Earth : Europe : Balkans : Moldova : Transnistria
Transnistria (locally called by its Russian name: Pridnestrovie; and occasionally, in English: Trans-Dniester) is a de facto state in Eastern Europe that has declared independence from Moldova, although it is only recognized by other breakaway states such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It roughly corresponds to the territory between the Dniester River and Ukraine.
Transnistria (official name Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic; in Russian Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublika, PMR) is a part of Moldova that declared its independence in 1990, resulting in a civil war that lasted until 1992. Transnistria has not been recognised by any United Nations member but maintains its functional autonomy with military and other support from Russia.
Transnistria is divided into 5 administrative regions and two free cities.
The procedure for entry into Transnistria from Moldova is pretty straightforward (as of March 2015). You will be asked by the border guards (some of them speak decent english) your reason for visit (tourism/business), and what hotel you plan to stay at. Then you will be given a entry card that allow you to stay in Transnistria for 24 hours. Be sure not to lose this important piece of paper.
If you want to stay longer, you will have to register at your hotel, the Ministy of Interior or the immigration office in Tiraspol. You only need your passport, the piece of paper from the border and a receipt from your hotel. Keep the small square piece of paper they give you and present it to the guards when you leave. It's all simple, free and easy.
From the Bendery crossing to Chişinău, a taxi costs 100 to 150 Moldovan lei. A marshrutka costs around MDL25. Marshrutkas between Odessa and the Kuchurgan border (on the main road to Tiraspol) are fairly frequent and cheap.
When crossing the border between Moldova and Transnistria, you will be checked only by Transnistrian officials. There are also peacekeeping Russian and Ukrainian soldiers who may stop and search vehicles.
Entering Transnistria from Ukraine will not get you a Moldovan entry stamp. If you then leave Moldova through a crossing controlled by Moldovan authorities, you may have problems with the Moldovan immigration authorities, which may try to claim that you entered Moldova illegally. Exiting Moldova through Transnistria to Ukraine (whether having a Moldovan entry stamp or not) causes no problems - even a subsequent visit to Moldova through one of border crossings controlled by the Moldovan authorities doesn't raise problems with the border guards.
The Transnistrian officials may try to extort bribes from travellers at the borders, particularly on the main Odessa - Chişinău road. The same thing can happen at the Moldovian police checkpoint close to the border. Be firm, unafraid and polite in insisting that you do not have to pay. This may be daunting - nowhere else can you be interrogated by the KGB wearing hammers and sickles - but bribes are not officially condoned and they will back down. Don't let the guards see your money, it will make them want some for themselves. If you feel beaten and feel that paying a bribe is the best way out, keep it low: USD2 should be enough.
The best way to fight this corruption is to know about what's going to happen to you and be prepared for the games that the guards may play before travelling to Transnistria. Write a short paragraph stating that you know their tricks and how they work and that it's not necessary to have a Moldovan exit visa. Translate this into Russian while also providing a few of the complaint phone numbers listed below to show them you mean business. Calling someone, or at least pretending to do so, might be also be efficient.
Complaints are possible on a hotline: +373 533 94578 or 92568. You can also send a complaint to [email protected] (Transnistrian Customs). There is an English speaking officer responsible for complaints. You can reach him under +373 778 50986 or [email protected]
If you have problems with the Moldovian police, call the anti-corruption centre at +370 222 57333.
Future travellers will be grateful for your complaint. Try to memorize the number of the officer before he asks you for a bribe. Even the nicest officer can be corrupt. If you complain you should also state the time, the date and the name of the border crossing. You should also give your phone number. It is no longer necessary to register with the police for stays under 24 hours: this is now done at the border. If you are staying longer, be sure the hotel or person you are staying with registers you or register yourself with the Ministry of Interior.
Entering Moldova through Transnistria from Ukraine
The official Moldovan stance on the missing entry stamp can vary.
Upon leaving Moldova, (Only via Air) the immigration officials may insist that you should have registered with the Ministry of Information, Technologies and Communication (49 M Kogalniceanu str, Chişinău; now moved to 42 Pushkin str. office 116., Chişinău) within 3 days (72 hours) of arriving to get a Moldovan entry stamp. However, not all guards are aware that the Ministry of Information has stated that a Moldovan entry stamp is not needed and that your Ukrainian exit stamp is sufficient. It is worth your while being firm in pointing this out to them. Arguing this point with the officials can be daunting but they will back down after harassing you and making a few phone calls to verify the official stance.
Transnistria does not have its own international passenger airport (it has a military or freight airport), so the best way is to fly to Chisinau in Moldova and travel from there. It is also possible to access from Odessa in Ukraine via bus.
The only major railway stations are Tiraspol and Bendery. There are trains between Odessa, Transnistria and Chişinău as of July 2012. As of July 2012, there is train connection between Chişinău and Moscow, stopping at Tiraspol and Kiev (Leaves Chisinau 22:30, stop at Tiraspol around 01:30 and arrive in Kiev 12:30). Check Poezda CIS Railway Timetable for up-to-date, English language timetables. As of July 2013, a train to Chisinau leaves every evening, and a train to Odessa, Ukraine leaves at 09:40, reaching Odessa at 12:18. Also, if you have failed to register with the immigration authorities, the train is the best way to leave the country because your immigration card will not be asked for by the Transnistrian authorities (they assume you left it at the immigration office)- that is, if they even bother to board the train before it leaves Transnistria. (Worst case, a USD5/65 ruble fine would be charged if you overstay)
Note: The border crossing from Rybnitsa into Ukraine, on the Ukraine side is known by all expats in Ukraine as a place that you will be shaken down for a bribe to enter the country. Yes, even when all your papers are completely in order. They always seem to want between $50-100 USD. I have spent more than 6 hours stuck at the border while they shook me down and then when I refused to pay them they let me walk back into Transnistria after 3am. I got to walk in February, back across the border, go back through Transnistrian customs/entry. Then find a marshutka into Rybnitsa. The next morning I took a bus from Rybnitsa to Bindery, and then hoped the bus across into Ukraine without any issues at the border. I routinely took the bus from Kiev to Rybnitsa, between 2010-2012 and always had a hassle with the border guards in Ukraine at that crossing.
Cars can enter but expect delays of up to an hour at border crossings in busy times. Note that foreign nationals driving their own vehicles are prime targets for border guards trying to extract bribes. According to the official hotline of Transnistrian customs there is an official road tax (USD5), but when we entered with a Moldovian rental car in March 2015, there was no fee. If they want you to pay, ask for a receipt.
Note that not all border crossing points are allowed/able/willing to process foreign cars in customs. They may tell you to cross the border at a bigger crossing point.
You will need a special permit from the Moldovian rental car agency if you plan to cross into Transnistria with a rental car from Chisinau. Some agencies will say that it´s not possible to do so, but this seem to be a more political thing than a practical. At time of writing, Prim Auto  at the airport could provide the necessary paperwork, while Europcar and Hertz said no.
There is a relatively frequent (about every 30min, 07:00-18:00, less frequently as early as 05:00 and as late as 22:00) bus service connecting Chişinău and Tiraspol. Ask for return times when you arrive. Marshrutkas (minibuses) also run this route. Direct Odessa - Tiraspol buses are not so frequent. However, buses from Tiraspol to the border at Kuchurgan (Кучурган) and from Kuchurgan to Odessa are frequent.
Check AVPMR  for official timetables of local and international buses.
There are hardly any train connections within the country, so the bus -- if available -- will be your only choice. Marshrutkas (minibuses) zip between cities much faster (and often more frequently) than buses. They cost a little more, but travel much faster and can be hailed anywhere along their route. If you flag down a marshrutka, it's customary to pay on entrance.
You will find a decent trolleybus line between Bendery and Tiraspol that seem to run quite frequent, with some rather modern buses by , well, post-Soviet standards.
Taxis in Tiraspol are very common and are quite cheap. As always, be a little wary of cheating taxi drivers and be sure to negotiate a price before you get in the taxi, although most drivers in Transnistria are surprisingly honest and more and more of them are using meters. If you miss the last bus to Kishinev at 18:35, you can take a taxi from Tiraspol to Kishinev, which should not cost more than USD30.
If you have your own rental car, you can drive around and explore quite freely. Check that the permission you got from the car rental is valid all over Transnistria, and not only for a specific route.
Be aware of Russian checkpoints - there are areas that are off limits, these seem to be related to military bases. Getting to close to them might look suspicious and land you in trouble.
The three official languages of Transnistria are Russian, Moldovan (which is almost the same language as Romanian, written in the Cyrillic script in Transnistria) and Ukrainian. Russian is the lingua franca and the language of government.
Some people speak English, German, or even French. After the official languages, English and German are the most common. Young people especially may speak English, but it is still a good idea to know some russian words and phrases.
Furthermore, even people who speak some English (or another foreign language) can be quite shy about it, and may deny that they speak it even if they have been educated in it. Keep in mind there is essentially zero tourism in Transnistria. If you are a native speaker of a foreign language, there's a good chance that you're the first native speaker the person you are talking to has ever spoken with.
Road signs, menus and so on will almost always be written in Russian.
Tiraspol does not exactly boast a shopping mile; shops are few and have a limited choice. The official currency is the Transnistrian ruble (which can be used and exchanged only in Transnistria), and few if any businesses accept any other currency. Some hotels will accept payment in Moldovan currency.
Exchange offices are very common; many are open 24 hours and will happily give you Transnistrian rubles in return for euros, US dollars, Moldovan lei, Russian rubles or Ukrainian hryvnia. You can also exchange English currency at branches of the Agroprom bank. Official exchange rates can be found at the website of the Trans-Dniestr Republican Bank. Trading Transnistrian rubles into other currencies such as euros or US dollars may turn out to be difficult. However, trading Transnistrian rubles for Moldovan lei at the main bus station in Tiraspol was not a problem. Remember to do this before you leave - don't even think about trying to change Transnistian rubles outside Transnistria, no-one will touch them.
There are excellent deals in brandy made locally to a world class standard, about USD3 a bottle. Cigarettes are very cheap too. There are also arts and crafts to buy as well. A good exchange point is the Kvint store in downtown Tiraspol--there is an exchange office with good rates right inside the shop. There is also an exchange booth at Tiraspol the bus/train station.
International credit/debit cards and traveller's cheques are not accepted anywhere in Transnistria. However, there are ATMs all over Tiraspol. These are connected to the Russian banking system and will dispense Russian rubles that you will need to change for the local currency.
There is a large open-air market in Tiraspol, close to the Suvorov's monument, and another in Bendery, located a few meters away from the bus and marshrutka station. There are a variety of goods, from whole hogs heads to hand-knitted socks to Chinese-made housewares.
Open-air markets are always a great place to start.
There are several restaurants serving local and international cuisine. There are no western fast food chains but there are three branches of "Andy's Pizza" restaurant in Tiraspol and one in Bendery. Their menu has an English translation and a few of the younger serving staff may speak some English.
The "7 Fridays" chain also have a wide selection of international dishes. The menu is in Russian, but there are adjoining photos of all the choices.
Some of the best food in Bendery is served by a Moscow-trained chef in the "Tighina" restaurant on Lazo str., 7 near Bendery-1 rail station. There are also cafeteria style restaurants like "Dolce Vita" which are very cheap usually around USD3-5 for a meal that includes a 3 course lunch along with desert and your choice of drink.
Local wine and cognac are excellent and cheap. The Kvint factory is situated in Tiraspol, and Tiraspol has a Kvint store, offering incredible deals on Kvint products. Kvint produces arguably the best Cognac in the former Soviet Union, but is extremely hard to come by in Western countries (though Moldovan supermarkets will carry it). A trip to Transnistria is not complete without a sample. There is also a soft drink that is sold in the streets called Kvas. For about 50 US cents you can get a big cold cup of Kvas which is a Russian version of Root Beer. Anyone considering trying it should definitely go through with it, it is historic and good.
Some people report that the quality of the cognac has deteriorated as the old moldovan reserves have been emptied. Rumour has it that now it's just mixed up low quality cognac with water and chemicals by now. Smart thing now is to avoid it and stick to the wine.
Stay away from any political provocation - you may be watched by local security services. Even though it´s unlikely that bringing up sensible matters will have any other consequences than a KGB interrogation, it´s best to avoid it to be on the safe side. Remember that your embassy will have limited ability to help you if you run into trouble with the authorities, given that Transnistria is not recognised by any other sovereign state.
Be careful when taking photos. Avoid brandishing your camera around military checkpoints and other places that might have some sort of "strategic importance" (this definition can vary wildly). That said, taking photos of most public places and buildings in Tiraspol should be OK.
The major cities are safer than Western European and American cities of similar size and economic makeup. Also, despite the political situation with Moldova, there is essentially no threat of being caught in a military action. There has not been fighting in Transnistria for many years. By far the biggest threat to the traveller is scamming.
Despite scare reports, Tiraspol is very welcoming, mainly because it gets so few tourists. Some young people tend to speak English and are helpful. The city is well-policed. Street crime is low.
Many Transnistrians are excited to see foreigners and will be very welcoming, if a bit shy at first. Some, however, see foreigners as being sources of easy money. Always negotiate the price of a taxi before you get in. Use pen and paper if you are not a Russian speaker. Ask about the prices of items before you order them at a bar or restaurant. It is not common to be scammed, but it is far from rare. However, even when scams are attempted, it is often for no more than a few euros.
Transnistria has an international reportation of being a haven for money laundering, human trafficing and sale of weapons. In light of this, in might sound surprising that the new president is cracking down hard on bribery- just call the hotline if any police attempt to extort bribes from you. Also, be aware that while enforcement is not particularly strict, drinking on the street has recently been made illegal and while this reform is (needless to say) extremely unpopular, it's probably best to avoid any run-ins with the police.
Medical care is almost non-existent in Transnistria, especially for non-citizens. Furthermore, even if you have travel health insurance it will often not be valid in Transnistria (but valid in Moldova). It's advisable to check in advance with your insurer.
Be careful in Transnistria's bars during the night. There are often Mafia-like characters having a good time with rolls of dollars and you should not inquire too closely about the source of their wealth.
Although internet access is available for locals from home, internet cafes are not widespread yet. There is one in Bendery, in Gagarin Street (close to the city market) and another one in Tiraspol, near Andy's Pizza on 25th October Street. Restaurants 7Пятницъ (7 Fridays),"La Placinta" and Andy's Pizza in Tiraspol offer free Wi-Fi (Broadband) for their guests.
It can be difficult to get mobile phone coverage, given that roaming deals in a non-existent country might not be on the top priority list of your home provider. Still, we had some, but limited service from the Orange network during our stay in March 2015 - this might be signals from Moldovian cell towers.
In 2005 the BBC published a TV series called "Places That Don't Exist" starring travel author Simon Reeve. One 30 minute episode titled Transdniestria provides a skeptical account of the political and social conditions of the de-facto state.
A range of international media outlets such as The Telegraph have since built reports that put the nation in a rather negative light.