4 countries, 7 border crossings, 2,700 kilometers of driving….these were the stats from my recent road trip to Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Montenegro. I must admit that this was my first time driving in any country let alone 4 and I wasn’t sure what to except. Thankfully, everything went smoothly as I was prepared due to all the research I did prior to the trip. This post covers all the important things to know about driving in the Balkans, what to except at border crossings, what documents you need and what resources are helpful on the road.
Table of Content
Before we get to the list of important things to know about driving in the Balkans, let me outline my itinerary below for context.
- Zagreb, Croatia – Rental car pick up
- Croatia to Slovenia
- Slovenia to Croatia
- Croatia to Bosnia & Herzegovina
- Bosnia to Montenegro
- Montenegro to Croatia
- Croatia to Bosnia and Bosnia to Croatia – more on this later!
- Zagreb, Croatia – Rental car drop off
Let’s start at car rentals! For this trip around the Balkans, I rented a car from Zagreb, Croatia which turned out to be the most economical.
Here are some of things to consider when renting a car.
Place of Start and Return
Although I started and ended my rental in Zagreb, you can certainly rent a car in one city and return it in another. The biggest factor here is the cost. It’s usually expensive to pick up and drop off in different cities and even significantly more expensive to do it in 2 different countries. However, there are certain situations or factors beyond cost that you may also need to think about (i.e., your time)
Another important question to ask is if you need a car in certain cities, especially the ones you are staying a longer time in (i.e., 3 or more days) . If the car would be sitting idle in a parking lot, then does it make sense to give up the first rental and hire another car for later? This answer will depend on what you are planning to do in each city (do you plan on taking half day or day trips where you will need your car?) and if renting two cars is more expensive than one even though it’s a longer rental.
Rental Pick-up and Drop-off process
This is an important one to consider. If you are flying in and picking up a car at the “airport”, not all rental car companies operate at the airport. Check this in advance because you may have to make sure they arrange to meet you at the airport and take you to the rental office. If the rental office is at the airport itself, also check the terminal. Furthermore check for pick-up and drop-off times. Not all companies operate 24/7. Even if some have drop-off options after hours, you may have to pick up during office hours. All this was true of the company I hired my car from in Zagreb.
Type of Car to Rent
I drive an SUV at home. I am a “short girl” after all and need the height but I knew hiring an SUV would be more expensive. Honestly, with how tight parking can be in European cities, it is probably best to rent a small car if you can. If you rent a small car because it is less expensive but would prefer to drive a bigger car, you can always ask the rental car company if they can give you a free upgrade. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
The 2 other things to consider is the transmission type. Most European cars are manual. Although I got my license on a manual, I don’t remember how to drive one anymore! Not only are automatic cars significantly more expensive than manual cars, but there’s also not a lot of them available for hire. Highly recommend locking in your car rental before anything else when you are planning your trip. This may be a no brainer but also check for air conditioning as well.
Documents Needed to Rent a Car
You need the following things to rent a car
- Driver’s license
- Credit card – Most rental car companies charge a deposit when you pick up the car and refund you when you return the car. The company I hired from in Croatia charged me $800 on my card so make sure your limits are ok
- International drivers license – It wasn’t needed in Croatia but Bosnia did. You can get this from your local AAA for cheap.
Things to Discuss with Your Rental Car Company
- Drop off time and process
- Border Crossings – You absolutely have to let your rental car company know ahead of time (recommended) or at the time of renting that you will be taking the car across borders. Let them know which countries you will be doing this in. They may charge you 2 costs. 1. A cross border fee (try to find a company without this) 2. A green card fee. More on the green card below!
What is a Green card?
This is definitely an important thing to know about driving in the Balkans. A green card is minimum insurance needed to drive your car in Bosnia and Montenegro. The best way to get a green card is to ask your rental car company. They will give you a green card document that you can then handover at the border. Rental car companies may charge by the day or by the rental period. Mine charged a flat fee of 69 euros.
Let me first outline the lay of the land. These crossings can be a bit confusing because even though all 4 of these countries are in Europe, they are all in different economic, trade and travel zones. Although there are free boarders in the Schengen area, this is not the case in these 4 countries.
- Croatia – In the Schengen zone as of January 2023
- Slovenia – A Schengen country in the European Union
- Bosnia – Neither Schengen nor in the European Union
- Montenegro – Neither Schengen nor in the European Union
With this background in mind, here are the documents needed to cross each border. I am not going to cover visa requirements as these would depend on where you are from so check this out in advance (FYI for my American readers, you don’t need a visa for a short stay)
- Croatia – You just need your passport to cross the border
- Slovenia – Also just need your passport
- Bosnia – Passport, green card, international drivers license, vaccination card
- Montenegro – Passport and green card
What to Expect at Each Border
Let me preface by saying that this was my experience at each border and not what it will be like at each border (there are several between these countries)
- From Zagreb, Croatia to Ljubljana Slovenia – easy and quick crossing. The Croatian officials wanted me to open my trunk but nothing from the Slovenian officers. Only my passport was needed (No more controlled borders as of January 2023)
- From Tolmin gorge in Slovenia to Rejika, Croatia – This is a very mall border crossing. No traffic and very quick. Only my passport was needed here as well (No more controlled borders as of January 2023)
- Split, Croatia to Mostar, Bosnia – There are several border crossings and I’m not sure which one I took but to cross to Bosnia you will need the documents listed above. You may also need to pay a toll when you cross
- Mostar, Bosnia to Kotor, Montenegro – This was probably the easiest of them all. The officers of the 2 country literally share a booth and passed my passport over through a window. I must callout the Montenegrin officers! They were the friendliest border officers I’ve ever met (air or land). I only needed my passport and green card here
- Kotor, Montenegro to Dubrovnik, Croatia – Usually the border officers are next to each other where you drive up a few paces or even in the same booth like above. But this border was very different! First I had to get down from your car at the Montenegro border to show my documents. Then I had to drive quite a bit ahead through no man’s land to get to the Croatia one. Montenegro wanted to see the green card on the way out too. Croatia only needed the passport. Once again, the Montenegrin officers were so friendly! One other callout about this crossing is that it can be very crowded in the summer time. I escaped the crowds by going in May and crossing at night
- Dubrovnik, Croatia to Zagreb, Croatia – Fun fact! Until 2023, you couldn’t drive from the south of Croatia to the north or vise versa without passing through Bosnia. Today, you don’t have to go through Bosnia due to the Pelješac bridge. When I visited in May 2022, I gave the 4 documents listed above to the Bosnia officers and it was smooth sailing. This area of Bosnia is called Neum and is Bosnia’s only claim to the Adriatic. Before I knew it, I was back crossing into in Croatia again. You can do either route. If you want to check out Neum, then take the route through Bosnia. If not use the Pelješac bridge where you don’t have to leave Croatia. If you are only going to Croatia and want to pass through Neum, ask your rental car company if you still need a green card.
Croatia – Lots of toll roads You can either pay toll in a manned booth with card or cash or tap as you go with your credit card
Slovenia – You have to buy a toll pass called a vignette in Slovenia. You can either buy this at a gas station as soon as you cross the border OR you can buy it online which is what I did. It’s super easy and convenient. The minimum is a 7 day pass for 15 euros. All you need is your car’s license plate number and a credit card. Click HERE to buy it online.
Bosnia – I paid a small toll in cash as soon as I crossed the border but that was the only place I encountered toll
Montenegro – Did not have to pay toll at any of the places I drove to
Next up on this important things to know about driving in the Balkans is parking! To say parking can be challenging in major cities, especially in Croatia is an understatement. Not only is parking hard to find but it can also be super expensive. Try to book places with free parking or ask your hotel or accommodation provider to suggest places for you to park at. Also, definitely consider parking as a part of the cost of driving and renting.
Other Important Thing to Know About Driving in the Balkans
The road rules in these 4 countries were generally simple to follow. All 4 of these countries drive on the right hand side of the road. Speed limits are clearly marked but watch out for speed traps in Croatia. They are everywhere and pop up very sneakily. There are no free rights turns on red in these countries.
I didn’t pump gas in Montenegro but in Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia, I had to pay for gas inside. You pump first and then go inside the shop to pay. Just tell the cashier which pump you used which is marked on top.
I usually get a local sim card when I get to a country but on a multi country itinerary like this, especially one where the countries are not in the same economic and travel zones like Schengen countries are it can be hard to find a sim card that works in all of these places. Since I was only going to be in Bosnia and Montenegro a day or so each, I just downloaded google maps offline and it worked great! One thing it doesn’t do is give you live updates to re-direct you if there is traffic or tell you if there is a speed trap but it can get you from point A. to B. well! Just remember to download a wide area that includes the places visiting, start and end points and the border crossing as well.
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Visiting the same places I did in these 4 countries? Please see all my helpful resources below!
Croatia – Click HERE
Slovenia – Click HERE
Bosnia – Click HERE
Montenegro – Click HERE