I’ve finally completed everything needed for my Residency application! Last week I took the bus to Tirana, then a taxi to the US Embassy. It was very different from my trip to the US Embassy in Ecuador, where the 2 hour trip was made by $100 taxi and once there, had a long wait only to be told to come back another day; they weren’t doing any notarizations that day, even though several of us had appointments! After another long wait they finally relented and I got my form notarized. In contrast, here I was in and out in about 5 minutes! Nice.
Then I flagged down another taxi to take me to a restaurant/bookstore called MusicBooks. My facilitator’s office is one floor above it. The driver didn’t know where it was and wasn’t interested in looking at my Google Maps. He made me get out of the car! Then I got really lucky. The next taxi I flagged was a really kind young guy who spoke English really well! He didn’t know where it was either but he pulled it up on his phone and off we went. It was about a 15 minute ride and as I was getting out he asked if I needed a ride back and said he’d wait for me, so I said yes.
It turned out that we needed my rental lease copied by a notary so he took us there, waited the 20 minutes, took my facilitator back to her office, then drove me to the bus station and instead of just dropping me off, he located the bus to Vlorë and found out what time it left. All told, he spent two hours either driving or waiting, and only charged $23 US!
For some reason, the Vlorë bus driver made everyone get off the bus at an area I wasn’t familiar with at all and since it was dark, I took a taxi home. About 1.5 miles for $6.50!
The final things I needed to do were to get a better health insurance policy and a local bank account. I was able to get a new insurance policy for $105 annually. The bank was a bit more difficult but not insurmountable. It’s a bit of a Catch 22 situation. You need an account in order to get Residency, but banks don’t like to open accounts for non-residents! I’d heard that Union Bank was more lenient, so that’s where I went. Once I told them I was applying for Residency, they allowed me to open two accounts. I had to get an account in Dollars, and an account in Leks. Beats me why they can’t just convert one currency to another! The Lek account lets me use an ATM card. The Dollar account transactions have to be done in person at the bank. It took two hours to accomplish that and during that time I noticed that each transaction at the teller window took at least 10 minutes (similar to banking in Ecuador).
I was very happy to hear that I’m not required to have my Social Security benefits direct deposited to Albania. If you do that, you’re required to prove you’re still alive every year. SS mails a barcoded form to your foreign address and you must return it. If they don’t receive the form back, they assume you’re dead and stop your benefits! Obviously this is a huge problem for people living in countries that don’t have addresses or mail delivery, and you can’t just use a US address.
We are still having the Friday Game Nights which are really fun. I wasn’t prepared for the fluidity of the expat population here though and it makes me sad when friends leave. Americans can stay up to a year here but a number of my new friends are from other countries…Finland, England, Ukraine, Italy, Canada. Everyone else only gets to stay for 90 days. And a number of people, including me, will be leaving Vlorë when the rental rates shoot up in June. I’ll really hate missing out on Game Nights.
In April, four of us are hiring a car service for a day trip to Gjirokaster, an ancient UNESCO World Heritage Site about two hours away. It’s called The City of Stones because a lot of the buildings are roofed with overlapping stones!