Kosovo Country Report
As of early 2017, travelers to Kosovo (10 887 km²; population 1.9 million) should prepare for their journey with some care. This landlocked European state remains relatively fragile due to regional and domestic political tensions. Kosovo declared itself independent from Serbia on February 2008. Despite being recognized by around 100 countries, Serbia continues to oppose their independence. However Serbia agreed to open a dialogue with Kosovo in 2011 mediated by the European Union and relations between the two have progressed since 2014.
SECURITY/ ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS TENSIONS
The domestic political scene continues to be unstable due to significant tensions between ethnic Albanians, who make up 92 percent of the population, and ethnic Serbs. In August 2015, the European Union brokered a deal between Kosovo and Serbia that would give greater autonomy to Serb-majority areas in the north of Kosovo. Nonetheless, tensions are still very high between the two communities.
It is strongly advised against traveling to de Zvečan, Zubin Potok, and Lepovasic as well as the north of Mitrovica. The aforementioned towns continue to be wrought with high ethnic tensions and violence can flare up without warning. Mitrovica is particularly prone to outbreaks of violence, due to physical segregation. The Serbian community built a two-meter-high wall in December 2016 separating the Serbian part of town in the north from the Albanian majority to the south. The mayor of the northern part of Mitrovica built the wall next to a new bridge across the Ibar River located between the two communities, funded by the European Union. The construction of the wall was seen by the Albanian community, the European Union, and the United States as a provocation. The wall was destroyed on February 5, 2017 by the Serbian community following lengthy negotiations.
Some 5600 personnel from KFOR, the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo, remain deployed in the country.
The country is faced with a high threat of terrorism, with terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) recently stating that it would develop a stronghold in Europe within the Balkan countries. At least 300 Kosovar nationals are thought to have left the country to fight for IS in Syria and Iraq, leading to fears that these citizens could return to carry out an attack within Kosovo. In July 2015, police arrested five men who were planning on poisoning the water supply to the capital Pristina. Two of the arrested men were reportedly Kosovar citizens and former fighters for IS.
Legislative elections are scheduled to take place in June 2018.
The domestic socio-economic situation is fragile. Unemployment rates are high at around 35 percent of the population, while 30 percent lives below the poverty line.
Demonstrations regularly take place in the capital, Pristina, often nearby government's buildings. The frequency of these demonstration varies depending on political tensions. Gatherings can become violent quickly and travelers are advised to avoid any demonstration or gathering.
Following certain sporting events, celebrations, or elections, gunshots are often fired in the air. Travelers are advised to avoid the vicinity of the shootings.
Tourists are frequently targeted by criminals, and violent crime is possible. There are numerous purse-snatching reports as well as pickpocketing in public transportation and pedestrian streets, especially in Pristina. Incidents of knife crime have been reported in Pristina, especially in neighborhoods frequented by the expat community. Most of these aggressions target single people and it is advised to never walk alone, especially at night and in remote areas. Likewise it is advised to not resist in case of attack.
The expat community as well as long time travelers can be victims of robbery in personal residencies, businesses, and vehicles. People traveling alone are frequently targeted. It is advised against travelling alone in public transports or taxis, especially after nightfall. Never accept cigarettes, food or drink from strangers.
Credit Card fraud is frequent. Always keep an eye on your credit card and use ATMs inside banks when possible to withdraw cash.
Organized crime exists in the country.
Cases of policemen stopping foreign cars for a false infraction have been reported. In case of arrest, do not hesitate to ask for a detailed explanation and to contact your embassy if the policemen refuse to do so on your behalf. On a similar note, despite the implementation of laws to fight against the corruption, it is still rampant.
The LGBTQ+ community is not well received in Kosovo although, homosexuality is not illegal. Aggressions against LGBTQ+ members have been reported.
Public transportation (buses, trains) is aging yet functional.
The road network is well developed and serves the main cities within Kosovo. However, secondary and peri-urban roads may be in bad condition (deformed pavement, pothole, indication failure, collapsing, etc.). It is possible to encounter livestock on the road, including on highways.
Roads in remote areas can be in bad condition and dangerous. Extreme vigilance is advised at night due to the lack of proper street lighting. Horse-drawn carts, cyclists, and vehicles without taillights or reflectors often use roadways.
Winter driving can be dangerous due to heavy snowfall. Vehicles are required to be fitted with snow tires from November 15 until March 21.
Public transportation (roads and rail) are not reliable and overcrowded. Their services often Moreover security norms are not respected.
Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive. Riders should check for a meter and ask for a price estimate before using the taxi. It is recommended not to use informal taxi companies. Official taxis have a logo and can generally be found at taxis stations or in front of well-known hotels.
Pristina airport is modern. However, delays are possible in winter due to poor weather conditions.
It is essential to take out a health insurance policy before departure that covers healthcare abroad, as well as medical evacuation and repatriation.
In Kosovo the quality of local medical services is mediocre despite no shortage of qualified doctors. Shortages of medications are regularly reported. Usually, medical staff ask to be paid immediately and in cash. Medical material and medications can be bought in private pharmacies. A medical evacuation should be considered in the case of a serious health issue.
Hemorrhagic Congo-Crimean fever - a disease transmitted by ticks during the period from April to September - is endemic in rural zones. Rabies is present in the country. If you are scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Some mosquitoes-borne diseases are present, including the West Nile Fever, and it is advised to protect yourself against insect bites. Tuberculoses is present in Kosovo. Finally, the contraction of intestinal diseases are frequent. Drink only bottled or purified water, and avoid eating ice-cream or sorbet, as well as raw or undercooked foods, especially meat or fish. If possible eat only cooked meals.
Travelers should note that Kosovo is located in an active seismic zone. The areas of Prizren-Peje, Ferizaj-Viti-Gjilan, and Kopaonik are particularly vulnerable. Pristina town hall estimated that 70 percent of its construction would suffer major damage in case of a major earthquake.
Mudslides have been reported on the main highway between the capital and Skopje in Macedonia.
It is forbidden to take pictures of airports, military and governmental infrastructures without the local authorities' authorizations.
Travelers should be aware that while at least 90 percent of the country has been de-mined, the risk posed by unexploded landmines remains significant; travel outside of "safe" zones should be avoided. The border zone with Albania, the center of the country near the Dulje col, west and south of the country as well as the zone between Kosovo and Presevo valley are affected by this risk and have to be considered as sensitive zones.
The country remains outside of the European Union and is not part of the visa- and border checkpoint-free Schengen Area. However the official currency is the euro. In the zones where the population is in majority Serbian it is possible to use the Serbian dinar. Use of credit/debit card is possible in large department stores and famous restaurant in the capital, but most shops do not accept credit cards.
Electricity outages are frequent; and adequate precautions should be taken. On a related note, phone service is limited outside of the capital.
Kosovo has a continental climate. Winters are cold (0°C) and dry. Summers are hot, humid, and often rainy.
Useful NumbersCountry Code: +381 Police: 92 Fire Dept.: 93 Ambulance: 94
Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz