Brief history of the problem
During several recent years, Belarus has noticeably simplified migration and visa procedures. Since 2016, there have been visa-free zones within the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park and along the Augustow Chanel. Since early 2017, citizens of 80 countries became able to enter Belarus visa-free for five days via the Minsk National Airport (which is now commonly defined as Visa-free Regime). In July 2018, the duration of stay under the Visa-free Regime was extended to 30 days, while the list of the eligible countries was slightly reduced down to 74 names (the full current list is available via link). As recently informed by officials of the Ministry of Sports and Tourism of Belarus, the Visa-free Regime resulted in 20% increase in the number of tourists.
At the same time, the novelty also created additional challenges for certain foreign visitors. While being unaware about pitfalls of the Belarusian visa and migration rules, travelers sometimes unintentionally violate the requirements and limitations related to the visa-free entry.
The right way to use the Visa-free Regime
The eligible travelers must comply with the following requirements:
- hold a valid passport (the validity date must be at least 90 days beyond the intended date of the departure from Belarus);
- enter the country and depart from it via the Minsk National Airport;
- arrive from and depart to any country other than the Russian Federation;
- have sufficient funds to support their stay, namely BYN 49 (approx. EUR 20) per each day of the stay (if the total length of the stay is less than 1 month) or BYN 1,225 (approx. EUR 500) per each month of the stay (if the total length of the stay is more than 1 month);
- have a medical insurance policy with at least EUR 10,000 of coverage valid throughout Belarus for the full period of the stay (there is an option to purchase it at the airport upon arrival).
Visitors from 7 countries (China, Haiti, India, Lebanon, Namibia, Samoa, Vietnam) must also have a valid multiple Schengen visa with an entry stamp, as well as return tickets for departure via the Minsk National Airport.
In addition, all visitors staying in Belarus for more than 5 days must register with a local migration authority within 5 working days after the entry.
We would like to emphasise that the Visa-free Regime is not the right option if any of the following circumstances is present:
- you are travelling directly to or from the Russian Federation;
- you would like to enter or exit Belarus anywhere else than via the Minsk National Airport;
- you are planning to stay in Belarus for longer than 30 days.
Possible solutions: inconvenient, but safe
In practice, most violations relate to travels between Belarus and Russia. The countries do not have international checkpoints at the border, and passport control is limited. Therefore, foreigners (i.e. citizens of the third countries) are generally not allowed to cross the Belarusian-Russian border even if they are entitled to enter both countries under a visa or a visa-free regime.
Though these rules have been in place for a long time, initially the border control authorities on both sides were not very strictly controlling their observance. The situation changed in 2014, when Russia increased the control over its borders following the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Further introduction of the Visa-free Regime by Belarus resulted in additional controlling and restricting measures from the Russian side.
Thus, as strange as it may sound, at present it is generally not recommendable for foreigners to travel directly between Belarus and Russia. Please note that it relates both to the land and air transport. A possible solution is to take a detour via a neighboring country (e.g. Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia). In case a traveler manages to get directly through the Belarusian-Russian border, it is important to pay attention to registration of the crossing. Due to the lack of a proper passport control, the border service is unlikely to perform the registration, therefore the stay in the first visited country will not be formally finished. Respectively, it will likely result in exceeding the maximum duration of stay.
Such exceeding or violation of any other visa and migration requirements imposed by the Belarusian law may result in a fine in the amount of BYN 1,225 (approx. EUR 500) or deportation.
Additionally, there is a risk to face a ban on further entries to Belarus. Due to the international treaties between Belarus and Russia, the ban to enter one of the states will also prevent a person from entering the other. It is possible to cancel the ban by applying to a competent authority (in Belarus, Ministry of Internal Affairs) with a solid justification. The justification should show applicant’s sufficient connection with the respective country, e.g. employment, relatives living on its territory, owning real estate, investment, etc. Please note that the procedure of cancelling the ban is likely to take significant time (up to 1-2 months).
The Belarusian and Russian governments are reportedly working on the solution. We hope that shortly all obstacles for the direct travelling between the countries will be eliminated. Until then, please be aware of the potential challenges and plan your travels respectively.