Dangers in Romania

Over the years, I’ve been surprised at both the dangers that visitors falsely believe are all around them as well as the ones they completely ignore, therefore I thought it was about time to set the record straight, so to speak.

Therefore let me say this before anything else: Romania is an incredibly safe place. Really and truly. Outside of the Peace Museum in Sweden, you’re not likely to find a less threatening place to your personal safety than Romania.

That being said, there are some dangers to look out for. We’ll start by analyzing the American, British and Australian governments’ official warnings for travelers to Romania.

We’ll start with the USA. To begin with, the embassy is pretty close to the Piata Universitate metro/subway stop (M2 line), in case you’re not driving.

From their travel warnings page on Romania:

Foreigners are required to carry identification documents at all times. Americans who obtained a temporary or permanent stay permit must be able to present the document upon the request of any “competent authorities.”  Foreigners who do not have a stay permit should present their passports.  The Embassy recommends carrying a copy of the relevant document.

Again, Romania is a land of 10 million laws and not a whole lot of enforcement of them. It’s a strange dichotomy until you get used to it.

Therefore the only time you need your passport is either to exchange money or else to check into a hotel. The rest of the time you don’t need to carry it and it’s far, far better to get stopped by the police (or “competent authorities”) and not have your passport than it is to lose it or have it get stolen.

If any police stop you and “demand” your identification, basically tell them to go to hell (in your native language). If it’s actually some kind of genuine emergency situation, they’ll either take you down to the police station or escort you back to your house/hotel to get the dang thing. And that’s about as likely to happen as you getting hit in the head by lightning.

No. Don’t carry your passport around unless you truly need it (as above but also like flying an airplane, etc) and there’s just about no time that the police need to see it unless something extremely serious has happened.

All three government websites warn about “plainclothes policeman” tricks who somehow demand to see your ID. I’ve personally never heard of it happening but again, uniformed or plainclothes or anything else, don’t ever be pressured into showing your ID to them unless something extremely serious has happened.

The best route to take whenever encountering police is to not move and just do plenty of talking. Stand your ground and talk it out. You’ll never have to deal with any bullshit or scams from police if you just take my advice.

Furthermore, a really good idea is to carry a Xeroxed copy of your passport (or main ID) around with you. It makes it about a million times easier to get it replaced if sadly you do lose your passport.

Note to Australians: Your embassy is closing in Romania on October 1.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Romania is 112.  English-speaking operators are available.

Yes. Any kind of emergency from any working phone, mobile, home or payphone, whether that’s medical, fire or law enforcement emergency. Very good to remember.

CRIME: While most crimes in Romania are nonviolent and nonconfrontational, crimes do occur in which people are hurt.  Reports of sexual assault are uncommon; to be safe, be vigilant, especially at night and in situations where there is alcohol.  Although racial prejudice exists in Romania, especially toward those who look like Roma (“gypsies”), hate crimes are rare.  An annual gay pride parade in Bucharest has been the scene of violent protests in past years.

Crimes against tourists, such as robbery, mugging, pick pocketing, and confidence schemes remain a problem.  Organized groups of thieves and pickpockets, sometimes including minors, operate in train stations and on trains, subways, and buses in major cities.  A number of thefts and assaults have occurred on overnight trains, including thefts from passengers in closed compartments.  The Embassy recommends using the highest class available for train travel, and traveling with at least one other person. Avoid leaving your personal belongings unattended.  Stow them securely out of sight if leaving them in a parked car.

Okay these are by far the two most important paragraphs.

First of all: there is no violent crime here, period. There is almost none as in zero, nothing.

Am I saying a nation of over 20 million people has not one member amongst them who has ever committed a violent crime? No. I am saying that violent crime against foreigners is practically nil.

I am a grumpy, short-tempered and irascible fellow and even I have barely gotten involved in any kind of violence, much less violent crime. If you go looking for a fight in a crowded bar, yes I am sure you can get involved in an ass kicking contest.

But unless you’re actively looking for it, the chances of violent crime, especially robbery, mugging or god forbid rape or murder are really just about zero. Romanians are just not that kind of people.

The only kind of crime you’re liable to be a victim of in Romania is non-violent crimes, such as “confidence schemes” and pick-pocketing. Yes, those things you do have to watch out for. Being robbed at gunpoint or violently assaulted is not what you need to be worried about.

As for train travel, as I’ve written about extensively, the Embassy is pretty much dead wrong.
First of all, on any day trains, there’s usually a ton of people, including people sitting in your same compartment on the train. If you get up and leave your luggage alone and some meandering Gypsies wander in, are they really going to sit there and let them steal your luggage? Heck no, it doesn’t happen.

If you leave a suitcase all alone in an empty compartment for an hour, okay well then I can’t promise you anything but really, you don’t need to worry about your luggage. People aren’t going to riffle through your bags much less break into your compartment and strong arm you for money.

If you’re on a night train it’s either going to be a) second-class compartment so between 3-5 other people in there with you or b) first class and just one other person in there with you. Well guess what? Gypsies and thieves don’t buy tickets, much less expensive sleeping compartment ones. Therefore you’re going to be in a room with (an) upstanding citizens who are certainly not going to let wandering Gypsies in to peruse the luggage while you sleep!

I’ve ridden literally dozens of trains overnight in the cheap seats, aka the sitting compartments, been passed out for hours and no one took my luggage or messed with it in any way.

The only thing you’ve got to watch out for is sticky fingers, which means either picking your pocket as you squeeze by (as happened to me) or else scooping up an iPod left on the seat – something like that. And really, a little common sense goes a long way here.

Credit card and Internet fraud remain among the most common crimes affecting foreigners in Romania. Romania is largely a “cash only” economy.  While an increasing number of businesses accept credit cards, you may wish to use cash for goods and services rendered due to the risk of credit card fraud. Vendors, including restaurant staff, have been known to misuse credit card information by making illegal purchases on a customer’s account.

Blah, blah, long story short is use cash. And when I say “cash”, I mean Romanian lei and not Euros, forints, Japanese yen or dollars or anything else.

I understand handling and manipulating a lot of cash is hard for some people – I know it was super difficult for me when I first moved here because I was used to swiping my card everywhere. There’s a heck of a lot of different notes you have to carry around as well as dealing with an assortment of some quite heavy coins.

Nonetheless, using plastic is really only practical at quality hotels. The rest of the time it may not even be an option so avoid even the chance of fraud and use cash for everything else.

There are an increasing number of ATMs located throughout major cities, and sophisticated identity theft rings target them.  Try to use ATMs located inside banks and check for any evidence of tampering with the machine before use.

This can easily be avoided by only using ATMs (cash points) that are located inside banks. Since there is a bank every 50 meters in Romania, it’s no problem.

Be cautious when using publicly available Internet terminals, such as in Internet cafes, as sensitive personal information, account passwords, etc. may be subject to compromise.

Ok if you’re using an “internet cafe” it probably means you’re young, a budget traveler or probably both. Otherwise you’d be staying in a nice hotel which pretty much guaranteed has wi-fi or some other kind of internet access.

Folks, there is free wi-fi and internet everywhere in this country. Bring your own wi-fi device and skip either the crappy shared computer at the hostel or else some dingy “internet cafe”.

A second-hand netbook goes for almost nothing and is both light and extremely portable. Spend the 100 bucks or whatever it takes and get one that has no moving parts like the one I have and the thing is almost indestructible.

The best idea is make sure it has some kind of microphone option so you can use Skype (or some other kind of Voip) to contact the loved ones at home. Calling cards to dial overseas using regular phones are available but they are far more expensive. Much better to sit at a nice cafe sipping a perfect cup of coffee and chatting with the folks at home on your computer.

Furthermore, if you can handle the small screen, many “smart phones” sold these days have wi-fi access capability (iPhones, etc). Again, since wi-fi and internet access is both common and usually free, you can use your smart phone to stay in touch.

A few places that’ll usually always have wi-fi:

  • Nicer hotels, including their lobbies
  • International fast-food chains (Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC)
  • Cafes, especially nicer ones or ones in downtown (city centre/centru)
  • Bars which cater to university students
  • Any place which has a decal on the door saying it has wi-fi (duh :P)
  • Inside major downtown (city centre/centru) squares

The best part is it’s almost always free!

Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available.  Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the United States, you may be breaking local law too.

Since I am not a government lawyer, let me inform you: buy whatever you want!

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are overseas, U.S. laws don’t apply.  While traveling or living in Romania, you are subject to Romanian laws even if you are a U.S. citizen.

This goes for everyone else from other countries as well. Seems obvious but don’t be a dolt. Of course the one exception is if you’re a member of the American diplomatic corps, then you can kill people and get away with it, which is good to know.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Romania is generally not up to Western standards, and basic medical supplies are limited, especially outside major cities.  Some medical providers that meet Western quality standards are available in Bucharest and other cities but can be difficult to locate.  Sanitary conditions in hospitals are variable.  Nursing care and assistance from orderlies is often lacking in hospitals.  Families often provide basic assistance to hospitalized relatives that Americans generally expect the hospital to provide.  Travelers seeking medical treatment should choose their provider carefully.

Most prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication are available in Romania but may be sold here under different brand names.  Specific individual drugs may not be available due to differences in laws and regulations.

Ok starting with the last thing first, just about any drug is available in Romania at a pretty damn low cost.
Secondly, I don’t have time to go into the entire medical system here but I can tell you that you’re going to be just fine unless you’re a frail old lady with multiple health problems already. Really.

Romanian healthcare is quite different than in many countries but the long and short of it is you’ll make it out of there just fine. There are a lot of very competent doctors here and most medical procedures don’t cost much money. A Romanian friend of mine broke his arm a few months ago and it only cost him 300 USD total to have it fixed.

A great number of Romanians spend all day working in the fields, doing heavy, physical work and they manage to make it through all right with the available healthcare and so will you.

If you need complicated and experimental brain surgery, please stay home and have that done before you come.

Now let’s switch over to the British government’s travel guide to Romania. Your embassy by the way is between the Piata Romana and Piata Universitate metro/subway stop (on the M2 line).

There is an underlying threat from terrorism . Attacks, although unlikely, could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.

Uh, no. I have to laugh at this. Even the embassy in Bucharest knows this. I walked right past it on my way to somewhere else and it’s barely guarded at all (the USA embassy of course is a military bunker). This is some paranoid crap.

There is the risk of petty theft in large towns, especially in Bucharest, and of pickpockets and bag snatchers in crowded areas, particularly near exchange shops, hotels, on public transport (especially to the airport), main railway stations and inside airport terminals.

Organised attacks by groups, often including children, occur. The most common method is of distraction whilst several people, often the children, attempt to snatch watches and jewellery from pockets or from around the neck and wrist.

Again, this is non-violent crime, of which of course you should be on the lookout for in the above-mentioned situations.

Bucharest has cheap and plentiful public transport provided by underground, bus, and tram.  Yellow taxis are also abundant but make sure prices are listed on the side of the vehicle and that the taxi bears a company name.  There are frequent reports of foreign visitors being overcharged by taxi drivers.  Other cities have fairly good bus services.  Cities and towns are linked by extensive but generally slow rail services.

Exactly why I wrote my piece on taxis in Romania. Never worry again!

The Romanian Health Ministry has confirmed cases of West Nile Virus in Alba, Bucharest, Cluj, Constanta, Dolj, Galati, Mures, Sibiu and Teleorman. There is no vaccine to prevent West Nile Virus.  Protective measures against mosquito bites are recommended such as exposing as little skin as possible; using mosquito repellent; using fly screens; avoiding standing water.

All true but just so it’s clear, the chances of getting this disease are practically infinitesimal.

And last but not least, let’s check out the Australian government’s page:

You should avoid protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent.

Extremely rare for this to happen.

Crime: The incidence of violent crime is low, but victims of street crime are sometimes harmed. Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and bag snatching, is common, particularly near hotels, on public transport and in train stations. Criminals are known to target foreigners. We recommend that you do not walk alone after dark. Thefts from hotel rooms are common. Financial and internet scams, and credit card and ATM fraud are also prevalent.

Uh, folks you can walk alone after dark. I’ve addressed the rest already but seriously, there’s no danger in walking down the street alone after dark. I’ve passed 13-year-old kids sneaking out of their house at 3am on dark, abandoned streets so if they’ll be fine, you’ll be fine.

While travelling, don’t carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

Uh, no. Again, the chances of getting robbed are practically zero. Am I going to say it has never happened in the history of the universe? Of course not. But really it’s only unattended watches, jewelry and cameras which will get stolen. I see far too much paranoia in this regard from travelers. Relax!

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, typhoid, measles and hepatitis) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before travelling. We recommend that you avoid raw and undercooked food. In rural areas, it is recommended that all drinking water be boiled or that you drink bottled water, and that you avoid ice cubes. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Ahh… the case of the ice cubes and the bottled water, a dilemma for all travelers whenever leaving their homeland.

I’ve traveled enough to know that there’s always a period of transition as your body gets used to new bacteria, new odors, new water and the local conditions. It’s pretty normal to have your stomach get a little unsettled.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with the water here. Tap water (including sometimes free from outdoor faucets) is perfectly safe to drink, although in some cities it tastes like shit (sorry, Iasi). You can buy all the bottled water you want to (as it is sold everywhere) but you’re going to bathe and shower in the local water and you’ll be fine.

As for ice cubes, those are rare and often unavailable in many places in Romania. According to Romanian folk wisdom, drinks that are “too cold” are actually unhealthy. If you’re obsessed over having cold beer, check out the refrigeration policies at the bar before you get too settled in.

As for eating raw vegetables and fruits from the piata, that’s perfectly safe as long as you thoroughly rinse off the produce first. I’ve been eating from there for years and never had a single problem.

Now last but definitely not least, all three governments address the one quite dangerous thing and that is driving. Many years ago my friend Robert Young Pelton told me that the most dangerous thing you can do is drive in some countries at night and Romania is one of ’em.

Actually, let me be more specific. Driving outside (or between) cities at night is what is most dangerous, including if you’re riding that cheap “minibus” somewhere. Heck I’ve ridden the “minibus” overnight to the Budapest airport more times than I’d like to count and it is super dangerous. Whether you’re behind the wheel or someone else is, avoid traveling at night between cities!

During the day it is quite safe but it is far, far more chaotic than most “Westeners” are used to. If you’re not ready to be hyper-alert to avoid a wide range of unexpected or inexplicable obstacles (including the famous Two Peasants Standing And Talking In The Road) then driving in Romania is not for you.

If on the other hand you want a driving adventure, Romania is definitely the place for you! There’s been a lot of hubbub lately about how the Transfagaras highway got mentioned on Top Gear and it’s for a good reason – it’s an amazing piece of scenery.

Inside the city however, ditch the wheels as even the tiniest bit of alcohol in your system can get you in major trouble with the police. There’s an entire network of affordable taxis and public transportation available so use it just like Romanians do. Or if you got the stamina, go bicycling around for even greater efficiency.

Now let’s talk about one more thing:


Quite simply put, if you want to save money, hitchhike. I’ve been in very few countries where it’s this prevalent and this safe. A young, Romanian ex-girlfriend of mine used to hitchhike all the time by herself without any undue trouble and I’ve never heard of a bad experience. I’ve picked up hitchhikers and it’s the most normal thing in the world.

The reason why hitchhiking is so common in Romania is because it isn’t free. If you get picked up, it’s normal for the driver to expect you to chip in some money when you get to your destination. How much this is going to be is up to the driver but in general it has to be less than taking public transportation.

An example – there is a “minibus” slash “van” slash “maxitaxi” slash “makrushka” running from Cluj every hour or half hour going to the nearby town of Turda, which is about 30 minutes away. The cost for a ticket is 5 lei, or about 1.50 USD at the moment. Therefore hitchhiking is going to be even cheaper than that.

While you may be more comfortable riding public transportation between larger cities, some rural destinations are very difficult to get to without a car and so therefore hitchhiking may be your only option, assuming you don’t have your own car of course.

The way to identify yourself as a hitchhiker is best by making and prominently displaying a cardboard sign with your intended destination on it whilst you stand on the outskirts of town (in the direction you want to go). All major exits from cities are usually crowded with people standing there, hitchhiking, so it won’t be hard to find where to stand.

The hand motion to signal a driver you are a hitchhiker is to extend your right arm and flap it like a bird’s wing, fingers pointing slightly towards the ground, wrist extremely loose.

As in most situations, having some rudimentary knowledge of Romanian will be of great use to you.

BTW, the Romanian word for danger is: periculos. Obviously avoid anything labeled with this word.


19 thoughts on “Dangers in Romania

  1. Dunno when you wrote this, but when I started taking the minibus weekly from cluj to cimpia turzii three years ago the ticket was 9 lei, and today it is 12


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