For travelers, no two border crossings are ever the same. Sometime the people you encounter are relaxed and friendly. Other times you feel like you’ve committed a crime, or are about to be accused of one, simply by your presence. Here are five stories of BelarusFeed readers who crossed a Belarusian border and had different experiences to share.
A border crossing is like a microcosm of what the countries themselves are like.
Came to Belarus by car
When my husband told me in February this year that he was thinking about us visiting his parents in Belarus over the summer, I thought that it was an excellent idea. But minutes later, I realised that it meant we were going to have to cross the border with our car because there was no way our dog Lola was not going to be part of the journey! We are used to traveling by car so the miles did not scare us. Having to cross the Polish-Belarusian border, however, was a different story. We contacted the authorities in Belarus to make sure that we had all the correct documents.
There were many aspects to consider:
- Getting my visa sorted as I am a French citizen
- Making sure the car documents were all in order
- Checking what we needed in order to bring a dog with us
- Checking how much we could bring with us in the car
I contacted the Belarussian Embassy in London, applied for my visa via mail, and received it a week later. I made sure that I had the car registration certificate as well as my driving license. We knew that we needed a third party car insurance but you can only get it once you have entered Belarus so there was little we could do beforehand as far as the car insurance was concerned. A day before entering Belarus, we took our dog Lola to a vet in Wroclaw, Poland.
She was examined and the vet signed off her PET passport. As she is an EU citizen, she did not require extra documents. You are allowed to bring 50 kilos per person if you travel by car and we found out that your pet also counted as “luggage”! Feeling confident (ish) that we had ticked all the boxes, we set off for Belarus. A Belarusian citizen traveling in a British car with his French wife and their dog almost sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? To be honest with you, I was not exactly in the mood for a joke. My main worry was to be told at the border that we were missing some documents and to be turned away.
So when we entered Belarus via Terespol, we were pleasantly surprised by how amicable and helpful the Belarusian authorities were. Everything went smoothly. I suppose it helps that we are both Russian speakers. However, I was not expecting that at all. We were able to buy our car insurance at the Belarusian border. We were then taken to a small booth where a vet checked Lola’s documents. We filled in all the declarations and were able to enter the country.
We were warned about the importance of getting the Belltoll equipment in order to travel on the motorway and one of the border control officers explained to us where we could get it from (at the Belarusneft petrol station, 5 minutes away by car from the border).
We ended up waiting less on the Belarussian side than when we were in Poland (where you do not actually fill in any documents!). Before we knew it, three weeks had gone and it was time to go home. We had to follow certain procedures to make sure we would actually be allowed out! A quick trip to the vet to get Lola checked and get her stamp in her passport the day before our departure. A visit to the Belltoll office in Brest where we gave back the Belltoll equipment and got some of our money back as we had not used all the money we had put on the account. We ended up waiting a lot more this time at the border because the Polish authorities do check everything in the cars.
We had to open all our suitcases and it took us 5 hours to cross the border but the trip was worth it. People are usually very quick at complaining when something goes wrong but rarely praise the system when it works. I think it is only fair for us to let you know that the whole process was easy and we were pleasantly surprised but at the same time grateful. Having traveled to Belarus for more than 20 years, I must admit that this was the first time I actually felt at ease at the border. All the credit goes to the border control officers who even managed to crack a few jokes as we were waiting! We will be traveling to Belarus again by car now that we know how easy and stress-free the whole process is. Well done Belarus for making us feel so welcome!
Arrived by plane
Three years ago I stayed with friends in Belarus who own a dacha near Daŭhinava. After two hot weeks, meeting half of the village, I left my friends and hitchhiked to Vileika. The driver dressed in a Caribbean shirt agreed to drop me at the bus station. Crossing a small park I asked a blond woman if she could speak English. “Of course,” she said, “I am an English teacher”. She helped me out to buy a ticket, which was surprisingly cheap. Together we traveled to Maladshesna.
In the early afternoon, I took a train to Vilnius. The train was new and comfortable. At the border, a couple of strict looking officers came in. I silently showed them my passport. A female officer asked me for a special document, a tiny piece of paper (a loose leaf that should be registered in the local Department of Citizenship and Migration by a foreigner who stays in a country over 5 days – note BelarusFeed), which one receives upon entering Belarus. When she saw it was not stamped I was interrogated by two more officials, who did not speak any English. They were completely dependent on one young passenger behind me who helped me out by translating my English into Russian.
I told the officers that on my third day in Belarus I had visited a police station in Daŭhinava, but the policewoman there did not know what to do. Perhaps she had never seen such a document before and I was one of the first tourists in her office since World War II? She sent me and my friend to Vileika 30 or 40 km further west. After lunch, we left his dacha. Suddenly smoke was coming out from the bonnet, so we stopped at the side of the road. It appeared the motor had broken down. He phoned some of his friends and we waited in the August heat for help.
We could not go anywhere until the car was repaired in Minsk, which took a week. On the tenth day of my visit, we hurried to go kayaking on Lake Naroch and in a nearby national park. So we skipped the visit to the police station. I suppose my explanation was convincing and they did not check my luggage, but I found the whole event very unfriendly and scary. From my seat, I could see the train was surrounded by border police with German shepherds. If I remember well, there were wooden barracks, barbed wire, and searchlights. It reminded me of a German labor camp near Berlin I had once visited. The show lasted for half an hour. Finally, the train went on to Lithuania.
It is unbelievable that customs officers who have to check or interrogate tourists do not speak English. The authorities should offer them training. Maybe they pretended not to be able to speak English? Still, I regret not having asked the policewoman at least for a stamp, so I could show the “officers” I had made an effort to register.
Traveled by bus
My first trip was with an Irish based charity called Chernobyl Aid Ireland. We were on our way to work in an orphanage in Grosovo and I believe it was in 2010. I have been back in Belarus a couple of times every year ever since that first trip. I traveled by bus and this was the preferred and cheapest mode of transport available at the time. The first border crossing was interesting as although I am quite well traveled I hadn’t actually crossed a land border before so it was very new to me.
The first thing I noticed was the huge line of lorries. I had never seen so many lorries parked one after the other in my life and it seemed as if the line would go on forever. One of the senior charity members told me to try to count them but I quit after counting 200 and from then on we got all the new members on future trips to try and count them but nobody has yet and the lines seem to get longer every time.
Anyway back to the border, actually I don’t have any pictures of the border as we were told on our first trip not to take pictures during the border crossing and we all respected that and never have since either. The border crossing itself took probably an hour or so and there was 14 of us so I would say that’s pretty good to be fair and aside from one or two trips where perhaps it was a 2 or 3-hour wait. In general, the crossing seemed to go relatively quickly. I can also say that never on a public bus can I remember being more than an hour getting through the border and usually it’s less than 40 minutes.
The staff are all very serious looking at the border and can look grumpy even but most are helpful and friendly once they speak and I even got a few smiles from time to time especially when I made an attempt to communicate in Russian). I have a very limited vocabulary in Russian and certainly not enough for a conversation but I do try my best whenever I can. I would say for sure it was professional and that’s my experience in general in relation to most procedural processes in Belarus, every I must be dotted and T crossed or there will be a problem for sure, everything has to be done just as described or you won’t get whatever you are looking for or wanting.
The big hats worn by the senior border officers seemed a little odd to us and honestly just seemed too big for a person to wear and perhaps a stripe or some other way to identify a senior officer might be better for them. Also, most delays seemed to occur whenever one of these senior officers became interested in our bus. We used to have a saying that the bigger the hat the bigger the problem.
Anyway, I wouldn’t say that crossing the border is particularly fun but it’s necessary if you want to get to another country and I wouldn’t say that from my experience that the Belarussian border is any worse than any other. Well, actually the toilets could be much better but this is a common complaint in most countries border crossings. I would give it an 8 overall as it’s not really a fun experience but is reasonably quick and professional, just one of those things that have to be done I guess. I should mention that I haven’t actually crossed the border by bus now for a few years as I mostly fly into Belarus since the 5-day visa came into effect.
By a minivan full of Belarusian girls
Mine border crossing experience was good. Last year I was going to Grodno from Lithuania, enjoying a visa-free travel to the city to meet a friend. I had everything in order, including a visa-free online permit.
I was going by bus, so they check us all on the border, apparently, I was the only one non-Belarusian or Lithuanian on the bus (I have a Mexican passport) so they took a long time checking my documents.
After so much waiting, the bus driver told me he couldn’t wait anymore for me so I’d stay at the border. Belarusian police officers were nevertheless telling me everything was ok, it’s just a routine checking/ By the way, I speak Russian so communication with them was in Russian only. They told me the problem was that they didn’t get my registration for visa-free travel so they were checking with the agency that they issued the permit.
When that was cleared, the border guy just stopped a minivan full of Belarusian girls (apparently they rented the minivan to organize a shopping trip to Lithuania for tax-free goods), and asked the driver if he had a place for me, then he told the driver “ok then take this guy to Grodno”.
Everyone on the minivan was really nice, they took me to the address of my friend and we were making jokes and laughing on the way there, also they also called my Belarusian friend to say that I am ok. Really unusual but not bad at all experience, even border police were nice to me.
Rogelio Y. Monroy
Arrived by plane
I crossed the border six times at this point – from Poland to Russia and two times going and returning from Lithuania. English could be a little of a problem but in general everybody was very professional and in fact, they were doing their job correctly from my point of view.
The biggest issue was that I didn’t get a stamp on my exit from Belarus to Russia and I returned to Belarus by plane from Russia, what in normal circumstances is not allowed for a foreigner. However, since it was the World Cup, I was able to do it so. The thing is, I got an exit stamp from Russia but not an entry stamp in Belarus.
So, next time when I traveled to Lithuania I couldn’t explain this right away because they were not speaking English. They called another person from the border services and I was able to make myself somehow understood and they let me go out and come back again. But in no case, they were rude or treat me in a bad way. My only bad experience was two hours of waiting when coming back from Lithuania for the second time, but this was pretty much the same in both countries.