator.
You can buy a local sim card for ALL600 (Vodafone). You need to provide ID (passport, or ID card for EU/EFTA citizens) and give an address in Albania. Though you may need to find a storefront (as opposed to Vodafone cards readily available from street vendors) Eagle cards work well and have very good coverage. Eagle is the mobile branch of the government owned AlbTelecom. As a result, Eagle cards offer significant savings when calling land based phones in Albania. Being the "Government" carrier, be prepared for a bit more formality when getting one of these cards. You will still need your travel document, but you will also need to sign several forms.
You can go from Shkoder in northern Albania to Ulcinj in Montenegro by taxi or van. Fares can be negotiated between €15 and €20, and the trip takes between 1 and 2 hours. There are also three scheduled buses a day. From Ulcinj, you can take buses to some of the main cities in Montenegro, including Bar, Budva, Kotor and Podgorica. You can leave by plane from Rinas International Airport. You can go to Greece by Gjirokaster at the border crossing at Kavavi. You can leave for Italy from Durres or Vlora. From Saranda, you can go to Corfu, Greece. You can go to Kosovo from Kukes on the new highway. There are also border crossings into Macedonia.
Crossing into Macedonia at the border between Pogradec and Ohrid, Macedonia is fairly straightforward. From Pogradec, one can take a taxi to the border - this will likely cost around €5 and take around 10 minutes. Once you get to the border, it is possible to walk into Macedonia, but do not expect to find taxis on the other side of the border. Instead, hire a taxi on the Albanian side (€25, 40 minutes to Ohrid) or wait for the minibus that turns around at the border. This bus comes every few hours and is the same bus that services the Sveti Naum Monastery, which lies a few kilometers from the border. If the bus does not show up, your best option would be to head to the monastery's parking lot a few kilometers distant to find the bus (check Google Earth first to get a fix on its location).
Studying in Albania
You can go to Shkoder in northern Albania and study the Albanian language. There are language courses for foreign students to learn Albanian,offered in English, Italian, French, German and Spanish. There are many universities in Tirana, as well as in Korca, Gjirokaster, Elbasan, Berat, Kukes, Shkoder, Durres etc too.