If you are planning on going from Kosovo to Serbia without a prior entry stamp into Serbia, think again. Serbia does not recognize the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) which is currently administering the troubled area because it still considers Kosovo part of Serbia. You will face certain delays, fines and possible jail time if you fail to adhere to these guidelines. If you go to Kosovo first, meaning before you enter legally into Serbia (where you receive an entry stamp), you will need to exit Kosovo through a third country (Macedonia, Albania or Montenegro) and then re-enter Serbia. I am sure Serbia is just a little salty about their impending loss of another part of their land with Montenegro being the first, but you still need to strictly follow these rules because as much of a pain as they might be, it is worth it.
We entered Kosovo from Skopje, Macedonia which is a two hour bus ride to the capital of Kosovo, Priština. Upon exit of Macedonia you will receive an exit stamp and then upon entry into Kosovo you will receive an entry stamp for the UNMIK. As we were going to head to Belgrade, Serbia after Kosovo it would have made our lives a lot easier if we could have just continued North from Priština to Belgrade without having to turn around and head back to Skopje-two hours in the wrong direction.
I had read these guidelines in my Lonely Planet book and naturally I tried to think of any way possible to avoid having to deal with this inconvenience. I couldn’t really come with anything good except for playing dumb which wouldn’t be worth it and after touring around Priština, we took the bus back through the UNMIK border and back into Macedonia to Skopje.
The next morning we hopped back on a bus and headed up to Belgrade. After border formalities on both borders including our legal entry stamp into Serbia we enjoyed the lovely country drive in Serbia which looked all too familiar from pictures of the war from the mid nineties. Upon our arrival into Belgrade at the bus station, we needed to quickly head to the adjacent train station to find out the timetable for our overnight train to Montenegro. In front of the train station, we got stopped by a few Serbian police officers who demanded to see our passports.
They were sitting in their squad car and yelled rudely at us through their window. I did not want to give them my passport because I wasn’t sure if they were actually cops or not. I am always very wary of scams and have heard of lots of impersonators getting away with passports and cash so I said no. This angered the cop in the drivers seat who slammed the steering wheel and yelled really loud. My friend Mike, of course, immediately forked over his passport as fear overtook his body. I however, said no and the officer leapt out of the car and demanded to see it. He was pointing to his badge and some stripes on his shoulder and was barking in Serbian and spoke no English.
At that point, I figured he was a legitimate cop and was just bored and I begrudgingly took out my passport and held it up for him to see that I was an American and turned to the page with our legal stamp on it and handed it to him. He fingered through the pages and I wasn’t worried because we had everything legal. He quickly returned it to me and Mike got his back as well and as if they were disappointed that they didn’t find anything wrong, they sped off. That was the first time that I had ever been demanded to turn over my passport in any country I had ever been to.
The point of this story is that had we not returned to Skopje and entered Serbia legally, we could’ve been facing a certain fine and/or bribe and probably deportation back to Skopje, and if the cops really felt like it, they could’ve detained us for as long as they wanted I suppose.
On our exit of Serbia the next morning on the train, the customs guy again searched extensively for the entry stamp and then once he found it, he stamped us as an exit from Serbia. Our escapades in Serbia were a lot of fun but had we not followed the rules, which of course I hate to do, haha-we could’ve had a nightmare trip into Serbia. I’m glad it all worked out.