What makes Serbia a unique country to travel to?
Serbia is strengthening its democratic, economic, and social institutions, but it still faces many challenges. In 2008, Kosovo, which used to be part of Serbia, declared itself an independent country and was recognized as such by the United States. You should be aware that Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence; the dispute will only affect foreign travelers who plan to visit Kosovo.
Serbia has many tourist and travel facilities like hotels, restaurants, campgrounds, and gas stations, but the quality varies significantly from place to place. Some facilities are not up to Western standards.
Belgrade does not have high levels of street crime, but pick-pocketing and purse snatchings do occasionally occur. People traveling to Serbia should take the same precautions in Belgrade as they would in any large city in the United States. Most crimes happen because people let their guard down. Unlocked cars, items left in plain sight in a car, open gates, and open garage doors make attractive targets for thieves. Car thefts or break-ins can happen any time, day or night, in all sections of Belgrade and other parts of the country. Using security devices such as auto alarms, fuel-line interrupter switches, or steering-wheel locking devices may discourage or frustrate auto theft, but no device can guarantee one hundred percent protection against determined thieves. In Serbia, difficult economic conditions have sparked the growth of an organized criminal class, and violent crime is most often associated with organized crime activities. Tourists are almost never the targets of violent crime, but Mafia-style reprisals have occurred, including in places where tourists gather such as hotels, restaurants, shops, and busy streets. When those kinds of crimes happen, innocent bystanders may become victims of crime. You should be especially vigilant in Serbian city centers, just as you would anywhere else in the world.
When taking taxicabs in Serbia, travelers should pay attention to cab meters and listed fares as taxi drivers sometimes try to charge foreigners higher rates.
Do not buy counterfeit or pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While traveling in Serbia, 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. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you do not have your passport with you. Also, it may be illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In Belgrade, you are not permitted to take pictures of the old annex of the Ministry of Defense building or the old Ministry of the Interior building. Insome places, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. . There are also some activities that might be legal in Serbia, but still illegal in the United States., 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.
You should try to remain aware of local laws and their implications. If you break local laws in Serbia, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. .If you are arrested in Serbia, Serbian authorities are required to notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest. If you are concerned the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should request the police or prison officials to notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Many doctors and other health care providers in Serbia are highly trained, but the equipment and hygiene in hospitals, clinics, and ambulances are usually not up to Western standards. You can get many medicines and basic medical supplies at private pharmacies, but you should not expect to find the same kinds or brands of medication or medical supplies in Serbia as in the United States. Hospitals usually require payment in cash for all services, and do not accept U.S. health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid as payment.
Safety and Security
Public demonstrations by political parties, unions, and other groups are held in Serbia from time to time. Violent demonstrations have occurred as recently as August 2011. You should know that even demonstrations that start out peacefully can quickly turn violent. U.S. citizens traveling or living in Serbia should avoid demonstrations if possible, and maintain caution if within the area of demonstrations. There is often a heavier than usual police presence in areas where demonstrations are taking place and traffic may slow or stop until well after the demonstration ends.
Anti-U.S. sentiments are strongest in Serbia surrounding the anniversary dates of certain events and on some national holidays. These dates and holidays include March 24 (the beginning of the 1999 NATO bombing campaign), February 17 (the date of the 2008 independence of Kosovo), and ethnic Serb holidays such as St. Vitus’s Day (Vidovdan, celebrated June 28).
Wins or losses in sporting events can also trigger violence. U.S. citizens were not targets of any recent sports-related violence, but in a few isolated cases, soccer hooligans and petty criminals singled out and attacked citizens of other Western countries. We urge U.S. citizens to be vigilant if attending, or in the vicinity of, sporting events in Serbia.
Any Serbian-Kosovo border crossing or area within five kilometers of the border between Serbia and Kosovo, as well as the western Preševo Valley,which include all areas south of Vranje and west of the E75 highway stretching south to the Macedonian border, are still considered Restricted Travel areas by the U.S. Embassy. U.S. government employees are restricted from entering these areas except on official business. If you are traveling near the Kosovo border or in the western Preševo Valley, you should enroll with the U.S. Embassy and check in with the Embassy regularly for the latest security updates.
Belgrade nightclubs are increasingly popular with foreign tourists. If you decide to go to a nightclub, you should know that they can be crowded and may not be up to Western standards for maximum occupancy and fire safety.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Serbia, you may encounter road conditions that significantly differ from those in the United States.
Roads in Serbia are not always well-maintained, especially in rural areas. During winter months, fog can significantly reduce visibility. Winter fog is extremely heavy in the Vojvodina region between Belgrade and the Hungarian border.
You must wear a seat belt while driving or riding in a car in Serbia. According to Serbian law, a driver with a blood alcohol level higher than 0.05% is considered intoxicated. Serbian traffic police do carry portable breathalyzers to test drivers. Roadside assistance is available by dialing 1987. Metered taxi service is safe and reasonably priced; however, travelers should pay attention to cab meters and listed fares as taxi drivers sometimes try to charge foreigners higher rates. Belgrade and some other large cities in Serbia have local public transportation networks, and a nationwide network covers most major cities, but public transportation is often crowded and some lines and vehicles are poorly maintained.
You may use a foreign or U.S. driver’s license in Serbia for up to 180 days after your arrival.