Courtesy of www.cia.gov

I handed my passport to the Serbian police officer. He scowled, not from the encroaching cold, but because I was American and had Kosovo visa stamps. Thankfully, I also had a Serbian entry stamp so there was nothing he could do but waive me through. A few kilometers down a windy country road I reached the Kosovar border checkpoint.

Normally when you cross borders you only have to worry about a valid passport (don’t forget it needs to be good for at least 6 months), and your visa. With Kosovo and Serbia things get a bit more complicated. There is an ambiguous international legal rational for Kosovo; a battle in the Security Council between the US, Russia and China over sovereignty and self-determination; a unilateral declaration of Independence by the Kosovar Government (supported by 65 countries in the world, but not the UN); and the blanket denial of that independence by Serbia, which maintains parallel government functions in parts of Kosovo. By now you may be wondering if there is a border or not…there is…depending on who you ask.

Kosovo and Serbia are both great countries to visit and explore, but if you are planning to experience both on the same trip you need to plan carefully or you may find yourself stranded at the border. I live in Kosovo and recently crossed the boarder so here is what you need to know (at the time of publishing).

Visit Serbia first

Kosovo maintains a border station into Serbia, while Serbia maintains a police checkpoint a few kilometers later  to catch visa violators.  If you entered Kosovo first, received a Kosovar entry and exit stamp, and then try to enter Serbia you will be denied access. Good luck finding your way back to Pristina. Serbia considers Kosovo a part of Serbian territory and if you enter it without a Serbian entry visa you are technically without a valid visa. As a matter of principle, Serbian visa stamps are not available along the Kosovar/Serbian border as there are only police checkpoints to make sure you have one.

Courtesy of www.cia.gov

Visit Serbia first. Fly into Belgrade, explore the country and then move on to Kosovo where you can obtain an entry visa at the Kosovo border checkpoint. Just remember you won’t be able to return to Serbia the same way if you get a Kosovo entry stamp, so plan your flights carefully (e.g. fly into Belgrade and out from Pristina). Or you can ask the Kosovar boarder control not to stamp your passport…not technically legal but it works for a lot of people (including me just last week).

I’m in Kosovo now! What do I do?

Don’t panic, go to your nearest cafe (they’re everywhere) and have one of the best inexpensive machiatos anywhere in the world. Feeling better? Good. Now, all you need to do is plan your exit from Kosovo by either flight or overland through another country (there are no flights direct from Pristina to Belgrade but you can fly from Skopje, Macedonia). If you want to get back into Serbia overland your best bet is to cross into Macedonia and then into Serbia by bus, or a nine hour train ride form Skopje.

Don’t forget that Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro all border Kosovo, have recognized it and there are no problems with visas (assuming you are able to get visas on arrival per your nationality).

Does this seem overly complicated? Maybe, but with a bit of planning you can ensure a smooth trip (personally I like unexpected difficulties, they lead to better travel stories).

Have you crossed the border recently? Leave a comment and share your experiences.

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15 Responses to “Kosovar and Serbian Border Crossing: what you need to know”

  1. AdrianNo Gravatar says:

    Serbia Kosovo Entry / Exit Stamp / Visa Problem – October 2012
    I have just made the following trip on my UK passport:-
    Montenegro > Serbia > Kosovo > Macedonia > Serbia > Bulgaria
    I now have 2 entry stamps from Serbia and no exit stamp; neither for my “illegal” exit through Kosovo nor my “legal” exit through Bulgaria. I don’t know about the first entry (all passengers passports were taken away to an office to be stamped) but my second entry into Serbia was not recorded on computer, just a man with a stamp on the Skopje – Belgrade train (I got off at Nis). [NB all passenger passports were also taken away to an office at the Sebia / Bulgaria border - the one where they didn't give me an exit stamp.]
    Wikitravel – http://wikitravel.org/en/Kosovo – says Serbia has a more rigorous policy as of July 2012, and other UK Foreign Office and official US websites mention the requirement of matching entry and exit stamps but it was not apparent when travelling in this direction, though I don’t know what would have happened if I had tried the reverse journey.
    Hope this is useful to someone.

  2. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    Headed to Kosovo in a few days and this is super helpful. Thanks for the great info!

  3. MikeNo Gravatar says:

    Hey! I was googling for information about visiting Kosovo and I found this amazing post.
    I’m just a bit confused about some things, and I was wondering if you could help me out.

    If I enter Serbia, then Kosovo, then Serbia again, and then I go to another country (like Montenegro), will I be able to go back into Serbia?

    My second and most important question is, what do you say to the Kosovar guard so that they don’t stamp your passport?
    If you convince them to not stamp your passport on entry, what happens when you want to exit Kosovo? Won’t the guard be trying to find an entry stamp? (also, you need to convince them again to not stamp it on exit, right?)
    The reason I don’t want them to stamp it is so that I don’t get in trouble with other countries that don’t recognize Kosovo.

    I hope you can help me out! And thanks for the great post!

  4. LeanneNo Gravatar says:

    I went to Kosovo in June 2009 and have Kosovo stamps in my passport. I am looking at doing a tour that includes Serbia later this year, but as I travel on a South African passport, I need a visa for Serbia. Any idea what the chances are that they grant me a visa?

  5. pekraceNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks so much for your advice Todd,I am a Ghanaian in Pretoria,and currently planing to visit Kosovo and Serbia,i will arrival in Kosovo next week and i am planing to cross the border to Macedonia or Montenegro before i enter Serbia since i don’t want to have any problems..i guess with this i will be safe..

  6. NicolasNo Gravatar says:

    Nice view on the situation.
    I’ll be going to Kosovo within a couple of months and I don’t really have a clue what to expect. Last time I saw Pristina on TV it was filled with those white UN vehicles.
    Nicolas´s recent [type] ..How to maintain a foreign language

  7. PekraceNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks so much for your advice,i have already made plans to arrival in Pristina, Kosovo 29 of this month and in the first week in December i move to Serbia to tour around..will this be difficult for me …..

  8. MartinNo Gravatar says:

    Kosovo is a part of Serbia! If you enter Serbia, without a Serbian stamp on your passport, that means that you are staying in the country illegally.

    Think it as if you would enter into USA from Mexico illegally through the Arizona desert. There are no border posts in the desert, but still that does not excuse you from having a stamp in your passport.

    Kosovo is temporarily under foreign occupation, and unreachable to Serbian authorities. But that will change sooner or later…

  9. Excellent advice Todd! I had a similar experience travelling through Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia and the Azeri exclave of Nakhchevan. It takes a lot of planning and does make for great travel stories! I want to travel to Serbia and Kosovo in the near future…..thanks for your advice!

  10. LucyNo Gravatar says:

    Turkish macchiatos are pretty expensive too. I don’t know so much about Kosovo – enjoyed your articles. Have you travelled much in the rest of the Balkans?

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Lucy. I am still getting around the Balkans but it is a beautiful place. I’m off to Montenegro tomorrow so stay tuned for a few more articles. Cheers

  11. Andy WasselNo Gravatar says:

    Wow! Never a dull moment in your life!

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