Minsk
Winter in Minsk: Upper Town and Svisloch River embankment. Source: Official Internet web site of the Republic of Belarus.

Belarus the Latest Country to Relax Visa Requirements — But There are Catches…

When I found out that there was currently no ferry service to Saint Petersburg from Helsinki — albeit temporarily — this comment pertaining to the relaxing of visa requirements in Belarus was left by MFK, who is a reader of The Gate.

Here is part of that comment:

“Another alternative would be to fly into Minsk from one of those cities. I just read on Lonely Planet that they have relaxed their visa requirements for US, EU and some other citizens who fly into the capital and stay for five days or less (or perhaps it is fewer than five days?). Either way, if you’re in the area, it’s now easier than ever to check off another “off-the-beaten-track” country. Safe travels.”

After reading that comment by MFK, Ric Garrido of Loyalty Traveler was kind enough to provide this link to the news which corroborated with the information provided by MFK.

Belarus the Latest Country to Relax Visa Requirements — But There are Catches…

If you had been hoping to visit Belarus — whose capital city is Minsk — and you are a citizen of one of 80 countries of which visa requirements have been relaxed, you are in luck…

…but there are a few “catches” about which you should know upon establishment of visa-free entry and exit of foreign nationals, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus:

  • The relaxed visa requirements become effective as of Sunday, February 12, 2017 and not before then
  • You can enter Belarus for up to a maximum of five days
  • You must enter and exit from the Republic of Belarus only through the border checkpoint controlled by the state at Minsk National Airport — meaning that you can only arrive via airplane at that airport
  • The visa-free entry does not apply to foreigners paying official visits to Belarus
  • Arrival and departure is not permitted for flights to and from the Russian Federation
  • You must have the following documents with you when entering Belarus:
    1. A valid passport or similar official document for traveling abroad;
    2. Financial means: at least 25 Euro — or equal amount in dollars or Belarusian rubles — for each day of stay; and
    3. Medical insurance with coverage for at least 10,000 Euros which is valid within the territory of Belarus

Options?

As I am considering the suggestion offered by MFK, I had thought about arriving by train from Vilnius in Lithuania — there is daily service at least three times per day — but then, that would not meet the requirements for visa-free entry into Belarus. The train ride would have been as few as two hours and 30 minutes and cost as low as 29.52 Belarusian rubles; or approximately $14.84 via Belarusian Railway.

Instead, I am forced to consider paying $47.10 one way as a passenger aboard an airplane operated by Belavia — approximately three times the price — and if I read the information correctly, I must also leave Belarus via airplane through the border checkpoint controlled by the state at Minsk National Airport.

By the way, I checked: Belavia has no airline partners in its Belavia Leader frequent flier loyalty program — of which I do not intend to sign up as a member — and other options are more expensive and require a stop. The next least expensive option is a flight operated by Ukraine International Airlines, which costs $71.60 and requires a stop in Kiev.

Summary

I have long asserted that if a country wants to increase tourism, it needs to relax its reciprocity fees or visa requirements — and Belarus is doing just that in what seems to be an effort to increase tourism. Chile did it — as well as Argentina as two examples. Let visitors and tourists spend that money on local businesses within the country instead — the government will still collect taxes through the businesses.

According to this article from the National Statistics Committee of the Republic of Belarus, “The number of organised visits was 137.4 thousand in 2014, which is 0.5% more than in 2013.” Neighboring countries supposedly handle up to approximately twenty times the number of visitors.

I am considering a stay of at least one night in Minsk — especially if the Saint Petersburg ferry situation from Helsinki shows no sign of being definitively resolved — before heading on to Warsaw…

…and if I do, I will report back with articles containing photographs and possibly video.

If you have visited Minsk or Belarus, suggestions and recommendations by you are always welcome — but in the meantime, this is one of the Internet web sites which I will be researching

Winter in Minsk: Upper Town and Svisloch River embankment. Source: Official Internet web site of the Republic of Belarus.

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