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Kosovo - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson
At the time of writing, health insurance was not compulsory in Kosovo, although having such insurance is a good idea. Kosovo runs a health service subsidised by the general budget. This means that you do not pay for the medical staff themselves in the centres. You will, however, be expected to pay for X-rays, tests, bandages or medicines. Generally speaking these are not expensive. Receipts are issued on request. Most UK travel insurance policies will now cover Kosovo as it is no longer on the list of places prohibited by the UK Foreign Office, but do check the small print.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on ISTM. For other journey preparation information, consult NaTHNac (UK) or CDC (US). Information about various medications may be found on NetDoctor. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
Kosovo is very safe for internationals. While it always pays to take care of your belongings, street crime and petty theft in Kosovo are low and violent crime rates are much lower than in many Western cities. Most internationals, especially women, not only are very safe but also feel very safe in Kosovo, though should take the same precautions as elsewhere.
Kosovo is still a former conflict zone and demonstrations or violence occur sporadically. Usually such events can be foreseen and you should always avoid an area where a demonstration is announced (often there will be posters ahead of the event) or where a large crowd is gathering. Gun and knife ownership in Kosovo is still quite high so again it is strongly advised to keep away from any scuffle or argument, though in general, random acts of violence or robberies are rare. For the same reason be aware that it is still the Balkan culture to shoot into the air by way of celebration, including at weddings and on New Year’s Eve. There is also no control on the sale of fireworks and before New Year and Independence Day on 17 February Kosovo’s streets are flooded with stalls with cheap fireworks which would more than likely be banned or restricted elsewhere in Europe. These are all let off without any control or consideration. For this reason, it is best to take extreme care or, of course, you can safely watch the gunfire and fireworks from indoors or from a balcony.
While Kosovars may like to talk politics, there is a time and place for everything and it may not always be sensible to voice your views loudly in a heated situation.
If riots or unrest do develop in Kosovo, then it is possible that the mobile-phone networks will be shut down, as they were previously used in the March 2004 riots by the rioters to co-ordinate their activities. Shops will also close to avoid looting. While the likelihood of that happening is extremely low, it is worth bearing this in mind to ensure that you have enough food and an alternative means of contact or messages, eg: access to a land line or the internet.
All in all these risks are statistically incredibly rare, and overall more internationals are injured from car accidents or pot-holes. Many manhole covers are stolen for scrap metal and therefore open drains are a common hazard and are easily missed in daylight hours, let alone on a dark night. The story of the international who fell down a hole is all too common.
Kosovo police (KP)
The KP is generally regarded as one of the success stories of the new state. They are not perceived to be very corrupt and are generally helpful and friendly. Having said this, from a Western perspective you may find any visit to the police confusing and rather bureaucratic with many pieces of paperwork with puzzling purposes, and it may be best to take or arrange for your own interpreter if your visit is planned. If you come into contact with the police, as with anywhere the key is to show respect and co-operation and this will get you a long way.
Gay and lesbian travellers
Although changing slowly, Kosovo remains a conservative society and homosexuality/lesbianism is not openly discussed or demonstrated and is still regarded as taboo. This is not to say that there are not clubs or meeting places and there is a definite underground scene, particularly in Prishtina, Peja and Gjakova. More than anything you should be aware that while it may be fine for internationals to ‘come out’, this is not yet a feasible option for many Kosovars where the family pressure is strong. Exposing the clubs or bars just now may harm them rather than help them.
Like parts of the Middle East and Turkey, you may see men walking arm in arm. This is a sign of friendship rather than homosexuality so be careful of the consequences of misinterpreting it.
Children in Kosovo
Kosovars simply adore children and the streets are full of them playing on their own outdoors. Taking your child to a restaurant is not taboo. There are several international kindergartens and an English- or German-speaking dedicated nanny working from 09.00 to 17.00 only costs around €300 a month. You will almost never have to worry about finding a babysitter as your landlord or colleague will magic one up from somewhere. There are now plenty of shops selling nappies and good baby-food brands (including baby milk), buggies, car seats and other baby gadgets.