Belarus travel guide
A land of rusty tractors and tacky fashion; a Soviet state in all but name; Europe’s last dictatorship: suffice to say Belarus has something of an image problem.
Though these lazy stereotypes carry some semblance of truth, Belarus is a largely misunderstood country that’s had a bit of a raw deal of it in western media. Consequently, those who visit are often surprised to discover a multifaceted destination rich in history, brimming with culture and populated by warm and generous inhabitants, who are gradually pulling themselves from the shadows of their past.
The truth is that Belarus’ appeal might well be in its isolation. Indeed this is a destination where you can still see what life was like during the days of communism, with an abundance of Soviet iconography, especially in the big cities, allowing anyone with an imagination to visualise how things once were.
In the capital Minsk, with its clean streets and neoclassical Stalinist architecture, a cosmopolitan vibe sits alongside an intense national pride. And well it might – the Belarusian capital is a survivor, having time and time again, throughout its tumultuous history, refused to say ‘die.’
Brest is another city of interest. Nestling on the border with Poland, it is possessed of charm and history in equal measure, and probably the most Western of the Belarusian cities.
Beyond the urban environment travellers will discover wide plains, picturesque villages, ancient castles, monasteries and dense forests, not to mention thousands of lakes. National parks protect some of Europe’s oldest untouched woodlands, and some of the continent’s largest marshlands. The countryside also offers the chance to see some of the last remaining collective farms in action.
There is no escaping the fact that Belarus is a developing Eastern European country with a somewhat shady past, but for travellers who give this destination the time it deserves, there are a plenty of rewards to be had.
207,595 sq km (80,153 sq miles).
9,475,549 (UN estimate 2016).
46.2 per sq km.
President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994.
Prime Minister Andrey Kabyakow since 2014.
220V, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 10 October 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
You’ll need to have valid medical insurance before travelling to Belarus. You’ll be asked to provide proof of your insurance when you apply for your visa or when you arrive at Minsk airport under the visa-free regime. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus for full details of what’s required.
Terrorist attacks in Belarus can’t be ruled out. Attacks could happen anywhere and could affect western interests and places visited by foreigners.
Around 6,000 British nationals visit Belarus every year. Most visits are trouble-free.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
There is little crime in Belarus but, you should be alert at all times to the possibility of mugging, pickpocketing and theft from vehicles or hotel rooms. Take extra care when travelling by train; there have been instances of theft from travellers, especially on sleeper trains to Warsaw and Moscow.
You must have a valid International Driving Permit to drive legally in Belarus. You must be able to produce ownership documents or a letter of ‘power of attorney’ at border crossings. Only originals of these documents are accepted. You must have third party car insurance or you may get an on-the-spot fine. You can only buy this when entering Belarus. Ask at Customs’ border offices for further information.
Buses may require permits for picking up passengers in Belarus, or for transiting. These permits are free. Find out when a permit is required and how to get one.
Don’t overstay the temporary import terms for your vehicle. Violation of the exit deadline may result in confiscation of your vehicle at the Belarusian border or if stopped at an in-country police checkpoint.
There may be long queues at borders. Customs and immigration can be lengthy and bureaucratic. You should ignore any private facilitators who offer to help you pass through checkpoints and border crossings.
Drivers with foreign licence plates must pay a fee to use toll roads, via an electronic toll collection system. Information can be found on the BelToll website. The website includes toll road maps and guidance on registration, purchase of the required on-board unit, and payment. There are fines for non-compliance, so follow the installation instructions carefully to make sure your vehicle is successfully identified at checkpoints.
The quality of driving in Belarus is unpredictable. A-class highways are in reasonable condition. The condition of B-class roads varies considerably and some are impassable for periods in winter. Road works and potholes are usually poorly marked. Horse and carriage combinations are a specific hazard for drivers in rural unlit areas.
You should observe the speed limit at all times. The standard speed limit is 60 km/h (37 mph) in built up areas; 90 km/h (55 mph) outside built up areas; and up to 120 km/h (74 mph) on motorways (Brest-Moscow). Visiting motorists who have held a driving licence for under 2 years must not exceed 70 km/h (43 mph).
There is a zero-tolerance policy towards drink-driving.
There are police checkpoints on routes throughout the country. You should stop when instructed and have vehicle documentation to hand. You should only make official payments.
There are no internal flights currently available in Belarus.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation has carried out an audit of the implementation level of critical elements of safety oversight in Belarus.
Belarus is governed by a strong Presidential system with the police and security services loyal to it. The authorities show little tolerance for their opposition counterparts. On 25 March 2017, the security services used force to disperse and intimidate opposition rallies and marches. You should maintain a high level of security awareness, particularly in public places and avoid demonstrations.
Terrorist attacks in Belarus can’t be ruled out. Attacks could happen anywhere and could affect western interests and places visited by foreigners.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
There are severe penalties for drug-related crime. These include prison sentences of up to 5 years for drug possession and up to 25 years for serious drug-related offences.
Homosexual relationships are permitted under Belarusian law. However, Belarus remains a conservative society and the gay/lesbian scene is very low profile. Very few homosexuals are open about their sexuality.
Belarus does not recognise dual nationality. If you have both Belarusian and British passports the authorities will consider you as Belarusian, even if you enter the country on your British passport. This limits the UK government’s ability to provide consular assistance.
You should avoid taking photographs of all government buildings, military installations and uniformed officials. You could be fined for jaywalking.
If you wish to import goods or services for charitable purposes, consult the Belarus Embassy in London for advice about local procedures and tariffs. If you think your goods will be exempt from Belarusian taxation, you should get written confirmation from the Belarus Embassy in London, confirming this.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
All British national passport holders (except those entering on a diplomatic or official passport) can now enter Belarus for a maximum of 5 days without a visa (the day you arrive counts as day one, regardless of arrival time). Entry and exit will only be allowed at Minsk International Airport and you’ll need to show documentary evidence of medical insurance to the value of 10,000 euros and funds equivalent to 25 euros per day. This can be in the form of cash, credit card or travellers cheques in any currency.
A maximum of 90 days stay in one calendar year is permitted. If you wish to stay longer than 5 days, or plan to enter on a diplomatic or official passport, you’ll need a visa. If you’re travelling immediately from/to a Russian airport or entering Belarus at any other border point other than Minsk International Airport then this visa-free arrangement doesn’t apply and you’ll need a visa. You can find more information at the website of the Belarus embassy.
You don’t need a visa to transit Belarus by air, but the maximum period you can transit and remain airside is 24 hours. You must get a transit visa in all other circumstances including if you’re travelling by train on popular routes such as Warsaw-Moscow and St Petersburg-Kiev.
If you attempt to transit Belarus in other circumstances without a visa, the border authorities will send you to Minsk to obtain the appropriate visa. You may also have to pay a fine of up to $300 and face deportation. There is a Belarus Embassy in London.
It’s possible to visit the areas of Avgustov Canal and Grodno and Belovezhskaya Pushcha for short periods without a visa. More information can be found at Grodno visa free and regulations for foreign citizens visiting the national park. However, this must be done through a registered tour operator. The areas can’t be visited on an independent basis.
If you intend to work as a journalist in Belarus, make sure you receive accreditation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus before you travel and that you’re clearly identifiable at all times.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 3 months from the date of entry into Belarus.
Travelling between Russia and Belarus
The Russian government has informed the UK government that there are no legal grounds for foreigners (including British nationals) to cross the Russia-Belarus state border. If you’re planning on entering Russia by road, you’ll need to take an alternative route through a different country.
If you’re planning on travelling by rail between the two countries, you should contact your train or tour operator to seek their advice. You should also consider contacting your nearest Russian Embassy for advice on the latest situation for rail travellers.
The UK government isn’t aware of any difficulties for British nationals when travelling by air between the 2 countries. Make sure you have all the necessary visas for the duration of your travel to Russia. You can find more information on the Russian Embassy website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are not valid for entry into Belarus. However, ETDs are accepted for exit from Belarus.
You’ll also need a Belarusian exit visa which can be obtained from the local Immigration Offices (OVIR). The process may take up to 3 days.
Anyone staying for more than 5 days in Belarus must register with the local police office (OVIR) in the district in which they are staying. Registration will normally be arranged by your hotel. If you are not staying in a hotel registration must be organised by your host. There are fines for not registering in time. If you arrive at the weekend, the earliest you will be able to register is Monday (but offices are only open until 1pm).
Declaration of currency and goods
If you are carrying more than $10,000 in cash or travellers cheques you must complete a currency and goods declaration form on entering and exiting Belarus. This must be stamped by a Customs Officer. Upon exit from Belarus you will not be allowed to take out more currency than you originally declared on the currency declaration form upon entry. You should keep these forms for the duration of your visit. When leaving Belarus you will have to complete a new form, but you should also have the original form to hand. If you do not, your journey may be delayed and you may be fined.
Travelling with children
Children under 16, whose parent or parents hold a Belarusian passport and who aren’t themselves Belarusian passport holders, must have a Belarusian Embassy or Consulate issued travel certificate to travel to Belarus. This is regardless of where they were born or any other nationality they may have. Parents of children entering on this document should liaise with the Belarusian authorities to ensure their children also have the relevant documentation to exit Belarus.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
The reciprocal healthcare agreement between the UK and Belarus terminated on 26 December 2015.
The standard of health care is below that of the UK. You should bring essential personal medications, as the availability of local supplies can’t be guaranteed. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
Avoid certain foodstuffs including local dairy produce, forest mushrooms and fruits of the forest, which can carry high levels of radiation as a result of contamination from the 1986 accident at Chernobyl in Ukraine.
Otherwise the risk of radioactive contamination from the Chernobyl site is insignificant. There is an exclusion zone immediately around the Chernobyl site, which includes the area close to the border with Ukraine in the south east of Belarus. You may find access to this part of the country is limited.
Don’t drink village well water as it is usually heavily contaminated with impurities. In cities, you should first boil, then filter tap water before drinking. Bottled water is widely available in shops.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 103 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment. Most people in Belarus only speak the Russian or Belarusian languages. You may need to find someone who speaks English to interpret for you.
Sterling isn’t widely accepted for exchange into Belarusian Roubles (BYN). You should carry US dollars. Euros are also accepted.
You no longer need to present your passport for foreign currency exchange. You should only exchange foreign currency at government licensed booths. These can be found in or near major stores, hotels, banks and shopping centres. Exchanging money elsewhere can result in fines and/or arrest and the currency involved will be confiscated. It’s not possible to exchange BYN into other currencies outside Belarus, but you can do this before leaving Belarus.
There are plenty of ATMs in major cities. Credit cards are widely used and can also be used to withdraw cash.
Usually only BYN can be withdrawn from ATMs. A small number of ATMs issue US dollars but the supply is unreliable. Inform your UK bank of your intended travel to Belarus before you depart to ensure they don’t block your card because of suspicion of fraudulent use in a foreign country.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.