If you decide to go to Belarus by car instead of flying or going by train, you have to be well prepared and know some tips.
This will let you avoid losing time, money, and sometimes your temper. Here are some things to prepare for when driving to Belarus.
Before the trip
Firstly, make sure you have all the necessary papers which will allow you to cross the state border. You need to have a valid passport, visa, technical passport, green card (usually it’s free but you have to ask your car insurance company for it).
You don’t need to be a car owner anymore to cross the border into Belarus. You can either rent the vehicle or borrow from your friend and you need no special written and translated confirmation.
If your car is leased it’s a good idea to have special documents in which your leasing company allows you to take this car abroad, sometimes specifically to certain countries or regions.
Most leasing companies issue such papers in different languages. You won’t need them at the border, however, the road police in Belarus might ask for them in very rare cases.
Your green card works as insurance for your car during your stay in Belarus. You don’t need additional insurance, which you can buy at the border, in case you don’t have a green card, or in case you want better insurance conditions for your car.
Besides, you need personal insurance, of course.
Crossing the border into Belarus
Once your papers are ready, you have to decide which border crossing to choose.
There are 6 international border crossings if you’re coming from Poland, 5 from Lithuania and 2 from Latvia. The website of the Belarusian Border Committee is the one to refer to for detailed information on checkpoints and queues.
Lifehack! Bobrowniki-Bierastavica checkpoint has a separate euro-corridor for cars on foreign plates.
Mind that it has virtually empty English and Belarusian versions, so you might have to use online translator from Russian into English.
If you decide to go through Bobrowniki-Bierastavica, you can use the advantage of a euro-corridor, which allows you to save time and not wait in line with the cars with Belarusian plates. Not every crossing has such a corridor and sometimes you have to ask soldiers, border guards, or customs officers for help.
Respect red lights, stop signs and other rules, in order to avoid fines. The official rules for crossing international borders are the same; however, in practice, they might vary from a crossing to a crossing.
The number of control points is basically the same – a soldier with a turnpike, a European border guard who checks both your personal papers and your car, a Belarusian border guard, a Belarusian customs officer and finally a Belarusian soldier with a turnpike.
If you’re driving on European plates, you always choose the red corridor on the Belarusian side. At every crossing, they will ask you to fill in a tax declaration even if you are not bringing restricted goods (check the list) because your car needs to be declared in the first place.
You will get an A5 blank to fill in two identical copies.
Lifehack! Fill the blanks out carefully. Customs officers will tell you to rewrite them there are mistakes or something is stricken off.
One copy will be given to you with a stamp and make sure you keep it for the rest of your journey and on your way back as well. Guards will want to note in the system that your vehicle has legally left the country.
In Bierastavica they will let you keep it, on other crossing points they might take it from you after control, on your way back home.
As a rule, customs officers are very meticulous about details. They will ask you to rewrite your blanks if you make mistakes or if you strike something off.
There should be blanks in English, ask other drivers or officers for help. Usually, people are helpful as there’s plenty of time that they spend on the border.
Waiting time at the Belarusian border can vary from half an hour up to several hours if you are unlucky. However, in most cases crossing the border into Belarus should take you about two hours. So take it into account before you make certain plans, appointments or hotel reservations.
The best time for crossing Belarus border is at night, of course. However, this option is only for experienced drivers.
Paid roads and Beltoll
Once the last gate opens, you’re in Belarus. Roads are pretty good in this country and holes are rare on main transit highways.
Be careful about speed limits and road cameras. Don’t risk getting a ticket for which you would have to pay in Belarusian rubles.
Not to get a fine for driving on the paid road you need to stop in a Beltoll office, which is usually on the first available gas station and is marked by a special yellow Beltoll sign. Those offices are usually open 24 hours, however, check the availability of particular offices before your trip.
There are many details you need to learn about but you can find almost everything in a good English version of the website of BelToll.
What you are not going to learn is that if you decide to pay with a bank card, the remaining part of your credit will be transferred to the same bank card on your way back. It might be of great importance in case you are traveling with other passengers who, for example, decide to pay you in such a way. To be sure you will get your money back pay with your own card or in cash (only Belarusian rubles).
Lifehack! Pay attention to the sounds Beltoll device makes when you cross road frames.
Follow all the instructions of a Beltoll worker as your vehicle unit must be installed properly. When crossing road frames make sure there is a beeping sound which informs you that everything is ok.
If you hear a double sound it means your credit is almost over and you should get off the paid road as soon as possible and find the closest Beltoll service point in order to top your account.
In case you drive under a road frame with no credit or no vehicle unit, you will be fined. Fines are pretty high and start from about 100 euros just for one road segment.
Gas stations in Belarus
Tired? You’re almost ready to enjoy your road trip but before that make sure you’ve got enough fuel.
Gas stations are pretty frequent but don’t risk running out of fuel in a foreign country. When you decide to fuel your tank remember that Belarusian rules are a little bit different and remind the American way.
First, you pay (with Belarusian rubles or your bank card) and then fuel your car. If your car is full and you still have some fuel remaining you will get change or they will transfer the remainder to your bank card.
Read also: Shopping In Belarus And How To Do It Right
The most reliable, state-owned, the gas station is Belneftachim and you will recognize it by its green color. Most gas stations are modern, you can use free toilets, free Internet after a quick registration with a mobile phone number (including foreign numbers), hot beverages and local fast food.
Lifehack! Belarus has one of the cheapest gas prices in Europe. Therefore when leaving the country, make sure your tank is full.
In winter, when it’s freezing, you might want to tank petrol with special additives for low temperatures.
Finally, Belarusian road police (DAI) is not as active as it used to be, say about 10 years ago. However, it can be tough on roadhogs, especially when driving in a town. They can stop you for speeding from the front and from you back, as well as during special radar controls.
Local drivers often double-blink in order to warn one another about such controls and it works very well. But be careful before you get used to driving in Belarus. You don’t want to be surprised by irregular speed bumps, wild animals or locals with no flickers.
Belarus is a great country to travel by car. However, you have to learn the way the cookie crumbles here. Have a good trip!
Text by Vital Voranau. All images are used for illustrative purposes.