Is Serbia Safe? How to Travel Safely

Belgrade and other cities in Serbia are relatively safe for visitors, but here are our top tips for travelers on crime, bribery and the mafia operating in Serbia.

Belgrade fortress and Kalemegdan park Photo © Getty Images/vladimir_n

Serbia shares it's borders with Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. This Balkan country is famous for Rakija (homemade fruit brandy) and Slivovitza (a very strong spirit). Beyond the alcoholic content of its local beverages, there are a few things travelers should know before they go.

For a country that's slowly emerging from years of war and internal security issues, Serbia is relatively safe when it comes to crime. As in most countries, travelers should take precautions and remember if it doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't.

Belgrade safety: crime in Serbia

Belgrade does not have high levels of street crime, but pick-pocketing and purse snatchings do occur., and of course, tourists are prime targets.

People traveling to Serbia should take the same precautions in Belgrade as they would in any large city around the world.

Most crimes happen because people let down their guard. 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.

Bribery in Serbia

A report by Belgrade-based newspaper Blic says bribery has become a way of life in Serbia. Two-thirds of survey respondents said they'd been asked for a bribe and 50% said they'd offered a bribe.

The average size of bribes was €178, but most were around the €50 mark. Interestingly the people who were being offered or asking for bribes were most commonly medical workers (38%), probably indicating some difficulty in accessing quality health care in the country. The next most popular targets for bribes were police officers (35%), then local government officials (10%).

Mafia of Serbia

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.

But travelers shouldn't be too worried. Tourists are almost never the targets of violent crime, but Mafia-style reprisals have occurred.

When those kinds of crimes happen, innocent bystanders may become unintended victims of crime. You should be especially on guard in city centers here, just as you would anywhere else in the world.

Don't be scared, just be aware.

Local laws in Serbia

While you are traveling in Serbia, remember you are subject to its laws even if you are a foreign citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from elsewhere.

An example: In Serbia it is prohibited to take pictures of the old annex to the Ministry of Defense building or the old Ministry of the Interior building.

If you break local laws in Serbia, your 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.

Safety for LGBTQ+ travelers

One aspect that may turn off many travelers is the intolerance towards LGBTQ people.

While homosexual acts are not illegal in Serbia, it is not widely accepted. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal, but unfortunately there is still a negative attitude towards LGBTQ communities. Same-sex marriage is also not legal.

In 2019 the Serbian police clashed with people who were trying to stop the Belgrade Pride Parade. Each year despite protestors showing up to the parade, local mayors and government officials have shown up to show their support for the LGBTQ community in Serbia. 

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14 Comments

  • Robert Etheridge said

    I have just returned from 3 weeks in Belgrade. It was the friendliest city I have ever been to. If you make the effort to get on with the locals and respect their ways they are great people who will go out of their way to help you. I will definitely be going back very soon. Please don't be put off going to Belgrade it is very safe!

  • Bojan said

    Exactly...If you look your business nobody but nobody will touch you,if you are in problem they will help you,they will not try to disturb or to make a problem...
    Also,they are people looking ,,their business,,...
    So guaranteed 100% it's safe !!!
    Believe me,I am Serbian ..
    :)

  • Nervous Eric said

    I just come back from Belgrade and it was scary. First, i was attacked by group of Ninjas, with nun chaku and all that stuff, then i was attacked by Tiger, yes a tiger! He escape from the zoo! In the end, i manage to escape to the border, just to find my self in a bar with Italian mobsters. Oh boy, that was the ride, i am happy to get out of Serbia alive. Like i was born for a second time.

  • Rachel said

    I live in Serbia, and the main thing I notice is that the environment is not child friendly as there are many smokers. Children start to smoke at the ages of 9-10. I have certain people at my school who had been suspended a couple of times because they have been caught red handed smoking or drinking. My advice is to just be aware of your surroundings, and if you are visiting with children of any age, just be sure to keep an eye on them at most times.

  • DefinetlyMyRealName said

    I have been to Belgrade many times and I have never seen crime there I live in the UK and we have had much more crime as of late than Serbia, for a country which was bombed by N.A.T.O for way too long I think it has done a remarkable job of keeping crime down, this report is probably some biased bullshit because Serbia likes Russia and doesn't like the U.S (because they bombed them)

  • ImNotPuttingMyPersonalInfoPublicallyAnywhere said

    You should be more aware if you travel to smaller towns. They tend to be violent. Not all of them, but some of them are. A lot of druggies and drunks looking for a fight at night. During the day you're safe. Compared to the other towns/cities I've been in Serbia, Belgrade and Novi Sad are much, much safer, but be careful about not getting mugged in public transport.

  • ??? said

    @Nervous Eric: you said it all (děkuji)

  • Panzerman said

    I am born in Serbia, I grew up in Serbia, and I live in Serbia. I worked as a police officer for seven years, so let me tell you something about tourist safety...

    Rule #1: Be aware of cab drivers

    When you arrive in Serbia, You will probably get a cab. When they hear a foreign language, they rub their hands, they will act crazy about taximeter, "forgot to turn it on", or they will ask you where you are going and based on that they will tell you the fixed price. In some occasions, they will beat you, and take away all your money, but that is only if they are illegal taxi.

    Recommendation: Always call taxi service by phone, or order one by app. If you can't do that, then watch for their registration plate to end with TX (not a guarantee but smaller chances for above), but first thing, watch their taxi boards on the roof. They need to have one from taxi association (can be different depends on company), and the other one is from the city authorities (blue one with white numbers and badge of the city).

    Rule #2: If you need help, don't call a police
    First of all 90% of police officers in Serbia, don't speak foreign languages. Second of all 90% of police officers hate foreign tourists (hate their wifes, their lives and themselves), but tourists are on the special list of hate, because they don't understand you, and because they think you have much more money than they. 90% of police officers are corrupted (believe me, I left the force because of this), but not all of them will ask you for money, because they are scared. Let me put it like this...if you come in contact with Serbian police, 10% will beat you for no reason, 30% will ask you for the money, and 60% will avoid helping you, because you are a foreign citizen, they can't communicate with you, and there is too much paperwork.

    Recommendation: If you need help of police, go to the nearest police station and report what you need. If you need police assistance on sight, dial 192, the calls are recorded, but don't hope too much...police in Belgrade is too slow due to a lack of workforce.

    Rule #3: Do not look into the eyes of a tattooed man
    Not all of them, but if you see a buffed guy or a group of men, with tattoos all over their hands (saints, crosses, etc...), with black shades...well you probably run on some "tough" guys (wannabe or real) criminals, or members of the football firm (all the same). If you look them in the eyes for too long, or couple of times short, well congrats you got yourself a need for the Belgrade's "finest".

    Recommendation: Avoid areas around football or basketball stadiums on the weekends, also avoid small pubs and coffee shops that are in some side or empty alley. Ask the locals, they know what places to avoid. Almost forgot to tell you, if you see a lot of graffiti in black and white, or red and white around you...Run

    Rule #4: Hold your hand on your bag
    You will probably never see the "wise guys", because they don't have business with you, and most of them are in politics and other businesses. But you will meet small time crooks in public transport (from age of 8 to 60). If it's summer time, watch your necklaces, they will run next to you and will tear your necklace from your neck (age from 15 to 30, mostly skinny). In winter time, it get's dark much sooner, so avoid to be in empty and dark alley. Winter mugging with knives are common thing, specially around new years eve.

    Recommendation: Don't come to Serbia

    I can't understand why someone want's to come here. We are all trying to get away from here.

  • Heather said

    Use pink taxis. Don’t talk to just anyone for fun and try to travel light. You don’t need to show you’re making more money than the entire city. Only 40% of the ppl have work and no one can get safe healthcare or a decent education since 1990. It’s pretty safe to say , you’ll love the place if you can relax and enjoy the culture and laid back people. Honestly, the country is very calm and go with the flow other than the increasing protests every Saturday against the corrupt government! If you can deal with the contempt for NATO, EU, USA and any form of equality then you’re good .

  • Ana said

    Omg guys, first of all, Serbians are very friendly people, everyone will help you without hesitation, Belgrade is full of tourists from all over the world in every period of the year, it's super safe comparing with any European capital.
    Part of text about some mafia it's sooo unnecessary, there's "mafia" in every country, and regular people has nothing to do with that, mafia is dangerous only for another mafia, if you know what I mean.
    As a traveller I guarantee that if you visit Serbia once, you'll come back at least one more time

  • Bobby said

    I was in Belgrade and Nish a couple of years ago. Unesco. Unless you have local friends to guide you, one is subjected to cheating, lies, petty theft, wrong directions by peasants in smaller towns, horrible roads, gipsy hookers
    offering services in front of your wife, diluted alcohol at bars, like watered slivovitz, etc..... Unless you need to be there .............don't go!

  • Bobby II said

    Bobby, oh Bobby.... I guarantee that everything , or at least 90% of you said here is a BS. Peasants sending you to wrong direction, probably because they did not understand you, diluted alcohol in bars??? In Serbian bars they serve diluted drinks?? Are you kidding me?? They have great drinks in the quantities the whole Europe could get drunk in an hour!!
    Please provide examples, of cheating, lies, petty theft..... I have my suspicions on who you probably are, but I'll wait for you to provide examples of the terror you were exposed to, along with your wife, I assume??

  • Sasha said

    Ignore all of the comments about the bad, I’ve been to 2 serbian cities, originally booking for 1. but it was so great, we wanted one more round. Lovely people, and ice cream lol. Yes, it’s quite poor. But cities are beautiful, and small towns are great for tourism. Lots of souvenir shops in the city, lovely cafes & pubs. You’d see children walk around alone in the towns quite safe. I saw children playing with family & friends on rails, rushing into the convenience store getting their candy, AMAZING food. Overall lovely, please visit xx

  • Helen said

    Belgrade is awesome! I did a Balkan trip and 2 years ago and Serbia and Montenegro are my two favorite countries in Europe now! I have Serbian friends from uni who showed me around, but most young people here speak English. I am not much of a party maniac therefore I can't comment on the nightlife, I am more of a wine and dine girl. I've been to Belgrade 3 times after that, I'm here right now but I do reccommend that you visit from May-September, it's the prettiest then. As far as safety, I feel pretty safe, just take normal precautions and you will be fine. It's much safer than Paris or Malaga (where I got mugged in the past during broad daylight).

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