This is not a scam but a tip to have cheaper calls while in Romania.
During the trip you might want to call a number in Romania, to make a reservation to a hotel, to a restaurant, to inquire something at a museum, to order a pizza or a taxi.
The solution for this is a prepay card from any of those mobile operators: Vodafone, Orange or Cosmote. For an average or EUR 5 you get a prepaid card (GSM 900 Mhz) and the average cost per minute for local numbers is 0.18 EUR / minute that will get you around 30 minutes of calls.
For as low as EUR 30 you can buy a package that includes a gsm phone and a prepaid card
Most common scam is the taxi driver asking more than the normal fare. To avoid this you have to:
Never accept taxi rides from drivers waiting in airport, train or bus arrivals (outside their cars)! They are 90% non-official drivers and you'll be scammed. Just walk outside the arrivals and look for the taxis waiting for clients (with the driver inside and the red green lit on the car).
Make sure you get into a valid taxi - look for the license (oval plate with the license) on the lateral side of the car and inside the car for the picture ID license of the driver near the fare machine
Make sure the fare is the normal fare, that is 1.4 RON / km or 3.5 RON / km (later only for Airport shuttles)
Make sure the driver does not negotiate the price but just turn on the fare meter - this should start with a 1 km fee so it's normal to start from 1.4 RON and count on from there (1.4 RON / km and 14 RON / hour when the taxi is not moving)
Pay in cash RON (local currency, pronounced [ LEI ]), don't pay in foreign currency (see my currency exchange tip) only if you are sure you know the exchange rate is correct.
Order your taxi by phone (see my phoning tip), use any of those legitimate taxi companies:
Today Aug 26th 2011 the exchange rates are:
1 EUR = 4.3 RON
1 USD = 3 RON
This can vary up or down 10% over one year period but you can use this to calculate the price of an item from RON in EUR/USD.
IMPORTANT TIP! Don't exchange in the airport the whole amount of money needed for the trip. Exchange rates there are 10-20% worse for you than in the city center.
In the city you can exchange money at:
- exchange offices - they are perfectly legal, each exchange office is autorized by the National Bank - they should provide the exchange rate in large prints "We Buy" / "We Sell" and there is no commision in any exchange office
- bank's exchange offices - it's the same thing only that they are inside the bank's branch - 99% of banks have an exchange office so if you don't like the street exchange office you can enter any bank
Romanian currency is RON (former LEI) - 1 RON = former 10,000 LEI
Nobody actually says RON, we all say LEI, but on the receipt it says RON
The usual banknotes are:
-1 RON, 5 RON, 10 RON, 50 RON and 100 RON
Larger banknotes - 200 RON and 500 RON are not used everyday
Coins (and "ban" is the 1/100 of 1 RON): 1 ban, 5 bani, 10 bani, 50 bani
Coins are not very valuable so don't waste your time counting coins too much :)
Travel guides have the tendency to exaggerate tourist traps and they might call them 'dangers' or even 'crime'. The fact is Bucharest is a safe city, 'crime' here means at most pickpocketing. Mugging and robbery is almost zero.
As tips to avoid pickpockets, one might not get into crowds, where there are so many peoples around you so you can't control your pockets, backpack or handbags. Stealing handbags or cameras from the hand and running is not common.
What might be offensive for a foreign traveler are the number of beggars and gypsies. That too bad we have that, but I saw beggars in every capital in Europe so I guess it is a thing that is hard to eradicate wherever. As there, in Bucharest beggers are to find mostly in the tourist area, where they try to make some money out of tourists.
As a general advice, in order to concentrate on taking photos, listening to the city and talking to your companion, keep the money in an inner pocket, don't have bulgy pockets at sight and act natural and don't act careless. If approached beggars or people that you think might want to pull a scam on you, tell them a firm "no thanks" or "nu multumesc" in Romanian and continue what you're doing.
If you want to buy some presents or souvenirs do not postpone your shopping with the idea of buying something at the airport. First of all the passengers’ terminal at Otopeni is small (there are plans to build a new terminal) so there is room only for a few shops and the choice is not wide. The other reason for not shopping at the airport is the ridiculously inflated prices, which by the way are all in euro. Just to give you an idea, there are fridge magnets priced 6 euro! The item you see in my picture, a ceramic plate the size of an ashtray, cost 10 euro.
Also the so-called duty free shop sells perfumes at higher prices than the average high street shop in Italy.
Fun Alternatives: Do your shopping downtown: you will find a wider choice and probably better prices.
If you're changing money in train station, check for several exchange offices to find the best rates, because they can vary to 20%.
Unique Suggestions: Don't rush to the first exchange office you see.
Fun Alternatives: Also, if possible, try to change money in banks (I know Raiffeisen have very good rates and 0% commission) for best rates.
Now, it's such a big thing in Bucharest that you really do have to see it. And the interiors are incredible. But bear in mind that you have to go round in a tour, and what you will be told are things along the lines of, "These curtains are 16 feet high and are made of real Romanian silk produced by real Romanian silk worms!" Yep, the people who work here are all about the national pride, never mind the fact that 70,000 people were made homeless in the construction of this largely pointless building. So pay your 15lei (a lot of money in Bucharest), observe quietly the ostentation and refrain from asking how many schools and monastaries were wiped out for it. Oh, and don't use the toilets.
Taxi drivers can be evil. In one sad experience that I had, one got violent with me, and just for the record, i'm an average sized female.
So, wherever possible, get your hotel to book a taxi for you.
If there is no meter, sort out a price before you get there.
Even if there is a meter, ask how much it is roughly before you get going. Expect that no matter what they say, it will be at least 5 lei more expensive.
If you come out of gara du nord DO NOT get one of the official taxis there. They kick their metres up to 8lei/km. Instead, turn left and walk round the building to the taxi rank round the side. They have more realistic rates. If you get a proper booked taxi from gara du nord, it should cost about 7 lei to University Square. if you get one from the front, you;re looking at 35-40lei. Take your pick.
Romanians yell a lot to intimidate you, and feel free to yell back, but if a taxi driver is starting to get agitated and anxious to run away, do not physically put yourself in his path. You will be bruised.
If a taxi driver is urgently telling you to get in your taxi because you are about to be mugged by gypsies, and there are indeed a suspicious group of gypsies moving toward you, you can bet your life the driver is working with them. Don;t be hassled into the taxi - move into a group of tourists.
don't go with a taxi that doesn't has a firm on it and a tax machine!
the taxi driver when they see you a tourist they always want to take more from you!
Fun Alternatives: don't go with trams or buses, are too crowdy and are many thies.
safer and faster is to go with the underway...
OK, first thing to say is I was in a hurry to meet a friend near Gara de Nord, and no other taxi was near, at least no "company taxi". So i got in one of the rip-off taxis. Even though I knew what I was doing, and I expected the ride to cost double...I wasn't prepared for 6x the normal rate! If I wasn't in a hurry I would have just jumped out! The ride there cost 65 RON, it was 15 RON back to Unirea!
Unique Suggestions: Even if you are in a hurry...DO NOT use a "private" taxi
Fun Alternatives: Just call your party and tell them you are running late and are on your way. Then call Christi or another "company" taxi.
Food and beverage prices at the duty free are amazing, do go buying there anything!
A coffee and a lousy sandwich cost ~12 Eur.
Most of the duty free counters (except for food) do not accept Ron!
Fun Alternatives: Take food and beverage with you, its ok to go with a bottle of water there!
Romania has not switched to the Euro yet. As you arive at the airport, there are many money-changing kiosks, claiming 0% commission. They offered a much worse rate than the exchange at the hotel (Hilton).
I was recently in Romania and I highly suggest taking a pass on the whole "Dracula" experience. We actually traveled on the the road that led to the castle, but kept going to a very quaint town called Sinaia. Apparently it used to be the vacation spot for the Communist leaders and was actually closed to the public. There you can see some beautiful old homes, walk around and take in the scenery and even hop on the Orient Express if it is running.
Sibiu is also a wonderfully cultured city to visit if in Transylvania. It is the cultural capital of Europe in 2007 so there has been much done there to beautify and clean up the city. Brasov is also nice.
Be careful with men posing as policemen. They are bogus with fake identity cards and try to frisk you and ask you documents etc. Never give away your documents or wallet, the best thing is go to the police station.
Unique Suggestions: If you think you are being fooled by a bogus policeman, just ask them to take you to a police station or call for the police - 955.
Fun Alternatives: The best alternatives would be to walk in groups or else take a taxi if you are alone.
Its not allowed to talke photos in some places in Bucharest, for example:
-The International "Henry Coanda" airport
-Around embassies and administrative buildings (it can be sometimes confusing, especially when you walk around wide boulevards with big villas, you cant guess what you can photograph and what you dont....) that unfortunately are in some of the cities most beautiful buildings...
Fun Alternatives: If you got mobile phone with a camera then you are lucky!!