For many years, American citizens have flocked to Albania for short- or long-term living, enjoying a one-year visa waiver, which means there is no paperwork needed for the 12 first months of their stay here. But that all changed, somewhat out of the blue, leaving many stranded, confused and uncertain.
Under previous rules, US passport holders could enter Albania and stay for up to 12 months without applying for a residence permit. Once the time was up, they only had to go out for three months and then come back to enjoy another year. This system has been loved by digital nomads, traveling families, teachers, volunteers, and various other types of individuals.
But on January 1, 2022, everything changed. The visa-free year policy has ended and a new rule has come into effect. This rule means that after 90 days, US citizens must either leave and wait 90 days to return, or apply for a residence permit, like EU citizens and other citizens.
The problem is that dozens of US citizens said they received no warning or notification of the changes. Also, nothing has been posted on the embassy website or social media informing anyone of such a change. Although the website has been updated, it does not answer all questions and was only changed a week ago, almost a month after the rules changed.
Ever True, a US citizen living in Tirana, said the problem is not that the rules have changed, but rather the lack of communication.
“People came here last year, signed year-long leases, bought cars, put their kids through school, etc., thinking they were a year old here and didn’t need rush to decide if they needed to get a residence permit,” she said. says Quit.
She added that the embassy had not issued “any statement” about it and that there were big questions about the ins and outs of the new rule. She said communication from the embassy had been minimal while noting that she did not respond to questions she sent.
“Many of us have contacted the consulates and messaged them on social media asking for clarification, but received no response other than that it’s now been 90 days. We don’t know what what will happen to those of us who arrived last year, what the fines will be or if we would be eligible for imprisonment or banishment.
“The only way Americans who are here will know about this rule is if they’re on expat groups on Facebook; otherwise they will find out the hard way that they have overstayed when they leave,” she said.
Exceeding the length of stay results in heavy fines. Additionally, those who were not aware of the rule until after January 1, 2022 and have now “overstepped” could face hefty fines if they apply for residency, leave the country or attempt to return.
“It’s a financial trap for people in our situation,” Ever said.
Exit spoke to several other US citizens who told similar stories. Requests to the embassy for information and clarification have been ignored or unanswered, leaving them unsure of what to do.
Exit also contacted the US Embassy to ask why the rule changed, if it is being applied retroactively, why there was no communication with citizens, and the exact details and process of the new system.
They responded by directing us to a page on the embassy website that did not answer the main question of what happens to those who already live, work or rent in Albania when the rules come into force. As to why the policy change, they directed us to the Albanian authorities.