We've been in Albania for four weeks now, during which time we spent one week in Tirana, one week driving through Shkoder, Berat, Himare, Gjirokaster and two weeks in Saranda. Since Albania is pretty much under the radar of the majority of tourists, we thought it might be helpful to note the general living costs from our experience for any interested future visitors.
One thing to point out is that we arrived in late November 2020 - not only is it the off season, but also during the second wave of the pandemic in Europe. As such prices may be slightly different compared to normal times and peak season.
Firstly, we found prices in Tirana were slightly more expensive in terms of accommodation, coffee and byreks. However eating out in restaurants in Tirana cost a bit less due to competition I guess. Otherwise, inland places were slightly less expensive than those on the coast.
USD$1 currently exchanges 101Lek. To make things simple, we'll just say USD$1 = 100 Lek. Rule of thumb to convert Lek to USD is just put a decimal place before the last two digits - so 150 Lek = $1.50 US or 65 Lek = $0.65 US
Espresso coffee: 50 - 80 Lek
Byrek: 50 -100 Lek
A loaf of plain bread: 50 Lek
Milk/Liter: 100 Lek
Bottled yogurt/Liter: 120 -150 Lek
Butter/Kg: 500 Lek
Eggs/10: 110 Lek
Local fetta cheese/kg: 450 - 800 Lek
Marinated olives/kg: 300 Lek
Beef/kg: 1200 Lek
Wine/750ml: 400 - 4,000 Lek
3GB data per month by Vodafone: 1000 Lek
Albania produces a lot of olive oil locally. Normally farmers from villages make olive oil from their own olives. Olive oil often comes in recycled 1.5 liter plastic bottles without any label and is sold in corner stores, market stalls, back of parked vans and on the footpaths. Quality can vary dramatically as some may mix other cheap oil with the olive oil to make more profit. One bottle of 1.4 liter oil costs 900 - 2,000 Lek. Local people usually have "village contacts" to get a reliable, quality olive oil supply.
We asked around in the local expat community and managed to get hold a recommended "village contact" whose family has a good sized olive farm and olive oil factory 30 minutes inland from Saranda. A 1.4 liter bottle of fresh olive oil was hand-delivered to us at a cost of 1000 Lek. It looks green and smells super fresh. We haven't learned how to taste good olive oil yet, but it did taste nice.
The other popular item coming in recycled plastic bottles is raki - a type of fruit spirit with alcohol content 40-70%. You can find commercially produced glass-bottled raki in supermarkets and they cost 400 - 4,000 Lek for a 750ml bottle. However, it's believed the best quality raki is homemade by individuals. You can easily find 1.4 liter or 250 ml bottles of clear liquor stood next to bottles of olive oil and honey in market stalls and vendors on the side of road. We bought a 1.5 liter of raki from our friendly local mixed business store owner for 600 Lek. It tastes pretty good!
Fresh vegetables and fruits are very inexpensive. They can either be bought from one of many dedicated fruit and veggie stands, a convenience store or a supermarket. Some examples of fresh produce cost per kilogram:
Apple: 65 Lek
Pear: 160 Lek
Mandarin: 60 Lek
Orange: 70 Lek
Persimmon: 70 Lek
Banana: 160 Lek
Green pepper: 120 Lek
Red pepper: 200 Lek
Eggplant: 160 Lek
Onion: 60 Lek
Tomato: 70 Lek
Eating out is very affordable throughout Albania. Depending on which region you are in, most popular styles of food offered include traditional Albanian, Greek and Italian:
Appetizer: 200-300 Lek
Pasta dish: 500-600 Lek
Non-seafood main: 300-600 Lek
Fresh seafood main: 700 - 1200 Lek
0.5 liter house wine: 300 Lek
Now let's move onto the accommodation cost which usually takes the largest percentage of a monthly budget. Our centrally located one bedroom Airbnb in Tirana costs USD$30 per day for one week. When doing the week long road trip, we mostly stayed two nights at one place (mostly 1-bedder apartment) and the average cost was USD$25 per night.
Since we are staying in Saranda for over one month, we received a long-stay discount and only pay USD$18 per night. Considering it has stunning water views, is centrally located, has Wifi, A/C, washer, open plan kitchen etc, and is modern and immaculate, it's a great bargain. This is by far the best value apartment we ever stayed!
For our road trip, we rented a manual Ford Focus car in Tirana and dropped it off in Saranda. The 13-day rental cost USD$107, but there was also a USD$115 one-way fee since we dropped off at a different location. It worked out to be USD$17 per day.
Fuel prices are not cheap, similar to other places in Europe. We noticed normal diesel cost ranges 135 - 160 Lek per liter and petrol costs slightly higher than diesel. Pricing is noticeably higher on the coast than inland.
Since we began full time travel we haven't had any chance to see a dentist and our dental care was urgently overdue. We decided to see a local dentist here in Saranda to get cleaning and checkup done. We were quite pleased to find a highly recommended dental clinic operated by a couple who speak perfect English. They were gentle and informative, and had a perfect bed-side manner. Here are the costs we incurred or have been quoted, and in comparison with dental costs in Australia and USA, should I just say it's simply not comparable:
Teeth cleaning: 2000 Lek
Air polishing for teeth cleaning: 2000 Lek
Root canal: 4000 Lek
Biodentine filling: 2000 Lek
Normal filling: 2000 Lek
Our annual physical checkup is also overdue, so we contacted a local doctor recommended by the expat community. His fee is 4000 Lek per consultation and he also informed us that blood tests for the physicals would cost around 1500 Lek per person at a lab.
In summary, since agriculture is the second largest industry in Albania, agricultural products tend to be very inexpensive. However, we found generally imported items or items deemed to be "luxury" tend to be expensive - on par with or more than those in Australia or USA. I guess this gives another reason to buy locally and eat locally, which is our philosophy being the Jolly Hobos!