What makes Kosovo a unique country to travel to?
Kosovo has been an independent nation since 2008. While Kosovo’s government and institutions have sole responsibility for administration of the state, the international presence remains active, including police and NATO military forces. The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) transferred rule of law functions to the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) in 2008. Civilian institutions, including the criminal justice system, are not yet fully functioning at a level consistent with Western standards. Kosovo’s is a cash economy, with the Euro used nationwide. Tourist facilities are very limited.
High unemployment and other economic factors encourage criminal activity. Street crimes-- in particular thefts and purse snatchings-- are serious problems in Kosovo, especially in Pristina. Criminals often commit crimes while armed, often with handguns. Foreigners can be targets of crime, as criminals assume that they carry cash. Likewise, foreigners’ homes and vehicles, and international non-governmental organization (NGO) offices can be targeted for burglaries.
The Kosovo Police (KP) carry out normal police functions. EULEX personnel mentor, advise, and monitor both the police and other local authorities and institutions; they also have a limited policing role on certain issues. The judicial system is still developing with international oversight.
Take some time before travel to learn how to improve your personal security—things are not the same everywhere as they are in the United States. Here are some useful tips for personal security.
Do not buy counterfeit or pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Kosovo, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own, and 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 Kosovo, 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 where you are going.
If Arrested: 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 in the event that you are arrested or detained overseas.
Civilian institutions, including the criminal justice system, are not presently functioning at a level consistent with Western standards.
Persons violating Kosovo's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Kosovo are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities in Kosovo consist of private medical clinics and the government sponsored University Clinical Center. Quality controls are lacking in many medical facilities. Medical care is below Western European or U.S. standards. Supplies are often in short supply, and sufficient hygiene and nursing care is lacking. The KFOR Medical Division does not provide care or medical evacuation for non-military personnel. You can find information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Routine vaccinations are recommended for travel to Kosovo, and include Hepatitis A vaccination, Hepatitis B vaccination, and up to date Tetanus, Measles Mumps and Rubella.
Safety and Security
The NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), along with local police and assisted by EULEX police, are responsible for security and stability in Kosovo. Although the overall security situation has improved, inter-ethnic tensions and sporadic incidents of violence continue to occur.
Per standing security instructions, U.S. government officials assigned to Kosovo may only travel to Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Zvecan for official business; these restrictions will remain in place for the foreseeable future. U.S. citizens should be especially cognizant of security conditions at borders between northern Kosovo and Serbia—specifically Gates 1 and 31 at Jarinje and Brnjak—where political violence has occurred on many occasions. U.S. citizens should avoid demonstrations and other sites, such as roadblocks, where large crowds are gathered. U.S. citizens should particularly try to avoid events involving political/ethnic causes, and should be aware of important political/ethnic holidays and observances, when the likelihood of political/ethnic violence increases. Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable.
While de-mining programs have proven effective, unexploded ordnance and mines remain in some areas. Telecommunications, electricity, and water systems remain unpredictable.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
In Kosovo, road conditions can be extremely hazardous because roads are narrow, crowded, and used by a variety of vehicles, from KFOR armored personnel carriers to horse-drawn carts. Many vehicles are old and lack standard front or rear lights. Mountain roads can be narrow and poorly marked, and lack guardrails, quickly becoming dangerous in inclement weather. During winter months, fog can obscure visibility while driving.
Driving safely in Kosovo requires excellent defensive driving skills. Many drivers routinely ignore speed limits and other traffic regulations, such as stopping for red lights and stop signs. Drivers routinely make illegal left turns from the far right lane, or drive into oncoming lanes of traffic. The combination of speeding, unsafe driving practices, poor vehicle maintenance, the mixture of new and old vehicles on the roads, and poor lighting contributes to unsafe driving conditions. Pedestrians should exercise extreme caution when crossing the street, even when using crosswalks, as local drivers sometimes do not slow down or stop for pedestrians.
A valid U.S. driver’s license is required for U.S. citizens to drive in Kosovo. The use of seat belts and headlights is mandatory at all times. A driver with a blood alcohol level higher than 0.05 is considered intoxicated. Travelers entering Kosovo by road must purchase local third-party insurance. In Kosovo, it is illegal to use a cell phone while driving unless you are using a hands-free device. The penalty for illegal cell phone usage is 35 Euros. Drivers traveling between Serbia and Kosovo are subject to insurance, license plate, and other regulations.