Driving across the border into Albania as independent travellers in your own, British, car was something we had been told was not possible. Based on people’s concerned comments about our driving in Albania and on our fruitless searches prior to travelling and daring to cross the border into Albania we thought is would be helpful for other independent travellers to tell you what we have found.
Before travelling out of the EU, and into countries not listed on our standard car insurance, we did a lot of internet browsing and made lots of calls to insurance companies in an attempt to either get insurance for travelling through countries such as Bosnia and Albania or have some confirmation that it is possible to buy insurance on arrival in the country.
Our searches were not very fruitful but undeterred, and buoyed on by the confirmation that our VW and AA covered us if we broke down, we set off with a hope to drive through Albania somehow despite the fact that our insurance company was clear we could not get a green card and would not be insured by them.
Apologies no pictures in this blog for obvious reasons….
Our first experience as independent travellers driving across the border into Albania
Our first foray into Albania was after a van camping trip through Italy and across into Greece. After several days of clear blue Mediterranean sea and flip-flopping in quiet Greek villages we had our fill of Tzatsiki, Greek salads, Tyrokafteri and Retsina and were ready for something different so set off in the direction of the Albanian border. Approaching early evening and apprehensive we decided to face driving across the border into Albania the following morning. Wild camping on a beach close to the Greece Albania border we met a British freelance journalist on a break from working in Albania.
Our brief chat was invaluable and allayed our fears as to the ease of travelling independently and driving in Albania. The top things we learnt from the friendly British journalist:
- It should be possible to buy insurance at the border (they wouldn’t let you in without it)
- you may need a ‘fixer’ to get you through the bureaucracy,
- most roads were not good though once off the main north south road pot holes could slow you down
- at all times you should watch our for police check points who gave on the spot fines.
- He recommended Albania as a fascinating country to visit.
Most of this was true and actually even easier than he had suggested. Here’s what we found or go straight to the summary
Driving towards the Albanian border control a short queue, all Albanian cars, gave us time to assess who was who and what we may need to do. Just before our turn at the passport control a friendly looking lady approached and started to ask us; where were we from, how long we might stay and did we have insurance already. She walked alongside the car and we answered guardedly as we approached passport control, a fixer we thought. When we reached the window and handed over our passports, vehicle V5 and insurance document she appeared in the booth behind the border officer. Strange as fixers ore often stay with you on your side. We were nervous and wary as they perused our passports and chatted between themselves in Albanian. Within a minute or so our passports were stamped however the border guard kept hold of them and told us to pull over to one side. Oh dear.
We needn’t have worried, the lady came over to us, ‘now you need insurance, a green card, for the car and I arrange the insurance, come with me’. That explained everything! We followed her to a tiny office, one of several in the shadow of the huge metal framed border gate where house martins swooped into their nests. Two or three days would suffice for our first adventure in Albanian but the minimum green card duration is two weeks so that was the only option. With all of the details from our V5 painstakingly entered into her big book of embossed official forms and our €50 safely in her cash box she stamped the form. ‘Show this to the guard at the next window for customs. Enjoy your holiday in Albania, good luck!’ she said as she passed the precious document over the large, dusty wooden desk.
We walked across to the customs window she had pointed to where the official seemed to be expecting us and already had our passports. He reviewed all of our documents entering some information slowly into his archaic looking computer and finally passed everything back through the window. ‘Good luck’ he said.
I hope we don’t need all this luck we said to each other as we walked back across the rows of queuing cars to the van. Hopefully it’s just a turn of phrase.
It was, our travels in Albania were; fascinating from a cultural and geographical point of view, challenging from a navigation point of view with a completely blank screen on our sat nav system, few road signs and new roads not shown on our paper map sending us in unexpected directions but not particularly arduous and all of the police check points that we passed (carefully at or below the speed limit) simply looked curiously at us, nodded and waved us on.
We drove back across the Albania border at a point in the north into Croatia a few days later having met some very friendly people, seen some beautiful landscapes, intriguing towns and enjoyed lots of delicious food. The border guard needed to see passports, V5 and green card documents again and we were quickly waved on our way.
Our second experience driving our own British car across the border into Albania
The next time we visited Albania in our camper van was a little different, entering from the north via Croatia (the same border post through which we had left last time) the process was very fast and simple. Officials in one cabin checked our passports and we moved to the next where they checked our V5 vehicle document and UK car insurance but did not ask for a green card. We were wished good luck again and waved on. We did as we were told and before we knew it we were on the open road in Albania. We quickly pulled over confused and concerned that something had changed or were we driving in Albania illegally without insurance.
After a little debate I walked back to the border control and, after causing a little disruption, nervously made my way back to the cabin where the border officer had stamped our passports and checked our V5 document. Surrounded by border police I reached her cabin window and asked her did we need insurance? She had not asked for it but we were sure we needed it. Oh dear I assumed you had it she said. Yes you definitely need it and must buy it after the border, she pointed to an unassuming looking grey kiosk at the side of the road.
It looked more like a car park attendant’s kiosk than a bureau for car insurance however the man inside was very helpful, had the appropriate embossed official forms and so after parting with our €50 again we were soon handed our green card insurance and could drive on relaxed, legal and insured through Albania.
In summary if you are thinking of going across the border into Albania as an independent traveller and driving your own car:
Driving across the border into Albania with your British vehicle is possible
- Your are very unlikely to be able to obtain a green card / insurance from a UK insurance company.
- Don’t forgot to take your vehicle V5 document, your UK car insurance (just in case) and your driving license.
- If you normally rely on satellite navigation to find your way, don’t in Albania. Your system is unlikely to have the map installed and if it does is likely to be out of date. Buy as recent a map as you can before setting off.
At the border:
- be patient there can sometimes be long queues entering and leaving Albania
- you will not need a ‘fixer’ though the border guards may look austere everyone tends to be friendly and as helpful as they can be considering they are unlikely to speak English.
- You should be asked for your green card or told that you need to purchase one there and then at the border. It is not always obvious where you need to go for what, the border guards will point you to the right door which is likely to have a sleepy and surprised looking insurance official behind a desk (we judge they don’t get many Independent European travellers on a daily basis requiring Green cards) who may dig around to find the official forms and a pen!
- If you are not obliged by the border guards to buy your green card be sure to buy it from one of the insurance kiosks you are sure to see just after the border crossing.
- Green card insurance for a British car driving in Albania is for a minimum duration of two weeks and (at time of writing, in summer 2015) costs €50.