From February to April almost 8,000 visa-free tourists entered Belarus through Minsk airport. Why did they decide to come and how did they like their stay in the country?
Six travelers from Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Lithuania, Northern Ireland and Poland have shared their experience with BelarusFeed.
Benoit Marmillod, 25, Lithuania: “Visa-free is helpful as a time saver”
The Frenchman is currently living in Vilnius, Lithuania, and working as country manager for a company selling fishing equipment.
The young man made his first trip to Belarus in 2013 and has visited the country six times since then: five times with a visa and once without it in the beginning of February. Benoit has many friends in Belarus.
“I saw different articles on Facebook and my Belarusian friends also warned me about the good news. I guess I was aware about this new law from first day it was voted,” Benoit told BelarusFeed.
“Visa-free is helpful as a time saver. As we are neighbors, I enjoy to come for the weekend to visit my friends. For me, visa cost 60 euros, and it took about a working day to get. Going to pick the invitation plus waiting in the queue in embassy, and then coming back and wait again in the queue to take my passport.
Now with visa-free it cost me the same amount to book plane ticket, but it’s at least more convenient and I could do it in few minutes from home”.
Benoit has been in Minsk a few times. He says he enjoyed it: he visited different museums and tried local dishes.
“Belarus is so close from Europe but so different in many aspects. It has a different alphabet, different culture, architecture etc.” Benoit said.
He is planning other visits to see Belarusian countryside and other cities.
Anna York, 57, Northern Ireland: “Border check at Minsk airport was a breeze”
Anna, a professional cook in a high school, has been in Belarus 10 times to visit her family. She learned about visa-free entry through Facebook.
“Security entry at the airport took about 15 minutes. I appreciate that level of security and I expected that”, Anna said.
She believes that someone who could speak English would be very helpful, too.
“When I visited Belarus previously with a visa, it took hours at the two border checks as I flew into Vilnius. So a 15-minute wait at Minsk airport was a breeze”.
Anna wishes the duration of visa-free stay could be extended from 5 days: “I would love to visit my family more often. Probably, I’ll come again in summer”.
Pascal Medawar, 46, Cyprus: “In Belarus I like the cold and forests”
Pascal, who is half Cypriot and half Lebanese, works as a technical manager in a computer and solution provider company and is married to a Belarusian. Like others, he found about the introduction of visa-free entry from Facebook.
The man has been to Belarus before, but is not sure he would have continued coming unless for the new law: “Visa was an issue as it was expensive and difficult to get. I do not think I would have continued to travel to Belarus if the visa fee had not been cancelled”.
“With the visa-free entry it was very quick to cross the passport checkpoint, compared to older times when it did not exist. I needed more than an hour to get out of the airport before”.
Pascal has already thoroughly explored Belarus and Minsk.
“I went to Circus, I went to few pubs and restaurants and shopping malls. I went to the birds’ island, but I couldn’t walk much in there as it was icy cold. During my previous travel, I visited Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Tower of Kamyenyets, Brest Fortress, Kosovski Palace, train exhibition, aviation museum in Borovaya, Dudutki, ice skating shows, and many other interesting places”.
What surprised Pascal in Belarus is how friendly the people were regardless the language barrier, clean streets and pavements. He was also pleased that car drivers follow the rules and that the city is safe to walk.
“Of course, I am planning to come again, I love Belarus!”
Bram Verbrugghe, 27, Belgium: “Officers were much more professional than in other countries that I visited”
Bram, a technical clerk, has been in Belarus three times. His last visit took place in the end of March.
The young man learned about visa-free travel from his Belarusian girlfriend who had heard it on radio.
He confesses he would have come anyway because of his relationship, but the visa-free trip was very easy in preparation: “The only thing that she did was calling the Ministry of International Affairs to clear up the requirement”.
He says the border check of visa-free tourists was detailed but swift.
“They checked very thoroughly (how it should be). However, the line moved very fast… [They were] much more professional than other countries that I visited. And the only document they requested besides my passport was the medical insurance”.
In Minsk Bram took his time to enjoy local cuisine (draniki, syrniki, solianka), visited the WWII museum and made a trip with a City Tour Bus.
“In my opinion, the museum is a must-see for tourists… It has a lot of interesting stuff about Minsk’s rich history. And I highly recommend a bus tour when it’s dark – Minsk by night is beautiful!”
Bram is looking forward to visiting Brest the next time he comes but adds that Belarus is a country that is worth to be visited even if a tourist has to pay for a visa.
Karolina Szumska, Poland: “It was my dream to go to Belarus”
Karolina works as a personal assistant to CEO in TV and manages a fan-owned football club AKS ZŁY from Warsaw.
She says she had read about the introduction of visa-free entry to Belarus on the Internet and bought the plane ticket to Minsk the next day.
“It was my first trip to this beautiful country but surely not last. It was my dream to go there, and visa-free entry just made that more simple,” Karolina said answering a question from BelarusFeed.
The girl has many friends in Belarus, and adds she “would have come anyway but maybe another time”.
The border check at Minsk airport was not long, according to Karolina: “Just the standard procedure. They didn`t really ask me anything besides the medical insurance“.
In the time allowed she saw the Gorky Park, walked through city center, visited many department stores, restaurants. “The most important is that I went to Minsk Arena to see one of my favourite bands Brutto!”
Karolina described Minsk as very clean and tidy: “We have a lot to learn from you!”
She wishes visa-free foreigners were allowed more time in Minsk and is coming back in summer.
Amos Schmidt, 28, Austria: “I am already considering another trip to check out the places I did not get to see this time”
Amos from Graz works as a full-time professional translator and conference interpreter. In his free time, the guy runs a travel blog and YouTube channel called with stories, pictures and videos from his trips to various locations.
“I have been following various travel blogs and Facebook groups that focus on Eastern Europe. In January, I came across an article about the new visa-free entry rules. I was really excited about Belarus opening up a little to tourism,” Amos said.
The visit in April was his first trip to Belarus: “I was thinking about coming to Belarus for years, but I never felt like going through the bureaucratic process of applying for a visa and paying outrageous consular fees”.
He has actually circled all ex-USSR states in Europe except Belarus: “It soon became the only remaining blank space on my map. When I found out about visa-free entry, I called my friend and we booked our flights on the same day!”
“I usually plan all my trips myself and never use travel agencies. The information I found online about the visa-free procedure at Minsk National Airport was actually quite good, and it did not take longer than usual to research all necessary information”.
Amos praised the border officers as well: “They didn’t ask a single question, to my surprise. They were really friendly”.
However, there were problems with transfer to the city: “There is definitely a lack of information for arriving passengers who do not speak the language. There was no Uber available to pick us up, and we had to wait more than one hour for a taxi from the Minsk Airport Transfer tourist information desk. Other passengers from our plane also walked up and down the arrivals hall, desperately trying to find out how to get to Minsk without using the expensive taxis”.
Due to the visa-free regulations, Amos and his friend were limited to five days and lost some of our time due to inconvenient flight schedules.
“We spent most of our time sightseeing in Minsk, explored some of the bars and restaurants and walked around the beautiful parks.
As a coffee lover, I particularly enjoyed the Coffee Festival at Galleria Minsk, where I had nice conversations with local baristas and tried some of their delicious coffee.
On our last day, we made an unforgettable day trip to Brest where we explored the Fortress and walked around the city center. All we had known about Brest before our visit was that there was this massive monument which I always wanted to see in person, but the city itself had so much to offer”.
The traveler would love to see Grodno if there were more days for visa-free tourists.
“I am already considering another trip to Belarus to check out the places I did not get to see this time. Perhaps, visa-free entry could be extended to 15 days, so that tourists can discover other towns as well”.