Originally part of Kievan Rus, Belarus was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until the Polish Partitions in the 18th century. After over a hundred years of Russian rule followed by seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. However, under authoritarian rule of Alexander Lukashenko (since 1994), it has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics.
Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on 8 December, 1999, envisioning greater political and economic integration. Although Belarus agreed to a framework to carry out the accord, serious steps towards implementation have seen limited success. The economy is completely dependent on Russia, and the Belarusian government is open to western government and people stance (if they are open minded and have good goals).
The country has not seen much structural reform in the past few years. Political and journalistic activity is tightly controlled. The country was the most developed republic (excluding the three Baltic states) in the former USSR, the country has a lot of remains from its socialist past and can not be regarded as materialistically backwards.
Visa free entry
Citizens of the following countries/territories do not need a visa: Argentina (90 days) Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brazil (90 days) Cuba (30 days), Ecuador (30 days), Georgia, Israel (90 days per 180 days), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macao (30 days), Macedonia(with a private invitation or tourist voucher), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro (30 days with a private invitation or tourist voucher), Qatar (30 days), Russia, Serbia (30 days), Tajikistan, Turkey (30 days), United Arab Emirates (30 days), Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela (90 days).
An up-to-date list of visa-exempt countries and territories can be found on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Citizens of 80 countries do not need a visa for stays in Belarus of up to 30 days, subject to a limit of 90 days per calendar year, provided they enter and the leave the country via a flight to/from Minsk National Airport, have medical insurance valid in Belarus (available for purchase for €1/day at the airport), are not flying directly from a city in Russia, and have cash or proof of funds of €25 per day of stay. This only applies to visitors entering and leaving through the border checkpoint at Minsk National Airport, and not to travelers entering by other means of transportation or at different airports. Travelers will still need a visa to enter via a different airport, by train or by other means of transportation at the border.
The visa-free stay in Belarus for up to 30 days is granted to the citizens of 80 states: 39 countries of Europe (including all EU members), Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, USA and others.
Travelers are required to enter and leave the country through Minsk National Airport only.
A valid passport, medical insurance (can be purchased at the airport) and funds to cover the stay will be needed for the visa-free entry. The migration card should be fulfilled upon arrival. No proof of accommodation is required.
The citizens of Vietnam, Haiti, Gambia, Honduras, India, China, Lebanon, Namibia, Samoa should also have a valid multi-visa to one of the EU states or to the Schengen Area. They also have to produce a stamp that they used this visa to enter EU as well as return flight tickets from Minsk before visa-free period expires.
The visa-free stay is granted irrespective of the purpose of the visit. There are no limits on visa-free trips frequency, the total stay must not exceed 90 days per year.
Beneficiaries of this visa-free stay don’t need any registration in local Migration office.
Arrival and departure days are considered as two full days.
In case of emergency (hospitalization or similar cases) it is possible to extend the visa-free stay upon the request lodged with a local Migration office. An exit visa should be issued and a traveler will be allowed to leave the country through any border checkpoint by road, railway or air.
Visa-free entry is not granted to holders of diplomatic, service or special passports and to travelers flying to Minsk from Russia or flying from Minsk to Russia (these flights are considered domestic because of the absence of border control between Belarus and Russia).
Visa requirements, basic information
Visa on arrival at Minsk National Airport
Belarusian visas are available on arrival at Minsk National Airport (MSQ) to nationals of countries with no consular offices of the Republic of Belarus at a fee of €90. However, the prices for nationals WITH a Belarusian consulate in their passport country are rather high - €180 when they apply at MSQ on arrival. Standard documents like a letter of invitation have to be provided, too - a hotel booking is not enough, at least for a tourist visa, but not other entry points. See the visa price-list in English
Visa from Belarusian Embassy
You can apply for a visa at a Belarusian Consulate or Embassy. The list can be found on the Foreign Affairs Ministry website.
There are visa fees and processing changes, so make sure that you check with the local embassy or consulate before you plan your trip. A visa will take a full page of your passport so make sure you have at least 1 page free.
Note: There have been numerous reports of people following ALL application protocols as regards visa applications for Belarus, but ending up disappointed. One common example is the refusal by the Embassy to accept crossed postal orders i.e. a postal order made payable to Embassy of Belarus. If at all possible, you should use a Visa processing agency who can liaise with the consulate on your behalf. This will cost you more but its worth it OR visit the embassy nearest to you in person to organize your Visa.
Communication with the embassies/consulates in Kensington (London, England), Vilnius (Lithuania), Moscow (Russia) can be poor especially by e-mail, post and via telephone. In addition, there have been reports of e-mail queries going unanswered and express Visa applications not being processed in the 48 hour period. They may call you with an update on an application but the communication can be poor or unclear with the caller not identifying themselves.
From experience, applying for a Visa for Belarus can be a very customer unfriendly experience. If you do not live in a city with an embassy or consulate or you are in a hurry, you SHOULD use the help of a Visa Processing Agencies where you can for a smoother experience.
Visa fees are approximately €60 for all categories of visa, for processing in 5 business days, or double the price for a 2 business day turnaround.
Japanese and Serbian passport holders are exempted from visa fees.
Visa application processing time
Belarusian visas are issued in 5 working days; there is also a possibility to get it urgently (in 48 hours) by paying a double fee.
In order to get a visa you will also need a passport and an invitation, other papers depending on the type of visa you apply for. There is a compulsory state medical insurance for visitors to Belarus if you do have a policy valid in Belarus. Insurance costs 1€ a day. Even if you have valid insurance, if your document does not EXPLICITLY say it works in Belarus, officials in the airport will ask you to pay. UK citizens are exempt from this requirement.
To get a Belarusian business visa a foreigner has to present an invitation of any Belarusian legal entity officially registered in the Republic of Belarus. The invitation is to be written on letterhead paper and should contain name, personal and passport details as well as purpose and duration of visit. The invitation is to be signed and bear official seal of the inviting organization. Embassies or consulates (with the exception of Consular office at the National airport) can often except invitations received by fax. Multiple business visa is obtainable against payment of USD300 from Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Consular department upon presentation of all required documents (contact phone + 375 17 222 26 61).
To get a short-term visa for private purposes (visiting Belarusian relatives, friends, other private matters) with a validity of 30 days, maximum for 1-, 2- or multiple entries for citizens of the EU as well as nationals of several other countries, such as Australia, Andorra, Argentina, Bahrain, Canada, Croatia, Chile, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Swiss Confederation, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Uruguay, Republic of South Africa and Japan, no visa support documents shall be required (letter of invitation etc. documents). However, the consulate may decide you do need a letter of invitation anyway. So don't be too confident that you can get a Visa without documents. For example, Canadian citizens are not guaranteed to get a short term visa for private purposes without a letter of invitation. Short term visas are available from Minsk airport, consulates and embassies.
To get a visa for private purposes a foreigner who is planning to stay in the country for more than 30 days has to present the invitation issued for a Belarusian resident by his citizenship and migration office. The original invitation should be handed over to the embassy/consulate or Consular office at the National airport in this case, any fax or photocopy is excluded. Multiple private visa is issued upon presentation of the original invitation to foreigners, visiting their close relatives. Very often Belarusian consulates grant private visas to the nationals of migration secure countries without any invitation papers.
Visas can be valid for one, two, three or multiple entries. They are to be used within the period indicated therein.
Some agencies provide letters of invitation, apartments, airport transfers etc. Any good search engine should provide links. Avoid belarusrent.com, however. Reports have been received of them taking money through paypal, though not delivering on services and refusing refunds.
Registration and visa extension in Belarus Foreigners visiting Belarus with a visa must register within a period of 5 business days with local Migration and Citizenship Department and have registration put in their migration card. If you are staying in a hotel, this will be arranged by the hotel. A police registration form can be found here.
If needed, private or business visas can be extended up to 90 days when staying in Belarus. It will be done by Minsk city citizenship and migration office (contact phone + 375 17 231 38 09) or Regional citizenship and migration office in Hrodna, Brest, Minsk, Mahilyou, Homel upon presentation of all required documents.
Exit permits required for all foreigners intending to leave the country with expired visas. They are issued by Minsk city passport and visa office or Regional passport and visa offices in Hrodna, Brest, Minsk, Mogilev, Homel.
It is only in the Consulate in Vilnius that you can submit your documents applying DIRECTLY for a visa to Belarus. They issue all visas on the same day - if it is urgent you pay twice as much, get the visa on the same day and it is valid from tomorrow (for example), if not, you pay a normal fee, still collect it on the same day, but travel only within one week (for example).
There is no possibility to get a Belarusian entry visa on the border, except for the Minsk National Airport. Latest prices and procedures are available from the Embassy Sites .
If you have time, a visa (if required), and want to save some money, fly to Vilnius or Kaunas, (both in Lithuania) and take a train to Minsk. The train ride from Vilnius is only 2.5 hours and generally trains leave five-six times per day.
Some of the entry/exit points along the Poland/Belarus border include:
You can take a local train between the two corresponding border towns.
Taking the Vilnius<->Minsk express train is the fastest way to travel between Belarus and Lithuania (~2.5 hours). You can buy the ticket online . Don't forget to enable the electronic registration, otherwise you'd still have to visit the ticket booth to acquire the ticket itself (if traveling from Vilnius, this may even not be possible!). Try not to book the transit Russian trains - these are slower and don't always have the electronic registration option.
Timetable information are available on sites like:
There is no direct train from Estonia, but via track Tallin-Tartu- Valga/Valka (Valga/Valka is city at the Estonian/Latvian border. There are a few trains that go to Riga. The name of the train station in Valka is Lugazi. There are plans that direct trains will start in 2010, removing the need for changing in Valka/ Valga, from Estonia, Tallin to Latvia, Riga.
Passport, customs controls
Passport controls happen in the train itself. When going into Belarus, they typically happen before the train leaves the station in Poland.
Customs controls happen in a room of the train station in the Belarus train station. You are most likely to have a short chat with a customs officer - the system of green (nothing to declare) and red (something to declare) streams and random checks of suspicious looking people in the green stream - everyone is presumed to be suspicious. In practice, the rules seem to be fairly standard - declare expensive goods, you can import/export a small quantity of alcohol, cigarettes, computer equipment for personal use. However, the formal content of the customs form asks whether you are carrying any publications. So if you have, e.g. a US passport and are carrying a whole bunch of do-it-yourself-colour-revolution materials and you have that subversive look about you, then you will probably be giving the customs people a legal reason to detain you and/or deport you.
Warning: the customs room in the train station where you exit Belarus may be difficult to find (especially if you walk around the station rather casually and your Cyrillic is weak) and it closes a long time before the train leaves; if you arrive only 10 minutes before the train leaves, you will be refused customs control and access to the train. Customs may also be carried out at the border while on the train. It adds over an hour to the trip, but other than that, the officials are efficient and friendly.
On a local train between two border towns, chances are high that you will be accompanied/befriended by women trading underpants, soap powder, strawberries, cigarettes etc across the border. They may be friendly and casual or (leaving Belarus) they might put pressure on you to help them in their trade by carrying cigarettes over the border for them - the idea is that you buy it cheap in Belarus and that you resell it to them once you're in Poland. Chances are also good that their friendly mafia boss is with them and you'll all travel together in the same train carriage, so chances of you getting away and reselling the cigarettes independently are probably weak. Instead, just smile, use your common sense and probably best not to provoke them. If you take their cigarettes, make sure not to take more than a legal allowance and return them to the women in Poland. Don't expect to be paid for it. Don't look to the border guards for help. They know the women traders and seem to have some informal deal with them (e.g. not being strict about visas, etc) - the Belarus border guards are worried only about political subversives; they have higher priorities than defending you against women trading underpants and cigarettes.
At the Terespol/Brest crossing, there are about six different controls. The Polish side seems to work quite slowly. Being on the outer border of the European Union, they check for stolen cars and wanted criminals.
After crossing the bridge over river Bug and getting on the Belarusian side, one has to show passports and gets a piece of paper with the car's registration mark on it. Then one goes to either green or red channel depending on whether a customs control is needed. In the green channel one has to complete two checks, the completion of each check is recorded on the paper received on entering the Belarusian side.
First passport/visa/migration card checks are done by an officer who comes towards your car. They also check medical insurance and it is quite likely you will be forced to purchase the state compulsory medical insurance at the border. The cost for two weeks was about 5 euros.
Second is the transport/car check, for which one needs to go to a special window towards the end of the customs area. You will be required to produce a "green card" (proof of insurance) valid for Belarus, or will have to purchase a compulsory car insurance at the border. In August 2009 the insurance for 14 days was 17 euros and there was no problem buying it at the Terespol/Brest crossing. You will also get another piece of paper with your car registration mark. You will need to show this one on the way back.
With the stamped paper, one can go forward towards the last barrier. The officer there just takes the paper, checks that you have completed the controls, and lets you into Belarus.
It would be nice to believe that there's a geiger counter to check for stuff which is radioactive from the Chernobyl accident, but it's unclear if this is used in practice - it's not done in any obvious way.
Taking a bus from any border of the country of Belarus is easy. From all the Baltic countries there is a lot of bus traffic to Belarus here are some samples:
Taking the bus from Vilnius to Minsk is a quick (4 hours) and fairly comfortable ride, as long as you stick to western international carriers such as Eurolines. From Kaunas you may travel to Minsk by Kaunas based Kautra company. It's advisable and cheaper to book tickets in advance by internet . Journey takes about 5,5 hours. Buy your ticket in advance. Before beginning travel to Belarus remember to check that all your papers are in order meaning you have valid visa & Belarus state travel insurance for your trip. For example quick, easy and comfortable way to begin trip is to begin trip from one of the Baltic cities that have Belarusian embassy or consulate.
Belarus shares many rivers with its neigbouring countries, so it's no big surprise that in Belarus each major city has a riverport and possibilities for river cruises. The easiest way to check departure times, routes and availability is to call Belarussian River Steamship Company  and/or Belarusian tourist companies .
Belarusian border crossing cruises are such as from Belarus, Polotsk into Latvia's Daugavpilis and Poland's Augustow chanel. Augustow chanal cruises leave from Grodno and via the Neman river.
By a canoe
Kayak paddling, rowing and canoeing are popular hobbies in Belarus.
In some cases with special pre-planning and preparations with the authorities and tourist agents one can cross the border also by canoeing.
If you're at one of the double town crossings, e.g.
there may be some places where you can cross by foot - e.g. because you're on the last day of your Belarus visa and you want to be sure not to overstay - but more likely you'll have to befriend some people in a car who will adopt you for a few hours and will (implicitly) pretend that you're travelling with them. The border guards have no problem with this. Remember that the people in the car are taking a risk as well as you - as far as they know you might be a National Endowment for Democracy agent who will be discovered by the Belarus border guard and get them into a heap of trouble. So if they are Belarusians and they ask for a fee of US$5 consider it fair. See the section By car above for what happens in your adopted car.
Belarus is not a large country, and a traveller can reach from one side of its border to the other in less than a day.
All non-international and several international trains in Belarus are operated by the state-run BCh (Беларуская чыгунка — Belarusian Railway) company. Most trains are rather old (in Belarusian trains one can still encounter Ammendorf cars that have seen the Soviet times), but they are all well maintained and clean. Train movement is timely, just like in Russia.
Travelling by train around the country will get you to a lot of desired destinations relatively cheaply and quickly (make sure that you book an express train). Also, you will get a chance to capture a glimpse of Belarusian nature, as the forests and plains often start right on the edges of the cities. Notice how there are almost no elevations in this part of Europe - it is all vast green plain. Do not count on being lucky to spot wild animals by the railway tracks - they are normally afraid of loud noises and savage passengers.
Regional trains ('diesels') run during the day. They're not quite as fast as buses, but make up for it in price. Long-distance trains mostly run during the night. The standard class is the 3rd called плацкарт (platskart) formed of bunks all along the carriage, while the 2nd купе (kupe) class offers individual compartments with just four bunks, and the 1st class SV coaches offer the best comfort level with only two lower berths per compartment. The lowest class is общий (obshchy) which is seated, so make sure not to book this if you're going to be travelling all night, unless you're on a really tight budget! Train tickets are best bought a few days in advance. Tickets for domestic routes are very cheap when purchased in station booking offices within Belarus or via the official BCh website.
Traveling by road will get you far, since the infrastructure in Belarus was well developed after World War II. Inter-city bus tickets can be bought from the bus station (which is easily found in all big cites) and rarely sell out before the day of departure. Buses leave from 'platforms' which are numbered, so check your ticket for the platform number. There may be as many as 20 or more platforms, many of which aren't immediately visible, so don't just stand outside and wait for the bus to pull up. A fare for a long-distance journey might be around BYN20 (about $10) if bought from a bus station. There are local buses too in towns (larger cities may have trams and/or trolleybuses, and Minsk has a metro too) which run fairly frequently: simply get on and the conductor will come and find you. Fares for these are typically not more than than a ruble.
There are also a network of little minibuses (known as a маршрутка, marshrutka), typically painted yellow, which are generally cheaper than (local authority) buses. Seats on inter-city ones can be reserved by phone. Local ones work like buses, only smaller.
It is possible to access the schedule of buses in Belarusian (Russian) .
You can rent cars in Minsk at the airport or city from the major international rental chains or smaller local companies. Gasoline is relatively cheap by European standards; 1 liter of petrol currently costs 1.37 BYR, with the price fixed by the government at all fuel stations on a daily basis. Be aware that drivers have a much less developed sense of road safety than travellers from the west will be used to. See also Stay safe.
On the Toll roads, foreign vehicles and all vehicles over 3.5 tonnes have to have an On Board Unit in the car. You can buy it at a Costumer Service Point. The rates and places of Costumer Service Points are on the website BelToll System
There are many taxi companies. Yandex Taxi, which can be accessed via its mobile app or the Uber mobile app, is the most popular and offers good prices if booked via the app.
Belarusian and Russian are the two official languages. Both languages are part of the Slavic language family and are closely related, and there are many similarities in those languages. According to the 2009 official census, 53.2% of Belarusian residents considered Belarusian to be their native language. However only 23% predominantly speak it at home, and these are for the most part older inhabitants of rural villages where the intense Russification of the soviet era was less strongly felt. Polish is spoken in the western parts, especially around Hrodna. But most local Poles use their own dialect with Belarusian as the base and with only some Polish words and sounds. There is a similar mixture of Belarusian and Russian, called Трасянка (Trasianka). Towards Belarus' southern (particularly southwestern) border, Ukrainian will occasionally be spoken, but is much less common than Belarusian and Russian.
At least some knowledge of Russian is essential for an independent traveller, but if you do know Russian, you'll find that it, rather than Belarusian, will get you everything you need. There is little practical point in learning Belarusian, unless you want to impress the cultural elite or join the political opposition (which is highly inadvisable). The authorities (and some of the trendier shops in big cities like Minsk) make an effort to use Belarusian, but it's mostly a token one and any information you actually need to know will most likely be in Russian. Expect to speak Russian, not Belarusian, in shops, museums, and on the street. Information in museums and other places of cultural interest will most likely also be in Belarusian, but if you have a good working knowlege of Russian, then understanding the gist of Belarusian speech is not difficult. Reading presents a bit more of a problem as Belarusian spelling rules are different to Russian, but if you say the word out loud with a Russian accent, in most cases the equivalent Russian word will become obvious.
English is not widely spoken in Belarus, especially not by people born before the fall of communism. Although in theory everyone learns English in school from the age of 7, in practice a combination of bad teaching and having no one to practice on means that a lot of people have a very good vocabulary and can understand you if you talk slowly, but will struggle to put together a sentence in reply. Among the older generation, German is a more common second language. As Western tourists are so rare, every English speaker you come across will jump at the chance to practice their English on you, and if you agree, then it may very quickly become quite a big commitment on your part.
Belarus is visited by about 100,000 tourists annually; during the same period about 12 million people went from the country as tourists. The profit from foreign tourism amounts to less than USD200 per each tourist. The volume of tourism in total export makes up 1%. The most popular among the visitors are: Minsk City — 40% of visitors; Grodno - 32%; Brest - 22%, Vitebsk - 5%.
The currency of Belarus is the New Belarusian ruble, denoted by the symbol "p" (ISO code: BYN).
In Belarus, you can get Belarusian rubles (but NOT always US dollars or euros) from ATMs and you can change US dollars and euros into Belarusian rubles at many exchange kiosks in big railway stations and centers of big cities. You will need to show your passport when exchanging Belarusian rubles back into dollars or euros. Most larger supermarkets, stores and hotels have credit card terminals, but smaller shops often do not. Visa and Mastercard are accepted, while American Express is not.
Currencies other than U.S. Dollars or Euros are hard to exchange in Belarus.
Converting Belarusian rubles back into hard currency outside of Belarus is extremely difficult, except in Lithuania, Latvia and Moldova, strangely enough.
Be very careful: exchange kiosks will not exchange any bill that is damaged or marked. Be sure to take only relatively new and undamaged foreign money with you.
Prices are typically much lower than in Western Europe, especially for supermarket food and the service industry. For some items, you'll be able to get twice or three times as much for your money as back home. Hotels, imported goods, and restaurants are not quite as good a value, but still cheaper than Western Europe or the United States. For cheap eats, try a столовая, or self-service cafe/dining room, where a meal might only cost a few dollars or euros.
Potatoes, pork, bread, & beef - in a nutshell. Most of the products and ingredients are organic, and radiation levels are constantly checked in the food to avoid contamination.
Modern Belarusian cookery is based on old national traditions, which have undergone a long historical evolution. But the main methods of traditional Belarusian cuisine are carefully kept by the people. Common in Belarusian cuisine were dishes from potato which is called among people "the second bread". The Belarusians bring fame to their beloved potato in their verses, songs, dances. There are special potato cafes in the country where you can try various potato dishes. Potato is included into many salads and it is served together with mushrooms and/or meat; different pirazhki (patties) and baked puddings are made from it. The most popular among the Belarusians is traditional draniki (known as "latkes" to North Americans, but eaten only with sour cream, never apple sauce), thick pancakes prepared from shredded potatoes. A wide spread of potato dishes in Belarusian cuisine can be explained by natural climatic conditions of Belarus which are propitious for growing highly starched and tasty sorts of potatoes.
Meat and meat products play a major role in the diet of Belarusians, especially to the pork and salted pork fat. One of the people's proverbs says: "There is no fish more tasty than tench, as well as there is no meat better than pork". The salted pork fat is used slightly smoked and seasoned with onions and garlic. Pyachysta is one of the traditional holiday dishes. This is boiled, stewed or roasted sucking pig, fowl or large chunks of pork or beef. Dishes prepared from meat are usually served together with potatoes or vegetables such as carrot, cabbage, black radish, peas, etc. It is characteristic that many vegetable and meat dishes are prepared in special stoneware pots.
Among dishes from fish, the Belarusians prefer yushka, galki and also baked or boiled river-fish without special seasonings. In general, the most common seasonings are onions, garlic, parsley, dill, caraway seeds, pepper; they are used very moderately in Belarusian cookery. The national dishes are hearty and tasty. There are choices of fresh, dried, salted and pickled mushrooms, and also berries such as bilberry, wild strawberries, red whortlberry, raspberries, cranberries and some others. Of flour dishes, the most popular is zacirka. Pieces of specially prepared dough are boiled in water and then poured over with milk or garnished with salted pork fat. The Belarusians prefer to use whole milk, which affected some methods of making yoghurt and the so called klinkovy cottage cheese. In Belarusian cuisine, the milk is widely used for mixing in vegetable and flour dishes. Myadukha, berezavik, kvas, and beer are traditional Belarusian drinks.
There are several foreign chains in Belarus including McDonald's, KFC, and TGI Friday's. There are also French, Italian, and Asian restaurants. Pizza is a very popular dish at many restaurants.
You can get soft drinks and beer everywhere in Belarus.
Try kvass – a non-alcoholic fermented beverage made from black or regular rye bread. In summer times you can buy draught kvass on the street. It's also available at supermarkets.
Vodka, bitter herbal nastoikas (especially Belavezhskaja and Zubrouka) and sweet balsams are the most common alcoholic drinks. Krambambulia is another famous herbal nastoika.
Drinking alcohol (including beer, excepting non-alcoholic one) in public places is prohibited, even if your bottle is hidden in an opaque pack.
Don't leave valuable items, such as computers, mobile phones, or wallets/cash in hotel rooms as there have been reports of thefts by housekeepers.
Belarus has a comparatively low level of street crime. Most commonly are mugging and pickpocketing, occurs near public transportation venues, near hotels frequented by foreigners, and/or at night in poorly lit areas. Crime in Belarus is severely punished by the government and little organized crime is active within the country due to the government's efforts to curb these activities. Travelers should be aware that illicit drug use of any type, including marijuana, is met with very severe penalties.
Pedestrian crossings in Belarus are very common. Jaywalking is illegal and can land you a fine if you are caught. Although some Belarusians will cross where there is no crossing provided there are no police around, crossing at a red light will get you some very strange looks and is highly inadvisable when with locals. Pedestrian lights in Belarus, like much of eastern Europe, may allow cars to turn across your path even when the light is green for you. When this happens the cars are required, just as at zebra crossings too, to give pedestrians the right of way. However this doesn't always mean stopping, but more commonly hastily changing lane to cut in front of you. To get a car to wait, you have to walk forwards quite determinedly, but be aware that if the car doesn't stop you will have to get out of its way quickly. As a general rule, when not at a pedestrian crossing, cars will make no allowances for you and will not change speed or direction to allow you to cross.
Driving in Belarus is not for the faint hearted. Drivers will change lanes at will, often without indicating, and drive very close to the vehicle in front. On long-distance country roads with only one lane each way, some cars may expect you to move over to the right (onto the verge if needs be) so that they can overtake, and it is probably best not to argue with them. Also be aware that drivers may try to overtake when there are cars coming towards you, and that you may need to suddenly slow down to allow them in front of you.
If you participate in a street demonstration with political banners, expect to be detained within minutes. Westerners especially should avoid any political discussions, protests, etc. due to the government's keen opposition to dissenting views. With that said, many Belarusians freely express their political views during regular conversation without fear of immediate arrest or some type of governmental retribution. Active demonstrations against the government are certainly inadvisable; however, foreigners should not feel unduly threatened by any restrictions on freedom of political speech. Aforementioned demonstrations can be identified by seeing a red and white banner, a white background, with a strip of red going horizontally across in the center, forming a white red white flag. If you see said flag, do your best to stay away from the demonstration.
It is illegal to be outside after 11pm if you are under 18. Young people may be stopped and required to prove their age, and failing to produce a passport if asked to will be interpreted as being under 18 and you will be fined.
Security personnel may at times place you, as a foreigner, under surveillance; hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities; these sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation.
Belarus police organizations are well trained and professional, but severely restricted by an un-reformed Soviet-era legal system, corruption, and politicization of the police force and other government authorities. Sophisticated criminal investigations are often inconclusive because of a lack of resources and/or political will.
Historically, Belarus maintained an excellent health system. Call 103 for ambulance. Normally an ambulance should reach a patient within 15min in cities and 30min in countryside . The fastest way to secure Western-level care is medical evacuation to the European Union.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious health concern in Belarus. Though the illness-level is the same as at the Baltic states. Vaccinations against this disease is highly recommended. You need to consult to a doctor first and get the vaccination before entering Belarus.
In Belarus, there is a big institute and lots of funding for studying the after effects of the Chernobyl disaster, which happened in 1986 in a nuclear power plant on the Ukraine-Belarus border, in the food chain. In principle, food inspectors check food not only for bacterial contamination but also for radiation levels, and except for the banned region within about 50km of the Chernobyl plant itself and a second hotspot starting from the point where Russia, Ukraine and Belarus all touch each other, and running roughly 100km to the North of this point, food is considered safe.
Since Belarusian, Ukrainian and Russian cultures are very close and thus share much in common, many of the same principles of behaviour that can be applied to Russians and Ukrainians, are also applicable to the Belarus populace. Nevertheless, it is always necessary to pay respect to the differences between Belarus, Russia and Ukraine - their histories, national languages and cultures.
It is advisable to avoid the outdated name Byelorussia and not to speculate on whether the country's name is translated as "White Russia" - some of young and Western-oriented people can be offended by this. Nevertheless, most Belarusians who have received their education during the Soviet times, have nothing against this. There is a song "Byelorussia" performed by the Pesnyary band which was written in 1975 and is still very popular today.
The WWII topic is quite sensitive in Belarus. Every third Belarusian was killed during the war by the Third Reich soldiers and their collaborators, a powerful pro-Soviet partisan movement was organized in the country, and it has contributed a lot to weakening Nazi forces. These events are sacred for many Belarusians, so just avoid silly statements that the Allies have won the WWII alone: it is not true and is insulting for those who have lost their ancestors in the battlefield and perhaps know much more about those events than you do!
There are 3 major GSM providers in Belarus, all of which offer SIM cards for Internet access and phone calls.
You will need to show your passport and have a picture of yourself taken at the point of purchase. All 3 service providers have plans geared for tourists that cost 10-15 BYR and provide enough data for most people for 2-4 weeks.