The U.S. State Department may cite landmines and terrorism as the reason its citizens should exercise increased caution when in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but other countries mention crime.
For example, Canada tells its citizens to exercise a high degree of caution in Bosnia and Herzegovina due to high levels of crime. Those are important warnings, but how bad is crime in Bosnia really?
The violent crime rate in Bosnia and Herzegovina is actually fairly low. According to World Bank data, the intentional homicide rate as of 2020 was just 2.4 incidents per 100,000 people.
Other violent crimes are more common. For example, the assault rate was 27.4 cases per 100,000 people as of 2018. Most of these incidents occurred between people who knew each other and were not targeted at strangers.
Property crime is a much bigger concern for people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As of 2020, the burglary rate was a whopping 142.6 incidents per 100,000 people. The rate of vehicle theft is also high, at 9.1 incidents per 100,000 people.
According to Numbeo, in a survey of people living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the crimes they worried about most were vehicle thefts, vehicle break-ins, thefts, and drug abuse.
Bosnia and Herzegovina does, unfortunately, have a high rate of organized crime. According to the Global Organized Crime Index, it is the 5th worst country in Europe in terms of control of organized crime.
The fractured government and high levels of corruption allow criminal groups to flourish. Gangs in Bosnia are involved in many crimes, including human trafficking, smuggling of migrants, illegal arms trafficking, and drug trade to the rest of Europe.
While levels of organized criminality in Bosnia are high, most tourists generally don’t have a problem in the country. The only exception is if you decide to check out the nightlife.
Research which bars and clubs you go to ahead of time because there have been cases of shoot-outs at clubs owned or frequented by local mafia types that also affected innocent passers-by.
Although these incidents sound scary, remember that the vast majority of criminal incidents involving foreigners in Bosnia are petty crimes and that most people visit the country without any problems.
The crime you are most likely to encounter while out and about in Bosnia is pickpocketing. The UK government warns its citizens visiting Bosnia that pickpockets are common throughout the country.
This is especially true on public transportation or in major pedestrian areas in the cities of Sarajevo and Mostar. Whenever you are in a crowded area, it’s a good idea to take a few basic precautions to secure your valuables.
Make sure that your phone, wallet, and ID are secure in your front pocket or a zippered compartment of your bag, somewhere where it is not easily accessible to pickpockets. Try your best to blend in with the locals.
Don’t flash any valuables as that singles you out as a tourist — remember that many local Bosnians have to take out loans to get a smartphone, so your wallet or phone is certainly a tempting treat to potential thieves.
Scams are also common. Be especially careful in bars and clubs, as scammers sometimes take advantage of inebriated tourists to get a few bucks. Only change money at reputable money counters and withdraw cash from ATMs inside banks or post offices.
Bosnia’s street markets and street vendors are interesting, but be careful, as some like to overcharge tourists or pressure them into buying something. The city of Sarajevo has a lot of panhandlers, mostly elderly people.
While most are poor people trying to make ends meet in a country that has a very high elder poverty rate, some are accomplices of pickpockets who will work with them to distract you. They can also get very aggressive, so it’s best to ignore them, as difficult as it may be.
Vehicle break-ins are increasing in frequency, affecting both locals and visitors. They are most common around Sarajevo and popular sites near the capital, such as Trebević Mountain.
If you are just sticking to the cities, you won’t need a car since the city centers of Sarajevo and Mostar are compact and easily walkable. However, to explore more rural areas, you will probably need to rent a car.
Always take precautions to protect your rental car against break-ins, as thieves will target cars with rental stickers. Make sure all doors are locked and windows are rolled up, even if you are just leaving the car for a few minutes.
Don’t leave anything visible in the car, not even loose change. Finally, never under any circumstances leave your valuables unattended in the car.