Hungary is, in general, a very safe country. According to the 2012 study of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Hungary had an intentional homicide rate of only 1.3 per 100,000 inhabitants. This is lower than the European average intentional homicide rate of 3.5, and also lower than the North American average intentional homicide rate of 3.9 per 100,000 inhabitants.
However, petty crime in particular remains a concern, just like in any other country. Watch your baggage and pockets on public transport. There is a danger of pickpockets. Passports, cash, and credit cards are favorite targets of thieves. Keep items that you do not store in your hotel safe or residence in a safe place, but be aware that pockets, purses and backpacks are especially vulnerable, even if they close with a zipper. There are also reported cases of people who got their baggage stolen while sleeping on the train, so watch out for that.
Generally, Hungary is rather quiet during the night compared to other European countries, and crime to tourists is limited to pickpocketing and eventual cheating on prices and bills and taxi fares.
Everyone is required to carry their passport and ID card. Not doing so can end you in trouble with the police. The police will be most pragmatic if a color copy of your passport is provided.
The police force is professional and well trained. However, one must have a good knowledge of Hungarian to ask them for assistance as most of the policemen hardly speak any English.
See the Budapest travel guide for more specific and valuable information about common street scams and tourist traps in Hungary.
Food and water is generally safe, even in remote villages.
Private health care providers are high quality, but limited in scope once outside Budapest. Dentistry is both famously high quality and cheaper than in Western Europe 8-10000 HUF for an appointment and x-ray, and physiotherapy also 3000HUF for a half hour treatment, but check the price with the provider before you confirm the appointment. Outside Budapest and Sopron you will likely have to speak basic Hungarian to communicate your needs as few doctors will have any English or German skills.
Public health care is free for qualifying insured people, and is of adequate quality in urban areas.
The country has joined the EU, so basic coverage is present for EU citizens, but check before entering the country how far are you insured and what you have to pay for. Do not expect at this time that the local doctor will know the EU rules, prepare to provide info.
The European Health Insurance Card is required from EU citizens applying for free treatment under this regulation; European health card for 1 June 2004 (http://europa.eu.int/comm...)
Pharmacies are everywhere, you may expect high prices, but very good pharmaceutical coverage. The only problem might be communicating with the pharmacist as most of them speak only Hungarian outside Budapest. Even some rusty Latin might come handy quite unexpectedly. For travelers from Eastern Europe, some of familiar medications might be unavailable -- so be prepared to find a substitute in advance.
See also: Hungarian phrasebook
Hungarians are rightly proud of their unique, complex, sophisticated, richly expressive language, Hungarian Magyar pronounced "mahdyar". It is a Uralic language most closely related to Mansi and Khanty of western Siberia. It is further sub-classified into the Finno-Ugric languages which include Finnish and Estonian; it is not at all related to any of its neighbours: the Slavic, Germanic, and Romance languages belonging to the Indo-European language family. Although related to Finnish and Estonian, they are not mutually intelligible. Aside from Finnish, it is considered one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn with the vocabulary, complicated grammar, and pronunciation being radically different. So it is not surprising that an English speaker visiting Hungary understands nothing from written or spoken Hungarian. Hungary did adopt the Latin alphabet after becoming a Christian kingdom in the year 1000.
English-speakers tend to find most everything about the written language tough going, including a number of unusual sounds like gy often pronounced like the d in "during" and ű (vaguely like a long English e as in me with rounded lips, as well as agglutinative grammar that leads to fearsome-looking words like eltéveszthetetlen unmistakable and viszontlátásra goodbye. Also, the letters can very well be pronounced differently than in English: the "s" always has a "sh" sound, the "sz" has the "s" sound, and the "c" is pronounced like the English "ts", to name a few. On the upside, it is written with the familiar Roman alphabet if adorned with lots of accents, and--unlike English--it has almost total phonemic orthography. This means that if you learn how to pronounce the 44 letters of the alphabet and the digraphs, you will be able to pronounce almost every Hungarian word properly. Just one difference in pronunciation, vowel length, or stress can lead to misinterpretation or total misunderstanding. The stress always falls on the first syllable of any word, so all the goodies on top of the vowels are pronunciation cues, and not indicators of stress, as in Spanish. Diphthongs are almost-nonexistent in Hungarian except adopted foreign words. Just one of many profound grammatical differences from most European languages is that Hungarian does not have, nor need to have the verb "to have" in the sense of possession - the indicator of possession is attached to the possessed noun and not the possessor, e.g. Kutya = dog, Kutyám = my dog, Van egy kutyám = I have a dog, or literally "Is one dog-my". Hungarian has a very specific case system, both grammatical, locative, oblique, and the less productive; for example a noun used as the subject has no suffix, while when used as an direct object, the letter "t" is attached as a suffix, with a vowel if necessary. One simplifying aspect of Hungarian is that there is NO grammatical gender, even with the pronouns "he" or "she", which are both "ő", so one does not have to worry about the random Der, Die, Das sort of thing that occurs in German, "the" is simply "a". In Hungarian, family name precedes given name, the same as with Asian languages. And the list of differences goes on and on, such as the definite and indefinite conjugational system, vowel harmony, etc. Attempting anything beyond the very basics will gain you a great deal of respect since so few non-native Hungarians ever attempt to learn any of this small, seemingly difficult, but fascinating language.
Even if you meet someone of the opposite sex for the first time, it's not unusual to kiss each other on the cheeks instead of shaking hands as a greeting.
It's an old tradition although nowadays not held by everyone that Hungarians do not clink beer glasses or beer bottles. This is due to the legend that Austrians celebrated the execution of the 13 Hungarian Martyrs in 1849 by clinking their beer glasses, so Hungarians vowed not to clink with beer for 150 years. Obviously this time period has expired, but old habits die hard. This is not so much followed by the youngest generation.
Since English is now compulsory in schools and universities, if you address people in their teens, twenties or lower thirties, you stand a good chance that they will speak very good English.
However, due to Hungary's history, the older generation will tend to not speak English. These Hungarians may speak Russian, which was compulsory in the Communist era, although most have not used it since.
German is very useful and is almost as widely spoken as English, and almost universally near the Austrian border and especially Sopron, which is officially bilingual and has huge contacts with Vienna due to it being accessible by Vienna suburban trains. In these areas, and with older people in general, German will most often take you a lot further than English. Spanish and French are secondary languages in schools and are increasing in prominence where there are increasing numbers of firms basing subsidiaries in the country.
You will have a much better chance finding someone speaking a foreign language mostly English and German in larger cities, especially in those with universities such as Budapest, Debrecen, Miskolc, and Szeged.
Broadband Internet access is now widespread in Hungary. It's quite usual to find free Internet access Wi-Fi in Shopping centres; in Budapest, most cafes and pubs. You'll have wifi access even in small towns. Look for the "Wi-Fi" signs, you may have to ask for the access password, however, if you consume, it will be freely given.
The 1956 Revolution continues to be a sensitive subject with the right wing community and many of the elderly. You shouldn't discuss the Treaty of Trianon 1920 with nationalists - they can take it pretty sensitively.
Open display of the Communist red star and hammer and sickle symbol, the Nazi swastika and SS symbols, and the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross, is prohibited by law. Make sure your clothing does not have these symbols on it, even if it's just a joke. You can be fined for it.
Members of the Gypsy community may find the traditional Hungarian label 'Cigány' pron. 'tzigan' slightly offensive, preferring to be labeled as Roma.
As a rural tradition, Hungarians affectionately refer to themselves as "dancing with tears in our eyes" "sírva vígad a magyar", as in a bittersweet resignation to the perceived bad luck in their long history. Avoid mocking Hungarian history and Hungarian patriotism.
When entering a home, shoes should generally be taken off.
While the majority of Hungarians observe the traffic rules, some drive dangerously, which resulted 739 deaths on the roads in 2010. This is largely due to careless driving habits. Many drivers do not observe the speed limits and you should be extra careful on two-way roads where local drivers pass each other frequently and allow for less space than you may be used to.
Car seats are required for infants. Children under age 12 may not sit in the front seat. Seat belts are mandatory for everyone in the car. You may not turn right on a red light. The police issues tickets for traffic violations and charge fines on the spot. In practice the laws are widely ignored.
Also, Hungarian laws have zero tolerance to drink and drive, and the penalty is a severe fine. It means no alcoholic beverage is allowed to be consumed if driving, no blood alcohol of any level is acceptable. Failure to pay fines may result in your passport getting confiscated, or even a jail term until or unless you pay the fine.
More importantly, the police stops vehicles regularly for document checks. You shouldn't worry when you are stopped because by law, everyone needs to have their identification papers checked.
Hungary has some of the harshest, if punishing penalties if people are involved in a car accident. Involvement in a car accident results in a fine, and maybe a jail sentence from 1 year to 5 years depending on the aggravating circumstances.