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Albania - Travel and visas
Citizens of most Western countries are not required to obtain Albanian visas in advance. Countries to which this visa-free system applies include all those in the European Union and EFTA, all of Albania’s neighbours (including Serbia), Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the USA and Turkey. Visitors to Albania are no longer required to pay an entry tax. The Albanian Foreign Ministry’s website (www.punetejashtme.gov.al/en/services/services-for-foreign-citizens) carries information in English and Albanian about visa requirements, and information on Albanian embassies throughout the world.
British Airways (www.ba.com) has direct flights from London Gatwick to Tirana (TIA). At the time of writing, 14 airlines operate scheduled flights into Tirana. A full list, with the addresses of their websites and the telephone numbers of their offices in Tirana, is available on Tirana International Airport’s website (www.tirana-airport.com). There are also flights from the UK to Podgorica and Prishtina.
Tirana is Albania’s only international airport. Officially called ‘Mother Teresa International Airport’ and usually referred to as Rinas (the name of the nearest village), it has been completely modernised and has a bright and airy passenger terminal with all the usual facilities, including free Wi-Fi throughout. Smoking is prohibited, except in the smoking lounge airside.
By sea and lake
For many northern Europeans, the cheapest and most convenient way to get to southern Albania is to take a charter flight to Corfu and from there the ferry or hydrofoil to Saranda. There is a hydrofoil crossing every morning and a ferry crossing every afternoon, all year round; additional ferries operate in summer.
Albania has good sea connections with Italy. The busiest route is Bari–Durrësi, with several ferry companies operating throughout the year. The crossing takes about nine hours. There are also ferries to Durrësi from Ancona and Trieste (18 and 24 hours, respectively), and to Vlora from Brindisi (eight hours overnight). The
Italian ferry websites (eg: www.traghettiweb.it, www.traghettiamo.it) have details of all the routes between Italy and Albania.
A passenger-only ferry across Lake Ohrid was piloted in the summer of 2014, linking the Macedonian towns of Ohrid and Struga with the Albanian resort of Pogradeci. The return fare on the once-weekly service was 3,000 lek or €30. Assuming it continues in the future, it will be an attractive, although pricier, alternative to the bus journey around the northern or southern end of the lake.
Visitors who bring their own cars into Albania should ensure that their vehicle insurance is valid there. There is no longer a ‘circulation tax’. Petrol and diesel are widely available everywhere except the most remote mountain areas. Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) is available at selected garages in cities and large towns.
Crossing into Albania by bus is usually a straightforward process. Finding out about these cross-border buses, however, can be more of a challenge. At Greek bus stations and tourist information offices, staff will usually deny the existence of any public transport to Albania. It is unclear whether this is because they are genuinely unaware of the many buses that travel between Greek and Albanian towns and cities, or are trying to prevent tourists from leaving their country.
Self-drive cars can be hired in Tirana, the airport and a handful of other locations. Only Tirana Car Rentals currently offers the option of dropping the vehicle off in a different town from where it was picked up. Car hire is relatively expensive (€50–100 per day for the cheapest compact car) and, for some of the routes described in this book, a small saloon will not be adequate.