What makes Slovakia a unique country to travel to?
Slovakia is a markedly developed European nation and a member of the Schengen travel area and the Euro zone. Some tourist facilities are not as developed as those found in Western Europe, particularly outside the major cities, and some goods and services common in other European countries are occasionally unavailable in Slovakia. The official language is Slovak; English is not widely spoken outside of tourist destinations.
Police forces suffer from a lack of manpower, resources, and equipment. Local police do not usually speak English. Western visitors, especially short-term visitors such as tourists and students, are the primary foreign targets of street crime. The majority of street crime is non-violent. The most common crimes reported include pick-pocketing and cell phone and bag/purse theft, particularly during the summer months. Other crimes reported in the past include the less common robbery, and drugging and robbing of unsuspecting victims at nightspots and bars. Most thefts reported by U.S. citizens occur at crowded tourist sites (such as Bratislava’s Old Town area) or on public buses, trams, or trains. Thieves in Slovakia often work in groups or pairs. In most cases, one thief distracts the victim, another performs the robbery, and a third person hands off the stolen item to a nearby accomplice. Groups of street children are known to divert tourists’ attention so that a member of their group can pickpocket the tourists while they are distracted.
Foreigners and minorities, particularly non-white individuals, have been victims of racially motivated incidents in Slovakia, and may be especially subject to various types of harassment, such as verbal abuse.
Both indigenous and foreign organized crime groups are well established in Slovakia. They do not target U.S. citizens or other foreign individuals and tend to coexist peacefully in tourist districts so as not to scare away tourist dollars. Though not common, violent incidents sometimes do occur.
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 will be breaking local law too.
While you are traveling in Slovakia, 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, 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, engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. While you are overseas, U.S. laws don’t apply. If you do something illegal in Slovakia, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know the laws of the country you are visiting. Driving under the influence is not allowed under Slovak law; the permissible blood alcohol level is zero, and driving while intoxicated is a crime. If stopped, a driver who is found operating a vehicle while intoxicated will experience a trip to the police station at a minimum.
Taking photographs of security/military installations (for example, military bases, government buildings, nuclear power plants, etc.) is prohibited in Slovakia. If you violate this law, authorities may confiscate the film, issue a reprimand or fine, or even expel you from the country. Serious cases may be reported to and handled by local and/or military police.
Everyone in Slovakia over 15 years of age, including U.S. citizen visitors, is required by law to carry a passport at all times. It is not sufficient to carry a photocopy of the passport, although we recommend that you keep a photocopy of your passport in a safe place. The police have the right to ask U.S. citizens for identification, and only a passport showing legal entry and/or legal residency status is adequate evidence.
A document other than a passport may not be considered sufficient proof of identity and legal status in Slovakia. If you are asked for your passport with residency permit and you do not have it, you risk a spot fine and/or detention by the police.
If you are arrested in Slovakia, authorities are required to notify the U.S. Embassy 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 U.S. Embassy of your arrest.
Slovaks speak Slovak. Hungarian is the second most commonly spoken language, especially in the south. German is widely understood, while English is the language of choice to study in school. The Slovak Republic was formed at the time of the division of the Czech Republic in 1993.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities are available in Slovakia, although the quality and availability varies within the country. For any emergency, including a medical emergency, call 112 within Slovakia free of charge. An English-speaking dispatcher should be available. According to the level of the medical emergency, the dispatcher may send an ambulance, which may be medically equipped and staffed by paramedics or a physician if the patient’s condition warrants it. Only a limited number of doctors speak English. Doctors and hospitals expect cash payment for health services unless the patient can present an insurance number from the Slovak National Insurance Company. This includes ambulance service, for which the cost begins at 120 euro for those without local Slovak health insurance. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more. Medical prescriptions issued in the United States are not valid in Slovakia. If a prescription is needed, a local doctor must issue it. Medicines are generally available locally at pharmacies, where customers ask the pharmacist for every product including over-the-counter medicines; if they are not available under the U.S. drug name, you should consult the pharmacist or a local doctor for a local substitute. The Ministry of Health administers the use of medicines, and medicine brought into Slovakia for personal use may be subject to comparison against the list of those authorized for use in Slovakia.
Safety and Security
Civil disorder is rare in Slovakia, although strikes and demonstrations may occur. You should be vigilant in protecting your security, bearing in mind that even demonstrations meant to be peaceful may turn violent. Avoid street demonstrations whenever possible.
Slovakia remains largely free of terrorist incidents. However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Slovakia’s open borders with its neighbors (except for Ukraine) allow for the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country without the knowledge of Slovak police.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Slovakia, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
Roads in Slovakia typically are safe and well maintained. Four-lane highways exist in and around Bratislava. However, most roads outside of developed areas are two lanes only, and aggressive drivers attempting to pass at unsafe speeds pose a serious hazard. Due to poor lighting and narrow, winding roads, we do not recommend nighttime driving outside of built-up areas.
Slovakia commonly receives heavy snow from November through March. Snow removal is not adequate on rural roads. Roads in the mountainous northern part of the country are particularly prone to hazardous conditions during winter months. Winter tires are required by law when there are snowy conditions, and chains are necessary in certain mountainous areas.
In Slovakia, vehicles travel on the right side of the road. Headlights must be used at all times (day and night) throughout the year. The maximum legal speed on highways is 130 kilometers per hour (78 mph). On smaller roads, the maximum speed is 90 kph (54 mph). The limit in towns is 50 kph (31 mph). It is strictly prohibited to use cellular phones while driving. Safety reflection vests and first aid kits must be located in each vehicle. Seat belts are compulsory and baby car seats are required for all children less than 36 kg (80 lbs).
Driving under the influence of alcohol is a crime under Slovak law. The blood alcohol tolerance level is zero percent. Penalties for drivers involved in car accidents involving injury or death are decided by a court of law. Penalties for minor offenses are not generally large, but foreigners are sometimes targeted for additional sums. If you suspect this has occurred, you should ask for a written receipt and note the name and number of the traffic officer imposing the fine.
A highway user decal is required for travel on most major roads outside of Bratislava. The decal is valid for the calendar year, and is available at gas stations, post offices, and some newspaper kiosks. Short-term stickers are available and are valid for seven days or for one month.
Taxi companies generally provide reliable, safe, and economical services. Avoid independent cabs that do not prominently display a company name. Taxis sometimes overcharge in areas frequented by tourists. You can expect higher charges when you randomly stop a cab on the street. Radio-dispatched taxis are often much more reliable and less expensive.
Buses, trolleybuses, and trams are mechanically safe and generally reliable, but there have been reports of thefts on city transportation or of harassment by the transport police. On public transportation you must have a time-ticket validated after entering the vehicle (valid for 15 or 60 minutes), or a prepaid zone ticket (valid for 24 hours, 48 hours, 3 days, 7 days, 1 month, 3 months, or 1 year). Different ticket validities and fees apply in towns outside of Bratislava. Children from 6 to 15 years of age pay reduced fares. Passengers who are traveling without a valid ticket will be fined by the ticket inspector. The ticket inspector must have an identification card and must provide a receipt for the fine. More information is provided in English on the Bratislava city transport website.
A motorcycle driver’s license and helmet are required to operate a motorized two-wheeled vehicle. Small motorcycles are not allowed on highways. All traffic regulations apply.
Tourists intending to drive in Slovakia are required to have an International Driving Permit. A U.S. driver’s license alone is not sufficient to drive in Slovakia; it must be accompanied by an International Driving Permit, which you can get in the United States from the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. U.S. citizens who are not residents of Slovakia may drive with a valid U.S. state license, if accompanied by a valid International Driving Permit, for a maximum of 6 months.
If you do not have a U.S. state driver’s license, you may apply for a Slovak driver’s license at the Dopravny Inspektorat in the district of your place of residence in Slovakia. Completion of the regular driving course and a written examination (in Slovak) are required for issuance of a Slovak driver’s license. For specific information concerning a Slovak driver’s permit, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, contact the Slovak Embassy in Washington, D.C.
U.S. citizens who are long-term residents in Slovakia and are in possession of a U.S. state driver’s license must apply for exchange of a U.S. state driver’s license for a Slovak driver’s license. Conditions for the exchange are set by the Law on Road Traffic effective from February 2009. Under the law, the issuing country must be a member either of the Geneva Convention (the United States ratified the Convention in 1950) or Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.
The law requires residents of Slovakia who hold U.S. state driver’s licenses to apply for exchange of their license within 60 days of the time period starting 185 days after the day their residency permit was issued. The applications are filed with the Dopravny Inspektorat at the district police department in the place of residency in Slovakia. The Slovak license is issued in the EU format and may be used in all EU countries.