If you are planning on traveling between North Macedonia and Serbia, there are three ways to travel: car, bus, or train. The cheapest ways to travel between Serbia and North Macedonia is by bus. The quickest way to travel is by car, and the longest via train.
The most common bus company to provide transportation between the two countries is Nis Ekspres.
I personally travel between North Macedonia and Serbia by bus every time I have to go to Niš (Ниш) for a visit. It has its benefits and drawbacks to it as well.
If you have no other means of transportation, or no one else to turn to, using a bus is always the option. It takes four-five hours to get from Niš to Skopje and vice versa by bus, but it’s the cheapest option if one-two people are traveling.
How much is bus ticket price? Around 1,050 MKD or 2,100 Serbian Dinari (~ $20) for a return ticket. You can purchase bus tickets in advanced at any bus station or last minute.
Depending on the time of day you go it will either be the local bus and cover many towns between the two capitals (Skopje and Belgrade), such as Kumanovo, Bujanovac, Vranje, Leskovac, and Nis; or if it’s express it will go from Skopje to Belgrade with limited stoppage between the two locations.
The local route when traveling from North Macedonia it starts from Skopje, it gets on the highway and goes to Kumanovo, the most northern city in North Macedonia. After a quick passenger drop-off/pick-up, it continues straight to the North Macedonian/Serbian border.
Bujanovac is the first stop after crossing the border. The bus driver usually calls out for a 5-minute break here during the passenger exchange. This is no longer the case as the bus station is under construction, and now they stop either in Vranje or Vladici Han for bathroom breaks.
After Bujanovac, it continues to other smaller cities in Serbia such as Vranje, Vladici Han, and Leskovac. Approximately three hours after crossing the border, the bus arrives in Nis.
First, the bus stops at the main Railroad Station in Niš, and then it stops at the Bus Station. The driver will make an announcement for passenger exchange to other locations, such as Novi Sad, Kragjuvec, or even Belgrade if passengers are required to change the bus.
The Bus Ride from Skopje to Niš-Belgrade
I, personally, enjoy the bus ride from Skopje to Niš. It’s all countryside, mountains, greenery, and fields of sunflower. I usually take the 7:45 AM bus from Skopje, knowing that around 12 PM I will be in Niš. This gives me the rest of the day to walk around the town, go shopping, sit in a coffee shop, or simply just relax.
For the return bus ride to Skopje, I usually take the 10:40 AM from Niš, to be around 4 PM in Skopje.
If you have a return bus ticket, make sure you validate the return ticket with the billing/cashier (Biletara or Билетара) in either of the bus stations.
When you validate a return ticket in Niš, they will give you a seat number and a bar code to be able to enter the bus station on the day of your return. There is a small administrative tax.
Popular Bus Company – Niš Express
Niš Express, the bus company, doesn’t have the best or the most modern buses; however, they get you from point A to point B.
In the recent years, the company has added free Wi-Fi to most buses. The Wi-Fi is available as soon as you cross the into Serbian territory (the Wi-Fi is not available in North Macedonia for those coming from Serbia).
Also, there are no electrical charging stations, so be cautious of your battery level. Of course, the buses have air conditioning for summer, and heating for the winter time.
The seat numbers are located on the windows, usually covered by the curtains.
Travel tip: The bus drivers usually reserve the first two rows, so they will tell you to seat where ever you want. This is where most arguments with rest of the travelers occur that want to sit in their assigned seats.
Below is the timetable of the location/approximate time for the 7:45 AM bus from Skopje to Niš I took on 07/2017:
|Skopje||7:45 AM (Departure)|
|—— North Macedonian/Serbian Border ——–||9:00 AM (20-30 Minute for passport check)|
|Vladicin Han||10:20 AM|
|Nis (train station)||11:45 AM|
|Nis (bus station)||11:50 AM|
Documentation and Crossing the Border
Crossing the North Macedonian-Serbian border usually takes 20-30 minutes to get everyone checked. However, if it’s in the summer and a weekend, it might take longer with everyone going on vacations. So be prepared to spend some time waiting for the bus. The driver and his coworker, also, do not let people off the bus, even for a bathroom break.
At the North Macedonian border, the driver or his coworker usually collect all the passports or ID cards (those that have North Macedonian/Serbian ID cards can travel with them, no need for a passport), and take them to the passport control – or a police officer boards the bus and collects them.
At the Serbian border, the procedure has changed because of the recent immigration situation in Syria. You will need to get off the bus and walk yourself to the passport control when told, and hand-in the documentation personally.
Once you cross the border, everyone waits for the bus to be inspected by the police and customs before being allowed back on.
There is no duty-free shopping or bathroom break at the border.
Do you need a visa to visit North Macedonia? At the official site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, you can check if you have the proper documentation to enter North Macedonia or if you need a visa to enter the country.
Do you need a visa to visit Serbia? Check the official site of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia. Also, you can check if you meet the general entry requirements to enter into Serbia.
Pay-tolls Between North Macedonia and Serbia
For those that want to travel between North Macedonia and Serbia by car, I’ve noted down the current pay-tolls between Skopje and Niš.
In both countries, two pay tolls will be passed, so four tolls in total. See prices for cars below:
- North Macedonia pay-toll #1: 40 MKD or 1 Euro
- North Macedonia pay-toll #2: 60 MKD or 1 Euro
- Serbia pay-toll #1: 80 DIN or 1 Euro
- Serbia pay-toll #2: 210 DIN or 1.50 Euro
You can check the local prices of pay-tolls throughout North Macedonia (the site is in North Macedonia, so use Google Translate). The site also allows you to check pay-toll prices from North Macedonia to other foreign countries in Europe.
Going by car from Skopje to Niš or vice versa (round trip) is actually more expensive than a bus ticket price per person. With the tolls and gas prices, it’s around 5-15% more expensive. So, if you can find more people to go with you, going by car will be a better choice otherwise it will be pricier.
Tips for the Bus Ride
DO NOT USE THE BATHROOM in Bujanovac.
The bus station is in complete ruins, and almost nonexistent. Try not to have a lot of liquids during the trip, and wait to use the bathroom until it stops in Niš (do talk to the bus driver to see if there will be a break in Niš if you are continuing to Belgrade).
The tickets have assigned seat numbers, but a lot of the older generations that travel by bus do not follow the rule, so don’t be surprised if you find someone seated in your seat.
Make sure you have proper North Macedonian/Serbian currency to check in your bags. The bus driver doesn’t accept dollars, and only accepts 5-20 euro bills.
It is 10 MKD to use the bathroom at the Bus Station in Skopje. If you don’t see toilet paper in the bathroom stall, ask the person you paid. It comes with the price.
I can’t say this is the easiest way to go between the two countries or the most comfortable ride. I have seen foreigners having issues at the borders due to improper documentation and being left at the border to sort it out.
The bus is on a schedule and will not wait. However, I’ve met a lot of people from Canada, Turkey, and New Zealand on a Niš Express bus that haven’t had any issues and enjoyed the ride.
It all comes down to personal preference, time, and money.
I wish you all the best on your journeys!