Forget the Canaries. Some Italian pensioners have decided to spend their sunset years in the unlikely destination of Albania - drawn mainly by the low cost of living and the friendly locals.
Carmine Iampietro in his newly bought house in Durres. Photo courtesy of Iampietro
Over the last two centuries, Italians came to Albania on many different missions. In April 1939 the army of Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini disembarked to occupy the country.
In the early 1990s, many came to explore a neighbouring country that had been isolated by the communist regime for more than four decades. From the 2000s, many Italians came to study and do business.
Now some Italians are coming under a new aim, to spend their retirement in a country that is similar in terms of weather and even traditions but much cheaper.
Carmine Iampietro never planned to spend his retirement in the port city of Durres, around 270 kilometers away from the Italian port city of Bari, although he has lived with his Albanian wife for 16 years.
The 67-year-old former motorcycle mechanic from Novara, near Milan, told BIRN that he had been looking for options where he and his wife could have a decent life on a pension of around 1,000 euros a month, after the 23-per-cent tax that the Italian state deducts from pensions.
“It’s just impossible in Italy for two people to have a normal life on this amount. So from 2008 when I retired - after paying my social contributions for 48 years - I was mulling spending the rest of our lives in places like Spain, Portugal or the Canaries, where the cost of living is cheaper than in Italy,” he said.
But 2010 would turn out to be game-changer year, when he decided to make his first visit to Albania, after much hesitation.
His wife, Beki Kurti, told BIRN that he had been reluctant to go after hearing many reports about Albania being unsafe. However, those worries all faded away the moment he set foot in the country.
“I was astonished at how hospitable and social the Albanians are. My plans changed immediately and I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in this country," he recalled.
Two and a half years ago this plan became possible after he and his wife decided to buy an apartment in Durres with the idea of living permanently in Albania.
“I chose Durres. My wife wanted to live in Tirana. But I always wanted to have a house by the sea and I’m glad I finally did it, since it is quiet and beautiful. You can have a good quality life with just my pension here,” he said.
Iampietro not only takes regular long walks by the sea but has an active social life in his new homeland.
In Durres, he has met other pensioner compatriots, people like him who decided to leave Italy to enjoy a more comfortable sunset life in Albania.
“I am friends with at least 10 families of Italian pensioners living in Albania. One reason for that is also the fact that they don’t pay tax on their pension if they transfer it here,” he explained.
He learned that the interest in doing the same as him was even higher after he opened a Facebook page named “Pensionati Italiani in Albania” – “Italian pensioners in Albania”, which he set up to share his good experience in the country with a larger audience.
“Every month, I have three four Italian pensioners asking me if they should do the same, and some have already decided to do so,” he said.
However, Iampietro said would-be Italian pensioners in Albania still face some hurdles. The main one is the need to buy a house or open a business in order to get Albanian residency.
“I don’t understand why the Albanian authorities don’t seize the moment and ease the way for Italian pensioners to get residency rights,” he said.
“It should be enough to gain it just with their pension and with a rent contract,” he suggested, claiming that if the Albanians allowed that, many more elderly Italians would come without a thought.
Roberto Emmerobins Mazzuca, an Italian who studied in Tirana, has opened a real estate agency, mainly for compatriots wanting to do business in Albania.
He told BIRN that in the last few months alone around 50 Italian pensioners had reached him asking him to find them homes in Albania.
“There is a lot of potential in this direction and we are working to make the experience better,” he said.