In February, the country of Belarus in Eastern Europe introduced a new 5-day visa-free scheme. As Belarus is one of the most closed-off countries in Europe, this was a huge change and one that I knew I wanted to take advantage of. There is next to nothing available (short of the official government websites) about visiting Belarus without a visa. So I wanted to do a whole post on my experience!
You can visit Belarus visa-free for 5 days if you are a citizen of the countries listed here. This includes the US, all EU countries (including the UK), citizens of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and more (about 80 countries). For a few countries, you may need to have a valid Schengen visa or visa valid for an EU member state. The visa-free scheme does have some pretty limiting restrictions though:
- You need to enter and exit Belarus through Minsk Airport (aka, you have to fly in and out of Belarus, and you have to fly through Minsk)
- You can’t fly from Russia to Belarus, or Belarus to Russia, as these flights are classed as domestic and there’s no passport control
- You can stay for a maximum of 5 days, including the day of arrival and departure. I flew in on Sunday, July 16 and flew out on Thursday, July 20 (the maximum number of days allowed)
- There’s no restriction on the number of times you can visit visa-free, but you can’t visit for more than 90 days in a calendar year
When you’re entering Belarus, you will need to have:
- A valid passport
- Proof of medical insurance (travel insurance that is valid in Belarus)
- Proof of funds to sustain yourself while you’re in Belarus (a minimum of 25€ per day or the equivalent in a different currency—a printed off bank statement should be fine)
I would also highly recommend printing off flight confirmation for your flight out (proving that you will be leaving in the required 5-day period), and booking confirmation for your accommodation as well. Just in case they ask, it’s much better to have more paperwork than be denied entry to a country.
My experience visiting Belarus under the new visa-free scheme was fairly straightforward and stress-free. When I boarded my plane to Minsk, the gate agent asked if I had a visa or if I was going for 5 days or less (that was the extent of my pre-flight visa check). Towards the end of the flight, I was given a landing card to fill out. There were two identical halves, and you fill out both sides. They will take the first half when you enter the country, and then you’ll give them the second half when you leave (so don’t lose it!).
When my flight landed in Minsk and I got to immigration control, the officer first asked if I spoke Russian (to which I replied “чуть-чуть,” or a little), but he spoke enough English to understand everything we needed to say. He asked if we had a visa (no), how long we were staying for (5 days), when we were flying out and leaving Belarus (we flew in on Sunday and so we were flying out on Thursday), where we were going in Belarus (Minsk), where we were staying (Revolucion Hostel), and asked to see our “obligatory medical insurance.”
I currently have travel insurance through my UK bank account (Nationwide FlexPlus), so before we left I made sure to have a certificate of cover. This stated the dates that it was valid for the trip, that it was worldwide, and the coverage amount (covered up to £100 million). The officer never asked to see any proof of funds, looked at our travel insurance briefly, stamped our passports, took one half of our landing card, gave the other half back to us. Just like that—we were through and officially in Belarus!
If you don’t have medical insurance covering you in Belarus, you can buy it from a desk at the airport right before the line for immigration control (it’s a giant desk that says “obligatory medical insurance,” you can’t miss it). But you should always travel with travel insurance, no matter where you go or what you’re doing.
Leaving Belarus was also very straightforward. Unfortunately for me, my officer got confused about where I flew in from (Riga), and flicked through my passport about 6 times after asking me questions about my old Russian tourist visa from 2014 (??). Eventually she stamped my boarding pass and my passport, took the second half of my landing card, and I was on my way. Adam’s experience was even easier: his officer just asked, “5 days no visa?” Adam said yes, and he was through just fine.
I was so stressed about Belarus’s visa-free scheme, but honestly there wasn’t really any reason to be. Just make sure you’re following all the rules and have all the paperwork you need.
I want to emphasize this though: DO NOT FUCK AROUND WITH THIS. Don’t think you can forgo the rules and get around the restrictions. Don’t overstay your 5 days. Don’t try to enter Belarus without a visa from anywhere that’s not the airport. These restrictions are in place for a reason. As I was typing this blog post on my flight from Minsk to Kiev, the Australian guy next to me took his headphones out and told me how his friend got turned away from Belarus at the border because he tried to enter the country by train—they denied him entry and promptly put him on the next train back to Lithuania. You can also rack up big fines if you overstay a visa. Just don’t do it.
As long as you follow the rules like I did, there is nothing to worry about when visiting Belarus visa-free. While 5 days is far too short of a visit to a country as fascinating as Belarus, it was absolutely worth it. Yes, it will cost more money to fly in and out of Minsk, but to be honest, I justified it because otherwise I’d be spending that money on a visa if I wasn’t flying.
Belarus was such an interesting place, and I already know I want to go back! I sincerely hope this helps anyway hoping and/or planning to visit Belarus visa-free for 5 days!
Have you ever been to Belarus? What was your experience like? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!