FAQs about Peace Corps in Albania
From Peace Corps Wiki
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Albania?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The authorized baggage allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 100 pounds total with a maximum weight allowance of 50 pounds for any one bag.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as fireworks, lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution.
What is the electric current in Albania?
The electric current is 220 volts, 50 hertz. Electrical outlets use round, two-pronged plugs that are standard in Europe, so most American appliances (e.g., hair dryers and CD players) will require transformers and plug adapters. It is best to buy these before leaving the United States. However, European-made electronics are becoming more widely available in Albania at somewhat reasonable prices, so if you do not already own an American item, you may want to wait until you get to Albania and buy one that does not need a transformer or plug adapter. Check out the website of Walkabout Travel Gear (www.walkabouttravelgear.com) for helpful products (converter plugs, small surge protectors, etc.) and tips on dealing with differences in electric current. Electricity can be very unreliable and of poor quality. Some areas of Albania experienced power outages for up to 18 hours per day during the winter of 2005–2006.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same modest level as the people in their communities. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which covers their expenses. Often Volunteers bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash for such travel, but they cannot be used in most of Albania. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. When you travel outside of Albania, weekends away are counted as leave days. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after you complete your first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended visits at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps cannot provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects; Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase personal property insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, the Peace Corps will provide you with insurance application forms, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available. Don’t bring something you aren’t willing to lose.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in Albania do not need an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating motorized vehicles of any kind. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to trucks, bicycles, and lots of walking. If you are planning to travel outside of Albania during annual or business leave, one economical option for such travel is to rent or lease a vehicle with a group of friends. In this case, you will want to make sure that you bring along an international driver's permit, as most European countries where English is not widely spoken will require you to have one. The permit is valid for up to one year and is not renewable. Keep this may influence when you choose to apply for the permit. Obtaining your permit while in Albania can be done through the mail, but can take up to 6 weeks.
What should I bring as gifts for Albanian friends and my host family?
This is not a requirement; a token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are assigned to individual sites about one-third of the way through pre-service training. This gives Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s language and technical skills prior to assigning sites. The most important factor in assigning sites is making a workable match between your skills and knowledge and the needs of the community. This takes precedence over all other considerations. If feasible, you may be able to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, and living conditions. However, many factors influence site assignment and the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placing you where you would most like to be. Current Volunteers live in cities, small towns, or rural villages in all parts of Albania, including coastal areas and in the mountainous interior. Most Volunteers are within a two-hour bus ride of another Volunteer. Some sites are an eight-hour mini-bus drive from Tirana. You should be prepared to live in any of these settings.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For non-emergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580, then extension 2421.
Can I call home from Albania?
Yes, but you will need to pay for all personal calls from your living allowance, and their cost can be substantial. All Volunteers have access to a phone in their communities, but it may be in a post office some distance away. Some host families may have a phone in their home that you may use to make local calls and receive local or international calls. Telephone service in Albania is generally poor, and it is best not to expect to make calls easily. Cellular service is one bright spot as prices drop and coverage increases. Volunteers receive a cellphone during training that can be used to call home if they wish to pay the fees. While the Peace Corps provides funds for phone time each month for safety and security purposes, it will not be enough to call home. You can receive calls on your cellphone at no charge, however.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
Not unless it is a European GSM (global system mobile) phone that accepts SIM (subscriber identity module) cards. Though the most common U.S. cellphones will not work in Albania, there are GSM/SIM card phones in the U.S. that will (usually called tri-bands).
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Internet and e-mail access is becoming more available in larger towns but remains relatively rare in rural villages. Although new Internet cafes are opening all the time, you may have to travel quite a distance to find one in your region. If you already have a laptop and do not bring it with you, you will probably wish you had. It is unlikely that you can set up a connection to the Internet, but you could use a laptop for personal and professional word processing. If you do bring a computer, you are responsible for insuring and maintaining it. Powering your laptop may be challenge. Most communities have electricity only on a schedule and power outages are common throughout the country.