For many travelers unfamiliar with North Macedonia, it’s not surprising to wonder if North Macedonia is safe to travel to. While we love traveling to Macedonia (and we’ve both traveled here solo), there are some common-sense North Macedonia safety tips that you need to follow while here.
While Macedonia is perfectly safe to visit, there are some travel precautions to consider, as with any other country. In this travel guide, we’ll share all our best safety tips for Macedonia, plus important information about travel scams and crime statistics.
* A quick note on names: While the country is now known as North Macedonia as of July 5th, 2019, many travelers still know of the country as simply ‘Macedonia,’ which many people called it out of simplicity as its last name was, well, a bit of a mouthful. (Neither the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or FYROM particularly roll off the tongue).
We will use the names ‘Macedonia’ and ‘North Macedonia’ interchangeably throughout the piece as travelers adjust to the name change, as many aren’t yet aware of North Macedonia’s official name. This is not meant as disrespect to either the people living in North Macedonia or in the Greek region of Macedonia. Nor should it be construed as a political stance. We are simply writing this post the way most travelers presently search for information on this country.
Note that since this post is about travel safety and not politics, we will not be publishing any hateful or political comments.
Is Macedonia Safe? 5 Things to Know about Safety & Crime in North Macedonia
Here are five facts about the current state of crime in Macedonia that you should be aware of. I address how to protect yourself in the next section. So while these things exist — and crime exists everywhere — there are always things you can do to mitigate any risks. Simply being aware of them is the first step, and this is not meant to dissuade any future travelers from visiting Macedonia!
North Macedonia has the lowest level of safety warning
We will use the U.S. State Department’s system throughout this post as we’re both American, but feel free to refer to your own country’s advisory system.
North Macedonia is rated 1 out of a 4-point scale for safety, meaning it’s just about as safe as can be. It is simply advised to exercise normal precautions.
The U.S. State Department issued a safety alert in February 2019 regarding terrorism; however, we’d also point out that there are currently similar alerts for Spain, France, and Germany, and all of those countries are rated 2 (exercise increased caution), so we wouldn’t let this influence your trip.
Violent crime is rare, but pickpocketing can happen
Violent crime in North Macedonia is rare, and it is usually between rival organized crime syndicates rather than directed at tourists.
Petty theft like pickpocketing is not as big of a problem in cities in Macedonia as it is in other big European cities like Barcelona, Lisbon, and Athens (I know at least one person who’s been robbed in all three listed cities!). However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
Be especially aware of your surroundings, especially when diversionary tactics are used — such as a group of children asking you for money, or someone tries very intently to sell you something. They can often work with an accomplice who picks your pocket while you are distracted!
Political demonstrations can occasionally turn violent
While most political protests are peaceful, there’s always a chance they can turn violent. In North Macedonia, political demonstrations have been frequent over the past five years.
However, with the recent name change agreement having been settled – one of the Balkan region’s major conflicts in the past few decades – we anticipate that fewer political demonstrations will occur in the future. These are the U.S. State Department’s guidelines for what to do if there are protests during your stay.
You should avoid demonstration areas and exercise caution if traveling near demonstrations.
Monitor local media coverage of events. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Follow the instructions of Macedonian authorities.
LGBT+ and POC travelers have unique safety considerations
While on the surface, North Macedonia has no laws banning same-sex relationships, keep in mind that attitudes towards homosexuality are fairly conservative when compared to countries in Western Europe.
While LGBT+ travelers shouldn’t be afraid to visit North Macedonia, we advise exercising discretion in public to avoid staring or potential harassment. Here’s what the U.S. State Department has to say on that matter:
There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in North Macedonia. Vandals attacked a LGBTI center several times in the last four years, and masked individuals attacked persons attending a LGBTI event in October 2014 with bottles and stones. We advise exercising caution when attending LGBTI events.
Likewise, racism in Europe is alive and well – one only need to remember the horrific racial abuse thrown at black football players during a match a few months ago in neighboring Bulgaria to realize that the Balkans has a way to go in terms of racial acceptance (as does basically all of Europe, and the world to be honest).
While you certainly can’t paint the entire region with a broad brush, some of our friends of color who have traveled or lived in the Balkans have had some incidents with harassment, staring, or verbal abuse during their time in the region. Others have had fantastic trips with no issues, so it’s not a given that you will experience negativity during your visit, but it’s something to be prepared for.
Surely, if you’re a POC this is no news to you, but we wanted to address that our perspective is limited to our identities as cishet white women, and we know we enjoy a great deal of privilege relative to other travelers. We haven’t heard any specific negative stories from POC friends about travel in North Macedonia, but based on our knowledge of the region, we know it’s possible.
However, in our anecdotal and privileged experience, every Macedonian we’ve met have been kind, hospitable, and wanted to make sure we had a fantastic time in their country. We share this information just to prepare travelers for the worst, while hoping for the best!
Air pollution is a concern for sensitive groups
If you have asthma or are otherwise immunocompromised, you’ll want to take note of the following information provided by the State Department.
Air pollution is a significant problem in some cities. In several cities, including Skopje, Bitola, Kicevo, and Veles, particulate pollution exceeds acceptable norms more than 150 days per year.
Pollutants such as particulates, especially the PM2.5 particles (fine particles in the air with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller), and ozone contribute to a number of significant health problems.These effects are likely to be more severe for people with heart or lung disease, children, and older adults.
Personally, I’ve never had issues with air pollution during my time in North Macedonia, but I’ve visited in the summer and early fall, when air pollution tends to be less severe than in winter.
I live in Sofia, a city with a lot of air pollution in the winter, and I suffer some adverse effects from it each year. For a short visit, air pollution shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as its effects tend to be worse over time rather than immediate; however, if you have any health problems that could be aggravated by pollution, consult with a doctor if you have any concerns.
11 Macedonia Safety Tips
We wholeheartedly think that overall, Macedonia is safe. However, we still think there are things you should be aware of in Macedonia (as well as any other country, really). We’ll list our top safety advice for travel below.
Avoid political demonstrations
I know it can be tempting. It happened to Steph in Tunisia and Iceland: she saw a large protest rallying and immediately wanted to know what was going on.
Well, in North Macedonia, we suggest that you stay away. While largely protests in North Macedonia are peaceful (and occasionally colorful), the potential to be injured is still present.
To put it simply: You do not want to be in the middle of a political situation that you don’t understand, especially when you don’t speak the language. For that reason, we recommend just staying away from political demonstrations of any kind while in North Macedonia. If you’re curious, it’s better to chat with a local and hear their point of view rather than get involved in the protest itself.
Know what to do if something goes wrong
It’s a good idea to know what you would do in a country if something were to go wrong. Besides your embassy’s contact information, you should know that the emergency number is 112.
I actually had an incident happen in Ohrid when a drunk British tourist tried to break into my room at 4 AM, thinking it was his own room. I didn’t know the emergency number by heart and had to try to find it, and then I didn’t have a SIM card working at the time, so I had to try to make an emergency call via Skype, which isn’t possible.
It was extremely stressful, and luckily, a neighbor called the police when they heard the noise. While I strongly doubt anything like that will ever happen to you in North Macedonia (Ohrid is such a small and peaceful town), things can occur that you don’t expect, so it’s best to be prepared.
Learn from my mistakes: be sure to have a functional SIM card with roaming that you can activate in case of emergency!
Enroll in your government’s safety program
If you’re an American and you are concerned about the possibility of unrest or incident while in North Macedonia, you can enroll in the State Department’s STEP Program. This lets the government know your travel plans, and they will also email you to alert you if anything happens on the ground.
To be honest, neither of us use it when we go to North Macedonia, since we feel pretty safe there. However, if there were protests or something similar going on, we would. Stephanie used it while traveling in Tunisia during protests, and she appreciated the up-to-date emails with what to look out for and specific areas to stay away from.
There is a similar program for Canadians. If you are a citizen of another country, check with your government to see if they provide these services.
Do not drink and drive
We love going to North Macedonia for the wine and rakija, but you cannot mix this with driving!
The legal limit is 0.05%, which is about one drink. Going over this is illegal and can result in serious consequences (not to mention Macedonian drivers can make driving difficult even without alcohol!)
Have your travel insurance information handy
Since you’re a smart, safety-first kind of traveler, you know it’s a good idea to get a travel insurance policy before you leave for your trip.
But what do you do with it once you have it? First, it’s a good idea to have easy access to your policy information so you can make a claim if needed. You can also give the policy info to an emergency contact who’s not traveling with you. In a worst-case scenario, they can access the benefits to help you if you’re unconscious.
Of course, the most likely scenario is you have travel insurance and everything goes right on your trip. That would be awesome. You’d have peace of mind while you travel but you wouldn’t actually need to deal with anything.
Stephanie and I both use and recommend World Nomads for their easy-to-understand coverage policy, their fantastic reputation, ease of renewing, and their reasonable limits and deductibles.
Keep your money safe
Don’t every flash your cash. Use a mix of credit cards and cash in the city, and keep everything tucked away.
I use a Pacsafe Citysafe backpack, which has a pocket inside with RFID technology. This helps to make sure my credit cards won’t get scanned from afar.
It also has interlocking zippers, which means if someone does see that I have extra cash on me, it will make it far harder for them to pickpocket me. The backpack also has slashproof construction with wire mesh inside, so your bag can’t get slashed.
If you don’t want to buy a new backpack with safety features, you can use a money belt instead. However, thieves do know about money belts, so it’s not the safest option.
Have a hard copy of your card numbers, phone numbers, and passport information
If something does go wrong and your cards and passport get stolen, you need to be able to get them replaced. Have a hard copy in case your phone also gets stolen. This way you can call your banks, your embassy, and then your travel insurance company to get everything replaced without needing access to the internet.
I like to have one copy in my backpack, one copy in my day bag, and email a copy to myself in case I literally get everything stolen.
Never leave your stuff unattended
It’s tempting to leave your stuff unattended when you’re in a restaurant or cafe, especially if you’re traveling solo. How much easier would it be to just leave your backpack at the table while you go to the restroom?
Don’t! Never leave your stuff unattended. Don’t leave your cell phone out on the table. If you’re out in a public place that has a lot of tourists, sit with one of your chair legs through the loop of your backpack.
Be the hardest target, not the easiest. That starts with not letting your stuff be easily snatchable!
Pay attention to your surroundings
Pay attention to your surroundings. The one time I thwarted a pickpocket (in Vietnam, of course) was because my friend saw him trying to reach for my backpack. She slapped his hand away and caused a scene, and he quickly ran away (and then for some perplexing reason, he thought it would a good idea to publically urinate on a tree afterwards).
If she hadn’t have been paying attention, he would have gotten my cell phone, my cash, and my credit cards! Don’t get lost on your phone in transit or in a taxi. Don’t keep your headphones on when you’re walking alone.
Make sure you can generally see and hear what’s going on around you so that if something is about to happen you’ll be aware.
Don’t drink the tap water in rural areas
Some blogs erroneously announce that the tap water in all of Macedonia is safe to drink. Not so, as this WECF report clearly shows.
If you’ll only be in Skopje, Bitola, and Ohrid, then sure, it’s perfectly safe to drink the tap water. However, smaller rural areas of the country may not have sufficient water safety standards, especially for foreigners with sensitive stomachs.
Outside of major cities, always ask a local for their point of view before drinking the tap water. If given a negative answer or you’re still unsure, we suggest you opt for bottled water or bring your own Grayl Water Filterso that you can filter the tap water yourself.
Women need to use extra caution – just like everywhere in the world
Generally, as a female traveler, I feel quite safe in North Macedonia – it’s not a country where catcalling and harassment is a real problem. Reported sexual assault numbers have fallen in the past year in North Macedonia, as per the OSAC 2019 report. However, that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t be just as vigilant in Macedonia as they would be in their home towns or big cities.
The same basic rules women know by heart by now apply here as well: Don’t leave your drink unattended, don’t drink too much if you’re traveling alone, be wary of any men who try to get your attention, etc.
You should be just as wary of other travelers you meet as locals. When I almost got my apartment broken into in Ohrid, it wasn’t because of a Macedonian, but because of a drunk foreigner!
Unfortunately, sexual assault is a problem everywhere, and North Macedonia is no different. If you’re the victim of sexual assault, contact your embassy prior to contacting local authorities so they can provide support.
Be wary of taxi scams
Taxi scams in the Balkans are omnipresent. It can be hard to get a proper rate if you’re a tourist, so we suggest you have your hotel or hostel call you a taxi from a reputable company and to use the meter.
If you don’t have the ability to call and order a reputable taxi, such as at the train/bus station, be sure to discuss the price in advance with your driver. I’ve found that drivers at the bus station tend to refuse to use the meter, so I tend to just pay a fixed price. I know it’s slightly elevated vs. if a taxi had been called for me, but it’s usually the difference of $1-2 USD and you’re usually not in a position to bargain.
For the airport, I recommend pre-arranging a shuttle: this one from Skopje International Airport is priced fair and well-reviewed.
So, How Safe is Macedonia?
Overall, North Macedonia is a great place to travel and very, very safe. While I had one bad experience there, it was a fluke that could have happened anywhere, and it was a random British tourist rather than a Macedonian local who was to blame.
Besides that one negative experience, the 3+ weeks I’ve spent over 4 visits to North Macedonia were all super positive. I’ve almost always been to North Macedonia solo, and I never felt unsafe walking around in Skopje or Ohrid in the dark (however, I made sure not to drink too much as I was alone).
However, you want to use the same caution against pickpockets, sexual assault, etc. as you would anywhere in the world.
In addition, if political protests flare-up or there is an incident, it’s better to know ahead of time what you will do. Hopefully, you will have a safe, fantastic trip, but it’s better to be prepared just in case!
5 Things to Pack to Stay Safe in Macedonia
Make sure you bring these five items with you!
Lonely Planet Western Balkans is a great guidebook for your visit to North Macedonia, and it’s great if you’re also visiting any combination of the following countries: Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. It can be really hard (sometimes impossible) to buy a physical guidebook in English once you’re in North Macedonia, so if you like having your guidebook in your hands you will need to bring it with you from home.
Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (Steph uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get SIM cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. This has gotten us out of so many jams (and the one time I didn’t have it, I regretted it!)
If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use a Macedonian SIM card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you! This is also good if your cellphone is expensive and you’re worried about losing it or having it stolen while you travel.
Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use (it’s unisex, so even men can enjoy it). It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, slash-proof mesh inside, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag. We also think it’s stylish enough that it’s just our everyday bag!
A Sturdy Moneybelt: If you don’t want to get a new bag with anti-theft features as I use, you can use a money belt instead. I prefer to have these features built into my bag instead, but I know for a lot of people a money belt is a less expensive investment than a new bag.
Grayl Water Filter: While the water is safe to drink in the country’s larger cities and popular tourist destinations, studies have shown that rural communities don’t always have satisfactory tap standards. If you don’t want to be buying millions of plastic water bottles, you can get a reusable water bottle that comes with a water filter so that you can stick to the tap water and reduce your plastic waste.
Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.
Where to Stay in Macedonia
We are working on hotel guides for North Macedonia’s major cities. Currently, we have a guide to hotels in Skopje and Ohrid is on the way!
When traveling to North Macedonia, we recommend checking out Booking.com as early as possible. The country is gaining in popularity as a tourist destination after being featured by Lonely Planet as their #3 country to visit in 2020… so some of the best spots do sell out early (especially in summer in Ohrid!)
More Macedonia Travel Resources
We have guides covering quite a bit of the country! Start with this guide to planning a trip to North Macedonia, and then peruse our guide to the best places to visit in Macedonia to get your ideas flowing.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
If you’re planning a trip to North Macedonia, make sure to travel with a valid travel insurance policy. While we feel safe in Macedonia, it’s a good idea to be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident.
For travel insurance, Stephanie and I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue with their service. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
Pin this Macedonia Travel Safety Guide for Your Trip
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.