One would think that the European Union residents can enter Macedonia without any problem just by showing their residence card – I mean, we found this information on some obscure website we google-translated and it said so. Who would ever doubt that?
Well, that information is not quite correct (and if you are a curious citizen who came here to see if you are eligible to enter Macedonia, I totally won’t get disappointed if you close this article in disappointment right now) – my husband F almost got deported with his Colombian passport, in spite of his Slovak residence card. Oh well.
Oh, actually – here is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Macedonia saying that holders of permanent residence in Schengen can enter visa-free for up to 15 days. Go figure.
That day we hitchhiked from Lin, a cute (and, in October, cold) village on the shore of the famous Ohrid lake in Albania. Back then I was insisting on taking the northern way across Macedonia, Bulgaria and down to Turkey instead of going through Greece – it had been a long time since I dreamed of visiting the Balkans; I got the closest to it by traveling to Croatia and Romania before, and it wasn’t an extensive trip at that. Plus, ugh, Croatia is full of Slovak tourists and Romania is technically Eastern Europe and only half of it is actually located in the Balkanic Peninsula. (I know because I checked what Romanian people say about it on Quora.)
I knew it was going to be cold, I knew our camping equipment was not enough and that my husband is from a tropical country, yet I wanted to give Macedonia a try. I am annoyingly stubborn like that and this time, my stubbornness was about to backfire and kick my stubborn ass.
How (not) to cross the border between Albania and Macedonia
We got to the border between Albania and Macedonia around lunchtime, half walking, half hitchhiking. There were not many people, maybe just a handful of locals, and we crossed without getting searched for drugs (unlike that time in Greece) which was a nice goodbye gesture from Albania. I actually meant that.
I took a few photos of the relatively run-down buildings (I’m always thinking I’ll write one of those first-page-of-google guides to border crossings and then never do.) and confidently walked to the booth. We have a scenario for border crossings: I go in front, my passport on top, then F’s residence card and at last his passport. F usually stands behind me, attempting an expression as unsuspicious as he can muster. It sounds easy, but he has a messy beard and I suspect other people don’t find him as cute as I do.
Read more: Adventures from hitchhiking in Albania
Well, this time the wait was getting a bit long. The officer called someone and then asked us to enter the building and made another call. We waited for a few minutes; the time for the bad news had come.
“You cannot enter to Macedonia,” he told my husband.
I was free to go as I wished, but without F, it was not an option. If I have to choose between traveling the Balkans and staying with my spouse, I do what most couple would do. (I am romantic like that, you see.)
We tried to convince him – look, sir, here is the EU card and it says on Wikipedia that EU residents can enter, so please let us go – but to no avail. Apparently, you can enter Macedonia with a Type C visa – the regular tourist visa for the European Union, but not with your resident card. Uh-oh, that’s awkward.
“We will put a “rejected” stamp in your passport,” the officer concluded.
F suddenly got nervous. Traveling with a Colombian passport is hard as it is, but when you add a big red REJECTED on top of it, you can get ready for some trouble at every future border crossing you might have the audacity to attempt.
In addition to that, the Macedonian officer was looking a bit annoyed. It seemed as if English didn’t come that naturally to him and he wanted to be over with this conversation as fast as could be. He was starting to frown.
…can you bribe the Macedonian border officers?
“Can’t we pay and do the procedure here maybe?” I suggested – but the answer was no.
The walls were full of big red posters warning against bribery and informing the visitors that everything is being recorded on cameras. We didn’t dare to ask anything more.
“If you want to enter, you have to go back to the Embassy of Macedonia in Tirana and ask for a visa. You can get it in three days,” he informed us, the feared stamp in his hand.
F was getting a bit too worked up for his own good.
“Why do you want to put a stamp? What’s the matter with you?” he complained.
My Balkan dream was dissolving in front of my eyes.
Check this out: 20 Colorful Photographs from Tirana, Albania
“It’s okay,” I jumped into the conversation, attempting to speak in Russian. At the time, I could barely read the Cyrillic alphabet so the best I could do was to speak Slovak with a fake Russian accent. It was, at best, derisory.
“We just wanted to go to Macedonia because we heard it is very beautiful,” I continued. (A bit of flattery never hurt anybody!)
“We thought he doesn’t need a visa as an EU resident.”
When the officer heard another Slavic language, he immediately relaxed. Post-communist Slavic brotherhood is a thing, you know.
“Okay, guys. So you just came here to ask if you can enter. I checked, but my boss said no, I am sorry. You can go back to Albania,” he said and handed us our passports back.
We didn’t argue more and backed out of the office before he would change his mind.
No Macedonia for us, this time – we would have to go south and cross Greece which didn’t sound too exciting for me. Oh well, at least we’d escape the cold for a bit!
Crossing to Albania from Macedonia (with a shitty passport)
At the Albanian booth, the officers switched in the meanwhile and the ones who stamped us out went for a lunch.
“You cannot enter Albania without a visa,” a bored voice announced from behind the glass.
“What do you mean we can’t enter? We just came from here fifteen minutes ago!”
“No, Colombians need a visa for Albania.”
We sat on the concrete step. The wind was a bit chilly but it wasn’t too cold and the autumn sun was sharp in our eyes. The border is actually located in a nice place, with green meadows and hills adorning the horizon.
Maybe I can call my embassy for assistance and camp here while we figure something out…I thought and immediately felt a bit better. I remembered that friend of a friend who waited at the border of Pakistan and India for three days and was allowed to enter in the end.
In the meanwhile, the officer was making some phone calls.
“Look, sir, we entered in Durres. We came from Italy with a ferry. Colombians need a visa, but EU residents can enter to Albania visa-free for sure.”
He didn’t seem too impressed, but after about a half an hour, someone called him back. We had at least some luck left for that day – finally, they decided to let us go back in the country. No need to call the embassy today!
We collected our passports and got a quick ride – as improbable as it sounds, a bus driver agreed to drive us to the next city without paying. Next, two men took us in who couldn’t believe we want to camp in the October weather – it was going to be a cold night – and in spite of our shabby appearance, they proudly introduced us to the receptionist of the fanciest hotel in Korça. After a polite (but short) exchange, we backed out of there and rented a cheap Airbnb – one of the few times in our travels when we felt paying for an accommodation was inevitable in order not to freeze. You see, the abandoned buildings in Albania are not as fancy as their counterparts in Italy; we were able to squat comfy hotels in Sicily complete with carpets and windowpanes!
Border crossing from Albania to Greece
We expected to leave Albania to be tricky – we had heard that it was common to get searched for drugs and with a Colombian husband in tow, I was 99% sure of getting a “random check” upon us. What we didn’t expect was trouble when actually leaving Greece for Turkey! Well, you can imagine. Or you can read about it – what happens when the Greek officers stop a Colombian and his wife for a thorough search. I promise it was a lot of fun, although not for us.
So, who can actually enter Macedonia with(out) a visa?
After some research, I realized what was the problem with entering Macedonia as a Schengen residence card holder. The official website says that it has to be a permanent residence, however, this is tricky. Upon marrying a citizen of Slovakia, my Colombian husband was issued a “permanent residence for five years” by the Slovak migration office. This residence allows him to work, get a health insurance and freely reside and move around within Schengen area, however, although it is called “permanent” in the Slovak law, the card has an expiration date (which is actually tied to your address, but that’s another story) and the foreigner can apply for an unlimited permanent residence permit after four years (if the marriage is still valid, obviously). Since the card has an expiration date and only states the word “permanent” in Slovak (“trvalý” – I know, it’s insanely practical), well, that is not convincing enough for the Macedonian authorities who don’t speak Slovak.
In conclusion, if you are a citizen of a third country (that is, other than Schengen or Macedonia – it has nothing to do with Third World, I promise) and your residence card is not of the happily-ever-after non-expiring kind (do those even exist?), you might want to apply for the Macedonian visa even if you think you don’t need to. On the smaller overland crossings, it is often the power of the officer that decides and in the end, it is hard to find out what the exact requirements are so you can never be sure enough.
Have you ever been interrogated at a border crossing? Did they let you enter at the end? What’s your worst border crossing nightmare? Complain with me in the comments!