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How to Live and Work in Bosnia and Herzegovina

So you want to live and work in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Great! You just spent your the summer in Sarajevo, you became a regular at Kino Bosna, gained 5 kilograms from eating Krompiršua and Ćevapi every meal, and developed an ironic attachment to turbo folk from long nights at Sloga. “Sarajevo is the new Berlin” you declare! You decide you will teach English, sell bracelets on Ferhadija, and push handmade cigarettes in Stup to make ends meet in order to fulfill your bohemian lifestyle. Armed with your new life plan, you only need to find a way to become legal. Well, buckle up. Because I do not have to be your mother to tell you “Okay honey, let me know when you run out of money and want me to buy your flight home”.

But I digress.

Now that you know your place, I will briefly delve into why this is probably not going to happen. But if you do persist, this post hopes to explain some of the options available that will allow you to live in Bosnia for an extended period of time and the process of obtaining a Work Permit in the event that you would like to work here. I will also share some interesting statistics on the demographics of those with Work Permits and some personal insights as someone who managed to successfully navigate the process for becoming a foreigner who lives and works in BiH legally.

Due to the complexity of living and working in BiH as a foreigner, this post will be more concise than my two previous posts on Bosnian Bureaucratic Wonders, How to Get a White Card in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and How to Get a Volunteer Visa in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is also designed to give a general overview on the process of obtaining a Work Permit in BiH and provide a variety of links and resources to set you in the right direction.

How Do I legally Live in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

The BiH Service for Foreigner’s Affairs (SPS) website provides a good outline on the different types of visas and temporary residence permits available to foreigners in English. The BiH Ministry of Security (MSB) also provide basic information on the entry and stay of aliens in BiH on their website.

For nationals included in the Visa-free regime, it is possible to reside in BiH for 90 days out of every 180 days. You cannot legally volunteer or work while in BiH as a part of the Visa-free regime. To legally reside in BiH longer than the Visa-Free regime allows for, it is necessary to obtain either a temporary residence permit, or a long stay visa (visa D).

Temporary Residence Permit

A temporary residence permit is usually valid for a period no longer than 12 months, and allows an individual to stay in BiH for the validity period. A brief outline regurgitated from the SPS website on the grounds for granting temporary residence is as follows:

  • Marriage to a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Extramarital community (Common Law Marriage) with a citizen Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Family reunification
  • Education (including volunteering)
  • Employment as specified in an issued work permit
  • Work without a work permit
  • Treatment or rehabilitation
  • Stay in a nursing home
  • Stay for humanitarian reasons
  • Stay based on an international treaty to which Bosnia and Herzegovina is a party
  • Stay out of other legitimate reasons
  • Ownership of real estate in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The SPS website provides information regarding the required documents for an application in all of the above circumstances.

Long Stay Visa (Visa D)

A Long Stay Visa, or “Visa D”, is usually valid for a period of 180 days starting from the date of first entry into BiH. Information about the Long Stay Visa can be found on the BiH MSB website.  In general, the Long Stay Visa is issued to individuals who can prove that there is a valid purpose for an individual to stay in BiH a period of more than 90 days within a 6 month period.  The application for this kind of visa is usually based on a “letter of invitation” from a Bosnian citizen or organisation.

How Do I Legally Work in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

To legally work in BiH, usually you must a obtain a Work Permit.  Work Permits can be valid for a maximum of 12 months after being issued, and must be renewed after this period. They are usually obtained on the basis of receiving a job offer from a company registered in BiH.

In some exceptional cases, individuals can obtain a Temporary Residence Grounded on Work Without a Work Permit. This allows an individual to work in BiH without a Work Permit. One of these exceptional cases is being the founder of a company in BiH. You can find out if you qualify for this type of temporary residence by visiting the BiH SPS website here or reading Article 50 through 71 of the Rulebook on Entry and Stay of Aliens.

Who Has Work Permits in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

A comprehensive migration profile report was released by the Ministry of Security (MSB)  for 2016/2017 period detailing various demographic data on issued Work Permits in BiH.

The demographic data pulled from this report displays an odd situation in regard to who typically obtains Work Permits in BiH in regard to industry, age, and qualification level. Around 2500 Work Permits were issued in 2017. The majority of Work Permits in BiH are issued to citizens of Serbia, Turkey, Croatia, and China. The overwhelming majority of issued Work Permits are issued to men. Roughly half of those who receive work permits have a university level qualification. Most people who receive work permits are over 60 years old, and are commonly issued for those who work in the Wholesale/Retail, Vehicle Repair, Processing, Real Estate, Education, and Construction industries.

How Do I Obtain a Work Permit and Temporary Residence on the basis of a Job Offer?

The Foreign Investment Promotional Agency (FIPA) of BiH provide a nice guide on how to obtain Work Permits in BiH. Information on the required documentation for the Temporary Residence Grounded on Work With a Work Permit can be found on the PB-4.1 document listed on the SPS website. A brief overview of the process can also be found in the Frequently Asked Questions section of the SPS website in BHS. The following steps are outlined in these sources:

  1. Receive a job offer from a BiH company.
  2.  Work Permit application is then submitted by the future employer on behalf of the employee to the relevant government employment agency. The employee will be required to provide certified identity documents as well as a nostrification of their university degree if applicable, while the employer will have to provide registration documents as well as proof they do not have any outstanding tax obligations. The employee should be located outside of BiH while the Work Permit application is processing.
  3. Once the Work Permit is obtained, the employee may enter BiH either using their 90 day visa-waiver period (or other applicable short-stay visas) and apply for Temporary Residence Grounded on Work With a Work PermitThe employee may reside in BiH while the Temporary Residence Grounded on Work With a Work Permit application is processing.
  4. Once the Temporary Residence Grounded on Work With a Work Permit application has been processed, the employee may start working.

This entire process typically takes 3 months or more. It is recommended that if the employer does not take care of the process, the employee should hire a local lawyer. In my experience, the whole process costs around 400KM in government administrative fees, and 600KM in lawyer fees when applying in the Kanton Sarajevo.


It is hoped that this post has cleared a few things up and saved time for those thinking about living and working in BiH as a foreigner. While it may have dashed the hopes of those wishing to stave off their early life crisis by becoming professional bracelet and cigarette pushers, it is possible to navigate the visa process and do things legally in BiH when you put your mind to it. Navigating the Bosnian bureaucracy as a foreigner in practice can be stressful and frustrating, and it is recommended to hire a local lawyer when trying to apply for the various visas and permits by yourself.

Photo by @edina.sp

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How to Get a Volunteer Visa in Bosnia and Herzegovina

So you want to get a Volunteer Visa in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Well, as you are going to find out Bosnia and Herzegovina does not particularly care for that.

The process of obtaining a “Volunteer Visa” can be pretty daunting but it is more well defined than some of the other bureaucratic wonders of this beautiful country. With a bit of forethought and planning some of the pain can be averted. But still, there will be pain. There will be pain for you, the organisation that you will volunteer for, and anyone who has the audacity to help you on this journey. Previously I went in to quite a lot of detail with How to Get a White Card in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however due to the complicated nature of obtaining visa’s in Bosnia, I will try to keep this post more concise.

So let’s talk a bit the background on the Volunteer Visa and how you can go about getting one.

What is a Volunteer Visa?

A Volunteer Visa, or the much less sexy sounding “Temporary Residence Grounded On Volunteering” is a residence permit that allows an individual to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina for no more than one year on the basis of volunteering for a registered agency, institution, humanitarian organisation, association or foundation.

The permit may be extended if required, and allows the participant to receive “costs of subsistence, accommodation, health insurance and return [to country of origin]”. It does not give an individual working rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

When Do You Need to Get a Volunteer Visa?

If you are volunteering in any organisation within Bosnia and Herzegovina for any period of time, you will require a Volunteer Visa. Visa-free entries (sometimes referred to as Tourist Visas) do not allow individuals to volunteer.

What Happens If You Need a Volunteer Visa and Do Not Get One?

As per Article 105 on Law on Aliens, you leave yourself open to deportation, fines, and a lengthy entry ban from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Generally speaking the risk of being caught for volunteering in Bosnia and Herzegovina without a Volunteer Visa is considered low provided you are legally allowed to be in the country. But times are changing. If you plan on volunteering in Bosnia and wish to return to Bosnia in the future, it is worth getting a Volunteer Visa.

How To Get a Volunteer Visa

Take a deep breath. We are going to dive head first into this. If you have successfully avoided having a panic attack after reading through this once over, read it again. This is doable.

First thing is first. Get the required documents. The full list of required documents for a Volunteer Visa application are listed in a document called “PB-2.5”. It can be found via the Department of Foreigner’s Affairs (SPS) website in English here and in BHS here.

Much of the steps I outline will be based off this document, however I will also include my own insights having successfully applied for the Volunteer Visa in the past.

Before I go into explaining what the required documents for the visa are and how to get them, I should mention that you will be required to get “verified copies” of many documents. You can get verified copies of your documents at various Općina offices around Bosnia. I will leave it to you to ask your token Bosnian how to do this as any attempt to explain it here will probably leave you scratching your head. Ask the organisation you will be volunteering for to assist you with the verification of your documents.

The Requirements

There are several things that should be stressed upon before going through the entire list of requirements.

  • First, get a police check from your country of origin. You will need to get it translated to BHS once in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this can take time.
  • Second, tell the organisation that you will be volunteering for that you will need their cooperation. They will be required to provide a number of documents that may not be necessarily be easy to acquire, and will need to provide you with a volunteering contract that fulfils a number of requirements. If you do not have a token Bosnian friend who can spare some time to help you, make sure the organisation can provide someone to come to the Foreigner’s Office with you at the end to submit the application.
  • Third, do not wait. if possible start collecting documents before you arrive in Bosnia. The process of obtaining all the documents is probably going to take you at least a week once you enter Bosnia if you have the full cooperation of the organisation you are volunteering for. For me, the process took two full weeks the first time I completed it just to submit the application.
  • Fourth, All documents must be either in BHS, or translated to BHS. Translations cost money and take time, so do as much as you can in BHS. Below I have some comments on how to make this possible.
  • Finally, GET A WHITE CARD. Do it within 48 hours of entering Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you did not get one, leave Bosnia and return immediately so you can get one within the confines of the law on aliens.

A short summary of all the requirements from the PB-2.5 document are as follows:

  1. Application Form: A filled out “REQUEST FOR APPROVAL/ RENEWAL OF TEMPORARY RESIDENT PERMIT” application Form. This can be found on the Department of Foreigner’s Affairs (SPS) website here.
  2. Administrative Payment Receipt: Receipt from 150KM administrative fee for processing temporary residence applications. This can be done using a payslip at any post office and account information found on the Department of Foreigner’s Affairs (SPS) website here. An example payslip that I completed for my volunteer visa application without identifying information can be found below.
  3. Recent Photo: A 35x45mm photo. This can be taken anywhere, but a passport compliant photo print would be wise. I often go to Foto Žunić at BBI centar in Sarajevo to get this done.
  4. Passport Copy: 1 certified copy, and 1 uncertified copy of your passport that includes the image page, the page containing the passport validity, visa sticker if you are not a part of the visa free regime in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the page with the stamp from your last entry in to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  5. White Card Copy: 1 certified copy, and 1 uncertified copy of the White Card I told you to get earlier. Detailed steps on this painful process are outlined here.
  6. Previous Temporary Residence Stickers: 1 certified copy, and 1 uncertified copy of previous temporary residence stickers from Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you have never gained temporary residence in Bosnia before, this step is not required.
  7. Volunteering Contract: A volunteering contract from the organisation that you will be volunteering for. This should contain a specific article which I will comment on in a moment. A copy should be provided in BHS and a language you understand. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  8. Certificate From Organiser: A Certificate from “the organiser” detailing the volunteers name, position, and description of the jobs and tasks that will be performed on the relevant project. It must also include information on how the volunteers work will be conducted, organised, supervised, relevant working times, and the time frame for the entire project. This should be an official document with the organisation’s magic stamp and letterhead. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  9. Document From Organiser: A document from “the organiser” detailing information on the project as a whole. This should be an official document with the organisation’s magic stamp and letterhead. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  10. Organiser Project License: If “the organiser” is a “humanitarian organisation”, a verified copy is required of the license for the realisation of the project issued by the competent authority in BiH. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  11. Organiser Registration Document: Verified copy of the registration document from the organisation. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  12. Organiser Solvency Document: Evidence of solvency of the organisation. This can usually be provided by the organisation’s bank. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  13. Volunteer Insurance Policy: Insurance policy that has been taken out to cover “consequences of accident for alien” for their duration of the volunteering period. I personally obtained this insurance in less than 30 minutes by walking in to Vienna Osiguranje in Sarajevo with my organiser and explaining what the insurance was for. The cost was around 35KM for a 6 month period. The organisation you are volunteering for should provide this.
  14. Volunteer Costs Evidence: Evidence that “the organisation” will be responsible for the volunteers costs during the volunteering period. This includes costs for “subsistence, accommodation, food, medical treatment, health insurance and return, as well as costs of placing under surveillance, voluntarily leaving and forcible removal, and other costs which may incur during the stay of alien in BiH”. In my experience this requirement can be satisfied by the inclusion of an article in the volunteering contract. Below is an example article that proved satisfactory for my application.
  15. Consent of Engagement: If you are volunteering for a church or religious community, you are required to provide a “consent of engagement”. I have no experience with this and will not provide advice. If you are not volunteering for a church or religious community, forget about this requirement.
  16. Evidence of Means For Subsistence: The easiest way to provide this is to print out a bank statement that shows you have a minimum of 400KM per month for the volunteering period. The bank statement does not need to be official, and can even be a screenshot of your online bank account in my experience.
  17. Medical Attestation: It is best to do this in Bosnia as it will be in BHS, cheap, and quick. The easiest way to do this is to go to Poliklinika SaNaSa in Sarajevo and say “I need a health check and insurance for a visa application”. The insurance is required for the next requirement. They will immediately take your blood and urine, give you a rudimentary examination and tell you to return the next day. You will be out the door in 45 minutes flat. When you return, they will give you examination results, blood work, and urine analysis that will satisfy this criteria. They test for HIV, HEP C, and some other things involving blood cell count. They do not test for any kind of drugs. The health check and insurance will cost around 100KM.
  18. Evidence on Secured Health Insurance in BiH: The insurance available at Poliklinika SaNaSa satisfies this criteria.
  19. Police Check: From your country of origin. It must prove that that no criminal proceedings and penalty for criminal acts have been imposed against you and be no more than 6 months old. It must be translated to BHS. The translation must be done by a certified translator. I can highly recommend Sudski tumac Sarajevo. They are fast, prompt, and affordable.
  20. Evidence on secured accommodation in BiH: A lease agreement, or verified statutory declaration from a property deed holder will satisfy this criteria. I have also found it worthwhile to also get verified copies of the landlords/deed holders ID card and CIPS document for this step. This is required when obtaining a White Card regardless, so just make sure to get extra copies.

Submitting the Documents for the Volunteer Visa

To submit the documents for the Volunteer Visa, make a trip to the Foreigner’s Office with someone who speaks BHS and can represent you. Generally speaking, the folks at the Foreigner’s Office will not want to speak English with you, so this is important! In Sarajevo, this is located in the not so convenient location near the airport. You can find the exact location on the Department of Foreigner’s Affairs website.

Once inside the building it is not so clear what exactly you should do. Find a door and open it, ask for the person responsible for temporary residence on the basis of volunteering. They will probably will send you to a colleague in the neighbouring room, who will then return you to the original worker, who will then send you to a third room that will contain the correct worker. Save your panic attack for later. This is normal. Smile. Be confident. Avoid direct eye contact, they do not like that. You will do fine.


At this point, the workers at the Foreigner’s Office have probably sent you away with your application for having a minor error in one or more of the various documents. You return later that day with the correction and a strong suspicion of collusion between Department of Foreigner’s Affairs and Sarajevo Taxi due to your increasing spend on trips to and from the office. They accept your application. They tell you they will contact you when they are done processing the application. You never hear from them again.

As the great guide reminds us, DON’T PANIC.

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