Is Eastern Europe Safe?

Whenever I tell someone that I lived in Croatia and Bulgaria for six months, I’m immediately met with the same reaction: “But is it safe? Even as a female AND an American?”

My short answer: “Yes.” As a female and an American, I’ve never once felt unsafe in Eastern* Europe. I traveled throughout Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Bulgaria by myself. Just like every other place in the world, it is about making smart decisions when traveling to minimize risk. I try not to arrive late at night or early in the morning. Furthermore, I let people know where I’m going beforehand in case something were to happen. I’m not a clubber so I avoid them when traveling and try to get back to my hostel or Airbnb before 9 or 10 pm every night. Nothing good tends to happen when alcohol is involved at night!

Here are some of the most common questions I get asked about safety in Eastern Europe:

Isn’t crime against women really high in Eastern Europe?

I was told by the Embassies in Croatia and Bulgaria that crime against women is actually really low in both countries, lower than most American cities. They even specifically emphasized that in Croatia, men are very protective and will not hesitate to intervene or help a woman in need. I think the entire 6 months I was in Croatia and Bulgaria, I was only cat-called at once. ONCE. That’s unheard of in a major city in the USA where you can be guaranteed a cat-call at least once a day.

Will I be pick-pocketed?

Petty theft is pretty uncommon in Eastern Europe. I will admit that my roommate in Croatia was pick-pocketed on a tram. However, everyone told me that was unheard of in Zagreb and super rare. No one could remember another instance in which someone was pick-pocketed in Zagreb.

The closest thing to pick-pocketing in Bulgaria was card skimming which is where they steal your debit/credit card information via cameras at ATMs. Bulgaria is actually the number one place in the world for card skimming. That being said, if you use an ATM inside a bank, you’ll be totally OK.

Will I have to pay a bribe to anyone?

Is there still corruption in Croatia and Bulgaria? Yes. Will it affect you at all? No. These days, corruption is mostly limited to governmental positions and offices. Police aren’t going to randomly stop you and ask you for a bribe or anything. That used to happen a few decades ago but both countries (and most of Eastern Europe) have totally eliminated it from their police forces. Furthermore, Croatia and Bulgaria are working hard to remove corruption completely from their judicial and political systems.

Safety Eastern Europe via Wayfaring With WagnerWait, aren’t the countries of Eastern Europe at war?

No! For some reason, people still think the Bosnian War is happening. News flash, it ended 20 years ago. When I went to Sarajevo, I felt so welcomed and so completely safe. Even my tour guide, who was Bosnian, reiterated how frustrated he was by the common misconception that Bosnia is still at war and unsafe. There are ZERO wars in Eastern Europe right now.

Will they hate me because I’m American?

No one ever treated me badly because I was American. Actually, people were really fascinated by me being American because besides Croatia, most Americans don’t travel to Eastern Europe. People went out of their way to say how happy they were that an American was visiting Eastern Europe instead of stereotypical Western Europe.

Just a cultural tip: if someone isn’t being warm and friendly, it doesn’t mean that they don’t like you! In most Eastern European countries, they just don’t do small talk and tend to be a bit more distant. I’ve found that a smile solves the issue :)

Isn’t there a lot of violent crime still happening in Eastern Europe?

The most “violence” you’ll see are protests in these countries, mostly over issues with the European Union or financial instability. However, just like in the USA, most of these don’t turn violent at all. The only country where there is a small likelihood that violence would occur during protests is Macedonia. However, I traveled to Skopje, Macedonia by myself and encountered zero protests and no violence. As always, follow the current news of wherever you are visiting for more up-to-date information.

Is the mafia going to follow me?

Not at all! Just don’t put yourself in a situation in which you would encounter the mafia. Is the mafia all over Bulgaria? Yes, but you will mostly only encounter them in casinos, nightclubs, and prostitution rings…all things I avoided in Bulgaria (and in life in general!). I’ve never heard of an American being harassed by the mafia in Eastern Europe.

Did I answer all your questions on safety in Eastern Europe? If not, shoot me a question in the comments below! I’d be happy to also elaborate on specific topics or countries :)

Safety Eastern Europe via Wayfaring With Wagner* For the sake of this post, I’m lumping Central and Eastern Europe together! However, I know people have very strong opinions about what country belongs in what category and I totally respect making the distinction.

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    • It gets me so frustrated with all the misinformation and misconceptions because Eastern Europe is one of the best (and cheapest!) places to travel. Ahhh, you have to go to Croatia…one of my favorites :) xo

  • For some reason some people think Slovenia is at war too. So crazy! It’s also very funny/frustrating that people ask me if Slovenia practices “another religion”. Because they probably assume Christianity is the universal form of religion in every country, and maybe associated that with peace? Very nice article Jordan!

    • That’s so funny/frustrating about Slovenia! Why would it be at war?! Sometimes I’m actually hesitant to lump Slovenia with the other Balkan countries because it seems so much more progressive :) And another religion?! haha. I feel like people think that Eastern Europe practices Islam. Not sure why but I politely correct them :) xo

  • This is a great post! I think one of the best points you made is that being a safe traveler often has a direct correlation with being a smart traveler. Yes, there are “unsafe” places in the world, or places that seem scary. Being smart can help you out of so many situations- like you mentioned, don’t get drunk and walk home at night alone (ever! doesn’t matter where you are in the world!) but definitely not in a country you aren’t familiar with. Crime happens everywhere…it just gets a bad rap in country that people are unfamiliar with.

    • Exactly! I 100% agree with you. Lots of places in the USA are totally “unsafe” but it being a smart traveler and making good decisions :)

  • Thanks for this excellent overview! Eastern Europe has been on my list for a long time– but to be honest it didn’t occur to me that it would be unsafe. Thanks for the honest thoughts, Jordan; I also really enjoyed the question/answer format you used!

  • When we were planning our trip to Croatia we got asked by so many people if it was safe and told to watch out for corruption with the police. I will admit I was a little nervous after all those comments but I felt nothing but safe in Croatia and all the people were just lovely!

    • People in Croatia are just so darn friendly…and their English is amazing! I think a lot of Americans just have a very skewed perception of Eastern Europe.

  • It’s so fascinating to hear what strange views some people have of Eastern Europe :D The only thing I assume it to be is cheap (especially in comparison with Norway) and therefore I definitely want to have a beach holiday in Croatia or Slovenia asap! ;)

    • After reading through these comments, I feel like a lot of the misconceptions are with Americans, not Europeans! :) Yes…definitely do a beach vacation in Croatia. Split and all the islands off the coast are my favorite xo

  • Love this article and it’s so true that people have such strange misconceptions about places they think are “unsafe.” Honestly, the majority of the world is safe, it’s just using common sense as a traveler!

  • Yes to everything you wrote! We absolutely loved Eastern Europe and wish we had more time to explore more of the countries when we were living in Italy. In all of our travels I never felt unsafe or unwelcome.

    • You need to get back to Eastern Europe…there is so much to be seen there! Ahhh, I could go on and on about that region :)

  • Great post Jordan! So many countries/regions have reputations that precede them and it’s nice to have someone who has actually lived there clear some things up. But I totally agree, people should avoid prostitution rings no matter where they’re at lol

  • Yessss! I think I actually felt safest in Croatia! And now that I think back on our trip, I felt very safe and looked after by all the men that we met….I feel like they all would have stuck up for me! Eastern Europe is pretty much my favorite and I love living through all of your posts! I need to plan a nice trip back!

    • I so wish we could have been able to meet up in Croatia!!! I’m obsessed with Eastern Europe and can’t wait to get back there soon :) Let’s meet up there?

  • Eastern Europe is such a great part of the world. My favourite countries include Croatia, Lithuania (top of my list), Estonia and Bulgaria. I love the myth debunking you’ve tackled in this post. Well done!

    • Oh, I haven’t been to Lithuania yet but I’ve heard such great things :) I’m obviously partial to Croatia and Bulgaria because I lived there and I absolutely LOVED Tallinn!!! Thanks so much for the sweet words xo

  • Totally relate… so many people’s first reactions when I told them I was in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina was “wait was it like? was it safe?” Seemed also like a joke to me after being there … I couldn’t think of anywhere safer! However, my final project there was actually analyzing first impressions vs. preconceived notions of former Yugoslavia. So interesting!

    • Oh, I would LOVE to see your final project on first impressions vs. preconceived notions of former Yugoslavia! Having worked at the U.S. Embassies in Croatia and Bulgaria, there are so many different beliefs out there that I kept having to clarify for people!

  • Ha! I’m fairly certain I asked you if you felt safe in Bulgaria for sure! I guess it’s just so uncommon for people to visit Eastern Europe that maybe we wonder why and just assume that it’s because there’s something about it that we aren’t aware of (like that it’s unsafe and that’s why no one goes) and there goes the circle!

    • hahaha, no worries Em! I got those questions a lot :) And you’re totally right, I think because no one goes there for vacation (especially Americans), people automatically assume it must be unsafe or dangerous!

  • we are hoping to take a trip through Budapest, Bucharest, Sofia and down to Istanbul next summer and it never even occurred to me that it would NOT be safe. that being said, I’m showing this to my mom if she makes a fuss about me going ;)

    • hahaha yes, totally show it to your Mom! Also, let me know if you need any tips when it gets closer to your trip. I absolutely ADORE Budapest and having lived in Sofia, I could go on and on and on about it!!!

  • A great post Jordan! I always thought that eastern Europe was a bit in unrest or a bit poor, but I never thought it was be highly dangerous either – I have to say your post has opened my eyes more than anything about the reality!x

    • Hi Camila! Thanks so much for the sweet words :) There is definitely a lot of poverty but for the most part, that doesn’t spill over to violence!

  • Thanks for this post! As a Bosnian born I had defend the Balkans for years, but people are starting to go there more and more. So thank you for spreading helping spread the word.

    I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog.

    • Awww, thanks so much for the sweet words!!! I absolutely LOVED Bosnia when I visited a few months ago :) Thanks for stopping by xo