who knew data could be so cheap?!
getting the card
when you arrive at Tirana International Airport (named after perhaps the most famous Albanian, Mother Teresa, btw) and exit from baggage claim, you’ll see two stores, a Vodafone and an Eagle/ALBtelecom. from what i could tell prices are similar but i went over to the Eagle store because there was no wait.
i was only in the country for less than four days and was given the choice of 1 or 2 gigabytes — i chose the 2 gigabytes for…drumroll please, 400 lek, or:
including the SIM card!!!! (according to the wiki, it looks like i got the 200 lek SIM for free since the price for the plan itself is 400 lek — and i must have gotten the 100 lek credit that you can see from the sticker on the package because i was able to make some calls.)
registration was pretty easy — no forms, just hand over your passport and sign a piece of paper.
unfortunately, you do have to wait about 25-30 minutes for the card to activate (which the guy warned me about). i don’t trust automatic activation so i kept turning my phone on and off every 5 minutes or so until it did activate.
because he only loaded up my card with the exact amount to activate the plan, he told me to turn off cellular data until i got a text message saying that the data plan was active.
you will get a series of text messages once the card is active, then confirming that you have the value topped up correctly.
finally, you also may need to send off a text message to activate the data plan — send 400 to 138 to activate the 400 lek (2 GB) plan; more options are there on the wiki page. luckily i was waiting at the airport for my Airbnb host to come pick me up, so i was able to verify with the rep that everything was OK (i wanted to make sure it activated correctly so showed him the text messages i had received — it was then that he told me i needed to send off the text message to 138).
he also set up the APN for me — it’s host “internet” with no username or password.
as with almost all young people in Tirana, he spoke excellent English.
coverage and performance
in Tirana i mostly got LTE service with fairly decent speeds. i rented a car (an adventure!) and drove down to Berat and there was coverage for all of the drive as well as good 3G coverage in Berat, including at the top of the hill where the castle is.
from the top of Berat Castle:
from the top of the Pyramid of Tirana: