Albania is a country often overlooked when picking somewhere in Europe to move to. People discuss what it'd be like living in Italy, Spain, or Germany at a much high frequency than in the Balkan countries of Serbia, Montenegro, or Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Here I am to tell you that not only will it be easier to secure a long-term visa to Albania but your cost of living will be significantly cheaper. You'll get access to the same beaches that line the photogenic Croatian coast, the same food that tourists drool over year after year in Greece, the same awe-inspiring mountains that beckon you to Austria, and the same Central European Time Zone that intrigues digital nomads.
All at a fraction of the price.
Now, I know money isn't everything but if you're a digital nomad just starting your own business or building up your freelance portfolio, money is important. Or, even if you're making a stable online income, it's a great place to settle in for a while and save up some funds for a rainy day.
Let's dive right in and see what it's really like living in Saranda, Albania as a digital nomad.
Your Long-Term Visa Options
Most digital nomads moving to Albania opt to arrive visa-free as a tourist. This will allow most nationalities a stay of up to 90-days, no questions asked. It's possible to leave and come back into the country as often as you'd like. Although this is something that other expats told us, not something we tried ourselves.
For us, we opted to spend our 90-days here and then move on to the next country, Montenegro.
Most digital nomads will probably prefer to do the same but if you fall in love with the country, and happen to be a United States citizen, you're in for a treat. For whatever reason, U.S. passport holders are allowed to stay 1-year visa-free in Albania.
That doesn't give you residency or any other special visa rights, it's just an extended tourist visa, but a really nice one if you're looking to stay put for a little while. While Albania doesn't yet offer a freelance or remote worker visa, I still wouldn't rock up to immigration and brag about how much work you'll be doing online while living in Albania. Mums the word on that one.
Choosing Where to Live in Albania
Given that you're here, reading an article about living in Saranda, I can probably assume you've already made your decision about where in the country you'll be living. In case you're still on the fence though, there are a few other places I'd suggest you consider if small-town beach living isn't quite for you.
The best places to live in Albania as a digital nomad (that aren't Saranda):
- Shkoder: Shkoder is a city in the north of the country, right on Shkoder Lake and the border with Montenegro. Its architecture has a lot of remnants of the Ottoman Empire. It's a lively city with plenty to eat, drink, see, and do. Plus, it's the gateway to the Albanian Alps.
- Tirana: Tirana is the capital of Albania and the largest city in the country. This city is a lot of fun, especially the Blokku neighborhood. This is the neighborhood most popular with 20-30-year-old Albanians and foreigners.
- Durres: Durres is the second largest city in Albania. It's just outside of Tirana on the coast. We almost chose to move to Durres instead of Saranda but I'm glad we changed our minds at the last minute. If you're more interested in city amenities over natural beauty, you might like Durres more.
- Vlore: Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to visit Vlore but I've heard good things. This is a southern coastal city that might be a better compromise in terms of size between Durres and Saranda but keep in mind this is mainly a vacation spot, so prices might be higher and you'll most likely interact with more tourists (international and domestic) than locals.
Settling into Saranda, Albania
Ok, now that we're sure that your digital nomad home base will be Saranda, there are a few things you'll want to know to make your life here as comfortable and fun as possible.
Deciding When to Move to Albania
The seasons dictate A LOT in Albania and even more so in coastal towns like Saranda. Although locals still live here year-round, the population increases greatly in the summer when tourists flock to Saranda's beaches. Be smart about when to visit Albania if you're only planning to spend 3 months or less here.
In the summer, you can expect for everything to be open and to have plenty of options when it comes to restaurants, entertainment, bars, and tours. Life is in full swing here in the summer, so if you're looking for a lively place to live for a few months, summertime is certainly for you.
The shoulder seasons, think spring and fall, are good options if you'd like to have some things to do but not be overwhelmed by crowded streets and constantly sweating from hot, sunny weather. We arrived in Albania in March and stayed through the beginning of June. In that time, we went from wearing heavy winter coats to shorts and t-shirts. Each day we were living in Saranda it felt like something new was opening and you can imagine the opposite in the fall: each day something will be closing for winter.
Winter in Saranda is cold! March already was nippy, with a lot of wind and rain rushing off the sea and into the town. Although not very likely on the coast, it's possible that you'll even get some snow. Expect most things to be closed or, if they are open, to only have indoor seating. Keep in mind that smoking indoors is legal in Albania, so if you're not a smoker, you might dislike constantly smelling like a smoker each time you go inside a bar, cafe, or restaurant.
Choosing an Apartment
The seasons also dictate how easy and how affordable housing will be. Finding an apartment in the shoulder seasons or in winter will be a breeze as most places are left vacant. In the summer though, you'll need some forward planning to secure a great place to live and work from. Rent prices will also go up in the summer.
Another thing to keep in mind when choosing an apartment in Saranda is where it's located. Although the town is small and super walkable, it's important to note that it sits on a pretty steep hill. When looking at a map of the city, you'll see there are 5 roads running parallel from each other, starting at the coast. The farther away from the coast, the more of an incline you'll be on.
We didn't know this before we moved in and we chose an apartment on the 5th road. Although certainly a workout to get up and down the hill, we enjoyed the views so felt like it was worth the walk. The prices also tend to lower the higher up you go, so if you want more bang for your buck, up is the way. For reference, we paid ~$400 or 48,000 Lek monthly for our apartment.
An Important note for Digital Nomads
The reality of being a digital nomad means that not everything always runs perfectly smooth. Although the internet is relatively stable, you might experience a few power cuts each day, so buy an Albanian SIM card with some data to get you through the blackouts. In our experience, they never lasted long.
Making Local & Expat Friends
In Saranda, you'll realize that while there is an expat community here, it's small. In general, it's an older crowd, most of whom are retirees. They were extremely welcoming and open towards us but it did take some extra effort to find people are own age. Given that it's a small town, it seems like everyone knows someone, so once you make 1 friend, it can be easier to make more friends.
Two of our good friends who we met while living in Da Nang, Vietnam, actually ended up moving to Saranda while we were there, so in all honesty, that stopped our efforts of meeting new people pretty quickly, since we were so happy to be reunited with great friends.
If though, you're looking to make your group of friends, I recommend joining the Expat Facebook group in Saranda. Here, you can post that you're new and looking to meet some people. You can also learn about events to enjoy and tours to take. There are always a lot of tours outside of the city to either go hiking or explore smaller nearby towns, so by joining one of those, you'll meet some others who are living or traveling in the area, too.
The Best Things to Do In & Around Saranda
Although a small town, I still found there was plenty to do in Saranda to keep you entertained. Keep in mind, this is coming from the perspective of someone who works remotely full-time and who manages this website, so a lot of my time was actually spent inside, looking out.
I imagine if you're unemployed or not working much, you'd get bored quicker, especially in the off-season.
If though, you're like me and enjoy a slower pace of life and will be balancing exploring Saranda with work, you'll be good to go.
These are a few of my favorite things to do in and around Saranda.
Eat local Albanian food
As basic as it sounds, trust me on this one. The cuisine here is a mix of Turkish, Italian, and Greek. Honestly, I don't know a better combo than this one. Everything we ate was fresh, affordable, and flavorful. On the coast, opt for seafood, and in the interior, order lamb. Be sure to pair your meal with a glass of Albanian wine.
You won't lack for restaurants to try, especially in June, July, and August when everything is open. Be open-minded and try a mix of small local haunts and tourist spots. Both will offer a great bang for your buck, although of course the tourist restaurants on the coast will be more expensive, but will most likely offer a different variety of meals to choose from.
Stroll the promenade
Saranda has a pretty big promenade that outlines the coast. It's the best spot to go for a walk, grab a bite to eat or a drink, and spend time with friends outdoors. This spot gets super lively in the summer and is a great place to walk around.
Visit nearby Ksamil
Ksamil is a small beach town right on the border with Greece. The beaches in Ksamil are much better than the beaches in Saranda. You can get there either by taking the public bus, renting a scooter and driving yourself, or by hiking.
We did all 3 of these and the hike was my favorite, although, for much of the way the trail is pretty invisible so I recommend hiring a local guide. They'll also be able to show you the best beaches along the way to stop for a swim.
Brush up on history at Butrint National Park
Just outside of Ksamil is Butrint, a relatively new national park and important archaeological site. This was a strategic area throughout history and since excavating the area, they've uncovered massive ruins from 1000s of years ago.
Visit Gjirokaster and the Blue Eye
Gjirokaster is one of my favorite places we visited in Albania. The small city sits in the mountains, about an hour and a half inland from Saranda. It's unique because it still retains much of its Ottoman architecture and charm. It's a great option for a day trip or to stay a few nights. It can feel touristy in the center of town if you visit in the summer but in the off-season, feels less so.
The Blue Eye is nearby Gjirokaster. It's a small pond but special due to its unnatural blue color, albeit actually natural in its making. It's important to note that while you might see people swimming in this pool, it's actually not allowed. Avoid the temptation and leave this natural phenomenon in peace and simply enjoy it without dipping your toe in.
To get to both of these places, you can rent a car and drive yourself or join a tour.
You're Ready to Try Living in Saranda, Albania
With this, you're ready to move to Saranda as a digital nomad. Although you'll certainly have a quieter lifestyle than you might be used to, your quality of life will be high and affordable.
It's a great place to settle in for a few months and get some work done. The views will make work feel like holiday and with so much to do just outside of your doorstep, you'll be plenty entertained when it's time to close your computer for the day.