What makes Hungary a unique country to travel to?
Hungary is a constitutional state with a market economy. Tourist facilities outside Budapest are widely available, but may not be as developed as those found in Western Europe. Hungarian is the official language; English is not widely spoken outside Budapest.
Crime in Budapest is a concern. Be careful during your visit, and exercise the same caution you would in any big city or tourist area at home. Do not walk alone at night; keep your belongings secure at all times. Passports, cash, and credit cards are favorite targets of thieves. Keep items that you do not store in your hotel safe or residence in a safe place, but be aware that pockets, purses, and backpacks are especially vulnerable, even if they close with a zipper. Be sure to secure these items when you get back to your hotel or residence.
The U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section has a special web page with further details on common scams and crimes in Hungary.
If you drive, be careful at gas stations and rest areas, or while fixing flat tires or other mechanical problems, especially at night. One scam involves someone who attracts your attention by claiming there is something wrong with your car to get you to pull over and then robs you. Do not leave your luggage and valuables unattended inside any vehicle for any length of time, even to load or unload items or to check in to a hotel.
Another common scam involves young women asking foreign men to buy them drinks. When the bill arrives the drinks cost hundreds of dollars each. You should avoid bars and restaurants suggested by cab drivers or people on the street. Every bar and restaurant should provide a menu with prices on it. Look at the prices before you order anything, including drinks. The Embassy maintains a list of bars and restaurants that are known to engage in this scam.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the United States, but you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Hungary, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. Criminal penalties vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States; for instance, you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Hungary, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not, wherever you may be going.
You should carry your passport with you at all times when you are in Hungary. Hungarian law requires all visitors to carry their passports; a photocopy is not a valid substitute. You could be arrested or fined if you do not have your passport with you. Since expert pickpockets frequent tourist areas and train stations, it is a good idea to keep your passport in a safe place. Hungary has a “zero tolerance” policy on drinking and driving. You should not drive after drinking, regardless of the amount of alcohol you have consumed.
Arrest notifications in host country: While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical treatment in Hungary is adequate, but hospitals and other medical facilities are not always comparable to what you may find in the United States. Doctors are generally well trained, but there is a lack of adequate emergency services. Some doctors speak English. The Embassy maintains a website with more information about medical care providers, including English-speaking physicians.
Safety and Security
Although Hungary is generally a safe place to visit, you should use caution and stay alert. Be especially careful in train stations, crowded tourist areas, and crowded buses, trams, and metros. In addition, you should avoid demonstrations and political rallies. In a few past instances where demonstrations have turned violent, authorities have used riot police and water cannons to control crowds.
In recent years, right-wing radical groups have gained popularity in Hungary due to their nationalist messages, which include intolerance towards Jews, Roma, and homosexuals. Although these groups are not explicitly anti-U.S., you should avoid public demonstrations and confrontations with their members. Be alert and aware of your surroundings, and pay attention to what the local news media have to say. In general, larger public demonstrations are announced on the Demonstration page on the U.S. Embassy Budapest website.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Hungary, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Roadside assistance, including medical and other services, is generally available. English is usually spoken at the emergency numbers listed below. In the case English is not spoken, dial 112.
24-hour English speaker: 112
Hungarian highways are generally in good condition. Urban road maintenance is also good, although areas under construction are not always adequately marked or blockaded. In Budapest, many roads are often under construction. Outside the city, roads are often narrow, poorly lit, and can be in a poor state of repair in some areas. Train crossings are not always well-signed. Pedestrians, tractors, and farm animals often use these small rural roads, so stay alert. Additional information on road conditions is available from “Útinform” at (36) (1)336-2400.
Hungary has zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol. Police often conduct routine roadside checks where breath-analysis tests are administered. If you are caught driving after drinking, you will face jail and fines. Penalties for a car accident involving injury or death are one to five years in prison. Police stop vehicles regularly to check documents. It is against the law to use a hand-held cell phone while driving anywhere in Hungary.
You can drive in Hungary with a valid U.S. driver’s license for one year as long as you have a certified Hungarian translation of the license attached to it. Hungary also recognizes international driver’s permits (IDP) issued by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance, when used along with a valid state driver’s license. If you have an IDP, you do not need to have the license translated, but must carry the IDP and state driver’s license together. After one year in Hungary, U.S. citizens must obtain a Hungarian driver’s license. For further information on this procedure visit the U.S. Embassy’s website.
The speed limit for cars and motorcycles on the superhighway is 130 km per hour (approximately 80 mph); on highways, it is 110 km per hour (approximately 65 mph); and in towns and villages it is 50 km per hour (approximately 30 mph). Many drivers do not observe the speed limits, and you should be extra careful on two-way roads where local drivers pass each other frequently and allow for less space than you may be used to. Car seats are required for infants. Children under age 12 may not sit in the front seat. Seats belts are mandatory for everyone in the car. You may not turn right on a red light. The police issue tickets for traffic violations and charge fines on the spot. The police will give you a postal check (money order) on which the amount of the fine to be paid is written, and this postal check may be presented and paid at any Hungarian post office. Sometimes in disputes about fines or the offense, the police will confiscate your U.S. passport and issue a receipt for the passport with an “invitation letter” to appear at the police station the next day or day after to resolve the dispute. Your passport is returned after resolution and/or the payment of the fine.
As in most European countries, you must pay to use Hungary’s highways. Payments must be made either at a gas station or online.