How To Stay Safe Travelling in Serbia

Serbian football has become better known for fan violence in recent years
Serbian football has become better known for fan violence in recent years | © Fotosr52 / Shutterstock

For reasons that can only be filed under the ‘stereotyping’ heading, announcing plans to travel to Serbia still draws forward questions about safety. So let it be said, Serbia is an immensely safe place to travel around. There are some potential issues though, but pay heed to the following and you’ll be fine.

Avoid uneducated opinions

Serbia often finds itself in the international media for the wrong reasons, with the dreaded ‘K’ word being the most common. Kosovo is still an extremely contentious subject in the country, so it is best to avoid it altogether. If you are fairly well educated on the region, then by all means take part in discussions, but instigating these debates is not advised.
If you only know what you’ve seen on BBC, The Guardian and the rest, don’t wade in with half-baked statements about genocide and massacres. Not only will it make you look stupid, it’ll also land you in some of the hottest water on the continent.

Protest banner of the Association of Families of Persons Kidnapped and Murdered in Kosovo-Metohija

Respect the laws

This might seem like an obvious point to make, but it is shocking how many people think that laws are the same everywhere, a number that is beaten only by the amount who think their passport will get them out of a tight situation. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it won’t. If you break the law in Serbia, you will be subject to the judgments of the Serbian courts. If you’re treading on any unstable legal ground, best to stay on the safe side.

Police officer guards prison courtroom, Belgrade, Serbia

LGBT issues

Things are improving all the time, but a dark cloud still hangs over Serbia when it comes to LGBT rights and issues. Many citizens in Belgrade couldn’t give a hoot what someone does with their genitals, but smaller towns might be less accommodating to different attitudes on gender and sexuality. Nobody should have to hide their affections in public, but it is important to be aware of potentially hostile reactions. Things are improving, but not quickly enough.

The Pride flag stands in front of the Serbian coat of arms

Pickpocketing on public transport

Like any major city on the planet, pickpocketing is a worry when in Belgrade. The overwhelming majority of visitors won’t have anything to worry about, but there is always an exception that proves the rule. The simple way to avoid any uncomfortable situations like this is to use common sense and pay attention to your surroundings. You don’t need elaborate padlocks, but dial down the naivety.
This is particularly true on public transport. Belgrade’s network of trams, buses and trolleys are the likeliest places where theft will occur, due to the cramped nature and loud engines. It isn’t difficult to avoid, however; just open your eyes and be confident. If you visit somewhere expecting to be robbed, it is far more likely to happen.

People waiting on the bus station in the downtown, Belgrade, Serbia

The criminal underworld

There is undoubtedly a criminal underworld in Serbia, but it isn’t interested in the comings and goings of tourists. Visitors to Serbia won’t have any issues in this regard, unless they decide to start dabbling in drugs or looking for trouble. It is often said that criminal elements run the biggest boat clubs in Belgrade, and as such, it is easy for drunken foreigners to find themselves overcharged and treated in a less than careful way. The way to avoid this is simple: Don’t go to these clubs. Belgrade’s nightlife is varied enough that you don’t need to pay over the odds for drinks on a boat in the middle of nowhere.

Sporting events

It might seem strange for a nation that has been through so much in the last 30 years, but sporting matches are arguably the events most likely to see violence in modern Serbia. This is particularly true for football matches, especially those between Partizan and Red Star (Crvena Zvezda) Belgrade. Common sense is needed once again. Don’t wear black or red in opposition territory, and stay away from large groups of inebriated fans with weapons. Violence is common at these matches, so precaution is always advised for those hoping to attend.

Dealing with flares at the Belgrade Derby

Be confident

We are more than aware that telling someone to ‘be confident’ is every bit as useful as telling someone that a dog ‘won’t bite’ as that same pooch is jumping on top of a petrified child, but the point stands. Serbia is an immensely safe place to visit, and you are more likely to find too many people willing to help than the opposite. Use your common sense, and your trip will only be eventful for positive reasons.
The Serbs love confidence, so dispel any worrying thoughts from your mind and jump into the Serbian experience with both feet. You won’t regret it.

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