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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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U.S. Department of State

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North Macedonia 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Skopje. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in North Macedonia. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s North Macedonia country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses North Macedonia at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Skopje as being a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The primary crime concern in-country remains petty crime (pickpocketing and street crime), particularly in areas tourists and foreigners frequent.

In 2019, U.S. embassy personnel reported no instances of pickpocketing or vehicle break-ins, and only one theft from an embassy residence. The number of reported break-ins at residences and commercial properties located next to U.S. personnel residences remained the same as in 2018 (4 cases). Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Remain particularly alert for pickpockets and other attempts to steal mobile phones, laptops, tablets, wallets, purses, bags or backpacks in public areas such as Skopje Square, the vicinity of the Vardar River, large shopping areas, Matka Canyon, aboard public transportation (buses), and in restaurants. Criminal elements also surveil parking areas for targets of opportunity, and will break vehicle windows or open unlocked car doors to steal personal property when items are visible. Lock vehicles and ensure all items of value, to include bags and electronic items, are out of view. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Nationwide, instances of theft decreased by 11% in 2019 (3,989 cases) while rates of “severe theft” (using a tool to break into a residence or vehicle) fell by 20% (7,739 cases).

Incidents of violent crime, including murder and attempted murder, varied across North Macedonia in 2019. There was a 46% increase in the number of murders (19 cases, compared to 13 in 2018), a 47% decrease in cases of attempted murder (18 cases), and a 13% decrease in acts of violence (231 cases).

The number of reported rape cases increased by 6% (32 cases compared to 30 cases in 2018). Sexual assaults of juveniles fell by 13% (26 cases) and reports of other sexual crimes against children increased by 25% (15 cases). Domestic violence is a persistent and common problem. In the first half of 2019, authorities registered ‎767 victims of domestic violence, of whom 572 were women, 160 men, and 75 children.

There were no reported assaults against U.S. personnel in 2019.

Southeastern Europe (i.e. North Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo), continues to face challenges from organized crime, particularly in drug trafficking, money laundering, trafficking of migrants, extortion, and property crimes.

In general, travel in groups, carry only enough money/credit cards to make a purchase, maintain copies of credits cards and identity documents in a safe location, and be aware of your surroundings. ATM use is generally safe, but you should still take standard safety precautions and be aware of your surroundings. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime in North Macedonia continues to be a concern, as hacking and data breaches have increased worldwide. Cybercriminals use spam and phishing e-mails to compromise online accounts and steal personal information.

In 2019, North Macedonia had 156 documented cybercrime offenses, with damage and illegal access to computer systems being the most common (60 cases). The government brought 26 criminal cases against individuals who used computers to distribute racist or xenophobic material. There were eight reports of production and use of fraudulent payment cards. In total, cyber related crimes in North Macedonia increased by 70% compared to 2018.

Always use good security practices when communicating on mobile devices or other electronic media, as it could have privacy repercussions. Protect devices and personal information to avoid potential exploitation. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions differ significantly from those in the United States. Unpredictable drivers, speeding vehicles, poor vehicle maintenance, uneven road surfaces, and poor lighting all contribute to precarious driving conditions. Drivers and passengers should always wear seatbelts. Drivers may not use a cell phone while driving.

U.S. nationals must carry a valid U.S. driver’s license in conjunction with an International Driving Permit to drive legally in North Macedonia. Driving is on the right side of the road. The maximum speed limit in populated areas is 50 km/h. Take care to comply with imposed safety restrictions such as maintaining proper distance between vehicles and speed. The maximum speed limit (if not posted) is 120 km/h (Highway), 80 km/h (Open road), 50 km/h (In towns), and 30 km/h (Residential areas).

Many vehicles are quite old by western standards. Horse-drawn carts, animals, and/or other objects are regularly visible on public roadways.

Use of headlights is mandatory day and night. Most major highways are in good repair, but secondary urban and rural roads vary widely in condition and lighting. Mountain roads can be narrow, poorly marked, and lacking guardrails, and can quickly become dangerous in inclement weather. Roadside emergency services are limited.

North Macedonia’s Interior Ministry provided the following vehicle accident statistics for 2019: traffic accidents decreased by 17% (2,929 reports); and traffic fatalities decreased by 7% (120 killed).

Emergency services are available using the following telephone numbers: Police assistance: 192; Ambulance services: 194; and Roadside support: 196.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation in Skopje is generally reliable. Pickpocketing is possible aboard buses. Taxis are generally safe. Use metered taxis to avoid conflicts about the fare. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

North Macedonia has two international airports. Skopje International Airport (SKP) is located approximately 17 kilometers (11 miles) from Skopje. Security measures include passenger and bag screening that are on par with international norms. Ohrid “St. Paul the Apostle” Airport (OHD) is located approximately nine kilometers (6 miles) from the city of Ohrid, North Macedonia. OHD is smaller than SKP but provides an additional option for international flights. Each adheres to international air-safety standards. As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in North Macedonia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of North Macedonia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Skopje as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. North Macedonia had no terrorist events in 2019. The Balkans and North Macedonia continue to face concerns of returning foreign fighters and the potential for radicalization to violence. Authorities from North Macedonia assess that ISIS members and sympathizers maintain a presence in North Macedonia. The National Committee for Countering Violent Extremism and Countering Terrorism estimated that at least 156 North Macedonian nationals traveled to join terrorists in Syria and Iraq, which is illegal under North Macedonia’s criminal code. Of that number, 36 died, approximately 37 remained in the region, and 83 returned to North Macedonia.

Seven Foreign Terrorist Fighters repatriated to North Macedonia in August 2018 and in March 2019, and pled guilty for their ISIS involvement; six received six-year prison sentences and one received a nine-year sentence.

North Macedonia has taken measures to increase border security, but illegal border crossings have occurred. Currently, 22 suspects are in pre-trial detention and 39 others are serving prison sentences on terrorism-related charges. The country’s anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing legal framework remains largely in compliance with international standards. 

In March 2018, North Macedonia adopted national counterterrorism and countering violent extremism strategies, accompanied by respective action plans. North Macedonia continues to cooperate with U.S. counterterrorism efforts, demonstrating its strong commitment to the Global Defeat ISIS Coalition. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Skopje as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

Protests are common in North Macedonia and a frequent platform for social or political movements. The Regional Security Office recorded a sharp decline in demonstrations in Skopje in 2019 (82 compared to 182 in 2018). The most frequent concerned economic conditions, followed by political demonstrations (mostly anti-government), and civil rights or the environment (primarily air quality).

Demonstrations typically involve less than 1,000 participants; however, the largest demonstration in 2019 had approximately 10,000 people. No events in 2019 required additional police response beyond standard security measures.

Demonstrations in North Macedonia are generally peaceful, but protestors routinely block traffic near the Government building. The Ministry of Interior deploys public order police equipped with water cannons to maintain peace, if necessary. Most demonstrations occur in close proximity to, or in front of, government buildings located near the city center, approximately two kilometers from the U.S. Embassy. Avoid suspected trouble and/or demonstrations. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

There are currently no known, specific, credible threats against U.S. nationals in North Macedonia. No demonstrations in 2009 included prominent anti-U.S. messages and no protests occurred at or near the U.S. Embassy. During political protests in previous years, some demonstrators and speakers made calls for specific U.S. officials to withdraw from North Macedonia, sometimes using violent or threatening language.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

North Macedonia is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-lingual state. While there is little religious/ethnic violence in North Macedonia, inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions do exist. In September, unknown persons attempted to assault the founder of the Religious Community of Orthodox Albanians, who blamed an ineffective government investigation of a previous assault. Police said they charged six persons for instances of theft, arson, or vandalism against religious targets, but did not identify the perpetrators of a separate attempted arson of a church in Cheflik belonging to the Evangelical Church. The Macedonian Orthodox Church reported 12 incidents of theft and one of attempted arson of its churches, and the government reported two incidents of vandalism against Orthodox cemeteries; this compares with 26 acts of theft or vandalism of Orthodox sites in 2018. The government also reported one theft at a mosque.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

North Macedonia is at risk for various natural and man-made disasters, to include earthquakes and floods. Weather conditions and pollution can result in delayed and canceled flights during the winter.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

North Macedonia is working to build a nationwide natural gas pipeline and distribution network. Currently, the country receives its small natural gas supplies from Russia via Bulgaria. In 2016, North Macedonia signed a memorandum of understanding with Greece to build an interconnector that could connect to the Trans Adriatic Pipeline that will traverse the region once complete, or to an LNG import terminal in Greece.

Economic Concerns/Intellectual Property Theft

While larger stores and restaurants accept credit cards, carry cash in local currency (denar) for purchases in small establishments.

Although it is not a financial center and most criminal activity is domestic rather than transnational, money laundering is a problem due to the country’s mostly cash-based economy and weak enforcement.

Personal Identity Concerns

The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace of both men and women, and provides a sentencing guideline of three months to three years in prison for violations. The government effectively enforces the law. Women’s rights activists formed a new social movement with the hashtag #ISpeakUpNow (English translation) to show the normalization of sexual harassment in society. Sexual harassment of women in the workplace is a problem, but victims generally do not bring cases forward due to fear of publicity and possible loss of employment. In 2019, authorities received complaints alleging discrimination against women athletes. The commission found discrimination existed and recommended all sports federations align their internal regulations and practices with the antidiscrimination laws. There were also complaints about workplace discrimination against pregnant women. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI+ events in North Macedonia. Vandals attacked an LGBTI+ center several times in the last five years. Skopje’s first Pride parade took place in June 2019. A counterdemonstration occurred on the same day. Also on that day, a group of approximately 20 assailants chased, pulled from a car, and violently assaulted a prominent LGBTI+ rights activist in Skopje, threatening to kill him and other activitsts. Police arrested the assailants. Exercise caution when attending LGBTI+ events. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

North Macedonia’s law requires only that new buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities. Most public buildings are inaccessible and inconsistent inspection results in construction of new facilities that are not accessible. Public transportation for persons with disabilities is very limited; although all buses the government has purchased for Skopje since 2013 have been accessible to persons with physical disabilities, public transportation remains largely inaccessible in other regions. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crime

North Macedonia is a major transshipment point for Southwest Asian heroin and hashish, and a minor transit point for South American cocaine destined for Europe.

Kidnapping Threat

North Macedonia reported 17 cases of kidnapping in 2019, which is an increase of 86%, while drug-related offenses rose by 19% (813 cases). Reports of migrant smuggling also increased by 12% (47 cases compared to 42 cases in 2018). Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics

Other Issues

Individuals establishing a business or practicing a profession that requires additional permits or licensing should seek information from the competent local authorities, prior to practicing or operating a business.

There were several cases of alleged threats and harassment against journalists during 2019. Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2019 report stated that “while the media and civil society are active, journalists and activists face pressure and intimidation.” The report noted the media landscape was “deeply polarized along political lines, and private media outlets were often tied to political or business interests that influenced their content. Some critical and independent outlets operated and were found mainly online.”

Taking photographs of anything that authorities perceive as having military or security interest may result in problems. Comply with “no photography” signs. If you are in doubt, ask for permission before taking photographs. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

North Macedonia’s customs authorities enforce strict regulations that require special licenses or permits for the exportation of items deemed to be of historical value or significance. Taking such items out of North Macedonia without the appropriate government-issued permit can result in arrest, monetary fines, and prison sentences. North Macedonia's Customs Administration provides more information on customs regulations.Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The police emergency line in North Macedonia is 192. The national police maintain internal security, including migration and border enforcement, and report to the Interior Ministry.

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The law requires that a judge issue warrants for arrest and detention of suspects based on evidence, and police generally followed this requirement. The law states prosecutors must arraign a detainee within 24 hours of arrest. 

Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency line in North Macedonia is 194 or (+389 194 from a foreign cell phone). If you suspect a heart attack, explicitly request cardiac assistance. Ambulance services are available in Skopje and major tourist areas, such as Ohrid, though response times, equipment and staff training may be below U.S. standards. In rural areas and small towns, ambulances are staged regionally and may be more than an hour away or unavailable when needed. Government-operated emergency services are substandard. Private emergency services in Skopje, operated by private institutions, meet high quality standards. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

Medical care in North Macedonia varies in quality by location and provider. Skopje has four private hospitals that offer services ranging from cardiovascular surgery to pediatric intensive care. Quality of care is not equal to U.S. health care. Rheumatology, endocrinology, burn, and psychiatric services are either substandard or unavailable to non-citizens throughout the country. Outside Skopje, medical care is substandard, except for trauma services in Ohrid.

A government formulary controls which prescription medications are available; the list does not include several medications available in most Western countries. Insulin is not available to non-citizens. Always carry your prescription medicine in original packaging, along with your doctor’s prescription. Check with the North Macedonia Customs Administration to ensure the medication is legal in North Macedonia.

Air pollution is a significant problem in certain areas around the country due to metallurgical plants. Skopje has severe air pollution problems every winter as a result of industrial emissions, smoke from wood-buring stoves, and exhaust fumes from old cars. In some cities, to include Skopje, Bitola, Kicevo, Tetovo, and Veles, particulate pollution exceeds acceptable norms more than 150 days per year. Particulates, especially PM 2.5 particles, cause significant health effects; exposure is likely to be more severe for sensitive populations, including people with heart and lung disease, children, and older adults.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for North Macedonia.

SAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Skopje is active. Contact OSAC’s Europe team for more information or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

21 Samoilova Street, 1000 Skopje

Regular hours: 0830 – 1630, Monday – Friday

Switchboard: +389 2-310-2000.

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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