Getting there and away
Nationals from neighbouring countries, Australia, Canada, the EU, Iceland, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the US, among others, do not need visas at present for stays of less than 90 days within a six-month period starting from the day you first enter the country. Nationals of Japan, Montenegro and Turkey can enter visa-free for up to 60 days in a six-month period. For those who do require visas, these can be obtained through any Macedonian embassy abroad, a full list of which is maintained at mfa.gov.mk. For an up-to-date check on which nationals do require visas, visit macedonia.visahq.co.uk. Visa requirements tend to change with a change of government, so keep this in mind. Your passport will need to be valid for at least six months beyond the end of your visa. If you wish to change your status in the country from one of short business trip or holiday to one of temporary residence, this can only be done back in your home country through your country’s Macedonian embassy. The US Embassy in North Macedonia has a good webpage on the requirements of foreign stay in North Macedonia.
Getting there and away
Low-cost airlines serve Skopje throughout the year, though the volume of flights increases in summer. Most regional public transport users travel by the frequent and cheap buses to North Macedonia as the train is slow and decrepit. Aside from the car option, and if you are thinking of walking in, make sure you enter at a designated border crossing.
For daily flight times in and out of North Macedonia see www.airports.com.mk. At the time of writing, Wizzair is the only airline offering direct flights to Skopje from the UK (London Luton). Wizzair and Pegasus (via Istanbul) are the only budget operators flying to Skopje, the latter from London Stansted, as well as from Istanbul. A Wizzair flight from London can cost as little as £20 one-way (though the return portion is often significantly higher and, as with all so-called budget airlines, checked-in luggage brings the price of a ticket up steeply).
In the summer a few airlines also fly direct to Ohrid’s St Paul the Apostle Airport, including from London Luton, Vienna and Zurich.
Various other airlines which also operate flights to the UK fly direct to Skopje from continental Europe (for example Croatia Airlines from London via Zagreb, Swiss from London via Zurich, Alitalia via Rome). The alternative to expensive flights into Skopje is to look at neighbouring airports such as Priština, Sofia or Thessaloniki for cheap deals and then take the bus.
There are only three international trains to North Macedonia. The daily overnight service from and to Belgrade takes 9 hours, which is ludicrously slow and you would be much better taking the 4-hour bus service. The daily service from Priština leaves Skopje mid-afternoon and departs Priština early in the morning, and the 2½-hour journey spends 40 minutes at the border changing engines. The train is well used on the Kosovo side, but few use it on the 35-minute Macedonian passage. If you get stuck at Blace border on the way to Skopje, then it is only a 20-minute walk to the road crossing where you can pick up a taxi to Skopje for 900MKD. There’s also a daily service to Thessaloniki (Solun), which takes 4–5 hours from Skopje.
Due to the lack of cheap flights and frequent comfortable trains, North Macedonia is well served by international-standard coaches, especially to and from Germany and Switzerland. See www.balkanviator.com or www.sas.com.mk for more-or-less complete bus listings. International coaches also serve other locations in North Macedonia, especially between Germany and the northwestern towns of Gostivar and Tetovo. Timetables and price information from some countries to Macedonian are available at www.balkanaviator.com. At the time of writing North Macedonia had yet to put its international coach services on the Eurolines website. There is a left luggage service at Skopje Bus Station.
The easiest and most convenient way to get around North Macedonia is still by car (a 4×4 if you plan to go anywhere off the beaten track). But driving to North Macedonia from the further reaches of Europe, especially places like Britain and Finland, is an extremely long journey – at least three days.
If you do intend to drive from Britain, for instance, a recommended route would be to cross at Calais for a cheap, short ferry journey, drive along the roads of France, which are usually fairly empty although there are road tolls to pay (German roads are toll-free, but packed, and speed restrictions are becoming more widespread), cross the Alps at the Simplon Pass and head for Venice. From here take the overnight car ferry to Durres in Albania, or Igoumenitsa in Greece. Either journey from these ports to Skopje is arduous mountain driving (six hours from Durres via Ohrid, or ten hours via Bitola from Igoumenitsa), but the scenery is fantastic. The drive down through Italy, whilst making the ferry journey shorter, is packed with other drivers, often resulting in traffic jams in motorway scenery. For times and prices of ferries between Italy and the Balkans see www.cemar.it.
Buses cover all main routes and are the preferred mode of transport for Macedonians because they’re frequent and cheap, despite the fact that they are not air conditioned and do sometimes break down. Few of them have on-board toilet facilities either, so you may have to wait for the toilet break along the road. For more on bus times and prices, check the following searchable link: www.sas.com.mk/en/VozenRed.aspx.
There are fairly limited options available for travel by train and the number of services has decreased in recent years as most people prefer to use buses, which are faster and leave more regularly. The most important lines run from Skopje to Kičevo via Tetovo and Gostivar (but not Mavrovo and Debar), from Skopje to Bitola via a scenic route through Veles and Prilep, from Skopje to Kumanovo, and from Skopje to Gevgelija via Veles and Demir Kapija. Up-to-date timetables can usually be obtained at www.mzt.mk. Fares are very cheap; the maximum one could pay for a train ride anywhere in North Macedonia would still be under 500MKD for a Skopje–Bitola single ticket.
North Macedonia’s roads are currently undergoing a facelift and driving around the country is now a joy, and in fact highly recommended. If you love driving and yearn for the open road with uncluttered vistas and little in your way except for the odd turtle/tortoise or a few goats, then North Macedonia is the place to drive.
There are many places to hire clean, reliable, modern cars in Skopje and other big cities, as well as at the airport. Setkom in the Hotel Continental in Skopje rent out a Kia Rio for as little as €27 per day for a two-week period, making them the cheapest place in North Macedonia for car hire; 4×4 vehicles are also available. You’ll pay about 72MKD per litre for unleaded petrol in North Macedonia, and about 62MKD per litre for diesel.
All taxis now have a minimum fare of 40MKD (50MKD in Ohrid) with a 30MKD/km and 5MKD/minute tariff (40MKD/km and 5MKD/minute in Skopje). It is difficult to take even a short taxi ride in Skopje now for less than 100MKD. Outside Skopje, taxis are still a quick and cheap way to get around town and to places further afield. All official taxis should be metered and carry a taxi sign on the roof of the car. When phoning for a taxi from a mobile phone always add the local prefix before the four- or five-digit taxi number.
Most of the longer journeys outside of the main towns have a fixed price and drivers will often refer to a printed list provided by their company. Make sure you agree the price before taking a longer journey so that you run less risk of being overcharged. For instance, the posted price for a trip from Skopje Airport to the centre of town is 1,220MKD, but most drivers charge 1,500MKD. If you book with a taxi firm in advance they can send a taxi to the airport to bring you into the centre for only 900MKD. They will usually run the meter, then stop the car at the 900MKD point to turn off the meter and continue the journey unmetered.
If you are going to a remote part of town, there’s quite a high chance that the taxi driver taking you there will not know where it is, so you may wish to ask a few drivers until you get one who knows, or make him (there are extremely few female taxi drivers) phone into his radio centre so that they can give him directions. Otherwise they may drive around for a while and charge you the extra time and fuel.
A good, clean and reliable taxi firm, based in Skopje, who can drive you or transport personal items (including pets) on your behalf anywhere in North Macedonia is Lotus Transport.