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Kosovo 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Pristina. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Kosovo. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Kosovo 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 Kosovo at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution. Reconsider travel to North Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Zvecan due to civil unrest. 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 Pristina as being a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The lack of economic opportunity is a factor in crime rates in Kosovo. Crimes of opportunity are the most prevalent. Street crimes (e.g. theft, purse snatching) are somewhat common, especially in Pristina. There were 168 cases of robberies in the country reported last year. The targets included houses, casinos, micro financial organizations, shops, markets, banks, and betting clubs. According to Kosovo Police (KP) publications, during the 2019 January-October period, the number of thefts was 3,562, while the number of grievous thefts was 4,357. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

The expatriate community can be a target of crime, as criminals assume that members of the community are affluent. Expatriate community members’ homes, businesses, and vehicles are, on occasion, targets for burglary. In early 2020, there was an attempted break-in of an official U.S. residence. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Criminals often commit crimes with firearms, as weapons are fairly easy to obtain in Kosovo. While violent crimes occur throughout Kosovo, the number of reported violent crimes against U.S. nationals is very small. Robberies often occur during late night and early morning hours. Some of these reports have included the assailant using a weapon to gain small amounts of cash. The victims of these crimes appear to have been targets because they were walking alone, in the dark, and/or were under the influence of alcohol. 

Organized crime is present in Kosovo, occasionally resulting in violent confrontations between rival organizations. Most incidents are politically motivated and are not directed at tourists or foreigners.

Cybersecurity Issues

ATM fraud is present in Kosovo. Authorities have found ATM skimmers in the country. Avoid freestanding ATMs, and always check the ATM for irregularities before use. ATMs attached to financial institutions such as banks are reliable. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Roads within larger metropolitan areas are typically in good condition, while those outside the cities range from good to terrible. Be particularly careful at night, as lighting along roadways is limited. Roads often lack proper reflective markings and safety measures (e.g. lane markers, guardrails). Kosovo is working to expand its infrastructure, and recently opened a modern highway connecting Pristina and Skopje.

Driving is more difficult in Kosovo than in the U.S. for many reasons: unfamiliar traffic patterns, military vehicles, unobserved traffic laws, stray pets and livestock, horse-drawn carts, infrastructure problems, and ongoing road construction projects. Drive defensively.

Pristina has many pedestrians, and the city is walkable. Pedestrians should use caution as many sidewalks are in a state of disrepair, and drivers do not respect pedestrians’ right-of-way.

Authorities consider a blood alcohol level higher than 0.05% as intoxication, and will be arrest and prosecute drunk drivers. The use of seat belts and headlights is mandatory. It is illegal to use a cell phone while driving unless it is hands-free. Report all accidents, including minor fender-benders, to police. After any type of accident, do not move your vehicle until officers arrive to take a full report.

When police impose a fine or penalty, they may legally confiscate your driver’s license and vehicle documents until the penalty is paid. The U.S. Embassy is not able to retrieve these documents.

Review Kosovo traffic safety laws for complete information on driver’s licenses and imported or foreign-tagged vehicle registration requirements.

Drivers of motor vehicles registered outside of Kosovo may need to purchase liability insurance at the border. Kosovo is not a member of the European motor vehicle third party liability (“green card”) system.

Roads frequently flood and are impassible during rainy months. Mudslides occasionally shut down main roads. Ice and snow on roadways can cause delays and dangerous conditions. Authorities take measures to clear the main roads of snow, but large volumes of snow can delay clearance. Attempt to limit your driving to daylight hours when you can see, and be seen, better. Driving on mountain roads during winter requires that the driver carry tire chains in the car. Winter or all-season tires with more than four millimeters tread are mandatory from November 15 – March 15 in most regions. 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

Taxis are an inexpensive, safe, and reliable means of transportation. Use established taxi companies instead of personally owned vehicles converted to a taxi. Make sure the taxi has a meter and that the driver activates it upon departure. Many of these meters are in the rear-view mirror, and not as a separate electronic device in the car. If there is a question about the status of the meter, ask the driver. Some of the more established taxi services now also use telephone apps for service requests.

Rail transportation is very limited and unreliable, and safety equipment is often lacking or outdated. 

Local buses are often overcrowded, and the bus lines may be difficult to figure out. Long-range, inter-city buses are usually in good condition and are an acceptable way to travel between cities or countries. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Pristina’s Adem Jashari Inernational Airport (PRN) has undergone a major infrastructure upgrade, including a new terminal facility and a new air traffic control tower. However, the runway remains short, which can cause visibility issues when combined with fog. Flights can experience significant delays/cancellations due to weather conditions, especially in the winter months. When heavy fog or smog is present, flights may divert to Skopje (SKP) or Tirana (TIA). Airlines then typically bus passengers back to PRN, which takes approximately 2 hours.

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Kosovo, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Government of Kosovo’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Kosovo is not a member of ICAO.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Pristina as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. During 2019, there were 13 reported cases related to terrorism in Kosovo. The international/transnational terrorism threat is like that faced by most European nations. Since independence, Kosovo has experienced a rise in Islamic extremism, and at the same time, it has made marked progress in the fight against terrorism. In April 2019, open-source media reported that Kosovo repatriated over 100 citizens from the conflict zone in Syria. It has since charged or indicted a number of these individuals with crimes related to terrorism.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Pristina as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Political tensions can run high among the government and its constituents. In the past, political parties have tried to sway votes in Parliament through violent methods, such as deploying tear gas during assembly sessions. These sessions commonly accompany civilian protests outside the Parliament building.

Civil Unrest 

Protests involving 25 to more than 2,000 people can occur in Pristina, often in the downtown area near government and international organization buildings. In other areas of Kosovo, protests tend to focus on ethnically divided areas or areas of ethnic tension.

Kosovo has experienced minor political demonstrations due to high unemployment, corruption, and dissatisfaction with government actions. The Kosovo Parliament’s 2017 petition to abrogate the Special Court law, which has oversight over war crimes committed during and after the war in 1999, has sparked public backlash as well as international condemnation. Also, in 2019, the imposition of a 100% tax by the Kosovo government on Serbian products and the transformation of the Kosovo Security Forces resulted in some peaceful protests by Serbs in the north of Kosovo.

Sporting events may also trigger violence or protests. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

In Mitrovica, tensions remain high between Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs, in part due to barricades, both physical and political, which restrict freedom of movement. In other areas of the country, Serbs may face protests, especially during religious holidays and pilgrimages. In January 2018, assailants killed a prominent Kosovo Serb in North Mitrovica. Motives behind the attack remain unknown, and the investigation is ongoing. As the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) continued to integrate ethnic Serbs into its ranks, there were several occasions of Serb recruits from the north having Molotov cocktails or explosive devices thrown at their residences.

Nationally, police reported 61 religiously motivated incidents, most targeting religious sites, including cemeteries, in the first nine months of 2019. Many incidents were linked to ethnicity as well as religion.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

U.S. nationals are generally well-received, particularly in Kosovo-Albanian communities. However, there is a small population that espouse anti-U.S. sentiment. Some ethnic Serbs remain suspicious of the U.S. due to the NATO bombing of Serbia during the war. Returning foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria have been known to perpetuate anti-U.S. sentiment in Kosovo.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Kosovo is susceptible to earthquakes. There are three principle seismic zones: Prizren-Peje, Ferizaj–Viti–Gjilan, and Kopaonik. Within the available data range, the highest Richter Scale reading for the Gjilan zone was 6.6 (in 2002), 9.0 for the Ferizaj–Viti–Gjilan zone (in 1922), and 6.0 for the Kopaonik zone (in 1980). Between 1900 and 2000, historical records catalogued the following earthquakes by intensity on the Richter scale: 82 earthquakes at >5 intensity; 34 at > 6 intensity; 12 at > 7 intensity; 10 at > 8 intensity; and 3 at > 9 intensity. The most recent significant earthquake in 2002 centered on Gjilan with a strength of 6.6; it killed one person and injured at least 60 others.

Air quality during the winter months is exceptionally poor, mostly due to coal and wood burning in homes and businesses in and around Pristina. There is often visible smoke and smog in the air, resulting in respiratory issues for residents. According to a European Commission report, “air pollution in Kosovo causes 835 premature deaths, 310 new cases of chronic bronchitis, 600 hospital admissions, and 11,600 emergency visits each year.” The U.S. Embassy maintains an air monitor, the readings of which are accessible online.

Regions outside Pristina offer beautiful vistas and amazing opportunities for hiking, skiing, and communing with nature. Cell phone service can be limited in the mountains and other remote nature areas. Roads leading to these areas can be hazardous. The ability to get medical help in the mountains may be limited.

Packs of feral dogs roam some areas of the major cities and may be aggressive. Sharr dogs, large dogs used by shepherds, have bitten hikers in the mountains when they have inadvertently been too close to the flock or house the dogs were protecting.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

The Pristina municipality estimates that 70% of new private construction (primarily single-family homes and new apartment blocks) built since 1999 does not comply with established construction standards. A major earthquake could devastate these buildings.

Kosovo experiences frequent electrical failures. Power generation facilities require upgrades and/or replacement. Coal-fired power plants (KEK A and KEK B) are located near Pristina. These generating units are nearing or past their planned operating life. The European Union has described the KEK plant as the worst single source of pollution in Kosovo. KESCO Energy is a private, but regulated utility, and the only active supplier of electricity to consumers.Power outages, which can occur throughout Kosovo, may also disrupt other public utilities, including water service, and interfere with traffic lights, normal business activity, and public services.

Economic Concerns/Intellectual Property Theft

Perceived and actual corruption is widespread in Kosovo. Senior-level public officials have been accused of bribery, racketeering, intimidation, and other forms of corruption. Corruption is widespread and reflects a “cost-of-doing business” mentality prevalent in many parts of the region. Anti-corruption efforts suffer from a lack of cohesion, forceful action, and follow-through measures, including prosecution.

Despite having EU-compliant legislation on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection, there is a general shortage of awareness. Legal professionals often lack the necessary expertise to deal with IPR cases. This situation is an impediment to franchise growth in the Kosovo market.

Counterfeit currency (mostly Euros) is an increasing trend in Pristina, and shopkeepers are reporting occurrences to local police.

Kosovo has developed an EU-compliant legal framework to protect the integrity of personal information for citizens and residents. Implementation of these safeguards remains uneven. U.S. investors should be aware that the business environment depends heavily on family and regional connections. Personal or proprietary information may be available to a broader audience.

There are reports that some Kosovo sports clubs have allegedly not honored contracts for foreigners. Consult with appropriate legal resources prior to entering into an agreement.

Personal Identity Concerns

Kosovo has a majority Muslim population, and some of the population retains a conservative, traditional outlook. The younger generation of Kosovo Albanians tends to be accepting of non-traditional Muslim lifestyles, but some communities outside Pristina tend to be less so. Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI+ events in Kosovo. Anti-discrimination laws protect LGBTI+ individuals, and there are no legal impediments to organizing LGBTI+ events. In practice, however, LGBTI+ persons face discrimination. LGBTI+ travelers should exercise caution when visiting Kosovo, especially with regard to expressing affection in public. Despite existing legal protections, LGBTI+ travelers may find that individual police officers are unfamiliar, or have limited experience, with the needs or concerns of the LGTBI+ community. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

The Kosovo Constitution and legislation prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to healthcare, and in the provision of other state services. Only limited measures exist to support disabled persons. While the law mandates access for disabled persons to official buildings, it is not enforced, and such access is rarely available. Most public buildings and many residential or commercial facilities remain inaccessible. Public transportation for persons with disabilities is very limited. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Courts often apply penalties lighter than the legal minimum in rape cases, and the appellate court often further decreases these sentences. Law enforcement rarely takes steps to protect victims and witnesses. The Prosecution Victim Assistance Office reported an increased number of homicides in domestic violence cases. Victims rarely report sexual violence, including rape, occurring either within or outside the family or domestic unit, frequently due to social stigma or lack of trust in authorities. According to women’s rights organizations, harassment is common at workplaces in both the public and private sectors and in public institutions of higher education. Relatively few women occupy upper-level management positions in business, police, or government. NGOs reported women are often subject to discriminatory hiring practices. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Kidnapping Threat

There have not been any kidnapping incidents involving foreign nationals since Kosovo’s independence. Trafficking of persons remains a problem despite government steps to address the issue. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

While de-mining programs have proven effective, unexploded ordnance (UXO) and mines remain in some areas. Seek additional information for marked and unmarked contaminated areas with leftover mines and UXO. Report any suspicious item to the local authorities.

Celebratory gunfire and the use of low-quality fireworks are common during holidays and celebrations. Serious injuries and death have occurred because of stray bullets and accidents evolving fireworks. Remain indoors when viewing fireworks displays.

Police Response

The police emergency line in Kosovo is 192. Kosovo Police (KP) are the law enforcement entity for the entire country, including borders. KP uniforms are light and dark blue (supervisors wear white shirts), and their vehicles are white or navy blue. While many Kosovar police officers speak English, a working knowledge of Albanian/Serbian or a translator may be necessary when contacting host-country emergency services.

U.S. nationals detained by the police should immediately contact U.S. Embassy Pristina’s American Citizen Services (ACS), during normal business hours, and the Embassy duty officer when the Embassy is closed. Send complaints against the Kosovo Police or individual officers to Police Inspectorate of Kosovo. (Tel: 08000-3333, form online complaint form, email: info.ipk@rks-gov.net) To avoid further potential difficulties or endangering themselves, U.S. nationals may file subsequent police reports in Kosovo after they have departed the country, without returning to Kosovo. Email the pertinent information and your request for a police report to ilecu@kosovopolice.com. In addition, report any incidents of police corruption, bribery, or harassment to U.S. Embassy Pristina.

U.S. nationals who become victims of crime should contact the police and then U.S. Embassy Pristina's American Citizen Services unit. Kosovo has a victims’ compensation program for certain categories of crime, and an active Victims’ Assistance Program that offers non-monetary support. The Victims Advocacy and Assistance Office (VAAO) operates under Kosovo’s Chief State Prosecutor’s mandate. The VAAO’s directive is to institutionalize the rights of victims of crime and provide them with guidance, advice, and support in accessing the justice system, while seeking to establish a functional network of victim advocates. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

KP and the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) which report to the Kosovo Interior Ministry and Defense Ministry, respectively. The government has begun the process of gradually transitioning the KSF into a territorial defense force, in accordance with a 10-year plan. Border Police, a KP subgroup, are responsible for security at the border. Police maintain internal security with assistance from EULEX, the European Union rule-of-law mission in the country, as a second responder for incidents of unrest, and the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), an international peacekeeping force, as a third responder. KFOR is responsible for providing a safe and secure environment and ensuring freedom of movement in the country. As of August 2019, the mission had 3,526 troops from 28 countries. As part of their routine duties, KFOR soldiers conduct border patrols and provide other security services, such as explosive ordnance disposal, which local authorities cannot manage.

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency line in Kosovo is 194. Calling will result in an ambulance that will only take you to the EMS triage center unless you specifically request to go elsewhere. Ambulances will generally only take you to hospitals or clinics to which they are affiliated. The quality of medical services in Kosovo is highly variable and does not always meet international standards. Services fall below international standards, and budget shortfalls can compromise medication stocks. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy/Consulate website.

Those with U.S. based insurance plans must pay out-of-pocket healthcare costs on-site, and attempt to obtain reimbursement upon submission of a claim. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Procure health/medical insurance that providers in Kosovo recognize, and which covers routine and emergency care as well as medical evacuation (medevac) for the duration of your stay. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

The U.S. Embassy Pristina does not consider tap water potable in Kosovo. Drink distilled, bottled, or boiled water. Follow food-safety precautions to prevent food-borne illnesses. Cook foods long enough and at a high enough temperature to kill any harmful bacteria that cause illnesses. Wash, peel, or boil fruits and vegetables prior to eating. The CDC recommends avoiding all unpasteurized dairy products. Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way and I’m Drinking What in My Water?

The CDC recommends that all travelers be up to date on all routine vaccines (e.g. influenza, chickenpox/varicella, polio, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT)). The CDC also recommends vaccines for Hepatitis A and B, and a rabies vaccination series for individuals with high occupational risks, for individuals who are likely to be exposed to rabies-infected animals, and for long-term stays. Dogs often travel in packs throughout the city of Kosovo, can be aggressive, and vaccination status is typically not known. The CDC notes that tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is prevalent in forested areas of Europe, and sporadic human infections of TBE as well as avian flu viruses have occurred throughout Eastern Europe.

The annual incidence rate of tuberculosis (TB) is high in some countries in the region, and there are regularly reported active cases of TB in Kosovo. There are local West Nile Virus outbreaks or sporadic cases of infection throughout east and central Europe every year.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Kosovo.

Review OSAC’s reports, Traveling with Medication, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

Kosovo has an active OSAC Country Council. Contact OSAC’s Europe team for more information or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

  • Rr. Korriku #25, Prishtinë 10000
  • Regular Hours: 0800 – 1700, Monday – Friday
  • Telephone: +383-38-5959-3000
  • American Citizen Services: +383-38-5959-3119, PristinaACS@state.gov.
  • After-hour Emergencies: +383-38-5959-3000.
  • Marine Post One: +383-38-5959-3114.
  • Website:https://xk.usembassy.gov

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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