COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Belarus has been headed by President Alexander Lukashenka since 1994. Under Lukashenka’s rule, economic and political reform has stalled and the government’s human rights record has steadily deteriorated. Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages, and Russian is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in the cities. Tourist facilities are not highly developed, but food and lodging in the capital and some regional centers are adequate. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Belarus for additional information.
SMART TRAVELLER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP)/ EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Belarus, please take the time to tell our embassy about your trip. Enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program will keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements, and help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
U.S. Embassy Minsk
46 Starovilenskaya St. Minsk 220002
Telephone: (375 17) 210-1283 or after hours (375 29) 676-0134
Fax (375 17) 334-7853 or (375 17) 17-217-7160 (consular section)
The Consular Section may also be reached by email
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: You need a passport and a visa to enter Belarus. You must obtain a visa in advance to visit or transit through Belarus. All U.S. citizens visiting or residing in Belarus are required to register with the local office of the Citizenship and Migration Department of the Ministry of Interior (formerly OVIR) within 5 business days of arrival; if you plan to spend only 7 days (5 working days weekend) in Belarus, you are not required to register. The registration fee is currently approximately $12(the exact amount can be calculated by taking half of one National Minimum Tariff Unit) regardless of the duration of stay. Failure to register can result in fines and difficulties when departing. If you plan to stay at a hotel, you will be automatically registered at check-in. Registration performed by a hotel is free of charge.
Visas: Visa validity dates are strictly enforced; you should request a visa of sufficient length to allow for changes in arrival and departure plans, and should carefully review the beginning and ending dates of your visa before traveling.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to Belarus on a 30-day visit. Long-term residents (more than 90 days a year) or students must obtain an HIV/AIDS test in Belarus and submit the results to the Department of Citizenship and Migration when applying for an extension of stay or residency in Belarus.
Exit Visa: A valid exit visa is necessary to depart Belarus. Generally, the visa issued by a Belarusian Embassy or Consulate is valid for both entry and exit. Photocopies of visas may be helpful in the event of loss, but note that a copy of a visa will not be sufficient for entry or departure, as Belarusian border officials always require original travel documents. If you overstay your visa’s validity -- even by one day -- you will be prevented from leaving until you have been granted an extension by the Department of Citizenship and Migration. If you are not in a possession of a valid visa, you will face delays in leaving Belarus and may have trouble finding adequate accommodation. By Belarusian law, foreign travelers with an expired visa may not check in at any hotel or other lodging establishment.
If you plan to travel through Belarus to other countries, you are advised that there is a transit-visa requirement for entering and leaving Belarus. Transit visas are required even if you are transiting on a direct overnight train with no stops or transfers on Belarusian territory. Transit visas should be obtained prior to any journey that requires travel through Belarus. Transit visas are good only for transiting Belarus from one country into another. If you attempt to reenter the country from which you originally entered on your transit visa, you will not be let out of Belarus without paying a fine and obtaining an exit visa. Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Russian visas are not a substitute for the transit visa. Many travel agencies, including those in Russia and CIS countries, as well as train ticket sales personnel, are often not aware of this visa requirement and may not seek a transit visa for a traveler unless instructed by the traveler to do so.
U.S. citizens attempting to transit Belarus without a valid Belarusian transit visa have been denied entry into the country and forcibly removed from trains. In some instances, local border and railway authorities have threatened passengers who did not possess a valid transit visa with jail or extorted “fines.” It is our recommendation that you should not pay any border or railway officials for transit visas or “transit-visa fines,” as these officials are not authorized to issue such visas. If you find yourself in Belarus without transit visas, if confronted by border or train personnel, you should request to be put in contact with consular officials at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk.
If your travel route to Belarus goes through Russia, you must possess a Russian transit visa in addition to your Belarusian visa. Russian embassies outside of the United States, including the Russian Embassy in Belarus, generally do not issue transit or tourist visas to U.S. citizens. Russian transit visas are not normally obtainable at Russian airports.
Limitations on Length of Stay: The Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons in the Republic of Belarus states that all foreign citizens may be granted permission for a temporary stay (up to 90 days within a 365-day period), temporary residence (up to one year), or permanent residence. Belarusian Embassies and Consulates will issue visas for temporary stays. A temporary stay visa will allow you to be present physically in Belarus for a maximum of 90 days within the 365-day period for which the visa is issued. Once you have spent 90 days in Belarus, at one time or through a combination of visits, you will not be eligible to receive another visa until the original 365-day period has passed.
If you receive a visa for a temporary stay, but wish to remain in Belarus for longer than 90 days, you must apply for temporary or permanent residence with the Ministry of Interior. You must make the application in Belarus within the 90 days allotted for a temporary stay. Permission for temporary residence can be granted to students, spouses, or close relatives of Belarusian citizens, or for “work, business, or other activities.” You may contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk for more information about application procedures for temporary or permanent residence. Every foreigner entering Belarus is required to fill out a migration card. You should retain this card for the whole period of stay and present it to the border authorities when exiting Belarus.
As a foreign citizen without a valid Belarusian visa, migration card, or proper registration with the Department of Citizenship and Migration as a temporary visitor or resident, you can be subject to sanctions up to and including deportation under the provisions of the Code of Administrative Violations. Depending on the circumstances, as a deportee, you also can be banned from returning to Belarus for a period from one to ten years.
Visiting and transiting Belarus, you also should be prepared to demonstrate sufficient financial means to support your stay. For individuals staying in Belarus for less than one month, this amount is equal to approximately $15/day/person. For those staying for longer than one month, the requirements call for $375/month/person. Belarusian officials may request this proof of funds at the time of visa application, at the border, or during registration. According to the Ministry of Interior, cash, credit cards, paid hotel reservations, or a letter from an inviting party pledging full financial support are sufficient means to demonstrate financial wherewithal.
Belarus also requires all foreign nationals (other than accredited diplomats) entering the country to purchase medical insurance at the port-of-entry, regardless of any other insurance they might have. For more information, see the “Medical Insurance” section below.
When entering Belarus, you may be charged 2 Euros per kilogram of luggage in excess of 50 Kg (121lbs). That fee must be paid in dollars or Euros. In accordance with current customs regulations, you may enter Belarus and exit the country with up to $3,000 in cash without submitting a written declaration. . For additional information on customs rules for Belarus, please see the Belarusian State Customs Committee official website.
Belarus enforces a requirement for special permits to travel in “protected border zones.” The Government of Belarus has not provided information defining the parameters of those zones. You should be alert for warning signs, road barriers, and/or border guard posts, and are advised not to cross into such areas without permission.
Religious Group Travel: Foreign missionaries may not engage in religious activities outside the institutions that invited them unless they have a religious worker visa. One-year validity, multiple-entry, "spiritual-activities" visas, which are required of foreign missionaries, can be difficult to get, even for faiths that are registered with the government and have a long history in the country. Approval often involves a difficult bureaucratic process.
Belarusian law requires all religious groups and organizations to register with the Government; most organizations have done so. Unregistered religious groups may not legally gather for religious purposes. Many unregistered groups continue to meet, however, leaving themselves vulnerable to selective implementation of the law by authorities. The law also stipulates that only Belarusian citizens can head religious organizations in Belarus. In recent years, authorities have harassed, warned, fined, and briefly detained members of some unregistered and so-called "non-traditional" faiths for engaging in unsanctioned worship or proselytism. U.S. Embassy Minsk strongly recommends that should you choose to attend a religious service of an unregistered religious group, you do so only after consulting with members of the group about the risk of harassment or possible arrest by local law enforcement authorities. You are also urged to contact U.S. Embassy Minsk in the event you encounter any problems with authorities due to your participation in such services or events.
Dual Nationality: If you were a Belarusian citizen and obtained U.S. citizenship through naturalization, you may not have automatically lost your Belarusian citizenship. In the majority of cases, naturalized U.S. citizens retain their Belarusian citizenship unless they take specific steps to renounce it. The Belarusian authorities will allow naturalized U.S. citizens from Belarus to enter the country without a valid Belarusian passport on a “certificate of return” issued by Belarusian Embassies and Consulates. Please note that a valid Belarusian passport will be required to leave the country. It can take two to four weeks to receive a new Belarusian passport. For additional information please consult with the Embassy of Belarus in Washington, D.C.
Belarusian citizens, including dual nationals, are subject to Belarusian laws requiring service in Belarus’s armed forces, as well as other laws pertaining to passports and nationality. If you are a U.S.-Belarusian dual national of military age who does not wish to serve in the Belarusian armed forces, you should contact the Embassy of Belarus in Washington, D.C. to learn more about an exemption or deferment from Belarusian military service before going to Belarus. Without this exemption or deferment document, you may not be able to leave Belarus without completing military service, or may be subject to criminal penalties for failure to serve.
Children born to Belarusian parents or to one Belarusian parent and one foreign parent, even if born in the United States and in possession of a U.S. passport, may not be issued a Belarusian visa for travel to Belarus. The Belarusian government considers these children to be Belarusian citizens until age 16, when they may choose to accept or reject that claim to citizenship. Instead of a visa, a "certificate of return" is issued that will allow the child to enter Belarus. It is imperative that parents of such children understand that, in order to leave the country, the child will be required to have a Belarusian passport if he/she does not already have one. It can take anywhere from two to four weeks to complete the application procedures and receive a new Belarusian passport.
Visit the Embassy of Belarus website for the most current visa information, or contact the Embassy of Belarus at 1619 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel: 202-986-1604 fax: 202-986-1805.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Both organized and spontaneous demonstrations occur in Belarus. Localized street disturbances relating to political events occur most frequently in Minsk or larger cities. In some instances, authorities may use force to disperse protesters. Bystanders, including foreign nationals, may face the possibility of arrest, beating, or detention. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can sometimes become confrontational and escalate into violence. For this reason, it is recommended that you, as a U.S. citizen, avoid all demonstrations and protest gatherings.
Security personnel may at times place you, as a foreigner, under surveillance; your hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in your 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.
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CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
Belarus has a moderate rate of street crime. Criminal activity in Minsk is comparable to the level found in other large cities, while in the rural areas it is very limited. Though violent crime against foreigners is rare, criminals have been known to use force if met with resistance from victims. Common street crime, such as mugging and pocket picking, occurs most frequently near public transportation venues, near hotels frequented by foreigners, and/or at night in poorly-lighted areas. In Minsk, you should be especially alert in metro and bus stations.
Visiting night clubs, you should pay particular attention to your surroundings and drinks, because the drugging of drinks is not uncommon. Prostitutes at hotels may attempt to open hotel room doors in search of customers. Local and transnational organized criminal activity also exists in Belarus. Most casinos and adult clubs are operated by criminal elements, but street-level organized criminal violence is rare and does not generally affect foreigners. Carjacking is also rare, but theft of vehicles parts and car vandalism is not. Sport-utility and luxury vehicles tend to be the most sought-after. Parking in a secure area overnight is highly recommended.
Sexual assaults on women are as commonplace in Minsk as they are in most large urban areas in the United States. Women are advised to exercise the same caution as they would in any large city in the United States.
Keep a copy of your passport in a separate location from your original passport.
Internet-Dating Schemes and Cyber-Crime: "Internet brides" are advertised on several websites and are not always legitimate. Often, potential suitors in the United States lose thousands of dollars when they send money to people they have never met and never hear from again. A growing variant on this theme is the suitor invited to Belarus to visit a “friend,” who arranges lodging and transportation for him (at hugely inflated prices) and disappears when the money has changed hands.
Cyber-crime of all kinds is well developed in Belarus. Merchandise orders with fraudulent credit cards, ID theft, hacking/blackmail schemes, and advanced-fee fraud are gaining in popularity. If you are doing business with persons or firms in Belarus electronically, you should proceed with extreme caution. You should avoid using credit and debit cards, except at ATMs located inside major banks. Not only is electronic fraud common at ATMs and grocery stores, serious injuries have been inflicted during assaults at street-side ATMs. Please note that transferring funds from abroad, replacing stolen traveler's checks or airline tickets, or canceling credit cards can be difficult and time consuming, especially due to the lack of English-speaking tourist agencies and an undeveloped tourism industry in Belarus.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Please see our information for victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
The local equivalents to the “911” emergency lines in Belarus are: 101 for Fire and Rescue Squad; 102 for Police; and 103 for Ambulance (Medical Emergency).
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. Due to low salaries, it is not uncommon for officers to collect bribes during traffic stops. Sophisticated criminal investigations are often inconclusive because of a lack of resources and/or political will.
Some U.S. citizens have reported harassment at border crossings. Despite these problems, the Regional Security Officer recommends that you report any crimes immediately to the local police and the U.S. Embassy in Minsk.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Belarus, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States; for instance, you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you do something illegal in Belarus, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, you should immediately request that police and prison officials notify the embassy in the event you are arrested or detained.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Currency: Traveler's checks are normally not accepted in Belarus as a means of payment, but can be exchanged for cash at any bank. Most hotels, restaurants, and stores accept major credit cards. All Belarusian banks provide cash from major credit cards. All payments in Belarus are made in Belarusian rubles. Authorized currency exchange centers are widely available throughout major cities. Black-market currency exchange or payment in U.S. dollars to firms or individuals without a special license is a criminal offense in Belarus. Only a few large firms (such as state-owned gas stations and large travel agencies) are licensed to accept U.S. dollars. You may be offered "an unofficial" exchange rate at what seems a good rate, but the U.S. Embassy in Minsk advises to use widely available licensed exchange locations.
Credit Card and ATM Card Use: ATMs are also available for use, and it has become easier to use credit cards and debit cards in Belarus, especially in Minsk; however, this does not mean that it is safer to do so. There have been instances in which U.S. citizens have had their card numbers “skimmed” and the money in their accounts stolen, or their credit cards fraudulently charged. (“Skimming” is the theft of credit card information by an employee of a legitimate merchant or bank, manually copying down numbers or using a magnetic stripe reader.) In addition to skimming, the risk of physical theft of credit or debit cards also exists. To prevent such theft, the U.S. Embassy Minsk recommends that you keep close track of personal belongings and only carry what is needed when out. If you choose to use credit cards, you should regularly check your account status to ensure its integrity. You should avoid using credit and debit cards, except at ATMs located inside major banks.
Identification: As a foreigner, you are expected to carry your passport on you at all times. Failure to prove your identity with an internationally recognizable ID, if stopped by the police for a registration (visa) spot check, may result in detention by the police until your identity is established.
Accessibility: While in Belarus, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what is found in the United States. Many existing buildings as well as public transportation systems are less adapted to individuals with disabilities. You should check ahead with your hotel/destination to learn more about options to accommodate disabled traveler needs before visiting Belarus.
Radiation: The 1986 release of nuclear material from the Chernobyl nuclear station in Ukraine affected Belarus. The city of Minsk was mostly spared, but other areas of Belarus were badly contaminated. Several years of monitoring have shown that radiation levels in Minsk have not exceeded internationally acceptable standards, and periodic testing of foodstuffs from various locations in Belarus has not revealed a level of radiation that would be considered harmful.
Marriage: If you plan to marry in Belarus, you should consult the information located on the U.S. Embassy Minsk website. Please note that only marriages performed at a registrar's office (ZAGS – Office for Matrimonial Acts Registration) are legally valid in Belarus.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Belarus is neither modern nor easily accessible, especially for those who do not speak Russian. There are no hospitals in Belarus that provide a level of medical care equal to that of Western hospitals, and none accept U.S. health insurance plans for payment. Despite the recent emergence of facilities which offer private "advanced" medical services, modern diagnostic equipment and even basic supplies are still lacking. Traumatic injuries are especially serious as the level of care and competence to deal with them are well below U.S. standards.
Ambulances are poorly equipped and unreliable; a wait time of 30 minutes or more is not unusual. The fastest way to secure Western-level care is medical evacuation to Western Europe. You should consider purchasing medical evacuation insurance prior to travel, or have access to substantial credit to cover evacuation costs. There are no air ambulance services in Belarus. Local health insurance for non-residents is required for all visitors by the government and may be purchased at points of entry.
The medical emergency number for Belarus is 103 from any telephone.
Tuberculosis (TB) is an increasingly serious health concern in Belarus. For further information, please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) information on TB.
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions, on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website, which also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
As a foreign national, you will be required to purchase local medical insurance at the port-of-entry, regardless of any other insurance you might have. Costs for this insurance will vary according to the length of stay. (Subject to change, current information puts costs at €2 for a one-to-three-day stay, €5 for a stay of 4-10 days, €15 for a stay of up to 31 days, and €85 for a stay of one year.)
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: U.S. citizens on short-term visits to Belarus (up to 90 days) are permitted to drive with a valid U.S. state or international driver’s license. Therefore, you should always carry your passport with you to prove date of entry into the country in the event that police stop you. If residing in Belarus for more than 90 days, you should apply for a Belarusian driver’s license (regardless of the type of license you have, state or international), in which case you will be required to pass a two-part test in Russian. The first part of this test is a computer-based multiple-choice test on local driving rules, and the second part is a driving test. To receive a local driver’s license, you will also need to complete a medical exam at a special medical clinic, which will include a general physical, approval form from a neuro-pathologist, a surgeon, and an EENT specialist, as well as an EKG, a chest x-ray, and an eye exam.
Roads in Belarus are in generally good condition, but modern cars share the highways with tractors, horse-drawn carts, and pedestrians. Drunk driving is also common, even with a zero-tolerance law. Ice and snow in the winter months pose an added hazard. Should you get involved in an automobile accident, report it immediately to the road police, and remain at the scene until after the police arrive and complete the investigation. You may leave the scene of an accident only if you believe your personal safety is in danger.
Except for a stretch of the main east-west highway where the speed limit is 120 km/h (75 mph), the maximum speed limit on divided highways or main roads outside village, town, or city limits is 90 km/h (55 mph). Speed limits in cities are 60 km/h unless marked and will usually range between 40 km/h and 80 km/h, with frequent radar traps. Fines for speeding depend on the speed over the speed limit, and can vary from 2 to 10 minimum tariff units (from $26 to $130).
Visible and hidden dangers exist, including potholes, unlighted or poorly lighted streets, inattentive and dark-clothed pedestrians walking on unlighted roads, drivers and pedestrians under the influence of alcohol, and disregard for traffic rules. Driving in winter is especially dangerous because of ice and snow. Driving with caution is urged at all times.
DUI fines vary from 15 to 35 minimum tariff units (from $200 to $500) for the first detected offense. Repeated offenders within 365 days may be subject to criminal persecution (up to 6 months in prison or up to two years of corrective labor).
Drivers are expected to yield for pedestrians crossing at pedestrian crossings marked by respective road signs or road markings, and intersections not controlled by a traffic signal or a road policeman.
Use of hand-held mobile phones while driving is prohibited. Radio-dispatched taxi services are generally reliable, arrive promptly once called, and usually offer the lowest fare. Most radio-dispatched taxis are metered. Current fare is approximately $0.75 per mile. With the majority of taxi services, the rates are the same during the day and in the overnight hours. The use of informal, unregistered taxis is not recommended.
Minsk has a clean, safe, and efficient subway system that easily reaches most of the city center. Service is stopped from 1:00 a.m.to 5:30 a.m., but otherwise runs regularly throughout the day. Ticket prices are extremely low by western standards. Though their routes are extensive, buses and trolleys lack cooling capabilities in the summer and are usually crowded.
When travelling on public transportation of any kind, you should be wary of pickpockets and other petty crime. If you are interested in car rentals, there are several western rental agencies currently operating in Minsk. In general, rental-car networks in Belarus are not well developed.
You may experience significant delays (of several hours) in crossing the border by road into neighboring countries.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Belarus, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Government of Belarus’ Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Belarus dated September 6, 2011, to update all sections.