Albania uses a currency called lek. Although the euro is widely accepted, you’ll get a better deal on purchases in general if you use lek. Hotels, apartments, and other accommodation are generally quoted in euros but can be paid in either currency. ATMs can be found in all but the most rural of Albania’s towns, and many dispense cash in both currencies.
The lek has been Albania’s one and only national currency since the 1920s, surviving a world war, fascism, and communism. Today Albania’s economy is enjoying strong growth thanks to liberalisation in the post-communist era.
The history of the Albanian Lek
Albania, prior to the introduction of the lek in 1926, had no national currency. Coins of the ancient Illyrian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Bulgarian empires would have circulated throughout the region, and eventually the Ottoman piastre circulated until WWI. During and following the First World War, the country was occupied by European powers and the Franc Germinal circulated. Beginning in 1923 both Italian currency and the Greek drachma were used in parts of the country.
The lek’s name is derived from Leka, the Albanian shortened name for Alexander the Great. From 1926 to 1939 Albanian gold currency also circulated, worth 5 leke the gold currency was called franga.
In 1939 Italy, under the reign of Mussolini, invaded Albania and issued its own lek with Italian imagery. After the Second World War new socialist notes and coins were introduced. Notes and coins emblazoned with socialist imagery were issued by the communist government until the 1991 revolution.
Following the 1991 revolution, the currency crashed due to a series of poor investments into pyramid schemes by the post-Communist government. Thankfully, these days the Albanian Lek is a stable currency. It is used for almost all purchases in Albania. Dollars and Euros are only accepted in certain circumstances in day-to-day life so you should always have Lek on hand when traveling through Albania.
The most common exceptions to paying with Lek rule can be found at gas stations on the main highways that see foreigners passing through the country on their way to Europe or Turkey and haven’t had time to change local cash. With the widespread use of credit cards, however, this is dying out so don’t count on it. As always in Eastern Europe, cash is king!
Albanian Lek notes and coins
Albanian banknotes come in denominations of 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 lekë. There are five, 10, 20, 50 and 100 lekë coins. It’s very difficult to exchange Albanian lek outside of Albania, so exchange them or spend them before you leave.
What can you buy with different Lek denominations?
100 Lek – 100 Lek is enough to grab a decent coffee in the morning or a light snack. A bus or metro ticket costs around the same depending on what city you are visiting.
300 Lek – 300 Lek will get you a large beer (0.5 l) in a bar or a portion of fries and a small beer at a restaurant a little out of the city centers.
600 Lek – Choose a middle-range family restaurant, and you can get a salad, a main course and a soft drink for 600 Lek from the lunch menu.
3000 Lek – This is the average cost for a standard double room in a basic hotel in Albania.
Currency advice in Albania
1. Restaurants Tipping is appreciated in restaurants (10% is normal) and expected in higher end places.
2. Although foreign notes will be accepted in some places like the gas stations on main highways previously mentioned, keep in mind that the exchange rate will be very poor, so it is best to stick to using Albanian money.
3. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in shopping malls, supermarkets, and food venues in the centers of the big cities. However, the small towns and shops out of the city centers tend to operate only with cash, so make sure you have enough with you.