At least in the main tourist areas, Belarus fares relatively well in terms of disabled access for travellers. In Minsk especially, the sidewalks are smooth and broad. Most hotels have lifts, but some public buildings and museums are not fully accessible to people with disabilities or mobility issues. Provincial cities are also pretty friendly, as most feature a central pedestrianised street lined with restaurants and shops.
The situation is less agreeable for locals with disabilities who don't live near the more-accessible centres; many can't leave their Soviet-era apartments on their own. In 2015 Belarus became the last country in Europe to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Not really practised in Belarus, the exception being unmetered taxi drivers, with whom you should bargain vigorously.
Dangers & Annoyances
- While it hardly feels like it, Belarus is a police state. This means that dangers are pretty much nonexistent, while most annoyances come in the form of bureaucratic hurdles such as the requirement to register.
- The police used to stop tourists to check their papers, but that practice is long gone in the new, more open Belarus. The police are downright friendly, in fact, although they will not hesitate to ticket you for the pettiest of crimes – jaywalking in particular. If you get nabbed, you can pay your fine (about BYN22) at most banks.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Belarus' country code||+375|
Entry & Exit Formalities
A 30-day visa-free regime is in place for most visitors as long as they arrive in and depart from Minsk National Airport. Separate 10-day visa-free regimes in place for overland visitors to Brest and Hrodna.
- Duty-free export or import of up to 200 cigarettes and 3L of wine, spirits or beer.
- Declare foreign currency in excess of €10,000 upon entry or exit.
- May not bring in total goods worth more than €1500/€10,000 at land/air borders.
Visas not required for stays of 30 days or less for citizens of 74 countries, but must fly in/out of Minsk.
Citizens of 74 countries can enter Belarus visa-free for up to 30 days as long as they arrive and depart from Minsk National Airport. If arriving or departing by land, everybody needs a visa – unless you are targeting either Brest or Hrodna, the two visa-free zones. For stays longer than 30 days, everybody needs a visa.
If arriving visa-free, you must purchase a Belarusian health insurance policy upon landing in Minsk to cover the length of your stay (about €1 per day).
Should you need a visa, arrange it well in advance. Visa-on-arrival may be possible but requires just as much paperwork as arranging one in advance. Visas can be secured at any Belarusian consulate. The norm is a 30-day single-entry tourist visa. You'll need the following to apply:
- Completed application
- Letter of invitation (LOI) arranged through a travel agent, hotel or private individual in Belarus.
- A Belarusian health-insurance policy arranged through a travel agent (about €1 per day plus the agent's fee).
Belarusian visa regulations change frequently, so check the website of your nearest Belarusian embassy for the latest requirements.
Other Visa Types
Besides the 30-day single-entry tourist visa, the following additional types of visa are possible:
- Business visa.
- Transit visa, valid for 48 hours (requires onward travel documents).
Visa costs vary depending on the country you apply in and your citizenship. Single- or multiple-entry visas typically cost about 60 euros, as do transit and business visas. Express visas (processed within one to two working days) cost double.
If you are staying in Belarus for more than five working days, you must register with the local authorities. Hotels and most apartment services do this automatically, and it's included in the room price. If you change accommodation during your stay in Belarus, you should re-register.
If you are staying with an individual or with a hostel that does not handle registration, you or your host will have to register your visa at the main AGIM office in Minsk, or at any regional AGIM office. This is straightforward enough: an officer will walk you through the process, including a visit to the neighbouring bank to pay the BYN24 fee, in broken English. There’s also an option to register online for free at https://portal.gov.by (you’ll need to create an account first).
Registration these days involves receiving a white piece of paper from each hotel/host where you stay. Do not lose these – the relaxed visa rules have not been accompanied by relaxed registration rules. Border officers may demand proof of accommodation for the duration of your trip, regardless of whether this is an actual legal requirement (there's some grey area).
Etiquette in Belarus is pretty much the same as in Russia.
- Shaking hands Handshakes are a big deal, especially for men. If you enter a room, shake hands with everyone. Don't shake hands across a threshold (it's unlucky), and make it firm or you'll be perceived as weak. Lastly, never shake hands with gloves on. Women are under no obligation to shake hands.
- Visiting homes Remove your shoes and coat on entering a house. Always bring a gift. If you give flowers, make sure it’s an odd number – even numbers are for funerals.
- In Orthodox churches Women should wear long skirts or slacks, and men long shorts or trousers. No tank tops.
- Eating and drinking Vodka toasts are common at shared meals – it’s rude not to join in, and traditional (and good sense) to eat a little something after each shot. Be sure to make your own toast as well.
Wi-fi is ubiquitous at restaurants and hotels and is almost always free. Local SIM cards with data (4G) are easy to purchase. Data is cheap and fast and coverage is excellent, including on major highways.
Two things are almost guaranteed to get you in trouble in tightly controlled Belarus:
- openly protesting against the government or supporting opposition groups
- openly admitting you're a journalist.
Expect to be deported, or worse, for either.
Police take quality-of-life infractions such as jaywalking or public alcohol consumption seriously. Should you be cited, police will issue a ticket for about BYN25 that you can pay in most banks.
Make sure you keep your hotel registration slips with you at all times. Not only might you need it upon exit (or possibly face a stiff fine), but if you do happen to get in trouble while in Belarus, authorities may want to see these. Don't overstay your 30 days or you'll face similar difficulties.
If you're driving, be aware that speed cameras are common in cities and on major highways, and will nab you for going just a few kilometres per hour over the speed limit.
Drug penalties are much harsher in Belarus than elsewhere in Europe. We don't recommend bringing illegal drugs in, and that includes marijuana, possession of which is punishable by eight to 10 years in prison.
Lastly, it is illegal for foreigners to enter Russia overland from Belarus.
Should you land in jail, download the handy Belarus Prisoner Pack (www.gov.uk/government/publications/belarus-prisoner-pack) from the UK government website.
Homophobia is rife in Belarus, and as recently as 2017 authorities raided two gay-oriented bars in Minsk, making several arrests. While gay and lesbian couples are unlikely to horrify locals by asking for a double room, discretion is otherwise advisable.
Despite this, laissez-faire Slavic attitudes mean you don't have to look hard to find LGBT life, the details of which flourish on the internet. The site www.english.gay.ru includes information about Belarus.
ATMs are the best way to obtain Belarusian roubles (BYN). The country lopped four zeros off the currency in July 2016 (ie BYN10,000 became BYN1).
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Restaurants A small tip of 5% to 10% is appropriate; service charges are usually not included in the bill.
- Taxis Metered-taxi drivers and those who don't overcharge should be rewarded with a rouble or so.
Credit cards are widely used for payment in Minsk and other cities, but are unlikely to be accepted in rural areas.
- Most banks and higher-end hotels have currency-exchange facilities.
- Ensure you change any remaining roubles before leaving Belarus, as the currency can be difficult to exchange outside the country.
Some businesses will close for lunch, which is usually for an hour and occurs any time between noon and 2pm.
Banks 9am–5pm Monday to Friday
Office hours 9am–6pm Monday to Friday
Restaurants and bars 10am or noon to 10pm or midnight
Shops 9am or 10am to 9pm Monday to Saturday, to 6pm Sunday (if at all)
- Postcards usually make it to their destination – eventually.
- The word for post office is pashtamt in Belarusian and pochta in Russian.
- You can mail important, time-sensitive items via the Express Mail Service (EMS) at most main post offices.
New Year's Day 1 January
Orthodox Christmas 7 January
International Women's Day 8 March
Constitution Day 15 March
Catholic & Orthodox Easter March/April
Unity of Peoples of Russia and Belarus Day 2 April
International Labour Day (May Day) 1 May
Victory Day 9 May
Independence Day 3 July
Dzyady (Day of the Dead) 2 November
Catholic Christmas 25 December
- Smoking Allowed in restaurants and bars with proper partitioning of smoking and nonsmoking areas.
Taxes & Refunds
There is no refund scheme for VAT (value-added tax), and there are no other taxes payable by visitors.
Mobile phones are preferred over the paleolithic land-line network.
There are four mobile-phone companies that can sell you a SIM-card package with oodles of data for next to nothing. Bring your passport, a Belarusian address and your unlocked phone.
Avoid using your home mobile provider, as roaming can incur massive charges.
- Belarus' country code is +375.
- Mobile numbers consist of a two-digit prefix followed by a seven-digit number.
- Land lines are nine digits long including the prefix (which, confoundingly, can have two, three or four digits).
- To place a call or send a text from a local mobile phone, dial either +375 or 80, plus the nine-digit number.
- To place a call from a local land line to another local land line, dial the number without the area code.
- To dial a mobile phone from a land line, dial 8, wait for the tone, then the nine-digit number.
- To make an international call from a land line, dial 8, wait for the tone, dial 10, then the number.
GMT/UTC plus three hours year-round (no daylight saving time).
As one might expect from such a law-and-order society, public toilets are common, although they usually cost a quarter-rouble or so.
Belarus Tourism (www.belarus.by/en)
Travel with Children
Apart from the Belarusian State Circus in Minsk, there are not a whole lot of traditional children's sights or entertainment options. What few options do exist – like the odd children's theatre or museum – operate in Russian. However, if you do happen to venture here with your tots in tow you won't necessarily be disappointed. The vast parks of Minsk are perfect for stroller-pushing parents or older kids who want to run around. You can rent bikes as well as boats in many of the parks in Minsk, Brest and elsewhere. The main park in Brest contains an amusement park, and Minsk has a Ferris wheel plus amusement-park rides and a huge water park. Many restaurants have on-site playgrounds so the adults can eat in peace.
There are no organised volunteering programmes in Belarus.
Weights & Measures
- Weights and measures Belarus uses the metric system.
There are few work opportunities for expats in Belarus.