Welcome to Expat Tales where you meet some of the many interesting expats living around the world, and hear their top tips for life as an expat. This month I have a great interview with Anita Hendrieka, a travel blogger from New Zealand who’s now living in Albania. While there are plenty of expats living in Spain and France and other parts of Europe, I haven’t seen a whole lot talking about life in Albania, so I wanted to know more. Luckily she agreed to an interview! Read on to learn about how she ended up in Albania and the beautiful places she’s discovered there.
Name: Anita Hendrieka
Originally from: Carterton, New Zealand
Now living in: Saranda, Albania
What brought you to Albania?
I had heard about Albania through a couple of travel blogging friends who had shared pictures of their time there. The beaches are what attracted to me to this country as they looked so untouched.
Is this your first expat experience?
No, I have been travelling and living overseas since 2012. I mostly lived in the UK and then would travel as much as I could for months at a time throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a travel blogger and have been doing that for the last 8 years! I write about destinations all around the world, mainly focusing on lesser known destinations or countries that are often misrepresented negatively, especially as a solo female traveller. I love being creative with my writing and my website!
How easy is it to live in Albania? Is it easy to get a visa to live in Albania?
As Albania is not in the Schengen zone it’s a great option for expats and travellers as you get three months here (citizens from the USA get 12 months visa-free!). To get a resident visa it’s not the easiest thing; it takes a lot of time and it can be frustrating as there’s a lot of bureaucracy involved.
I love living in Albania because their culture is so rich, there are lots of unknown/hidden pockets of paradise and it’s very affordable. I pay a mere 150 Euro for a 2.5 bed, 2-bathroom apartment which is a 2-minute walk from the beach. I have faster internet than I did in New Zealand, the food is fresh and delicious, and Albanians are very friendly and helpful to the expats who live here.
What’s the cost of living like in Albania?
As I stated above, I pay 150 euro per month for rent, Fiber internet costs 20 Euro and power is usually between 20-30 Euro per month. Eating out is also very inexpensive, you can get a meal and a beer for between 3-10 Euro. A beer is only around 1 Euro. For an expat it is very affordable, for locals it’s not, as their monthly salary can be as low as 150 euro per month.
What are your favourite spots in Albania? Where do you always take visitors?
I love Saranda (the city I live in) as it’s a small coastal city, so you get a good balance of city life and sea life. I always take visitors to the local paradise, which is named the gem of the Riviera – Ksamil. It’s simply beautiful and only a 20-minute drive from Saranda. Also, I recommend hiking to the Monastery of the 40 Saints for the most beautiful view of the city.
Other towns and cities I always recommend to expats and visitors is Gjirokastër (UNESCO town), Qeparo (a half-abandoned village nestled up on a mountain overlooking the sea), Tirana (the bustling capital), Kruja (a mountain town with traditional markets which are over 400 years old) and Berat (another UNESCO city). There are so many places to visit in Albania that the list would be never-ending. Whether you like ancient history, lazing around on the beach or experiencing Albanian city life, there’s something for every expat or traveller.
Is there anything you don’t like about living in Albania?
Yes! Just like everywhere else in the world, nowhere is perfect. Albania has many problems as it was a communist country until 1992, then it had a civil war in 1997 due to a pyramid scheme and most Albanians lost every cent that they had. Albania is a very poor country, so it doesn’t have smooth systems in place for things like recycling, animal welfare and so on.
The trash problem is enormous here, and there’s a big mentality of just dropping your trash on the ground and forgetting about it. It’s also hard to see so many street dogs and cats, many of which have been abused. I am part of a new NGO here in Saranda called Shatervan Idesh and we plan to set up programs for the animals to be vaccinated and spayed and neutered, as well as helping with child welfare and environmental protection.
Any advice for anyone considering living in Albania?
My advice would be to come for a holiday and check it out first! I can almost guarantee that you will fall in love with the country and its quirks. You’ll be overwhelmed with the level of Albanian hospitality. Also, I recommend you check out my Albania travel guide to learn more about the country before you come.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned as an expat?
My biggest lesson would be to make a routine for yourself and find the balance of work/life. When I first was trying to full-time work on my blog and travel at the same time it became overwhelming. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was doing too much travelling and not enough work. Nowadays I have a routine of Monday to Friday work but obviously I love being flexible as there are always things that pop up. When I travel, I now travel much slower, taking time for just travelling, and time for working. Find the balance and go with it!
What’s the best thing about being an expat?
Flexibility, travelling to the most amazing countries, learning about interesting cultures and history, and being able to work at the beach!
What do you miss most about home?
Family (and New Zealand chocolate!). I’m a big family person, I’m one of seven children and I really miss them all, all the time! It’s the hardest thing about being away. This is where social media is a godsend so you can keep in touch with everyone easily.
Where can people find you?
You can find me on my travel blog, Anita Hendrieka, also Instagram and Facebook. If you want to travel to Albania, then you can join my Facebook group Travelling Albania. I’m often commenting and answering any questions about Albania in there!
I also have a YouTube channel called A Daily Odyssey where my partner and I make travel videos on the most incredible places throughout Albania!