Serbia - Country Commercial Guide
Business Travel and Etiquette

Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, and other aspects of international travel. 

Last published date: 2021-03-08

Business Customs

Business managers in Serbia are familiar with Western-style market economy philosophy, customs, and business practices. Top management typically is designated by the title of Managing Director, a position denoting the key decision-maker. Business relationships in Serbia are founded on trust; significant time and energy need to be invested in developing relationships among the parties. Serbian businesspeople are quick to recognize opportunities and can suddenly move at an accelerated pace. On the other hand, some processes may move unexpectedly slowly, with many starts and stops that are hard to predict.

Business dinners are a common practice and most meals in Serbia are a lengthy, meat-based (all kinds of meat) spread if eating the national cuisine. While it is increasingly possible to eat vegetarian among the burgeoning, modern restaurant scene, selections will be very limited at the more traditional restaurants—with “vegetarian” dishes using meat-based fats in their preparation. Advise the host of your dietary needs in advance, so they can plan accordingly. It is a common practice to toast with a shot of šlivovica (traditional Serbian plum brandy) or another style of rakija (the generic term for fruit brandy) prior to the meal. Rakija may be sipped—it is not necessary to drink the entire shot in one sip. A toast is accompanied by saying ‘Živeli’ [pronounced ZHEE-veh-lee]. This  means ‘good health’ and is similar to saying ‘Cheers’.

As is true in other European countries, summer holidays stretch throughout July and August, and it often is difficult to reach company management during this period. Likewise, it is difficult to conduct any business in Serbia during the first two to three weeks of January because of the Orthodox Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Orthodox Easter is also a slow period for business (see the ‘Local Time, Business Hours, and Holidays’ section for a list at dates of all major holidays in Serbia).

COVID Requirements

The COVID situation is rapidly changing. Check for the latest information on requirements before planning, and again before commencing, your travel, as with any other nation.  Restrictions may be put in place by both the airlines as a condition for flying and by the government as a condition of entry. Please verify if there are any self-quarantine requirements, and check for local measures like closures and curfews. As with entry, there may be requirements by the airlines and/or government for exiting the country.

U.S. Embassy Belgrade COVID Information

Travel Advisory

U.S. travelers can refer to the U.S. State Department’s International Travel Information for the most up to date information on travel warnings and visa requirements for Serbia.

State Department’s International Travel Information for Serbia

Visa Requirements

>In 2003, the Serbian government liberalized the country’s visa regime. Visas are no longer required for stays in Serbia for up to 90 days within a six-month period for citizens of selected countries, including the United States. This policy covers bearers of U.S. tourist, official, and diplomatic passports. Individuals planning to stay longer than 90 days are obliged to apply for temporary resident status before the three-month period expires. American citizens intending to work in Serbia must obtain the requisite visa in advance. Please visit Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for more information.

To obtain a visa or for other entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Serbia in Washington, or the Consulate General of Serbia in Chicago or New York City prior to arrival. The address of the Serbian Embassy is 2134 Kalorama Road, NW, Washington, DC 20008.

U.S. companies requiring the travel of Serbian businesspersons to the United States should direct these contacts to the U.S. Embassy website for more information. The vast majority of Serbian applicants apply for B1/B2 visas, for which the validity for Serbian citizens can be granted up to 10 years. The 10-year visa for Serbian applicants is valid for multiple entries and the visa fee will be paid once every ten years.

Visa applicants should go to the following links for more information:

Currency

Serbia’s currency is the Dinar (RSD). The annual average exchange rate in 2019 for $1.00 was 105 RSD. To check the current exchange rate, visit the National Bank of Serbia.

Cash Withdrawal

For small amounts (e.g. $300 per day or less), the easiest exchange method is simply to use one’s debit card [or credit card that has a cash advance option] at a local ATM to withdraw funds in local currency. There are a number of international and local banks with ATMs easily found throughout the city (Raifessein, Banca Intesa, OTP/Societe Generale, Komercijalna, UniCredit, etc.). As in the United States, the ATM may charge a nominal fee to cardholders of other banks. 

Note: ATMs typically dispense 2000 RSD notes. Taxis and shopkeepers will typically demand smaller bills (‘sitna’) and exact change, so break the large bills at every convenient opportunity.

Changing Money

Foreign currency of all kinds may be exchanged at the airport, banks, post offices, most hotels or licensed exchange agencies in large cities. There are small exchange shops (‘menjačnica’) easily found through the center of the city, with the buy and sell current rates posted.  A passport is required when exchanging cash or travelers’ checks. The rates vary from place to place, and banks charge a commission. Up to EUR 10,000 of foreign currency may be brought into Serbia as cash, without declaring it to Serbian Customs. Everything above this amount must be declared and documented by with a confirmation from the bank that the money has been withdrawn from the traveler’s account. 

Telecommunications/Electronics

Serbia has three major mobile telephone operators: MTS (Telekom Serbia), Telenor and VIP Mobile. Cell phones operate on GSM (900/1800), UMTS, and LTE frequency bands. All three operators have 4G/LTE coverage at 800 and 1800MHz. In June 2019, Telenor, partnering with Huawei, commissioned the first 5G base station in Serbia as a test station. Data coverage throughout urban and rural areas is generally comparable to or better than in the United States. Local pre-paid SIM cards with a local phone number can be easily and affordably purchased at most kiosks (called a “trafika”) and at many groceries. Enlist the help of a local—most people under 40 will speak good English—to call the activation number and follow the prompts to initiate service.

Telekom Srbija is the dominant carrier. Approximately 95 percent of Serbia’s fixed-line telephone networks have been digitized. The main business centers (Belgrade and Novi Sad) have good communications infrastructure, but they have not yet reached 100 percent digitization.

From July 2019, wholesale and retail roaming charges for the region were dramatically reduced by international government agreement, applying to operators within participating nations (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, and Serbia).

Internet service availability is widespread for international business travelers. Approximately 80% of households in Serbia have internet access. SBB and MTS are the dominant providers for internet, telephone, and cable TV services. Increasing numbers of restaurants and cafés in Belgrade and Novi Sad and other major cities, as well as some city buses in Belgrade, the airport, and some airplanes are equipped with WiFi hotspots—usually free.

As elsewhere, business communications in Serbia may quickly venture over into more casual, direct mobile messaging via WhatsApp, Viber, Signal, and other platforms, popular for their free international messaging and calling features, as well as end-to-end encryption.

Calling Information:

  • +381 is the country code for Serbia, sometimes written as 00381.  If a number is written following this common example ‘+381 (011) 999-999’, omit the 0 in the city code when dialing or storing a number to your mobile. The 0 is only a local dialing prefix to get a line for a different city code or a different mobile carrier code (63/64/65). 
  • Within Serbia, to get an international line, dial + or 00, followed by the country code, city/mobile code, and local number.

Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50 Hz, Europlug (flat, two-pole, round-pin).

Transportation

Serbia operates state-owned airports as well as the national air carrier, which was re-branded from Jat Airways to Air Serbia, now owned jointly with Etihad Airways (UAE). Air Serbia sells Etihad tickets at its offices and website and codeshares to more than a dozen routes, including to China, Vietnam, Australia, and Thailand. Regional direct flights are available to many capitals, including Sofia, Bucharest, Athens, Sarajevo, Prague, Ljubljana, and Zagreb. Ticket prices can be high given Air Serbia’s dominance. However, there are low-cost carriers servicing Serbia such as Wizz Air, Fly Dubai, EasyJet, and Pegasus Airlines that fly to multiple destinations throughout Europe and the Middle East from Belgrade.

The two major airports in Serbia are Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla International Airport and the Nis Airport. Nikola Tesla is the country’s largest airport and has direct service to many Western European cities, such as Vienna, Frankfurt, Munich, Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Istanbul, London, Paris, Stockholm, Rome, Milan, and Prague. The U.S. and Serbian governments signed an Open Skies Agreement in May 2015, and Serbian Air Traffic Authorities have received Category 1 status, which is necessary for direct flights to the United States. Air Serbia has operated direct flights to New York since 2016. A French company, Vinci, has managed Nikola Tesla Airport under a 25-year concession agreement since December 2018.

Serbia can be reached by rail from Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Northern Macedonia. Internal trains service most areas of the country. Long distances, however, can take considerable time and often are unreliable due to the aging rail infrastructure. Ongoing construction on the Belgrade-Budapest route means fewer connections and amentities and a longer travel time now than a decade ago. There are frequent bus connections to Budapest that rival rail in time and cost, at least until regular rail service is restored. The most convenient and efficient means of travel to Serbia are by air or road.

Serbia can be entered by vehicle from various border points. The most utilized border crossings are those connecting Serbia with Croatia, Hungary, and Bulgaria. The quality of Serbian roads and expressways varies greatly, but is improving rapidly. Serbia’s motorway network is not extensive, and most roads are two-lane highways. A four-lane expressway connects Zagreb and Belgrade (travel time is approximately 3.5 hours, depending on the time spent passing through immigration at the border). The highway due south to Northern Macedonia and onward to Greece was completed in 2019 and now offers fast travel, albeit limited roadside amenities and gas stations south of Nis to the North Macedonian border. Travel time to Skopje is 4.5 hours, to Budapest 4 hours, and to Sofia 4.5 hours. Border crossing times during the summer holiday season can be significant. Road connections to Timisoara and Sarajevo remain poor, posing a challenge to both personal travel and commercial transport, with little liklihood of improvement in the immediate future.

Car rentals from Hertz, Avis, Budget, Enterprise and others are available from the Nikola Tesla International Airport, as well as other locations in Belgrade and Novi Sad. A complete list of rental car companies at Nikola Tesla International Airport can be found here.

U.S. citizens do not need an international driver’s license to drive in Serbia. A passport and a U.S. driver’s license are sufficient.

Taxis are affordable and abundant within Belgrade and can be hailed curbside, at taxi stands, or by calling for radio dispatch. Foreigners should avoid hailing taxis on the street at key tourist spots. Foreigners should have their hotel or restaurant call and order a taxi. Taxis increasingly have mobile apps available, and an Uber-style ridesharing service, CarGo, includes the ability to pay by credit card in the app. Taxi service from Belgrade airport is strictly regulated with a voucher service available at a kiosk outside of arrivals, with rides charged by zone and paid to the taxi driver, with the price written on the voucher you give to the driver. Avoid any drivers who may illegally approach you to offer taxi service as you exit the departure area and make your way to the taxi kiosk.

Language

The predominant language in Serbia is Serbian. Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian speakers understand each other with ease, although products marketed in the region must take care to use the local language in packaging and marketing and labelling. Anyone under 40 in urban areas is likely to speak excellent English. Serbia has one of the highest English proficiency levels in the region. Many businesspeople speak foreign languages, mostly English and German, although some French and Italian are also spoken. The older generation may speak Russian as their primary second language and are less likely to know English. In the northern Vojvodina region of Serbia, many citizens are fluent in Hungarian.

Serbian uses the Cyrillic alphabet for most official purposes, although the Latin alphabet is omnipresent, particularly in urban areas.  The Latin alphabet is prevalent in everyday business usuage, but contracts may default to Cyrillic.  Newspapers and magazines are a mix, some published in Cyrillic, some in Latin. Government publications, gazettes, announcements, laws are predominantly [and sometimes exclusively] in Cyrillic as may be other “official” transactions, e.g. in banking. 

Health

Belgrade’s air quality is poor during fall and winter months because of the pollution from burning low-grade coal (lignite), automobile exhaust, wood-buring stoves used for household heating, and crop-burning of stubble to prepare fields for successive plantings.

No specific immunizations are needed, although hepatitis A and B vaccinations are recommended for those living in Serbia. Specialty medications may not be available in Belgrade, and prescription medications in the United States often require a prescription in Serbia, so travelers are advised to bring required medications with them. If care or a prescription is needed, the private healthcare system (which includes Medigroup, Euromedik, Belmedic) is quite affordable and accessible, and accustomed to treating foreigners. Controlled substances, however, can only be prescribed within the state healthcare system, which is an extremely time-consuming and onerous process, and may not be available to business travellers, as regulations require patients to be registered in the local system.

One of the best facilities in the case of an adult medical emergency is the Military Medical Academy (VMA), Crnotravska 17, Centar Hitne Pomoći entrance. Tel: +381 11 2661-122 or +381 11 360 93 98. Payment is expected at the time of the service.

Fruits and vegetables usually are of excellent quality. Precautions related to the washing of fresh fruits and vegetables are similar to those that should be practiced in the United States.

Local Time, Business Hours and Holidays

Local Time: GMT+01:00. Daylight savings time: March 29, 2019 – October 25, 2020. Note: differs from U.S. by few weeks.

Business Hours: Usual business hours are from 08:00 to 16:00, Monday through Friday, for state Institutions and 9:00 to 17:00 for private sector.

The U.S. Embassy in Belgrade is open 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Monday – Friday and closed on U.S. holidays and Serbian holidays.

Serbian and U.S. Holidays in 2020:

New Year’s Day

January 1, Wednesday

New Year’s Day

January 2, Thursday

Orthodox Christmas

January 7, Tuesday

Martin Luther King’s Birthday

January 20, Monday

Serbian State Day

February 15, Saturday

Serbian State Day

February 16, Sunday

George Washington’s Birthday

February 17, Monday

Orthodox Good Friday

April 17, Friday

Orthodox Easter

April 19, Sunday

Orthodox Easter (Observed)

April 20, Monday

May Day

May 1-2, Friday-Saturday

Memorial Day

May 25, Monday

Independence Day (Observed)

May 3, Friday

Independence Day 

July 4, Saturday

Labor Day

September 7, Monday

Columbus Day

October 12, Monday

Veterans Day / Armistice Day

November 11, Wednesday

Thanksgiving Day

November 26, Thursday

The following holidays may be observed by Serbian citizens of a particular religion:

  • December 25 Christmas (Catholic)
  • Easter (Catholic)
  • Ramadan Bairam (Muslim)
  • Yom Kippur (Jewish)
  • Rosh Hashanah (Jewish)

July and August are the preferred months for summer vacations and are a very slow time for commercial activity in Serbia. The same is true of the period encompassing Orthodox Easter. Many will be out of office the first two to three weeks of January through the school holiday and for skiing.

Business travelers to Serbia seeking appointments with officials in the U.S. Mission to Serbia in Belgrade should contact the Commercial Service in advance. The Commercial Service at the U.S. Mission to Serbia can be reached by telephone at +381-11-706-4112 or by e-mail at Belgrade@trade.gov. Additional information on our office can be found on our website at U.S. Commercial Service in Serbia.

Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings

There are no restrictions or duties to be paid on temporary entry of materials and personal belongings. However, items that are temporarily imported must be reported to customs officials at the point of entry by filling out a designated form. Serbia is an ATA Carnet member country for the temporary admission of goods. The ATA Carnet is administered by the Serbian Chamber of Commerce. All temporary imported items must be re-exported at the same point of entry. There are different requirements in place for intercompany transfers and the temporary import of cars and equipment for representative offices and wholly foreign-owned enterprises.

It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Serbia in Washington or one of the Serbian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Web Resources: