Is it safe to travel in Albania?
I get asked very often: “Is it safe to travel in Albania?” Probably, this question is so popular, because travelling in Albania is still off-the-beaten-path. I have always felt safe while travelling in Albania. But, I wrote this blog post to address all your safety concerns about Albania holidays.
Is it safe to travel in Albania? It is safe to travel in Albania. According to the UK Government: the public security in Albania is generally good. If a crime occurs it is typically not targeted at foreign travellers. It is still smart to book a comprehensive travel insurance, including medical coverage.
Of course, it is always good to travel prepared and read about the country before you travel. Therefore, I will give you all the health & safety information about Albania below. So that, you can make up your own mind and travel to Albania well prepared.
Is Albania safe to travel?
When you look at the travel advice from the UK government, they state that:
“The public security in Albania is generally good, particularly in Tirana. Crime and violence does occur in some areas in Albania, but is not typically targeted at foreigners.”
UK Government about travel safety in Albania
Like in any country, there is some crime in Albania. But the most important part is that crime and violence does not target foreigner travellers in Albania. Reports show that it very rare for crime to be targeted at international visitors. If any crime occurs in Albania, it is usually an internal dispute between the locals themselves.
Moreover, the Global Peace Index, actually ranks Albania at number 51 out of 163 countries. The index ranks the peacefulness in countries against each other. According to the index, Albania is safer than, for instance, France and the United States. In case, you were curious, France ranks number 60. The United States ranks on number 128.
There is no conflict in Albania, the country has not been involved in an international conflict, since the Second World War. In case you are curious, a little bit more about Albania’s history and safety can be found just below.
Moreover, you will feel very safe in Albania. The Albanian culture is very focussed on family life and hospitality. If the Albanian people will approach you, it is usually out of curiosity. And if you ask the locals for help, they will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. And even though they do not know you personally, they will often invite you to their house for dinner.
Furthermore, Albanian people are overwhelmingly positive about western countries. Many Albanian people have family members that work abroad in Europe and the USA. You can expect Albanian people to approach you, to ask where you are from and to practice their English.
Petty crime in Albania
There is some pickpocketing in Albania, but it is significantly less than in other European cities. As always, keep your valuables safe, as you would in any other European country.
Like in any tourist destination, it is smart to keep your personal belongings, travel documents and valuables secure. Make sure you do not leave any valuables unattended or in the car. And avoid showing signs of affluence. Carry some cash with you, but not large sums.
There are some reports of foreigners that were overcharged for beers in a bar. Actually, the price for foods and drinks in Albania is very low in general. But you simply avoid being overcharged, by checking the pricing for drinks and food in the menu before ordering.
Religious tolerance in Albania
Moreover, Albania is known for its religious tolerance. In many Albanian cities, you will see a Catholic church, a mosque and an Orthodox church within meters of each other. So no matter your religion, you will feel safe and welcome in Albania. There is religious freedom in Albania, so religious extremism is virtually none existent.
History of safety in Albania
Part of the safety concern about Albania, is due to the fact that Albania is still unknown to the rest of the world. And people are often scared of something unknown to them. The reality is that Albania has not been in a conflict since the second World War.
More recently, Albania was isolated from the rest of the world under the communist regime. Even during the communism regime, it was still possible to travel safely in Albania. Moreover, the communist dictator Enver Hoxha was cruel with opposition leaders, not with travellers or foreigners.
In 1997, there was a brief period of unrest in Albania. Because there were money launders who ran a country wide Ponzi scheme, known as the pyramid scheme. When it all collapsed, many Albanian people lost all their money. However, the communism regime and the unrest from 1997 are all in the past.
Currently, Albania is working hard to join the European union. And the reason Albania has not joined yet, has nothing to do with safety. Albania is a safe country. Now Albania just has to work on the rules and regulations to meet the European guidelines for EU membership.
How to travel in Albania safely?
Of course, there are some actions you can take to ensure your safety while travelling in Albania. In this section, I will walk you through the precautions you can take for your safety. At the end of the day, you make the decision. But I will make you aware of some areas and scams, so you can choose to avoid them.
Travel advice for the Northern border with Kosovo
There are old landmines in the hill towns close to the Albania-Kosovo border. Do not worry, because Albania has reached its mine-free status as per the international regulations.
Only, in the hill towns at the Northern border with Kosovo, there are unexploded landmines in marked areas. Please rest assured that the old landmines are in clearly indicated areas with messaging. So if you plan on visiting the hill towns close to the Kosovo border, you must follow the signage.
Travel advice for the winter in Albania
Albania is a very mountainous country, and therefore there is heavy snowfall in the winter. If you are travelling between December and February, it is important to check the weather forecast.
In the mountain areas in the north of Albania, there can be severe weather, heavy snowfall and flooding. So, it is best to avoid the mountain areas in the winter. Or alternatively, check with the locals for travel advice. Because some of the transportation and roads may not be open due to the snowfall.
Moreover, it can be dangerous to drive in severe weather in the mountains. For your safety, it is best to rent a four wheel drive vehicle for the mountains and remote areas. This advice applies year-round, but a 4 wheel drive is even more essential in the winter.
Travel advice for demonstrations in Albania
If there is a demonstration or protest in the period you visit Albania, it is best to avoid the area. In May 2019, the opposition party in Albania held a large demonstration. This demonstration took place just before the election and was planned beforehand.
There was some violence at the demonstration in May 2019 and the police used tear gas on some protesters. Demonstrations are not a regular occurrence in Albania, but just follow the news before your trip.
It is unlikely that you will want to participate in a local protest. But any demonstration may take place in the centre of Tirana close to the touristic sights.
Travel advice for Lazarat
It is best to avoid travelling to the southern town Lazarat. In the past, there have been clashes between the police and the local Marijuana growers in Lazarat.
The town of Lazarat has been more secure in the recent years. The police and government have taken action to gain better control over the town. However, since Lazarat is not a touristic highlight, it is better to simply avoid the town altogether.
Is it safe to drive in Albania?
It is important to be alert, when driving in Albania. Driving in Albania can be hazardous, because some Albanian drivers are impatient. Moreover, although traffic regulations are in place, the rules are sometimes ignored.
Furthermore, if you plan on driving to remote villages and mountain areas, you must rent a four wheel drive for your safety. Some of the roads in the rural areas are in a poor condition. Moreover, check with the locals for the best route. Although some routes may look short on the map, they are not in reality. In rural areas, the driving time depends on the condition of the road.
Luckily, many of the roads in Albania have recently been improved. The roads from Tirana to Saranda and the Albanian Riviera, for instance, are in a good condition. And there are new highways between Tirana, Durres and Berat.
And finally, for your safety it is best to avoid driving at night in Albania. Because street lighting is not always present and sometimes not working. Moreover, although the Albanian police strictly check vehicle lighting, it is not always the norm. So plan your route, to avoid driving when it gets dark.
Before you drive in Albania, make sure you have your paperwork in order. Firstly, you will need the driving’s licence from your country. Moreover, you will need an international driver’s permit, which you can get in your country before travelling. Thirdly, you will need insurance for the rental car.
Moreover, if you are renting a car, it is important to check with the car rental company for their requirements. Especially, if you plan on renting a car and driving across the border. In this case, you might need extra paperwork. Like a Green Card, that extends your insurance for the car into Albania.
How to keep your money safe in Albania?
When it comes to cash, money and credit cards, there is some petty crime in Albania. In the past, there have been some reports of credit card fraud in the country. However, it is all average. The numbers indicate that petty crime is no more popular in Albania, then in other big cities around the world.
You should be cautious when paying with a credit card. Make sure you do not let your credit card out of sight, when you do a transaction. And when you make use of an ATM machine, ensure nobody is looking over your shoulder to obtain the pin code.
How to save money in Albania?
It is also important to note, that is smart to carry some cash with you in Albania. The credit and debit cards are accepted at banks, large supermarkets and international hotels. But the smaller shops, street markets and taxis often only accept cash.
Moreover, withdrawing cash from an ATM machine with a foreign bank card, is relatively expensive in Albania. Since Albania is not a part of the European Union (yet), there are no transparency rules for banks.
Some ATM machines may charge you a fee or calculate a high exchange rate for a withdrawal. And sometimes the machine will inform you clearly before withdrawal. But in some cases, you only find out afterwards on your bank statement. A withdrawal of 100 euros may cost you 4-5 euros in fees sometimes.
Exchanging foreign currencies, like pounds, euros or US dollars, is much more cheap. The margin for currency exchange is less than 1% in Albania.
Can you drink the water in Albania?
In most places in Albania, the tap water is not drinkable. So it is better to drink bottled water in Albania.
Whether the tap water is drinkable, depends on the area where you are. There are some mountain areas, where the tap water is drinkable and delicious. There are water springs in the mountains, like the Blue Eye spring, where you will see the locals fill their bottles with water. So just check with the locals for their advice about a mineral water spring.
Foreign authorities recommend to drink bottled water in Albania. The UK government advices only bottled water, since according to them tap water may cause illness. The Swiss government points out that the water network and facilities are old and incomplete. And the World bank states that the sewerage infrastructure is aged, damaged and inefficient.
Most Albanian people buy bottled mineral water or keep a tank for mineral water on their property. The tap water can be used for washing dishes, brushing your teeth or cooking.
Healthcare and medical facilities in Albania
Travelling to Albania is no more dangerous from a health point of view, than any other country in South-Eastern Europe.
For your travel in Albania, it is best to ensure you have a comprehensive travel insurance including medical coverage. Moreover, it is smart to ensure you have accessible funds on your payment card. Just in case, you may have to cover unexpected medical costs. Your travel insurance may reimburse you later, but it is likely you will have to pay upfront.
Albania has a public healthcare system throughout the country. However, the best medical care can be given in the capital city Tirana. The healthcare facilities outside the capital city vary in quality of care and hygiene.
In case you experience a medical emergency, it is best to go to a private hospital in Tirana. Private hospitals in Tirana provide the best care in the country. Moreover, English speaking and international doctors will be available.
Pharmacies and medicines are widely available in Albania. You will be able to obtain international brands of medicines in the cities on every major road.
One of the supplies to bring on your trip is sun protection. The sunshine in Albania can be strong. Not only in the beach areas, but also in the mountain areas. Moreover, sunscreen can be relatively expensive in Albania. So you might even save yourself a little money by coming prepared.
What travel vaccinations do I need for Albania?
For travel to Albania there are several vaccinations that you might need.
-DTP vaccination, which combines Diphtheria, Polio and Tetanus
-Hepatitis A vaccination
Recommended depending on personal circumstances and travel plans:
Diphtheria, Polio and Tetanus vaccination
In many western countries, you receive a vaccination against Diphtheria, Polio and Tetanus as a child. Since this vaccination is part of the routine vaccinations as a child, you won’t even be aware you got it. However, if you travel to Albania, it is recommended to check your children’s vaccinations. If you indeed received the vaccine as a child, you probably only need a booster vaccination.
Hepatitis A vaccination
Hepatitis A is a liver infection, that you get from a virus. You can get Hepatitis A, if the hygiene and sanitation are poor in a place you eat. Like in less developed countries or remote areas. You will get the virus if you eat or drink contaminated food or water.
To get vaccinated for Hepatitis A, you need two injections. The first injection protects you against Hepatitis A for 1 year. However, it is worth getting the second injection, because it gives you protection for 30 years. This way you are also covered for all your future holidays.
Hepatitis B vaccination
Hepatitis B is an infection in the liver, which is caused by a virus. The virus is spread via infected blood, blood products, contaminated needles, medical instruments and via sex.
To protect against Hepatitis B, you need three vaccinations. If you get the first vaccination today, you need another vaccination after 1 month and after 6 months. After the last vaccination, your blood needs to be tested to ensure you are protected successfully. Though after the vaccination, you are protected for life.
Rabies is an infection, that you can get from infected animals. If an infected animal bites, scratches or licks a wound or broken skin, you can get rabies. Rabies is a serious brain infection.
It is definitely recommended to not touch any animals, including cats and dogs, in Albania. Which may be harder than you think, since there are many street dogs. The vaccination against rabies exists of two vaccinations. Even if you got the vaccine, you should still seek medical assistance if an animal bits you.
You can get tick-borne encephalitis from a little animal called a tick. Ticks can be found in forest and country areas. If an infected tick bits you, you can get a brain infection.
So, there is a bigger risk of tick-borne encephalitis, if you go hiking, mountain biking or camping. If you do go to the forest, check your body for ticks during and after, so that you can remove them from your body. The risk is higher in the warmer months, from spring to early autumn, when it is the season for ticks.
Practical health advice for Albania
Regardless of where you are in the world, there is always a risk of getting sick. So, lets just use some common sense and be smart. Of course, there is no need to take unneccessary risks. Because if you have a cold or diarrhoea, it might not be serious, but you cannot enjoy your holiday.
So here are some practical health tips for Albania:
1. Drink bottled water in Albania
2. Avoid ice cubes
3. Avoid unpasteurised dairy products
4. Avoid raw and undercooked food
5. Take your travel vaccinations before travelling
6. Use sunscreen and sun protection
7. Don’t touch any animals
8. Bring water and supplies on a hiking trip
9. Bring a flashlight, because Albania sometimes experiences power outages
10. Arrange an international driving permit and car insurance before driving
Safety of boats and watersport activities in Albania
If you plan on booking a boat trip or taking jet ski’s in Albania. Book at a professional company and pay a bit more for a quality rental. Because it is important that the safety equipment is in place.
Some local press have reported that some of the boats and watersport companies in Albania do not take the necessary precautions. That does not apply everywhere, but it always smart to be careful and keep your eyes open.
Safely travelling by bus or taxi in Albania
When you take a taxi in Albania, it is best to use a registered taxi. Moreover, you can ask your hotel to arrange a taxi for you. To avoid overpaying you can ask your hotel or locals how much it will cost. Or you can insist on switching on the meter in the taxi.
Travelling by bus in Albania is completely different from other European countries. The mini busses are called Furgon in Albania. The Furgon busses drive from one city to another. What is different is that the bus drivers are independent operators. The bus driver is usually the owner of the bus.
The advantage of a Furgon minibus trip is that it is incredibly cheap. And you will get a truly authentic Albanian experience. The bus driver will play local music, stop for food and drinks and chat with all the locals. However, travel by furgon is sometimes slow and timetables can be unreliable. The bus driver may pick up some extra passengers along the road as well. As long as you are relaxed, you will enjoy the experience.
Is Albania safe for solo female?
Albania is safe for solo female travellers. There are my backpackers and young women between 20 and 30, who travel alone in Albania. I have travelled through Albania solo as well and I always felt safe. The women that I know, who have travelled in Albania solo, all have shared great experiences.
Albanian people may be curious and approach you, because you look western. But that is more there interest in foreigners and western culture. Some children may be pushed forward by their parents to speak English. But no bad intentions, just enthusiasm and curiosity.
Do you need a visa to travel to Albania?
You need a visa for Albania, unless you come from one of the visa exempt countries. If you come from one of the below countries, you can enter Albania without a visa. You can enter Albania for a maximum of 90 days without a visa, if you hold a passport from one of the following countries:
Visa exempt countries:
All European Union citizens, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Georgia, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Macau, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, North Macedonia, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela
How to get to Albania? You can get to Albania by flight, by car, by bus or by ferry. You can fly to Tirana International Airport from European cities. You can drive or take a bus to Albania from the neighbouring countries: Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia or Greece. You can take a ferry from Corfu island or Italy to Albania.
Where is the Albania capital? The Albania capital is Tirana, which is in the centre of Albania. The airport that serves the capital city is Tirana International Airport, which is about 30 minutes from the city centre. The centre of Tirana Albania is Skanderbeg Square.
Peaks of the Balkans 156 | Bruno Rijsman | Flickr
Street in Shkoder | NH53 | Flickr
Bunker in Albanian Alps | Elian Stefa & Gyler Mydyti | WikiCommons
Albania, Landrover Adventure Travel | Witold Waschult | Flickr