Eastern Europe is now the most restriction-free zone in the world

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Being the first collective of nations to ban tourism in the wake of Covid, Europe is ironically leading the way in restoring international travel and pushing for pre-pandemic normalcy. More than half of the continent has abandoned Covid entry requirements, and along its eastern front, the Balkans have become the most restriction-free zone in the world.

Girl making a heart sign with a view of Stari Most, the Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Especially after major setbacks like Omicron, the continent’s barriers have been raised and complex travel rules have made it nearly impossible for many to visit. Even though the Balkans have always had a more relaxed approach to Covid, with countries like Croatia and Albania mostly, the entire peninsula has now decided to completely remove entry restrictions.

This is wonderful news, given that navigating Covid rules while crossing Balkan borders used to be extremely difficult:

Land border crossing between Romania and Bulgaria at Ruse, the Bulgarian side of the border, the Balkans, Eastern Europe

What are the Balkans?

Geographically, the Balkans is a peninsula in Eastern Europe comprising 12 countries. 9 of them are located almost entirely on the peninsula, including Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia and Bulgaria. Also included are parts of Slovenia and Romania, mainland Greece and European Turkey.

Politically, the term “Balkans” traditionally refers to the States that were once aligned with post-war communismincluding those that were once part of a larger and now defunct country called Yugoslavia (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Slovenia), then Albania, Romania and Bulgaria .

Picturesque Perat in the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, Balkans

The Balkans are open to travel

Whatever definition of the Balkans you use – whether purely geographical or political – this region is fully open to tourism, regardless of nationality or vaccination status. From the castle-studded Alpine peaks of westernmost Slovenia to the bustling metropolises of easternmost Turkey, the Balkans have no restrictions in place.

Traditional Ottoman era houses in Berat, Central Albania, Balkans

Even though other European countries have also reopened, some in the West have firmly refused to drop all the rules. This is the case of France and Portugal, which still require at least one type of Covid certification from a majority of travellers. As it is open, and being geographically a group of 12 states, the Balkans are officially the freest region in the world for travelers right now.

As can be seen on the IATA Covid-19 travel regulations map, the Balkan Freedom Bubbleas we call it, is clearly the easiest area to country-hop right now:

Map of IATA Covid 19 travel regulations – Source: https://www.iatatravelcentre.com/world.php

Crossing borders in the Balkans is easier than ever

Even if you have your heart set on visiting just one country, like Croatia, you’re very likely to end up crossing a border or two. As the Balkan states are tiny, in most cases, you will cross other countries to reach your final destinationwhich greatly facilitates travel across the peninsula, especially by car.

For example, when using Dubrovnik as an entry point to the Balkans, you will probably cross part of Bosnia and Herzegovina to reach other hotspots in Croatia, like Split or Zadar. Indeed, Bosnia’s only access to the sea separates Dubrovnik from the rest of the Croatian coast by a stretch of 9 km.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

While this may sound exciting for those looking to tick off as many countries as possible, crossings in the region can be a very unpleasant experience when there is traffic. During Covid this was a big dealbecause each Balkan country had established its own entry guidelines: being allowed to enter Croatia did not necessarily mean that you would be allowed to enter Bosnia.

Now the entire peninsula has reinstated pre-pandemic entry guidelines, and you are free to travel extensively in the Balkan countries without having to worry about Covid screening before a border crossing, or even presenting a vaccination pass. Traveling from Croatia to Bosnia, then back to Croatia, ending up in Slovenia or vice versa is easier than ever.

Historic part of Zadar with Cathedral of St Donatus and Roman Forum ruins, Zadar, Croatia

All are welcome regardless of Covid status

In summary, there are:

  • No pre-departure tests, regardless of vaccination
  • No vaccination requirement
  • No reminder letter for the unvaccinated
  • No testing after arrival
  • No mandatory quarantine
  • No other health-related entry requirements

Countries that have aat least part of their territory in the Balkansand which are open to travel are the following:

View of Petrovaradin Fortress over the Danube in Novi Sad, Serbia
  • Albania (100% in the Balkans)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (100%)
  • Bulgaria (100%)
  • Kosovo (100%)
  • Montenegro (100%)
  • North Macedonia (100%)
  • Greece (83.7%)
  • Serbia (65.8%)
  • Croatia (42.4%)
  • Slovenia (24.7%)
  • Romania (4.6%)
  • Turkey (3%)
  • Italy (0.1%)*

*Italy, another country that recently scrapped all entry requirements, also has 0.1% of its territory in the Balkan Peninsula.

Even though all the above countries are welcoming tourists again, we advise you to read more about the Balkan history and plan your trip accordingly, as some countries – especially Serbia and Kosovo – still have unresolved conflicts that may affect travellers. The definition of “Balkans” used in this article has been primarily geographical.

Read more:

Travel insurance that covers Covid-19 for 2022

7 underrated destinations in Europe for 2022

Passengers miss flights across Europe after airport travel chaos continues

United and Delta will relaunch several flights to Europe

Why Travelers Should Only Pack One Carry-On Bag This Summer

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