|Currency:||Belarusian Ruble (BYR)|
|Hitchability:||<rating country='by' />|
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Belarus is an ex-USSR country in Eastern Europe. The European route E30 passes through it entering at Brest on the border with Poland and leaving at the Russian border between Orša and Smolensk. It is a fantastic and easy-going place for hitchhiking and the police or the political system generally will not bother you at all, so once you have your visa (if needed) you can just relax and go for it. You will enjoy!
72% of the population live in towns and cities, and virtually all the population speaks Russian as their first language. In rural areas a mix of Russian and Belarusian may be spoken, but it is not a good idea to try to speak Belarusian (in the capital of the country you will especially be frowned upon by the police, as Belarusian is the language of governmental opposition). It is therefore better to make destination signs in Russian when hitchhiking.
Also, there are two versions of the Belarusian flag – the official one is the red-green flag (also jokingly known as “dusk over a swamp”), whereas the one used by the opposition is a three-striped white-red-white flag. For your own safety, it is not advised to demonstrate the latter one in public.
Freedom of speech is very restricted in Belarus, try not to ask too many questions about mr. Lukashenko, people might get in trouble when saying something bad about their politics.
In big cities, especially Minsk, you can expect young people to speak at least a basic level of English. If you are hitch-hiking to Russia along E30/M1, expect some truck drivers to speak Polish as well as Russian.
Language barrier can cause some troubles since many drivers speak almost exclusively only Russian or Trasianka, the mishmash of Belarusian and Russian, therefore learn some basic phrases in Russian before you go there. If you do understand some Russian but you are not familiar with Belarusian culture don't get scared or disappointed hearing many swearing words when drivers talk to you – these words aren't directed to you but are rather a simple hearty expression.
Hitchhiking in Belarus is very easy and rarely your waiting time will exceed 15 minutes, at least on the main road M1 from Brest via Minsk to Moscow. As it is very common in Belarus, often drivers may pick you up without being curious about you or what you are doing, sometimes no communication at all. Belarusian people can seem gloomy at first sight, but in the end they are mostly very nice and helpful and drop you on a good spot. In rare cases a small number of older drivers might ask for some money when giving you a ride – to avoid that, tell the driver about your intention to travel for free before you sit into the car ("Ja puteshestvuju avtostopom, bez deneg" ["u" is pronounced as "oo" in English] – "I travel by hitch-hiking, not paying any money"). Usually, just saying 'no money' works just fine too. It might be more difficult if you are more than 2 persons travelling together – in such case it would be smart to split up for some time.
When hitchhiking in Belarus, it is very likely to find some other people standing next to the road, waiting for a car to pick them up. Although most people do not speak English well, it is nice to try to make some contact. Most of them might look angry, but it's just on the outside and once you start talking to them they're just very friendly and warm people. Some Belarusians will even wait for an hour with you in a snowstorm, waiting for another car to stop :)
Russian and Baltic truck drivers are reluctant to stop for hitchhikers in Belarus while Belarusian and Polish trucks are happy to have a company of some traveller(s). Hitchhiking at night is difficult but if you make yourself very visible you can get a ride even at two o'clock at night (some cars might stop just because a driver thinks you are police – light reflectors might give such an impression).
The average waiting time is about 20 minutes. It’s better to travel using main roads as road traffic on local roads is pretty poor. In Belarus there are no roads with limitations for hitchhikers, you can start stopping a car wherever you like, the only exception is bridges. Roadsides are usually wide enough to stop even a truck. Main roads are in a good condition while roads in rural areas might unpleasantly surprise you.
Note: In Belarus you have to wear a flicker (light-returning element or reflective band) when you are on the road after sunset. The police have a plan to get some amount of violators each month, so the possibility of penalty (about € 10) is quite high. It's better to buy a flicker (it costs from € 1), and it's not a problem – now they are sold in any shop in Belarus. And it's a good idea to use them anyway when hitchhiking at night.
There are only about fifteen main roads in Belarus, so if you are not staying in Belarus for long you can hitch through having just a print from any Internet source (for example, this ). More detailed maps can be bought in any kiosk of "Bielsajuzdruk" ("Белсаюздрук"), where newspapers are sold.
In Belarus the road service is very poor, and restaurants in normal amount (for every 30-40 km) exists only on main roads, like E30/M1. But on the way there are usually a lot of small towns and villages, where in the shops you can find anything what you need (and 2-3 times cheaper than in a cafe). And of course, if you want to find some ready dishes, you can go to a students canteen or something like that.
Belarusian number plates end with a number of the region the car is registered in.
- 1 - Brest
- 2 - Viciebsk
- 3 - Homiel
- 4 - Hrodna
- 5 - Minsk (region)
- 6 - Mahiliov
- 7 - Minsk (city)
See Wikipedia article on Belarussian vehicle registration plates for more info.
Most countries' citizens need a visa to visit Belarus. If so, try to find someone on Couchsurfing/BeWelcome/TrustRoots who'd be willing to "invite" you to Belarus(thus you could apply for a "private visit" visa), as this would save you a lot of money in the visa application process - the only way to get a regular tourist visa is through an overpriced agency, which would be eager to book hotels on your behalf. Some embassies may be satisfied with a confirmed hotel booking, without an agency letter, but that would be up to their discretion. However, most Belarussian embassies will issue a "private visit" visa without a letter of invitation or other supporting documents where only the personal info of the inviting person would suffice if the visa duration is less than 30 days. In some cases, they may however ask for a copy of the inviting person's passport but again that would be up to the discretion of the embassy personnel.
uncle_sam01 applied for a private visit visa at the embassy in Warsaw in July 2016 and was asked to provide a copy of the inviting person's passport. Other than that the process was a mere formality.
When travelling to Belarus, you have to be registered with the authorities as a "temporary resident" if you stay in the country for longer than 5 business days (including Saturday!). Registration consists of a Soviet-style blue stamp on the back of your "Migration Card" (you'll get this at the border).How this is done will vary depending on where you stay:
1. Hotels only Easiest option - they'll do it for you automatically and you won't have to worry about it. In some rare instances, they may charge extra for registration, so do ask if registration is included.
2. Couchsurfing/squatting/camping You'll have to visit the local "Migration Department" within 5 business days(including Saturday!) with your as well as your host's passport(they don't have to be there in person, but if you don't speak Russian, it's best that they are). They'll ask you to fill out a form and pay a fee at a local bank branch(the fee is around EUR 10). It might sound scary, but it's relatively straightforward. It is advisable that you register with your first host upon arrival to Belarus for the entire duration of your stay(until your visa expires) - you won't have to worry about/pay for registration again. Legally, you should re-register if you stay somewhere else for more than 5 days, but no one will bother you about this and you can always say "I got here yesterday" :)
3. Couchsurfing+hotels This is the most complicated option. Hotels will only register you for the duration of your booking. Once you check out, you're no longer considered registered and the 5 day period does not apply any more. Therefore, if you then stayed with someone through couchsurfing, you'd need to register immediately, in person, as is described in option 2. If you register with a host first (regardless for how long) and then stay at a hotel, your previous registration becomes void and the hotel registration applies, so the moment you check out you need to re-register somewhere else (either stay in another hotel or register with a host - again the 5 day period won't apply). You could ask the hotel to not stamp your card, so that your previous registration is still valid during and after your hotel stay but this is technically illegal and up to the receptionist's discretion. (uncle_sam01 got his hotel stamp on a sticky note with a "you-naughty-boy" gesture from the receptionist...)
Lack of and/or incorrect registration will lead to fines for you and your host, sometimes even deportation!!! (if your host had a previous guest who also screwed up their registration, they'd be considered a repeat offender and would face a higher fine)
Basically, plan your first night in Belarus with a CS host and register with them until your visa expires. If you stay at a hotel afterwards, make sure they don't stamp your migration card any more. Registration sounds way scarier than it is and shouldn't deter you from visiting Belarus.
You can walk across this border and it's probably best to do so as the lines of trucks and cars are really long. The border police is actually pretty nice! After you crossed the border to Lithuania it's only 33 kms to the capital Vilnius. After the border crossing the main road goes straight to Vilnius but, as the border takes some time for cars, and even more for trucks, you'll probably won't see that much moving traffic while hitchhiking. Your bag might be searched at this bordercrossing.
UPDATE (2015) It is not allowded to cross the border on foot anymore!!!
- "Warsaw Bridge" (bel. Варшаўскі мост, rus. Варшавский мост) – the biggest crossing point located on E30 near Brest. Crossing is possible only in a vehicle. Opposite to what you could guess, the crossing is hassle free and the police not more unfriendly than elsewhere. Prepare yourself for long waiting time, if there is a lot of traffic, even very long waiting time. Even when there are just two or three cars in front of you, you can find yourself waiting for several hours.
- "Kazlovičy" (bel. Казловічы, rus. Козловичи) – for trucks only. Located at the north-western edge of Brest.
- "Damačava" (bel. Дамачава, rus. Домачево) – vehicular crossing located some 40 kilometres south of Brest.
- "Białowieża/Puszcza Białowieska" (Беловежская пуща) - small, pedestrian-only crossing in the middle of the beautiful Bialowieza Forest. EU citizens can visit the Belorussian part of the forest, as well as the village of Kamianiuki without a visa. Since the crossing is for pedestrians/cyclists only, you'll likely be the only person there. There aren't too many parked cars, but just enough to get you picked up to the nearest village on the Polish side (it's not very far, so you can walk, as well). On the Belorussian side, you can either try hitching towards the nearest village of Bely Lesok (there'll be plenty of tourists and only a single road for cars) or you can walk through the forest to Kamianiuki(about 16 km, it's the official "entry" village to the forest on the Belarussian side). From Kamianiuki, you can either hitch, or if you don't have time, take a marshrutka to the bus terminal in Brest. If you're lucky, you can also hitch a ride with one of the park's employees.
If you want to avoid the long waiting times at the Warsaw Bridge border crossing is to take a train from Terespol to Brest. It goes 3 times a day and costs 17 Zloty. You can only pay in zlotys but there is an exchange office in the train station. (July 2016) https://www.openstreetmap.org/node/3456263616
Please note that while there is no border control between Belarus and Russia Belarusian transit visa is still required for foreigners when transiting through the country from Russia to Poland, or vice versa. You can't get a visa at the border. If you go from Belarus to Russia make sure that you always keep your Belarusian migration card. The border is open, there is most likely no control and this means, that you will not recieve a Immigration card or an Entry stamp from Russia. Due to the Customs union between the countries, your card from Belarus also counts in Russia and in case you lose it you will find yourself in unfriendly situation.
UPDATE (2017): Third country nationals (ie. not CIS) are no longer allowed to cross the Belarus/Russia border even with a valid visa for both countries, due to reciprocity measures undertaken by the Russian Government because of EU sanctions. Non-CIS travelers are redirected to cross from Lithuania or Ukraine. There are checks at all major transit points. "Sneaking in" at a random village is not advised.
- Brest (bel: Брэст, rus: Брест, pl: Brześć, lt: Brestas)
- Homiel (bel: Гомель, rus: Гомель, pl: Homel, lt: Gomelis)
- Hrodna (bel: Гродна, rus: Гродно, pl: Grodno, lt: Gardinas)
- Mahilioŭ (bel: Магiлёў, rus: Могилёв, pl: Mohylew, lt: Mogiliavas)
- Minsk (bel: Мiнск, rus: Минск, pl: Mińsk, lt: Minskas)
- Viciebsk (bel: Вiцебск, rus: Витебск, pl: Witebsk, lt: Vitebskas)
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Brest region • Homiel region • Hrodna region • Mahilioŭ region • Minsk (city) • Minsk region • Viciebsk region