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Note: Some of this information may no longer be valid. Before making any trip decisions, refer to the latest U.S. State Department information for the country of interest.
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This information covers the seven countries of East Central Europe: Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Eastern Europe also includes the western part Russia.
The countries of Eastern Europe are rich in history with civilizations and traditions dating back to the beginning of recorded European history. These countries are in a period of transition, and their rules for visitors are changing. Before you go, contact the embassy of each country you plan to visit for the latest information on visa requirements, customs and currency regulations.
Although tourist facilities are expanding to meet the rapid increase in tourism to Eastern Europe, in most of the region they are quite limited. In many places, you will have to be patient with scarce or inadequate hotels, rental cars, and other facilities. To be certain of accomodations, make reservations for hotels and transportation, and make them well in advance. If you cannot get a hotel reservation, check with the country's tourist office, because many cities have a bureau that arranges accommodations in small hotels or private homes.
The Department of State issues travel advisories concerning serious health or security conditions that may affect U.S. citizens.Travel advisories are available by calling (202) 647-5225.
U.S. citizens should travel to Eastern Europe with a valid U.S. passport and with appropriate visas when necessary. Visa regulations change, so check with each embassy's consular section for current information.
Remember to leave a detailed itinerary and your passport information with a friend or relative in the United States in case of an emergency.
Customs regulations in some Eastern European countries are strict. U.S. citizens should comply fully. Generally, you should carry only those articles that you need for your trip and personal use.
When obtaining your visa, declare to the country's embassy in the United States anything manufactured before 1945 (considered antique in some countries) and any precious metals, including gold jewelry, that you plan to bring with you. Ask for customs information when you apply for your visa.
If you are asked to declare valuables and currency when you enter a country, include pocket calculators, digital watches, or other electronic devices that may be rare or more expensive in Eastern European than at home. Failure to declare items could result in their confiscation upon departure. Carry a copy of your declaration with you. You may need it when you depart the country.
Do not carry parcels or letters on behalf of third persons. It is highly dangerous to carry something if you do not know its contents.
Some Eastern European governments restrict the import and export of their currencies. In general, do not transport these currencies across international borders. Currency regulations in Eastern Europe change frequently. Some countries have a dual exchange rate. For example, hotel bills and credit card purchases may have to be paid at a rate that is higher than a "tourist" rate. Before you go, learn the most advantageous way to handle your purchases by inquiring about exchange rates and currency regulations from your travel agent or the embassies of the countries you plan to visit.
Unlimited amounts of U.S. dollars and other freely convertible or "hard" currencies usually may be carried into and out of Eastern European countries. Travelers may be asked to declare the amount and kind of currency they carry.
Purchase currencies only at officially authorized exchange facilities in the country of issue and retain your receipts. Do not engage in private currency transactions or sell personal property. While U.S. dollars may be exchanged for Eastern European currencies, it is difficult or impossible to reconvert those currencies to dollars or another hard currency. Therefore, do not exchange more money than you plan to spend.
Western travelers are frequently required to settle hotel, auto rental, train, airplane, medical, and other bills in hard currency. Keep sufficient hard currency for this purpose.
Most major credit cards may be used in place of hard currency to cover purchases at major hotels or stores in Eastern Europe. However, in general, credit cards, travelers checks, and personal checks cannot be used to obtain hard currency in the region.
A few major credit card companies offer services, such as cash advances in local currency and card replacement, to travelers in a few places in Eastern Europe, most notably in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. In addition, some travelers check companies offer replacement for lost or stolen travelers checks in some places in the region. Check with your credit card company and with the company that sells you travelers checks to learn what services they now offer in the cities you plan to visit.
Except in major cities and on super highways, avoid driving at night in Eastern Europe. Night driving can be hazardous because some roads are narrow and winding, and horse-drawn vehicles and bicycles may be encountered at any time on any road.
Traffic regulations, especially those related to driving under the influence of alcohol, are very strict. An international driver's license is usually accepted and, in some cases, required by Eastern European governments. You may obtain an international driver's license from an automobile association.
In countries where there is political unrest, refrain from political comments and activities that might be construed as interference in the internal affairs of the host country. Avoid photographing or otherwise becoming involved in demonstrations.
There are restrictions on photography in Eastern Europe. In general, refrain from photographing military and police installations and personnel as well as scene of civil disorder or other public disturbances. In some countries, also avoid photographing border areas and industrial structures, including harbors, bridges, rail and airport facilities. For detailed information, consult local authorities or the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country concerned.
One result of the changes taking place in Eastern Europe is an increase in street crime in almost every major city in the region. Car break-ins have become a problem. Some cities have groups of pickpockets that use various gimmicks to distract their victims. Be especially careful on public transportation, in crowded shopping areas, and in all places frequented by tourists. Watch your purse, passport, wallet, travel documents, and other valuables.
Loss of a passport in some locations can mean a wait of a day or more while local authorities process a new exit permit, without which it is impossible to leave the country. It is therefore strongly recommended that you make every effort to safeguard your U.S. passport from loss or theft. Carry a copy of your passport data page with you in a location separate from your passport.
Foreigners are required by the authorities in some Eastern European countries to register with the local police. This is usually taken care of by your hotel. You may have to turn your passport over to the hotel for a period of up to 24 hours. If you stay with relatives or a private family, ask your hosts or consult the U.S. embassy or consulate about how to meet the registration requirement.
If you plan more than a short stay in one place, or if you are in an area experiencing civil unrest or some natural disaster, you are strongly encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
The United States and Albania reestablished diplomatic relations on March 15, 1991. It is expected that a U.S. Embassy will be established in Tirana sometime in 1991. Until there is, however, the Department of State cannot extend normal consular protective services to U.S. citizens in Albania.
According to recent travelers to Albania, visitors should bring toiletries, paper products, medicines, film, and batteries with them and are advised to drink only bottled water. Credit cards are rarely accepted. Change may be scarce, so bring small denomination U.S. currency with you. Except for personal use, it is forbidden to bring religious items, such as Bibles or Korans, into the country. Conservative dress is recommended.
Americans with regular U.S. passports who wish to enter Bulgaria for up to 30 days, regardless of the purpose, do not need a visa. There is no limit on the number of entries as long as the traveler departs within 30 days. If you wish to stay longer than 30 days, you may obtain a visa at a Bulgarian diplomatic mission. Travelers who have items to declare when entering Bulgaria are cautioned to make an oral customs declaration before their baggage is inspected. Printed customs forms are not distributed.
According to a treaty between the United States and Bulgaria that was signed in 1928 and reconfirmed in 1947, a Bulgarian citizen naturalized in the United States automatically loses his or her Bulgarian citizenship upon becoming a U.S. citizen. The U.S. Bulgarian consular convention signed in 1974 provides that if a former Bulgarian citizen enters Bulgaria on a U.S. passport with a Bulgarian visa and "entry cachet," that individual is considered an American citizen by the government of Bulgaria.
A recent amendment of the Bulgarian nationality act recognizes dual nationality for Bulgarian citizens. U.S. citizens of Bulgarian birth who are naturalized as U.S. citizens may still, under some circumstances, be considered Bulgarian citizens by the government of Bulgaria.
If you are an American of Bulgarian birth, it is recommended that you travel to Bulgaria only on a U.S. passport. This will help ensure your right of U.S. consular protection while you are in Bulgaria.
Foreigners visiting Bulgaria must register their address with local authorities within 24 hours of arrival, unless staying at a hotel where registration is done automatically. If you intend to remain in Bulgaria longer than three months, you must apply for a residence permit from the local police.
No visa is required for American citizens visiting Czechoslovakia for up to 30 days. After entering Czechoslovakia, but before the original 30 days are finished, you may obtain an extension of stay for up to six months for a small fee. In Prague, you can apply at the police station for foreigners. Outside the capital city, apply at local police offices that handle visa and passport administration.
Foreigners are required to pay many expenses in hard currency, including hotels, medical treatment, and gasoline coupons. Make certain that you retain sufficient hard currency to meet these expenses.
Most major credit cards and travelers checks can be used in place of hard currency to cover purchases at major hotels, stores, and some restaurants. Credit cards and travelers checks are not, however, accepted at smaller enterprises. It may be possible to obtain hard currency at the Zivnotenska Bank in Prague with a major credit card. Check with your credit card company before you travel to see if it can be used to obtain hard currency in Czechoslovakia or if it can be replaced if lost or stolen. Most credit cards and travelers checks cannot be replaced in Czechoslovakia.
Most items purchased, except at duty-free Tuzex stores, are subject to export duty. Duties may be higher than the purchase price. Approximately 40 types of items, ranging from antiques to bed linens to leather goods, may not be exported or may require export licenses. Before you buy, find out what it will cost to take your purchase out of the country.
According to a bilateral treaty between the United States and Czechoslovakia, signed in 1928, a Czechoslovak citizen naturalized in the United States automatically loses his or her Czechoslovak citizenship. This is not true, however, for Czechoslovak nationals naturalized in the U.S. between September 17, 1938 and May 7, 1957, a period during which Czechoslovakia considers itself to have been at war, and which, therefore, is not covered by the treaty. Czechoslovak nationals naturalized during that period are dual nationals.
Today, dual nationality has little practical effect on travelers to Czechoslovakia because there are no longer restrictions on travel abroad by Czechoslovak citizens.
Holders of U.S. passports no longer need a visa to visit Hungary for tourism or business for up to 90 days. Visitors staying for longer than 30 days must register with the local police.
Under a new Hungarian law, persons who were deprived of their Hungarian citizenship between 1947 and 1981 may regain their Hungarian citizenship by addressing a statement of intent to the President of the Hungarian Republic. U.S. citizens who regain their Hungarian citizenship, as well as those who never lost it, may wish to obtain a Hungarian passport if they plan to travel to Hungary frequently. A dual national who obtains a Hungarian passport does not endanger his or her U.S. citizenship. However, it is important to remember that, under U.S. law, a U.S. citizen must use his or her U.S. passport to enter or leave the United States.
Most art and antiques, even if they are family possessions, cannot be exported without a permit.
Personal checks and travelers checks can be cashed for local currency, but not for hard currency. Generally, no cash advances of any kind can be obtained with a credit card, although some major credit cards may offer this service in the near future.
Do not attempt to assist Hungarian friends or relatives to evade currency regulations by taking their currency to the United States. Be aware that undercover police may offer to exchange money on the black market. Americans have been arrested in Hungary for attempting such transactions.
U.S. citizens no longer need a visa to visit Poland for up to 90 days. Polish law is currently in flux on a number of issues that are important to travelers. Therefore, when you visit Poland, check with the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw or the consulates in Krakow or Poznan to determine the current status of currency, citizenship, and other regulations.
American citizens may obtain a Romanian visa at the airport or at border points. The $30 fee must be paid in hard currency.
U.S. citizens of Romanian origin who were naturalized after January 14, 1952 are still considered Romanian citizens by the Romanian government unless they have renounced their citizenship and their renunciation has been approved. Most Romanians who have renounced their citizenship are eligible to have it restored. Questions concerning the legal status of dual nationals in Romania should be discussed fully with a Romanian consul when you apply for a visa.
Romanian customs regulations are strict. All electronic devices and all items of personal jewelry must be declared at the point of entry. Failure to do so could result in confiscation upon departure. Customs duties on items not for personal use are extremely high. Upon departure, tourists must show receipts for all goods purchased in Romania. Receipts for certain goods must show that they were purchased for hard currency or at an approved shop.
Visitors are required to change money at official rates and only at approved locations, such as banks, hotels, and tourist offices. Currency obtained this way can be reconverted upon departure. Foreigners are usually required to pay for hotels, air and rail tickets, and some meals in hard currency. Gasoline and diesel fuel may only be purchased with coupons sold at the border and at hotels and tourist offices.
Outside of Bucharest, gasoline availability is sometimes a problem, especially on weekends. Unleaded gasoline is sold in major cities, but is not always available.
Supplies of basic consumables are very limited. Travelers should bring with them all personal hygiene items and, if traveling by car, should consider carrying food as well, especially during the winter. They should also be prepared for hotel rooms without heat or hot water in the winter.
Most major hotels and tourist offices in large cities accept major international credit cards and travelers checks. It is not yet possible, however, to receive cash advances against a credit card in Romania.
U.S. citizens need a visa to visit Yugoslavia. You may obtain a multiple entry visa from the Yugoslav Embassy or a Yugoslav consulate. There is no fee. U.S. citizens with Yugoslavian dual nationality who travel to Yugoslavia should do so only with a U.S. passport with a Yugoslav visa stamped in it.
Yugoslav law does not recognize dual nationality. This means that all naturalized U.S. citizens of Yugoslav origin who have not renounced their Yugoslav citizenship will be considered by Yugoslav authorities to be citizens of Yugoslavia when returning as temporary visitors or as permanent residents. Persons taken into custody by Yugoslav authorities may be denied the opportunity to communicate with representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade or the Consulate General in Zagreb.
U.S. citizens of Yugoslav origin who wish to renounce their Yugoslav citizenship may obtain application forms from the Yugoslav Embassy in Washington, D.C. or from a Yugoslav consulate in New York, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, or San Francisco. Yugoslav nationality is not considered lost until formal approval is given to an application for renunciation of citizenship. This process may take a year or longer.
All U.S. citizens who intend to remain in Yugoslavia for more than 90 days are required to obtain permission to stay. Naturalized U.S. citizens of Yugoslav origin who intend to remain in Yugoslavia for more than 90 days may also need to obtain Yugoslav documents, such as a licna karta or a Yugoslav passport.
Prior to travel to Yugoslavia, dual national men 18 years and older should find out from Yugoslav consular officials whether they will be subject to conscription for military service or to arrest for failure to comply with Yugoslav law on compulsory military service.
Source: Excerpted from:U. S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs. Department of State Publication 9329. Revised April, 1991.
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