If you are going to the Balkans by car, remember about few formalities that you have to take care of in advance. Our biggest fear was crossing the borders in the Balkans, especially that we were going there with two different passports: Polish and Egyptian one. I didn’t find any article online about how much time it takes on the borders or how does it look like when you travel in the Balkans with residence permit issued in Poland. So I decided to write a text like this on my own. I hope it will be useful and it will encourage more people to travel there. What documents do you need to travel to the Balkans by car? How long does it take to cross the borders? I will answer those questions below.
- 1 Our route to the Balkans
- 2 Necessary car documents
- 3 Necessary documents for tourists
- 4 Crossing the borders in the Balkans – how much time does it take?
- 5 Summary
Our route to the Balkans
Let’s start with explaining how our route looked like. We travelled to the Balkans through Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Firstly we went to Serbia, from there to Kosovo, then Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, to Dubrovnik in Croatia and at the end to Bosnia and Hercegovina. You can read about financial summary of our trip here.
Necessary car documents
If you are going to the Balkans, remember that most of the countries there don’t belong neither to EU nor Schengen zone. Which means that insurance issued in Poland is not enough. Before travelling, you should ask you insurance company to give you a green card. In some companies it’s included in your yearly insurance price, in others you have to pay extra fee for the green card.
Just make sure you have the green card printed. A car from Poland was stopped in front of us on Croatian-Bosnian border because the driver had his green card on the mobile phone. I don’t know how the story ended but they wanted him to buy extra insurance because they don’t recognize electronic version of the document. This is the requirement; green card must be printed so remember that. It’s not much work for you and you will avoid stress.
Green card is accepted in Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia and Hercegovina. If you are planning to go to Kosovo, when you cross the border you will have to buy extra insurance. Its price is 15 euro for 15 days. At the border the Kosovar border guards show where you can buy the insurance. It’s a good idea to have some cash with you because the place where we were buying it, didn’t have an option to pay with card.
Apart from that you also need the basic documents like registration document of the car and the driving license. It’s not that they check the driving license at the border, but police controls are common on the Balkans. We were stopped and checked in Montenegro. Polish driving license is sufficient to drive in the Balkans and it’s recognized in all the countries. In order to travel to the Balkans, you don’t need an international driving license.
List of necessary documents:
– car registration document
– driving license (Polish one is enough)
– green card
– extra car insurance if you are going to Kosovo (bought at the border)
Necessary documents for tourists
Documents for Poles
Let’s explain what the necessary documents are for tourists travelling to the Balkans. First, how does it look like for Poles? You can enter Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina only with ID card. Of course you can take your passport with you but it’s not necessary for Polish citizens. Only going to Kosovo requires passport. You won’t enter Kosovo only with your ID.
Documents for a person who has a residence card in Poland
I know that a lot of people who are in mixed relationships or those who have foreign friends living in Poland read our blog. We know how hard it is to find reliable information about how crossing the border outside Schengen zone and EU looks like. What documents are needed if a person comes from a country outside EU and holds a residence permit issued in Poland? To make it short, what documents did my Egyptian husband need?
Visas to the Balkans stopped us from travelling there few years ago. Now the problem is over. A person who holds a valid residence permit in any Schengen country can enter all Balkan countries without visa. In different countries, it’s different amount of days that a foreigner can spend there, also the type of accepted residence permit differs. Let’s start from the beginning.
“A holder of foreign passport having a valid Schengen, UK and other Member States’ visa, or visa of the United States of America, and a holder of foreign passport having residence permit in the countries of the Schengen area, EU or the United States of America may, without prior visa application, enter, transit or stay in the Republic of Serbia up to 90 days during a six-month period, but not exceeding the expiring date of the said visas or residence permits.” You can find and verify all the information on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia.
“Citizens of the countries which are required to obtain a visa for Kosovo but hold a biometric valid residence permit issued by one of the Schengen member states or a valid multi-entry Schengen Visa are exempt from the requirement to obtain a Visa to enter, transit, or stay in the territory of the Republic of Kosovo for up to 15 days.” Since in Poland we don’t have an embassy of Kosovo, the information was found on the website of the embassy of Kosovo in Berlin. You can also check visa requirements there by selecting country of origin from the list.
“Foreign national, holder of valid travel document of a third country, who is required to have visa for entry in the Republic of Macedonia, may enter the territory of the Republic of Macedonia without having to acquire Macedonian visa:
– if the foreigner has a permanent residence in EU or Schengen member state;
– if the person possess valid multiple Schengen C type of visa, whose validity is longer than 5 (five) days, at least, than the planned stay of a foreign national in the Republic of Macedonia”
Information is from the website of Macedonian embassy in Berlin.
„Foreign citizens who have a valid, multiple-entry Schengen visa, which has been previously used in one of the Schengen states, or foreign citizens who have a valid permit of stay in one of the Schengen states may stay in the territory of Albania for up to 90 days”. While entering Albania with a Schengen visa remember that it must be previously used in any Schengen state. You cannot fly to Albania from outside Schengen. First you need to enter Schengen zone state and from there you may go to Albania. All information comes from the website of the embassy of Albania in Poland.
“Holders of travel documents containing a valid Schengen visa, a valid visa of the United States of America, United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, or a permission to stay in these countries, may enter and stay, or pass through the territory of Montenegro up to 30 days, and not longer than the expiry of visa, if the period of validity of the visa is less than 30 days.”*
*It’s not easy to find information about entering Montenegro. The embassy in Warsaw doesn’t have a website. Different pages provide different information, some say that you can enter Montenegro with temporary resident permit in Schengen country, others claim that permanent residence is required. A page where I found the quoted information is here. If you have any doubts, contact the embassy via email before you travel.
In Croatia, the situation is easy. Although it doesn’t belong to Schengen zone, it’s a member of EU so a foreigner who holds a visa or a resident permit of a Schengen country may stay in the territory of Croatia for up to 90 days without applying for a Croatian visa.
Bosnia and Hercegovina
„Citizens of countries with which BiH has a visa regime can stay up to 30 days in Bosnia and Herzegovina without visa under condition that they poss a valid multiple visa or residence permit issued by the Schengen Agreement country, European Union Member States or United States of America. Such visas or resident permits should be valid for at least 30 days longer than the date of entry into our country.” The source is the website of the embassy of Bosnia and Hercegovina in Norway.
Crossing the borders in the Balkans – how much time does it take?
No one will give you exact answer about how much time it takes to cross a border. It depends on a border crossing, time, month when you travel and many other factors. However we can share with you, how much time it took us in August 2018.
Border crossing: Röszke
Arrival time: 9 a.m.
How much did it take to cross the border: 3 hours
I don’t recommend this border crossing because there are very long queues. Either you come very early in the morning or better choose another border crossing.
Border crossing: Merdare
Arrival time: 7 p.m.
How much did it take to cross the border: 25 minutes
That was quick. They checked our documents and car registration documents. We also bought the extra insurance for Kosovo without any problems.
Border crossing: Elez Han
Arrival time: 1:30 p.m.
How much did it take to cross the border: 30 minutes
It was pretty quick to cross the border. On the Macedonian side the border guard wasn’t sure what to do with the Egyptian passport and the residence card. It took him a while to find his boss and ask what to do with us. At the end there wasn’t any problem and after few minutes he let us go.
Border crossing: Saint Naum
Arrival time: 3:55 p.m.
How much did it take to cross the border: 25 minutes
Seems it was fast but we almost ended our trip on that border. The border crossing is small to the point that the same guard on the Albanian side was checking both cars entering Albania and those leaving. When we arrived there it was empty. Unfortunately, we blocked it because the border guard insisted that Mohamed needs a visa to Albania. I described the whole story on our fanpage. They didn’t want to let us go saying that Mohamed needs a visa that he doesn’t really need. I checked it several times on the website of Albanian embassy of Poland.
After I repeated few times that I contacted the Albanian embassy, they let us go. We don’t know if they knew we were right or they just wanted to get rid of us. It was the first time when border guards didn’t know the immigration and visa law in their country. We thought that it was because it was a small border crossing. We didn’t have any problems when we were leaving Albania.
How to avoid the same problem? I recommend you save an offline website of the embassy with visa regulations. You can save it in English and Albanian. In case you have a control as we did, you can show the proof. We did it when we were leaving Albania but on that border it wasn’t needed. It didn’t come to our minds before. Who could foresee that the border guards won’t know that the residence card of a Schengen country exempts from having a visa? We didn’t. As you see, you have to be prepared for everything 😉
Border crossing: Hani i Hotit
Arrival time: 5 p.m.
How much did it take to cross the border: 30 minutes
Despite what we were afraid of, we didn’t face any problems while leaving Albania. When we were entering Montenegro, the border guard was surprised seeing the Egyptian passport and the residence card. She did’t know what to do but she asked another guard next to her and she let us go.
Border crossing: Debeli Brijeg
Arrival time: 11:05 p.m.
How much did it take to cross the border: 35 minutes
We hoped that it wouldn’t be crowded so late at night. It was but we didn’t wait that long. We finished quickly and without problems with the documents.
Croatia-Bosnia and Hercegovina
Border crossing: Brgat Gornji
Arrival time: 5:40 p.m.
How much did it take to cross the border: 40 minutes
It’s a very small border crossing. In August 2018 the road was also under construction so getting there took much more time. Crossing the border itself was quick and without problems. They checked our documents, Mohamed’s passport, my ID, car registration document and the green card.
Bosnia and Hercegovina-Croatia
Border crossing: Gradiška
Arrival time: 11:58 a.m.
How much did it take to cross the border: 22 minutes
It was fast and without problems. That was the quickest border we crossed in the Balkans
Crossing the borders in the Balkans wasn’t that bad. It usually took us between 20 up to 40 minutes. The only exception was border crossing in Röszke between Hungary and Serbia which was full of people. We waited there in temperature of more than 30°C. I don’t recommend that border crossing. As for our adventure on the Macedonian Albanian border, there is nothing more I can say. If you are travelling to the Balkans with a person who has a residence card of a Schengen country, you have to be very patient 😉 And have a copy of the website of the embassy of Albania with visa requirements. Good advice from us.
We hope that our article will help you organize your own road trip to the Balkans 🙂 If you have any questions related to documents, crossing the borders etc. let us know in the comments. Maybe we forgot about something and we could update the article. If you found it useful, let us know too. We will be grateful if you could share it with others :).