Everything You Need to Know About Driving in the Balkans
This article tells you everything you need to know about driving in the Balkans. Car insurance in the Balkan countries, roads in the Balkans, safety of Balkan roads as well as individual insurance requirements, toll road and road condition information for each country.
Driving in the Balkans is certainly an experience. We really enjoyed our road trip and think that driving is the best way to see the Balkans but there are a few things we wish we'd know before we left!
So we've put together this guide to go with our other Balkans information so you're properly prepared with everything you need. Driving in the Balkans is absolutely amazing and the less time you spend stressing about navigation, tolls and insurance the more time you can spend enjoying views like this...
If your looking for help with planning your road trip you can read our guides with tips, budget advice and itinerary suggestions here.
The Green Card Insurance System
When you insure a vehicle in the EU you are given a green card. This is your proof of insurance and shows on it the countries you're insured to drive in. Throughout the EU and in Serbia and Switzerland you can drive without having to show it but for the other Balkan countries (except Kosovo) you will need to show this card to enter (may or may not actually happen!)
We didn't get our green card in the post before we left and, being the super organised travellers that we are, didn't read into it either. We ended up paying for insurance in Bosnia (€22 for 7 days) when we were already insured, doh! We then printed a copy of our green card and used this for the rest of the trip without problems.
Car hire companies will usually charge extra for this card (actually a piece of paper.) So make sure you're clear with them about which countries you can and can't go to within your policy.
Is it safe to drive in the Balkans?
Driving in the Balkans is not for the faint-hearted but it is one of the most incredible ways to see these countries. Our biggest safety issues were with the size of the roads. Many roads in the Balkans are about the width of 1.5 car, meaning you need to pull to the side to pass an oncoming vehicle. A good reason to take it a bit slower and be respectful right? Wrong! Balkan drivers will continue to drive at high speeds, over take on blind corners and refuse to pull over so you can pass. But you just have to keep driving at a safe speed and focusing on the road.
The other major hazard of driving in the Balkans is animals on the road. We passed (and often nearly hit) sheep, goats, cows, dogs, horses, pigs, ducks, cats, donkeys and foxes on a daily basis. Sometimes they would move out of the way, other times we had to wait.
In the end, if you're a confident driver you'll be fine. The bigger highways are of a good standard and if you're vehicle is ok on unsealed roads you'll make it to everywhere even if it takes a bit (hours) longer than you planned. If you're in a large camper van then make sure to check the roads out before you go.
Navigation in the Balkans
We used a combination of maps.me and google maps but found that neither of them really prepared us for the roads ahead. Maps.me by default shows you the shortest route regardless of the road quality/size and google maps didn't seem to be very up to date with the area. For example it tried to send us through Montenegro to get into Kosovo when there were several borders from Serbia which were open and much closer.
Our advice for planning your routes in the Balkans:
-Cross check between at least two navigation systems.
-Use the satellite option on Google maps to see how big the road is.
-Search Youtube for the name of the road and see if there are videos of people driving it to see the quality of the road.
-Ask locals, the roads in the Balkans are constantly being redone as many of them look towards joining the European Union. The locals will know where the best route is.
-Remember an extra 50km of sealed road beats bumping your way down even 10km of unsealed road so sometimes the longer route makes sense.
Petrol Prices in the Balkans
Under each country below we have given the cost of diesel as of July-October 2017. In some countries there were variations between petrol stations and in some places it was the exact same price at every petrol station. In general petrol was more expensive than diesel but price changes were relative i.e where diesel was cheaper than other countries so was petrol.
Driving in Slovenia
Car Insurance: Slovenia is covered by the 'green card' insurance. Although, since it is part of the European Union you're unlikely to be checked when you enter.
Road tolls/vignettes: Slovenia has a vignette system. Costs are around 15€ for 7 Days or 30€ for 30 Days for more info check this website.
Diesel prices: €1.14/L (no variation)
Road Conditions: Slovenia's roads are European standards and very safe to drive on.
Other Useful Info: We decided not to buy a vignette and take the smaller roads around Slovenia. Because it's such a small country we didn't add much extra time and got to see lots of beautiful little towns. To find the roads that don't require a vignette use Google maps and select 'avoid toll roads'.
Driving in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Currency: Bosnian Mark (KM) €1 ≈ 2KM
Car Insurance: Bosnia and Herzegovina is covered by the 'green card' insurance. You need to have the original with you and it's very likely you will be asked for it when entering Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Road tolls/vignettes: Bosnia and Herzegovina has a toll system for it's two bigger and newer highways. Tolls are around €1-2/100Km.
Diesel prices: KM 1.80 (about €0.90/L)
Road Conditions: The toll roads are mostly European standard. Smaller roads are partly in bad condition with potholes and fewer street signs. On maps it is hard to distinguish between a sealed and an unsealed road so be prepared for some rough terrain.
Other Useful Info:
Driving in Serbia
Currency: Serbian Dinar (RSD) €1 ≈ 120 RSD
Car Insurance: Serbia is covered by the 'green card' insurance but you won't need to show it to enter.
Road tolls/vignettes: Serbia has a toll system for some of the bigger and newer highways. Tolls are around €3-5/100Km.
Diesel prices: RSD 144 (€1.20/L)
Road Conditions: The toll roads are mostly European standard. The smaller roads can be in bad conditions or unsealed with potholes and fewer street signs (a bit better than Bosnia).
Other Useful Info:
Driving in Kosovo
Car Insurance: Kosovo isn't covered by the 'green card' insurance. You have to purchase a separate insurance at the border. This costs 15€ for 15 days for a car or small van. There are higher costs for larger vehicles but most camper vans will fit in this bracket.
Road tolls/vignettes: Kosovo has no toll roads, all streets are free to use.
Diesel prices: €0.94-1.04/L
Road Conditions: The streets are in very good conditions. All major routes were new roads and we didn't come across any unsealed roads.
Other Useful Info: Crossing from Serbia into Kosovo was no problem but the other way is difficult. We heard mixed stories on the road but the general consensus is to do Serbia first or exit into another country and enter Serbia through a different border.
Driving in Montenegro
Car Insurance: Montenegro is covered by the 'green card' insurance.
Road tolls/vignettes: Montenegro has one toll tunnel, but the streets are free to use. The toll is €2.50.
Diesel prices: €1.09/L (no variation)
Road Conditions: All the roads we used in Montenegro were sealed and marked.
Other Useful Info: We didn't find Montenegro to be any more or less dangerous than the other Balkan countries. But when we entered they gave a a graphic brochure about car accidents. Not sure if they actually have higher rates of accidents or if they're just being cautious but don't let it freak you out too much!
Driving in Albania
Currency: Albanian Lek (ALL) €1 ≈ 134 ALL
Car Insurance: Albania is covered by the 'green card' insurance.
Road tolls/vignettes: Albania has no tolls at all. All street are free to use.
Diesel prices: Lek 150-160/L (€1.13-1.20/L)
Road Conditions: The roads in Albania were incredibly varied. The main roads along the coast and leading to Tirana were fine. We decided not to drive to Theth (good decision) because of the unsealed roads, although they were working on these so it may be finished some time soon, it also may not! The roads inland were in worse condition and much narrower but still fine for a van/car.
Other Useful Info: Getting out of Albania can take a lot longer than getting in. An increase in drug smuggling out of the country has led to more checks taking place at the border. It took us nearly two hours to cross into Macedonia.
Driving in Macedonia
Currency: Macedonian Denar (MKD) €1 ≈ 62 MKD
Car Insurance: Macedonia is covered by the 'green card' insurance.
Road tolls/vignettes: Macedonia has a toll system on the highways. Tolls are around 180MDK/100Km (€2,90/100Km)
Diesel prices: 49 MKD/L (€.80/L)(no variation)
Road Conditions: The roads in Macedonia were fine between cities and larger towns. We ventured off into some smaller towns and the roads got very narrow!
Other Useful Info:
Driving in Bulgaria
Currency: Bulgarian Lev (BGN) €1 ≈ 2 BGN
Car Insurance: Bulgaria is part of the European Union, so it's covered by the 'green card' insurance.
Road tolls/vignettes: Bulgaria has a Vignette system. The vignette costs €8 for 7 Days.
Diesel prices: Lev 1.89-2.9/L (€0.95-1.05/L)
Road Conditions: All the roads we used were sealed and marked with a couple of potholes here and there on smaller roads.
If you decide to take a car or van through the Balkans you're in for a real treat. Not only will you get to see some of the smaller places that are harder to get to but you'll also see all kinds of views that aren't in any guide book.
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