Stephanie and I are big fans of Balkan road trips. We drive in Bulgaria often as we find it is the best way to see all the sights we want to see with the freedom of having our own vehicle to explore with. And when we planned our trip to Belgrade, we knew we wanted to get out and explore in a car for at least a day.
Prior to this trip, I had done a 4-day Serbia road trip with my boyfriend, visiting in a circle from Sofia to Nis to Kragujevac to Novi Pazar and back to Sofia. So between us, we’ve clocked over a thousand kilometers driving in Serbia and we have a few tips we’d like you to take away before deciding to rent a car in Serbia.
So, we put our heads together and gathered our 13 best tips for driving in Serbia – we hope this is helpful if you are planning a Serbia road trip.
Serbian drivers are relatively safe – for the Balkans
There is a huge stereotype that drivers in the Balkans are crazy. To be honest, I find this extremely misguided for the most part. Stephanie and I drive in Bulgaria frequently and we have pretty much no problems here – I think there is an equal number of crazy drivers back home in the United States. I also find that Serbian drivers are pretty safe drivers. Sure, you have some people who love to speed on highways, but I kind of think that happens everywhere. I don’t think driving in Serbia is particularly dangerous.
The countries where I have found the Balkan drivers being nuts stereotypes to be most true, from my purely anecdotal and not at all scientific research, are Montenegro, Albania, and Romania. Compared to these countries, driving in Serbia is relatively laid-back.
Be aware of Serbia’s driving laws
Every country has its own laws related to driving and Serbia is no exception. Mostly, these are common sense laws. The speed limit in cities is 50 km/hr, outside of cities the limit is 80-100 km/hr depending on the road, and on the highways the limit is 120-130 km/hr. Check for signage to confirm. You must use your headlights during all hours of the day and night. Seatbelts must be worn and cell phones may not be used.
Of course, drinking and driving should be avoided everywhere, but it should also be known that Serbia has stricter alcohol consumption laws than many other countries in the world. Serbia has a very low legal threshold for what constitutes drunk driving – 0.02%, a quarter of the U.S.’s and U.K.’s 0.08% threshold. For many people, that is less than one glass of wine or one beer!
Drinking and driving in Serbia is strongly discouraged and punished harshly, so I do not recommend at all driving in Serbia if you are planning on visiting one of the countries many wine routes – it is much better to go on a guided tour or hire a driver for the day, which is relatively inexpensive.
Serbian roads are generally really good
Another stereotype about traveling the Balkans is that the roads are crappy and full of potholes. I think this is one of those cases where blogs and guides are not keeping up with reality. In general, I found Serbian roads to be quite excellent on my 1,000-kilometer road trip across the country and only came across one small patch of road where I even had to be particularly attentive to potholes. And even then, the potholes were not bad and easily avoided.
Driving in Serbia is especially easy on the vast paid motorways connecting the major cities, such as from Nis to Belgrade and onwards to Novi Sad and Subotica. However, even secondary roads in Serbia are generally very good and you’ll only encounter potholed roads as the exception to the rule.
However, tolls add up when driving in Serbia
Driving in Serbia can be expensive. We found that the motorway was quite expensive to use. For example, we paid around 500 dinars (about $5 USD) between Belgrade and Subotica, about a 2-hour drive (check the rough price list of tolls here).
If you are driving a lot on the motorway, or going back and forth, these prices can add up. However, this is only true for the main highways. If you are driving on smaller highways, you will not have to pay tolls. It is possible to take back roads to avoid tolls – however, you may end up spending more on gas, so consider wisely.
Toll booth operators can be…. intense
As travel bloggers, we take a lot of photos to write these helpful guides and when we were paying our toll when we arrived at the exit for Subotica I was snapping a photo of an instructional sign at the toll booth. The toll booth operator instantly became incensed and extremely aggressive, shouting at me repeatedly that I needed to delete the photo immediately or he was going to call the police. He shouted this over and over again – even though I agreed to delete the photo and showed him on my camera that I did delete the photo – and shouted about calling the police at least five times. Ironically, the sign that I was taking a photo of was a sign saying “If you encounter a problem, please contact the responsible person.”
Note that there was no signage explicitly saying no photos or videos, and I was just taking a photo of a sign on the toll booth, not him personally. It was one of the more insane and aggressive interactions I’ve had anywhere in the world, let alone the Balkans.
So, yeah, maybe a useless anecdote, but we don’t recommend doing anything other than paying your toll and getting the f#@* out of there when driving in Serbia.
Gas in Serbia is not cheap, either
We find gas in Serbia to be quite expensive, in between 160-180 dinars per liter. If you’re from the US and used to cheap gas prices, get ready for some sticker shock — that means you’ll be paying roughly $7-8 USD per gallon of gas.
If you’re from certain parts of Europe, this gas price may be closer to par for the course. Still, I have found that gas in Serbia is more expensive than other countries in Eastern Europe, such as Bulgaria for example. As a comparison, Bulgaria’s gas is roughly 2.20 leva per liter, equivalent to 130 dinars per liter – that makes gas about 20% more expensive in Serbia than in neighboring countries.
Signage in Serbia is excellent
One thing I loved about driving in Serbia is how great the road signage is. It is quite easy to travel without using GPS and I found that plenty of landmarks were sign-posted well, encouraging you to change your route and discover new destinations along the way.
Serbia is great about labeling roads to their archaeological sights, monasteries, monuments, etc.Serbia is clearly putting a lot of money into their infrastructure and it shows well in the quality of the roads and signs.
Most signs are in both Cyrillic and Latin alphabet
If you don’t read Cyrillic, don’t fear – you will do just fine driving in Serbia as pretty much every major sign is in both Cyrillic and Latin. Serbia is starting to slowly use less Cyrillic in their written language, favoring writing out Serbian words in an adapted Latin alphabet with diacritical marks to replicate letters that don’t have an exact Roman alphabet letter.
Basically, what this means for road tripping in Serbia is that you don’t have to sweat learning a whole new alphabet just to follow the road signs. Pretty convenient! (We still recommend learning it especially if you are road-tripping in Serbia, as smaller towns are unlikely to have English-language menus and signage)
Renting a car in Serbia can be very cheap – if you can drive manual
Renting a car in Serbia can be a great deal if you are able to drive a manual car. Unfortunately for many younger Americans, we don’t learn how to drive manual cars, as our cars are predominately automatic.
As a rough guide, we were able to find manual cars to be rented at about slightly less than half the cost of automatic cars. For example, a manual car cost about $15 USD per day, whereas when we searched for automatic cars, it jumped to about $32 USD per day.
Pro Tip: Renting a car? We’ve rented cars dozens of times in the Balkans through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental in Serbia here.
Watch out for insanely high deposits when renting a car in Serbia
We were shocked when we tried to rent a car with Enterprise at the Belgrade airport and they informed us that they were going to charge a deposit of 2,000 euros if we did not purchase their insurance. We tried to explain to them that we had our own insurance included with the credit card, and if we purchased their insurance our insurance would be voided.
However, they insisted that it was mandatory to either purchase their insurance to receive a more reasonable deposit of 100 euros or to put on 2,000 euros deposit on the credit card. If you do not have a high credit limit, this will not be possible for you and you will be forced to purchase their overpriced car insurance. We, unfortunately, had to do this and it added another $15 USD or so per day.
We’ve rented cars in probably 20 different countries between the two of us, and nowhere have we encountered a deposit exceeding 300 euros, so this seemed extremely ridiculous to us. So factor in that extra insurance cost to your car rental unless you rent from a company with a more reasonable deposit policy or you have a high credit limit.
Parking in Serbia can be annoying
They really do not make it easy for foreigners to park cars in Serbia. Parking is paid almost entirely by SMS, so you have to purchase a Serbian SIM card and ask them to add extra dinar to your account which can be debited for parking. This app may be helpful when it comes to figuring out parking in Serbia.
Note that even if there is not a specific parking sign, most streets are part of one of three parking “zones” (red, yellow, and green) and therefore you are required to pay by SMS regardless of the lack of signs. This happened to us in Kragujevac – we thought that street parking as free as there was no sign indicating otherwise and came back to a 990 dinar ($10 USD) parking ticket.
If you don’t have credit on your SIM card as we didn’t, look for paid parking with a parking attendant by typing in “parking” into your Google Maps and navigating to a paid parking lot. The prices are generally quite reasonable. In Subotica, we paid about 120 dinar ($1.20 USD) for about 2-3 hours of parking.
The Kosovo question is difficult to answer with any certainty
If you want to drive in Serbia and also visit Kosovo, there are a few things to consider.
If you are coming with your own car, registered to yourself, there is no legal reason you cannot visit Kosovo while you are in Serbia. You have to enter via Serbia before visiting Kosovo, because entering via Kosovo is considered entering Serbia illegally as Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s control of the border. I don’t recommend exiting via Kosovo, as you won’t have a Serbia exit stamp, which could potentially give you problems in the future, such as Serbian officials claiming you overstayed your visa. The only way to get around any headache is to enter Serbia, visit Kosovo, then exit back into Serbia.
Passport stamp problems all become moot if you are one of the countries allowed to visit Serbia and Kosovo with just an ID card – but Americans, Canadians, Australians, and many other nationalities will need to mind this.
If you plan to rent a car in Serbia and drive it in Serbia and Kosovo, you will need to ask the company you are renting from if you are permitted to take the car into Kosovo and if there is any extra paperwork you require. I haven’t personally tried this so I can’t speak from experience. Similarly, if you rent a car from a neighboring country and plan to drive it in Serbia as well as Kosovo, you’ll have to discuss this with your car rental provider. Please let us know if you have any experience with this and we will share your advice!
Also, note that you will have to purchase some sort of car insurance at the border as Kosovo is not part of the Green Card system that most European countries are part of. I’ve heard this costs $15 USD for a week or so worth of insurance.
Traffic in Belgrade is rough
If you are planning to drive in Belgrade, let me discourage you by saying that traffic in Belgrade is quite nasty and it is probably better for your sanity and not much different on your wallet to just use the Car.Go taxi app (which functions similarly to Uber) instead.
If you are staying in Belgrade for a few short days on a longer Serbia road trip, it is fine to drive for a few days in Belgrade, but if you are considering renting a car and just staying in Belgrade we would discourage that and recommend you take taxis instead as trips across town generally cost less than 300 dinar (less than $3 USD).
Where to Stay in Serbia
While you’re driving through Serbia, you may want some advice on where to stay. We’ve traveled extensively throughout the country, and these are our top picks for Serbia’s top 4 most popular cities!
Belgrade | Budget: Hostel Home Sweet Home or Balkan Soul Hostel / Mid-range: San Art Floating Hostel & Apartments or Zepter Hotel / Luxury: Hotel Moskva or Boutique Garni Hotel Townhouse 27.
Novi Sad | Budget: Tesla Art Hostel or Alterna Home Hostel / Mid-range: Garni CitiHotel Veliki or Arhiv / Luxury: Prezident Hotel or Hotel Leopold I
Niš | Budget: Nis City Center Guest House or The Only One Suite / Mid-range: Garni Hotel Eter or ArtLoft Hotel / Luxury: Garni Hotel Zen or Best Western Hotel My Place
Subotica | Budget: Vila Maya / Mid-range: Garni Hotel PBG / Luxury: Hotel Galleria
Finally, Don’t Go without Travel Insurance!
Make sure you always travel to Serbia with a valid travel insurance policy. While the country is safe, accidents can happen anywhere. If you experience an accident or theft, travel insurance will help you recover your costs and enjoy the rest of your trip.
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.
I’ve traveled a lot; I’ve checked out countless blogs-most skim the surface and provide few really helpful tips. Sofia Adventure is a rare find. I am returning to Serbia in the fall. Stephanie and Allison provide really insightful and practical information. I would have never known or even thought to research the specifics of Kosovo border crossings by auto—these travel pros spelled it out!! Thank you, Kindred Travel Spirits!
Hi Mike, thank you so much – we really appreciate that you appreciate our attention to detail 🙂 This is truly our passion project and we know that practical info is missing out there and we want to be the ones to provide it! Have a fantastic trip and let us know at email@example.com if you ever need any other tips or info!
This is a great article thanks. Glad to know about Parking in Serbia. We will take on board all your travel tips when we travel there.
Enjoy the world, it’s wonderful to travel it.
You’re welcome Vikki! Enjoy your trip!
Hi thanks for the very helpful information. I am from Iceland ( not experienced in driving cross borders 🙂 ) and will be driving from Hungary to Serbia in June. Do you know if there is a cost for crossing the borders?
You’ll have to talk to your rental company about border crossings. Serbia is not in the EU, so the rules for driving from Serbia to Hungary might be different in terms of what you have to do. Most likely a green card will be enough, but your company will know.
Thank you ladies for your excellent blog on driving in the Balkans. We are from Phillip Island in Victoria, Australia and will drive up through Montenegro, Serbia, Romania and Hungary to Zagreb so your experiences are invaluable. Cheers
Thank you for your kind comment! Enjoy your trip!
So, there are no issues entering Serbia from either Romania or Hungary and then exiting into Croatia? Any issues with roads/driving near Novi Sad?
So long as your rental company is OK with it and prepares the paperwork (green card) – none 🙂 And the roads around Novi Sad were good, better than in southern Serbia.
The 2000 euros you mention is not a charge. Its a safety deposit for the car rental and its optional. And it actually is a preauthorized amount on your credit card which is released once you return the car intact. I guess although you have rented cars in 20 countries as you say, you still are not familiar with car rental and the conditions when renting a car globally.
First off, the 2000 euros is a quite big amount, although different cars have different safety deposits, relative to their market value. What type of car did you rent? This safety deposit is demanded by the rental company when the renter chooses to refuse having the full damage waiver which does what it says. Waives all damages, no deposit needed. So if the renter chooses to have collision damage waiver but not FDW, he/she has a liability of an amount decided by the rental company which is a safety deposit and can be different for each car category. Lower categories have lower deposits, higher categories can exceed 2000 euros.
I have traveled in more than 30 countries around Europe, Asia and the US and have never experienced any deposit being less than 500 euros. Let me give you some examples. In Germany, a D category car with no full damage waiver, has a 1000 euro liability. In Turkey, a C category car, has a 500 euro liability. In Greece a B category car has a 750 euro liability. In Spain a B category car has a 1000 euro liability. These deposits vary through different car rentals.
About your credit card insurance. Its yet another matter renters are confused about. Let me explain. The renter does not wish to have FDW because he/she has his/her own insurance. The renter STILL has to provide a safety deposit to the car rental! The renter does not have insurance with the car rental, the renter has insurance with his/her credit card or an insurance broker. The car rental that delivers the car has absolutely nothing to do with the renter’s purchased insurance nor they need to have or even care! Its their car, not the insurance broker’s or credit card’s car. This means the renter still needs to provide a safety deposit to the rental company. If by any chance you get to pay to the rental company any amount from 1 to 2000 euros, you gather all the documents related with the damage and you claim that money from your credit card insurance or your insurance broker. In this case, you have to abide by the terms of your own insurance, not your car rental. 3rd party insurances usually require more documents and a lot of proof before they pay you, unlike the car rental company with a FDW that covers everything without questions. A good example of how things can get complicated is a hit and run case on your rental car. The car rental with FDW will not bother you apart from filling an accident form but your insurance will demand a police report and a number of documents or proof before they accept to pay you.
Finally the toll roads and the fuel prices. If you really think a 2 hour drive for $5 USD is expensive, I suggest you take a 2 hour drive to Greece, where you will pay about $16-$20 USD for the same distance and time. Comparing the two makes these $5 USD really cheap. Likewise, fuel is currently around $7 USD in Greece (for a US gallon, around $1.86 per liter) which is expensive for Americans but normal in Europe although very expensive in reality. The 20% lower price in Bulgaria (about $5.5 USD) is insignificant when being compared with $2.5 USD currently in the US, which is more than double the price.
Wow, I’m glad you’ve found something you’re so passionate about!
I do have to quibble with you on a few of your points.
1. We do not state it’s a charge as in we wouldn’t get it back. We do state that it’s a charge as in it is charged to your credit card. So if you’re someone like me who doesn’t like to have large credit lines, you may not be able to cover such a large amount. And since, as we say, we have rented cars in many countries, I can say unequivocally that this amount is quite large compared to other European countries. I’ve only seen prices that high in Ireland and Malta, and it’s still much larger than in those countries.
2. We rented the lowest level of automatic car available. Perhaps the deposit on a manual would be less, but many people do not drive manual cars. While that would have saved us some shock on that day, it would not help our readers to be blindsided by the absorbent amount.
3. I’m not sure why your point about you paying over 500 euros is relevant in continental Europe. We are comparing prices in the Balkans. I pay 600 leva (300 euros) whenever I rent a car in Bulgaria, which I do about every other month. So yes, simply crossing the border between Bulgaria and Serbia the cost for a car rental deposit goes up by over six times. As our blog is called Sofia Adventures, we do keep in mind how things compare to Bulgaria and across the Balkans. What someone spends in Germany would be irrelevant for budgeting a trip to the Balkans.
4. Our issue was that they were either going to take a 2000 euro deposit or force us to buy insurance. Not buying insurance meant we had to put 2000 on our cards. The issue is not that we had to make a deposit, which we do all the time. Rather, the issue is that it was so crazy high. Especially compared to the region that this blog is dedicated to.
5. When you say these prices are normal in Europe, you’re leaving out…all of Eastern Europe. These prices are VERY high for the Balkans. It’s great that it’s similar to the prices of continental Europe, but most people who live in the Balkans would not expect to pay this much. Our blog is not just for western Europeans and Americans. If something is twice as expensive in Serbia as it is in Bulgaria or Macedonia, then travelers from Bulgaria and Macedonia need to know that.
Again, you have a real enthusiasm for the topic. I find your tone a bit condescending (maybe you’re unaware this is how you’re coming off). We provide this blog for free, and the information is free to use or discard. If you’re unsatisfied, feel free to write your own guide.
1. You clearly wrote “charged”.
“We were shocked when we tried to rent a car with Enterprise at the Belgrade airport and they informed us that they were going to charge a deposit of 2,000 euros if we did not purchase their insurance. ”
2. Lowest level of automatic car available is not something specific. The lowest level of an automatic car can be a 15.000 euro car and at some other company a 30.000 euro car. You cannot expect to have the same liability on both.
3. You wrote 20 countries, the Balkans do not have a total of 20 countries, therefore it was an easy guess that you include countries outside the Balkans.
4. Of course the issue is deposit or insurance. They do not know you or anyone else to allow you to leave with their car when you are not fully covered. That’s why its FDW which you will have to pay for or CDW + deposit.
5. Most countries in the Balkans are members of the European Union and as a result, prices are high when compared with the US. All European countries, whether members of the EU or not, tax the hell out of gas. It has nothing to do with the income in the countries and generally governments do not care who can pay these amounts. If gas prices were adjusted income wise, then for example Germany should have 5 times the price of any Balkan country. For the same reason, cars should be extremely cheap in the Balkans and 5 times the price in central or northern Europe. How about cars, are they much cheaper in Bulgaria because of the low income or more or less the same with every other European country?
Finally, there is no enthusiasm or tone from my side, unlike you, but I am not here to comment about how you sound or how I sound. You wrote something and I commented on what you wrote. It has nothing to do with satisfaction or if I write my own guides. My comment was also provided for free, you can also consider or discard it like everyone else.
1. charged a deposit in English means you get your deposit back…
2. This is irrelevant to whether the baseline is exorbitant
3. Yes, we included this information so readers would know that this isn’t our first rodeo. Again, when comparing prices, your noting what things cost in Western Europe is not relevant to comparing prices within the Balkans.
4. Again, you’re missing the point.
5. Serbia is not a member of the European Union…and neither are “most countries in the Balkans.” Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia, and Turkey are not…
You seem to have a problem not with our facts of what happened, but with our characterization of this being out of the ordinary for the region. If you want to publish a guide on your own site with information comparing prices across the region, you are most welcome.
Yes, there is a tone coming from your side. We spend our free time giving out the best information we have from our own experiences, and you write a diatribe about how we aren’t explaining it the way that you wish we would. I find that beyond tedious.
Your blog is very informative. I was looking on insights about driving in the balkans and im so glad i found this. Ill be travelling to Serbia and I’m contemplating if ill rent a car. Automatic are indeed very pricey. I’m curious on the terrains if they are hilly or not.
Northern Serbia is not very hilly, but western and southern Serbia are more hilly and then there are actual mountains and ski resort areas in the west as well.
Hi, Thanks for taking the time to provide this great information on your blog. I found it helpful. We are planning a 7 week driving trip around the Balkans (10 countries) in May-July using a rental camper van. We have rented from this company two other years, and they were great to work with. It is a vehicle registered out of the Czech Republic, requires a hefty deposit (wise, since we ripped a window off the last one we rented from them…long story, but our rental costs include the insurance with them. I was wondering if you had any additional information specifically for camper van driving. We often have our worst trip experiences finding and paying for parking in the cities. When not in cities, we usually overnight park wherever we find ourselves. Is this allowed/safe in most of the Balkans? I have signed up for your email newsletter, so I look forward to reading what you send. Thanks again, Jan
Hi Jan! We haven’t done this ourselves, but our friends have spent several months in a campervan in the Balkans, here’s one of their posts you may find helpful: https://www.travelsofabookpacker.com/blog/the-best-campgrounds-in-the-balkans — I believe they did quite a bit of wild camping, and I think it’s generally safe to park wherever outside of the cities, but I haven’t done this myself. Maybe shoot Rohan & Max of Travels of a Bookpacker (linked above) a quick question? They are better equipped to assist you. And thanks for signing up for the newsletter!
What can you tell me about the requirements that I see listed for various countries stating that visitors must register with the local police w/in 24-72 hours of arrival? I have found such info for Servia, Slovenia, & Montenegro. I also recently saw such a requirement for Czech Republic and Hungary, but we didn’t know it 3 years ago when we traveled there and had no problems.
Hi Jan! It’s a pretty similar situation. We haven’t ever registered ourselves, but generally, we stay in hotels and guesthouses that do this for us. We suggest asking your hotel or guesthouse to do so. Your situation may be a little different if you choose to Couchsurf, stay with friends, or rent and Airbnb. It’s very randomly enforced; however, we HAVE heard stories of people getting fined at the border for not having registered, but we have no firsthand experience with this. Sorry we can’t be of more help!
Before you rent a car, inquire about the company itself. In what way does it do business, what benefits it offers,
what you need to rent a car.
Considering that we live in the Internet era,
all serious companies now have their own websites that contain all the necessary information.
Just type “rent a car Airport Belgrade” and get what you’re looking for.
Proven safe rent a car agency at Belgrade Airport: unirent,rentacarmenadzer, avis, budget.
What metric are you using to determine “proven safe?”
I would say look at the prices. And look online for comments, reviews and ratings so you don’t run into scammers.
You should also look at the availability of vehicles, many of them are advertised but if you need a vehicle they do not have them at a moment ypou need, so you have to wait
Good tips, thanks Nenad!
Wow, you are so brave for driving through Serbia….this was very informative and practical.
I was searching for the best way to drive from Germany to Greece.
I can’t believe there is such a rude comment, obviously blogs are to share your won experience and everyone’s experience is different. It is useful for me to see that another female has driven through Serbia.
Thank you! Yes as women we try to share our experiences because they are different from men’s. We enjoy driving in Serbia very much!
As an add to the above, how did you find the levels of air pollution to be?
When driving in the Czech Republic, I found the air to be quite smoky on the motorways at times….I am not sure if this was from coal burning, or farmers burning their fields.
I find all highways in Europe to be more polluted than the USA because of diesel engines but I don’t remember any specific pollution in Serbia other than that.
Does Serbia require the International Driving Permit?
U.S. citizen here. Asking because my IDP expired.
We did not need one to rent a car but you can double-check with your rental company because some have different policies.
One more thing: please put a date on your blog. Every blog should have a date posted at the top of the page, but few do.
As we provide this blog for free, you are more than welcome to use it. However, we decide how we want the information displayed. Thanks!
I posted two comments, and the first one disappeared. I asked if Serbia requires the International Driving Permit (U.S. citizen here).
Your comment didn’t disappear. We approve each comment individually to avoid Spam comments. We get about 20 spam comments a day.