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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Slovakia 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Consulate General in Bratislava. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Slovakia. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Slovakia 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 Slovakia at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime & Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Bratislava as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The general crime rate is below the U.S. national average. Most reports of crime come from Old Town, and involve petty theft (e.g. purse snatching, cell phone grabbing, pickpocketing), vehicle break-ins, or vandalism. The aggregation of tourists in Old Town leads to the influx of criminal elements. Pickpockets are professional, and are most active in the summer and during the holiday season. They prefer locations like shopping centers, markets, public transportation (in the vicinity of Old Town), areas near major hotels and tourist sites, and overnight trains to Prague and Warsaw.

Thieves scout victims at trains stations, to include Hlavná Stanica and Petržalka. While not a frequent occurrence, purse snatchings do occur. The most likely targets for purse snatchings are newly arrived travelers unfamiliar with the local environment. Purse-snatchers typically work in crowded areas and in teams, allowing them to cut straps of purses and run away into a crowd. River cruises have ports of call along the Danube River nearby the Old Town. This this is how most tourists enter Slovakia. Normal precautionary measures in this area should minimize risks. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

While gender-based violence is a concern, Slovakia statistically has a low rate of sexual assaults. It is common to see women alone at night on the streets, parks, or on public transportation. Still, there is safety in numbers as a precautionary measure. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

When dining in restaurants, particularly at locations with outdoor seating in the warmer months, do not hang handbags or suit coats on the backs of chairs. Thieves can and will steal wallets and other valuables in the absence of caution.

Although not common, automobile theft does occur. Many thieves transport stolen vehicles to neighboring countries for resale. Preferred targets are up-market European and American cars. Theft from cars is more common than theft of cars in Bratislava, based on opportunity (e.g. unlocked doors and open windows). Vandalism to vehicles may also occur, even on well-traveled streets.

Since 2018, police reports suggest an increase in residential burglaries, to include several of occupied residences. There have been incidents where thieves gained access to residential parking garages, subsequently breaking into storage units and vehicles. While still less likely than in other countries, this is a new trend, as burglaries of occupied residences had been rare in Slovakia, to include Bratislava.

Both indigenous and foreign organized crime (OC) groups are well established. These groups engage in legal and illegal businesses. Some crime figures have business interests in Old Town. Power struggles within the OC syndicates do sometimes occur, mostly outside of Old Town; on occasion, these can be violent. OC actors do not target U.S. or other foreign individuals and tend to co-exist in the tourist district, so as not to scare away tourist spending. OC activities include trafficking in narcotics, persons, cigarettes, and weapons. These groups are also involved in auto theft, financial fraud, gambling, prostitution, public corruption, protection rackets, and cybercrime. Though uncommon, auto theft strongly correlates to OC. Slovakia is actively fighting the trafficking of illicit goods/people and illegal migration as part of its role in protecting the European Union (EU) external border with Ukraine. Slovakia has also tightened regulations regarding the sale and transfer of “demilitarized” weapons.

Criminals target tourists at nightclubs with OC ties. In the past, such establishments have presented foreign customers with inflated bills and threatened those who refuse to pay. They also spike drinks with disabling drugs and take the impaired victims to ATMs and coerce them to withdraw funds until they empty their accounts or the bank blocks the use of the card.

Cybersecurity Issues

While not as endemic as in neighboring countries, rare cases of credit card, internet, and ATM fraud have occurred within the past few years. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Cybercrime is a concern, on par with most countries. Protect computer systems and passwords using best practices and up-to-date antivirus software. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, and Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Roads are typically safe, though sometimes not well maintained. Four-lane highways exist in and around Bratislava; however, most roads outside of built-up areas have only two lanes. As a result, aggressive drivers can pose a serious hazard when attempting to pass at unsafe speeds. Due to poor lighting and narrow, winding roads, avoid nighttime driving outside of well-developed areas.

Traits of aggressive drivers include continual horn honking, screaming at other motorists, tailgating, and making rude hand gestures at other vehicles or people. When such behaviors result in actual physical or vehicle-to-vehicle altercations, aggressive driving can turn to road rage. Once it becomes apparent that the aggressive actions of another driver are intentional, make every attempt to avoid and distance oneself from them; take the same precautions with erratic drivers.

From November through March, there is often heavy snowfall; inadequate snow clearance is common. Roads in the mountainous north are particularly prone to hazardous conditions during the winter. Winters tires are mandatory in the majority of the countries in the EU (review this website for a list of those countries and the time period of when winter tires are legally mandatory). Winter tires are only mandatory in Slovakia when the weather conditions require them. Install winter tires as soon as the temperature consistently dips below 50°F/10°C.

You must use seatbelts and headlights at all times. It is illegal to use cellular phones while driving. Children under 12 weighing less than 80 pounds must use a car seat or a booster. You must have a motorcycle license and wear a helmet to operate a motorized two-wheeled vehicle. Reflective safety vests and first aid kits must be in each vehicle. The blood alcohol tolerance level is zero percent; police stop cars randomly to perform breath tests. If you get a ticket, you can pay the fine in cash on the spot to the officer. If you cannot pay the fine on the spot, you will receive a notice to appear later at a police station, and the fine will be higher. Reportedly, police sometimes target foreigners for additional sums. You must buy an electronic vignette to use certain highways and motorways; purchase it online. Drivers require an International Driving Permit (IDP) prior to arrival to drive in Slovakia.

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.

Remove all valuables from vehicles, even if parked in a garage. At night, use a garage if possible, or at least a lighted parking area on the street. Use vehicle alarm systems or anti-theft devices.

Public Transportation Conditions

Taxi companies and rideshare services generally provide reliable, safe, and economical services. Avoid independent cabs that do not display a company name prominently. Remain alert to the potential for substantial overcharging by taxis, particularly in areas tourists frequent. Expect higher charges when hailing a cab from the street or a taxi stand. Radio-dispatched taxis are often more reliable and affordable. The cheapest and best option is to call ahead and negotiate a price before entering the cab. To avoid fluctuations in price and the need to communicate with the driver, many use rideshare apps such as Uber, Bolt, or Hop-In.

Buses, trolleybuses, and trams are mechanically safe and generally reliable. On public transportation, you must validate a ticket upon entering the vehicle. The ticket is valid for your entire journey. Major cities also offer tickets by SMS message through a local telephone service provider. In most cities, you can buy passes valid for periods ranging from 24 hours to one year. Children from six to 15 years of age pay reduced fares. A ticket inspector will fine passengers who are traveling without a valid ticket; inspectors board transportation at random. The ticket inspector will have an identification card and must provide a receipt for the fare.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Bratislava as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. There are no known terrorist organizations present in Slovakia. There have been few incidents of homegrown “lone wolf” actors planning terrorist incidents in the country. Since 2015, it is common for the Slovak government to post additional police officers at government buildings, diplomatic missions, and public venues during periods of heightened concern or in response to regional events.

Although there are no known, specific threats to U.S. interests in Bratislava, U.S. nationals and U.S. interests abroad remain at risk from ISIS, al-Qa’ida, their affiliated organizations, and other terrorist groups or homegrown actors. These individuals do not distinguish between official and civilian targets.

The threat from international terrorism remains high in the European Union and is diversifying in scope and impact. While there have been no incidents of international or transnational terrorism in Slovakia, there have been terrorism-related arrests in neighboring Austria. Slovakia’s membership in the Schengen zone could allow a terrorist to transit into Slovakia from any Western European country.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Bratislava as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Public demonstrations are common, though typically peaceful and generally small, numbering less than 150 participants. The city government must pre-approve demonstrations. In 2018, anti-corruption protests involved more than 20,000 participants, but were orderly with police presence. Small anti-NATO protests that involve an anti-U.S. element are not uncommon, but these do not typically attract more than 30 participants and are peaceful in nature.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Though religious or ethnic undertones are not uncommon in some protests, these messages generally reflect the ideology of certain individuals or groups, rather than widespread religious or ethnic tensions within Slovakia. Foreigners have occasionally been attacked over the past year in one-off, after-club, alcohol-involved fights or incidents late at night or early in the morning due to perceived nationality or race. Review OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Some local elements tend to be anti-NATO and anti-U.S. It is common for these groups to hold periodic demonstrations in Bratislava’s Old Town, often in the area near the U.S. Embassy on Hviezdoslavovo námestie, and other major cities. These protests are normally small, peaceful, and usually feature sufficient police presence to maintain order.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Situated in a zone classified as low risk for seismic activity, Slovakia has not had any significant earthquakes in decades.

During the last few years, eastern and central Slovakia experienced heavy spring and early summer floods. The floods have resulted in several deaths and a large amount of property damage.

Personal Identity Concerns

Hate crimes are rare, though some U.S. travelers have reported being the target of comments or actions because of their perceived nationality or race. Fringe element groups of neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other far-right wing extremists continue their presence, but rarely impact foreigners. In many cases, these elements exist within other right-wing protest groups. Slovakia has enacted laws that include stiffer penalties for racially motivated attacks than the “normal” assault statutes, yet the crimes remain difficult to prosecute. It is not uncommon for prosecutors to charge an offender under the more easily proven “simple assault” statute to increase the chance of a successful prosecution; the perpetrator therefore avoids the heavier penalty carried by the hate-crime statutes.

While reported incidents of violence and harassment targeting the LGBTI+ community are rare, they have occurred. Recent Pride Parades in Bratislava, Košice, and Banská Bystrica have proceeded without any issues or problems. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Slovak law requires that public areas be accessible to persons with disabilities. Many older buildings and areas have not been retrofitted. Slovakia remains a very difficult place to navigate for those with mobility issues. Many sidewalks are narrow and uneven, and small towns may lack sidewalks. Most public transportation and railway stations lack elevators and do not provide easy access for people with mobility issues. Few buses have lowering platforms, and no trams do. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Slovakia is a transit country for illegal drugs coming from Turkey, the Balkans, Asia, and Afghanistan, but experiences very little violence associated with the drug trade. Police have made some headway in seizing shipments of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. Law enforcement agencies report increasing problems associated with the domestic manufacture and abuse of methamphetamines. Slovakia does not have the same restrictions on precursor chemicals or over-the-counter drugs used in the production of methamphetamines as do neighboring EU nations.

Other Issues

If you are over age 15, the law requires you to carry a passport and/or a Slovak identity card. A photocopy of your passport is not sufficient. Keep a photocopy of your passport in a safe place.

It is illegal to take photographs of security/military installations. If you violate this law, authorities may confiscate the pictures/recordings, issue a reprimand or fine, or even expel you from the country. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Slovak customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary import or export of firearms, antiquities, medications, and business equipment. 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 lines in Slovakia are 112 and 158 (Non-Emergency: 09610 11111). While competent and professional, police forces may suffer from a lack of personnel and fiscal resources, as well as equipment. Police responsiveness to criminal incidents depends on the type and severity of the crime involved and, to an extent, the social status of the complainant. The government has announced plans for hiring of additional police officers following increasing security concerns in Europe. For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Many foreigners who have been the victim of crime will find their interactions with the police to be somewhat frustrating due to the language barrier, as few police officers speak English. The police try to staff their 24-hour emergency numbers with operators with some English-language capabilities. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

The security guard company sector is a growth industry; however, many of these companies reportedly have ties to organized crime.

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency lines in Slovakia are 112 and 155. An English-speaking dispatcher should be available. According to the level of the medical emergency, the dispatcher may send an ambulance, with a staff of paramedics or a physician, if the patient’s condition warrants. Medical facilities are available, although the quality and accessibility vary. Not all doctors speak English. Even fewer nurses and administrative staff have any level of English fluency. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

Medical prescriptions issued in the U.S. are not valid in Slovakia. A traveler needing a prescription must request one from a local doctor. Medicines are generally available locally at pharmacies, where customers ask the pharmacist for every product, including over-the-counter medicines; if they are not available under the U.S. drug name, consult the pharmacist or a local doctor for a local substitute. Medicine brought into Slovakia for personal use may be subject to comparison against the Ministry of Health list of those authorized for use in Slovakia. The Slovak Privacy Act generally prevents health providers from releasing information about a patient to a third party. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

Doctors and hospitals expect payment for health services unless the patient can present an insurance number from the Slovak National Insurance Company. This includes ambulance service, for which the cost begins at €120 per transport for those without Slovak health insurance. Anyone staying in Slovakia longer than the 90-day visa-free visit period must have local health insurance.

Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation (medevac) to the U.S. can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Consider special insurance from local providers, especially if mountain hiking and skiing. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) can result from the bites of ticks commonly found in the bushes and grass of forests in Slovakia at lower and middle elevations. Ticks are most active from spring to late fall, especially in the northern regions of Trenčín and Žilina. Low risk exists throughout the rest of the country. Transmission occurs throughout the year, with highest activity from June through September. Even though the CDC does not explicitly recommend the TBE vaccine, other official European sources have recommended the TBE vaccine for travelers who plan to stay for extended periods or who plan to camp and stay outdoors. Vaccines are available through a general practitioner or a pediatrician in Slovakia, but are not available in the U.S. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Slovakia.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is currently no active Country Council in Slovakia. Contact OSAC’s Europe team for more information.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

Hviezdoslavovo námestie 4, 811 02 Bratislava

Regular hours: 0800 – 1630, Monday – Friday, except Embassy holidays

Telephone: +(421) (2) 5443 0861 or +(421) (2) 5443 3338.

Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(421) 903 703 666.

Website: https://sk.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

 

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