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Bosnia & Herzegovina - Travel and visas
All EU members are exempt from visa requirements and may enter BiH at any time. American and Canadian citizens are not required to have visas for entry to the country either. Bosnia and Herzegovina can only be entered with a valid passport. The country’s border authorities do not accept any other type of personal identification.
Visas are issued by BiH’s diplomatic missions. Visas for private travel require an application form and a certified letter of intent of a BiH citizen. This can normally be arranged through a tour operator. Business visas require an application form, an invitation from a BiH business partner and a certified letter of intent from the BiH trade office.
For certain countries, visa applicants should also submit evidence of possession of cash assets, as well as HIV test results.
Foreigners are required by law to register with the local police within 48 hours of arrival. However, in practice, this law appears not to be enforced very often. Visitors who stay in hotels may be registered automatically by the hotel, but it is best to ask at check-in. Not registering could have the consequence of problems at the border, but this appears to happen rarely.
During the siege of 1992–95 only UN flights could land at Sarajevo airport, and even that was questionable. Almost all border crossings were closed and no-one, with the exception of humanitarian and UN workers, dared venture into the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since then, BiH’s borders have long been reopened and the new border and customs unit ensures professional and expeditious access to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia and Herzegovina is also a transit country for the sun worshippers flocking to the Croatian coast. This factor has greatly reduced delays in both the north and southwest crossings. Sarajevo airport has direct daily flights to several major European and Middle Eastern cities and connecting flights to many other destinations.
As Bosnia and Herzegovina is neither a main destination nor a major hub, the extra connection to Sarajevo will jack up the price of your ticket by US$100–200. A return ticket from London to Sarajevo will cost between £200 and £400 depending on the season. Flights from New York and most major east coast airports will run to US$800+ in the off-season and over US$1,200 in season. The best place to contact most airlines is Sarajevo International Airport, just 15–20 minutes from town. The airport was reconstructed after the war and is one of the smallest and most laid back in the region. You may ask your ticketing agent to include the tax when you purchase the ticket. Airline tickets to Sarajevo tend to be a bit more expensive than the other major cities in the region due to its low traffic rate.
Mostar airport does have weekly flights to Zagreb and has charter flights for groups coming to Međugorje (usually from Ireland, Italy, and the UK). Banja Luka also has several weekly flights to Belgrade and Vienna. It is usually more expensive, less convenient and less reliable to fly out of Mostar and Banja Luka airports. Wizz Air flies to Tuzla from Scandinavia and other places in Europe, depending on the season.
During high season it can be rather expensive to fly into Sarajevo, and it may be cheaper to fly to neighbouring Croatia with a low-cost airline. Both Dubrovnik and Split are popular destinations for most major airlines, including the cheapflight giants Ryanair, easyJet and Germanwings. Dubrovnik is a 2-hour car ride from Mostar or 4–5 hours to Sarajevo. From Split it is some 3 hours by car to Mostar and just over 5 hours to Sarajevo. There are regular buses from both places and various firms also offer car rental, but be sure to double check with the car-hire agency that the insurance covers BiH.
As Bosnia and Herzegovina has only about 24km of coast, at Neum, there are no ferries that dock in BiH. The ports of Split and Dubrovnik, however, are very popular and provide an efficient means of transport from Italy (Ancona and Bari). The bus station in Split is located at the port, making the transfer an easy and hassle-free one. Ferries from Ancona to Split and Bari to Dubrovnik can be found on the websites of Jadrolinija.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rail system was badly damaged during the war and in the past 20 years has gone through phases of being better and worse. It is very difficult to find reliable, up-to-date information about train schedules and ticket prices online. It is best to go to the train station in person and enquire. Currently, only a few train lines are active: Sarajevo–Zagreb; Sarajevo–Doboj; and Sarajevo–Čapljina (that line has been under construction for some time and currently only runs between Konjic and Sarajevo, though that appears to be somewhat irregular at this point in time). In 2005, Bosnia and Herzegovina was added to the Eurail system, making travel much easier by train than in the past. The trains are generally slow but offer a great way of seeing the countryside.
In 2006, the railway bought seven trains from the UK, albeit older ones, but certainly a step up from the old German and Swedish carriages that date back to the 1970s and 1980s. Recently, an even more contemporary train was put into service. The Sarajevo–Ploče line on the Croatian coast was recently cut, though may be put in service again.
Travelling from Zagreb to Sarajevo via Banja Luka is a long ride (9 to 10 hours) compared to the bus journey, which is usually between 6 and 9 hours, although it
is a bit more cramped.
The main bus operator in BiH is called Centrotrans and almost every bus connection can be made through them. They are operating together with the main European bus operators including Eurolines. Bus schedules, online reservations and main European office addresses can be found on the website. Direct connections from Europe to BiH by bus are mainly from Germany (Berlin, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Essen, Frankfurt, Hildesheim, Ingolstadt, Nuremberg, Mannheim, Munich, Stuttgart and Ulm) and Croatia (Dubrovnik, Makarska, Pula, Rijeka, Split and Zagreb), as well as from Antwerp, Rotterdam, Vienna, Ljubljana and Skopje. Ticket prices vary from 30–250KM depending on the distance. Ticket reservations can be made at Eurolines offices abroad, at bus stations in BiH, or at the Centrotrans office in the centre of Sarajevo.
The drive from the UK to Bosnia and Herzegovina is exceptionally long. Fuel and tolls in Europe are not cheap either. Although it is always an advantage to have your own vehicle in Bosnia and Herzegovina it may be easier to fly, bus it, or take a train to BiH and then hire a car. From London to Sarajevo the trip is over 2,000km and could prove rather exhausting. If you have the time and the will, however, you can certainly pack in much more of the country than you would without your own personal transport.
Traffic in Bosnia and Herzegovina, even during the busiest season, is heaviest on the roads towards the coast, particularly at the M-17 crossing at Metković. The northern border crossing at Brod is also one of the busiest crossings year round. New border controls have expedited border crossings but delays can still be expected. Owing to the dual-carriageway ‘highway’ system, traffic can at times move slowly but it is nothing compared with the traffic jams on the Croatian coast in the high season. Most people travelling to Bosnia and Herzegovina create a combination trip and rarely miss the opportunity to see the beautiful Adriatic coast.
However limited the ways and means of getting around Bosnia and Herzegovina are, moving around the country is fairly easy and always attractive. Whether by car, rail, bus, bike or hitching, travel in Bosnia and Herzegovina is rather inexpensive, reliable but slow. The curvy mountain roads offer better countryside scenery than you’d imagine. Tito’s road engineers did an amazing job of connecting all of the mountainous regions. Even though highways are currently being built, taking it slowly through the valleys and over the mountains makes the experience that much more interesting.
The public and private bus system in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the best available transportation option next to having your own car. Literally every town and most villages are connected one way or another by very reliable bus routes. Every city and town will have a bus station and the daily departure and arrival times should be posted on the wall of the station. If not, ask the person behind the counter. They are not likely to speak English but will point you in the right direction. Asking a person who is standing around waiting is also a good idea, to double check that you are getting on the right bus. People are very willing to help.
Bus travel is very reasonably priced and the furthest destination in BiH will cost around 50KM one way. Tickets at the main bus stations must be bought at the ticket booth whereas at most other stations you have to pay when you get on the bus. There is usually an extra charge for luggage of 2KM per bag.
Bus drivers have special deals with certain restaurants on their routes. This means that breaks will be longer (they’ll say 15 minutes but often this really means half an hour) to encourage you to eat and drink. Breaks may occur more often than normal, which is quite the norm for a population so addicted to nicotine. At every break the entire bus will empty out and 90% of the people will have a cigarette lit seconds after they step off the bus.
Getting around by train is slow but enjoyable and offers some terrific scenery. It is also a comfortable alternative for those who may be nervous travelling by bus on the curvy roads. Bus and train prices are about the same. Buses run more frequently but you can’t get up and walk around on a bus and the possibilities of motion sickness are considerably less on a straight-travelling train.
Travelling by car is by far the easiest way of seeing the country the way you would like and at your own pace. The roads are in decent condition and short sections of motorway have been completed recently, with more sections planned. Most of the roads are curvy and wind through river valleys and up and over mountains. Bosnia and Herzegovina does enjoy a well-connected road system though, thanks to Tito’s road improvement launch in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This project connected every city and town with asphalt roads. It wasn’t too long ago that BiH was a very isolated province in the heart of the Dinaric Alps. Fuel stations are plentiful; there are probably too many, so there are few worries of running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere.
Travelling through the Republika Srpska can also be a challenging experience as the road signs are mainly in Cyrillic. The good news is that all major roads are now required to have road signs in both Cyrillic and Latin letters.
Road biking for the exceptionally fit is certainly a challenging adventure in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The roads throughout the region are usually rather narrow with little or no hard shoulders. Road biking is not popular in BiH and therefore there is not much of a bike culture, though that is slowly changing with the addition of bike lanes to several streets in Sarajevo and a bike-sharing service that covers most of Sarajevo’s city centre; drivers are known for their fast and risky driving.
Certain areas of the country, however, are made for cycling. One can travel for hours on end without experiencing much traffic at all in Popovo Polje from Stolac towards Trebinje; and the large, picturesque valleys of Livanjsko and Glamočka fields in western Bosnia are perfect for challenging road biking.
Hitchhiking is still a common practice in Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially in the rural areas. In small towns and villages everyone seems to know everyone anyway so picking up a hitcher is nothing new. In and around the bigger cities it is less common. For women hitchers it is always wise not to travel alone and to check out who you are getting in the car with. If you’re not sure, it’s probably your gut talking to you – listen to it!
Hitching is often like playing cards: sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t.