Citizens of many 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 (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA), all of Albania’s neighbours, the UK, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the US.
The Albanian Foreign Ministry’s website carries information in English about visa requirements; a full list, with contact details, of diplomatic representation in Albania, including for countries that cover Albania from their embassies in other countries; and information on Albanian embassies throughout the world. Albanian embassies do not provide tourist information, beyond visa requirements and similar queries.
Getting there and away
Albania’s main (and, until 2021, only) international airport is officially called Mother Teresa International Airport but more often referred to simply as Tirana Airport, even by the airport authorities themselves. Albanians often refer to it as ‘Rinas’, from the name of the village that once existed there. The IATA code is TIA.
From the UK, direct flights to Tirana are operated by British Airways, EasyJet and Wizz Air. A full list of airlines that operate scheduled flights into Tirana Airport, with their websites and the telephone numbers of their local offices, is available on the airport’s website. This also has real-time listings for arrivals and departures, details about flight schedules and other useful information.
For many northern Europeans, the cheapest and most convenient way to get to southern Albania is to take a flight to Corfu and from there the hydrofoil to Saranda. The journey takes about 40 minutes. There is at least one hydrofoil crossing a day, all year round.
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 9 hours. There are also ferries to Durrësi from Ancona and Trieste, and to Vlora from Brindisi. The Italian website traghetti.it has details of all routes between Italy and Albania. A passenger route has been proposed between Durrësi and the Croatian ports of Rijeka and Zadar, and may start operating in the lifetime of this book.
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 in petrol stations on major highways and in cities. For those with an electric vehicle, public chargers are not widespread – there are a few in Tirana, including one on Embassy Row, Rruga Skënderbeu – but availability will probably improve in the near future.
If crossing into Albania from Kosovo, there are practically no formalities beyond showing your passport. Women aged under 18 travelling without either of their parents should carry a notarised authorisation; this is intended to make life difficult for criminals trafficking women, rather than for the legitimate female traveller.
Self-drive cars can be hired at Tirana and Kukësi airports, outside the ferry terminal in Saranda, and in other cities and larger towns. A few companies offer the option of dropping the vehicle off in a different town from where it was picked up. For some of the routes described in this book, a small saloon will not be adequate. Many car-hire agencies have 4×4 vehicles available, although of course these are more expensive.
Some good options include:
Public transport in Albania falls broadly into one of three categories; ‘inter-city buses’, ‘rural buses’ and ‘city buses’. They all operate daily, except in some remote areas where there is no Sunday service. The rail network is restricted to a couple of trains a day between Durrësi and Elbasani and Shkodra. The fares are cheap, but the trains are so slow and infrequent that they are not a realistic option for most travellers. There are no internal civilian flights at the time of writing.
Adventurous cyclists will be spoilt for choice with all the ancient tracks across Albania’s mountain passes and along remote valleys. For short excursions on reasonably surfaced roads, bikes can be hired in several cities.