Imagine this: you’re from Germany, or the United States, or the UK, or Australia, and for some reason, inexplicable to others in your life, you’ve decided on moving to Belarus.
Maybe your significant other lives here, or you were offered a dream job, or you love traveling and unconventional life decisions. Maybe you were kicked out of your parent’s house in Miami and had no one else to go to except for your Belarusian granny. Life is complicated and unpredictable, after all.
This article is about what you can expect from Belarus. Pros and cons compared to the hypothetical life you’ve had in the countries they call developed.
I’ll start with cons, because I am from Belarus, and people here are generally pessimistic. If you move, you’ll probably have to get used to it.
Read also: 7 ways to make a Belarusian laugh
Cons of moving to Belarus
If you’re moving to Belarus, you’ve got to speak Belarusian or Russian. There’s no other option. It’s not like Thailand where everyone seems to know English despite its very different culture and economic status.
In Belarus, you won’t get the simplest things done without Belarusian or Russian, neither will you find people on the street to help you out unless you’re very lucky. “You’ll generally feel crippled”, as my friend who moved from Australia to Belarus pointed out.
Thinking of moving to Belarus? Save some time to learn the language at least on a basic level and prepare to work hard here to get good at it.
2. Payments & taxes
More and more people nowadays call themselves digital nomads. They travel around the world, work from their laptops from any place that has internet access. Belarus is no exception.
If you’re one of these people, prepare to face some issues. Your usual methods of earning, and transferring money, and paying taxes might not work in Belarus.
Locals can’t open accounts overseas, it can be hard to do bank transfers, some payment services such as PayPal allow only limited operations, and others like Transferwise don’t work here at all. There’s also no tax treaty with some countries, so you might have to pay double tax.
This one has two sides. Primary and secondary education isn’t bad in Belarus. Curriculums may include weird and unpleasant things such as ideological groups that children are asked to join (keep in mind that they can’t be forced to join by law), but all in all children will be taught all the same subjects on more or less the same level as in an American high school, on A-levels and GCSE, and similar programs.
The catch comes up when it comes to tertiary education in Belarus.
Belarus only joined Bologna Process in 2015 and is still in the process of bringing universities up to the world standards. This means that the Belarusian diploma won’t be accepted in most countries. Very few Belarusian universities are rated in the world university rankings and none have made it to the top 100.
However, education is cheap compared to that in the developed countries (excluding Germany, where it’s been free for four years now), and there’s a good chance of getting tertiary education for free if you’ve got Belarusian passport.
4. Personal rights
Belarus is rated at 61 out of 100 on personal rights in the Social Progress Index next to Vietnam and Kuwait. In comparison, the U.S. is 92, the UK – 95, Germany – 97 (compare countries here to get an idea). Political rights and freedom of expression are at the “red” level, and so is access to the independent media. Unlike in the developed countries, you can’t always have your political views expressed (see freedom of expression rating here), and you aren’t likely to get much when protesting on the streets.
In fact, you’ll probably get locked up for some time instead.
Another problematic aspect of living in Belarus is a serious lack of inclusiveness. The country is rated 58 out of 100 in the Social Progress Index. Gays and lesbians aren’t accepted on the governmental level and discrimination and violence against minorities are high.
These are the problems that have been pointed out by people who’ve moved here or by world’s rankings. And now it’s time to move to predictable and less predictable advantages of moving to Belarus.
Pros of moving to Belarus
1. Cost of living
The cost of living in Belarus is quite cheap compared to the first world countries. Renting, housing and communal services, transport, petrol – all main expenditure are much, much cheaper. Medicine, including dentistry, is free for citizens/residents or cheaper in comparison to even Russia; the same, as you recall, goes for education.
Surely, the average income is also small ($500 a month officially, $250-300 a month unofficially), but if you’ve got savings made in any of the developed countries, or any other sources of income outside of Belarus, your quality of life will actually get better when you move to Belarus.
A freelance web designer that relocated from Australia:
“In general, my quality of life is better here. More bang for your buck. I lived in Sydney before with the outrageous rent prices, always sharing with flatmates and pretty far from the CBD. Here I live right in the center of Minsk in a very nice apartment, and I can afford to travel frequently to European countries.”
This will also be the case for you if you’re an IT specialist that moved to Belarus. As the same web designer points out,
“IT specialists here get on average $2000-3000 a month ($1700 on average officially, including both technical and non-technical specialists – note BelarusFeed) with the cost of living being below $1000 per month. In Australia, you get paid around $4000 per month in a mid-level programming role. But your cost of living is likely also around $3600 per month.”
IT might also be one of the rare fields where poor Russian isn’t a problem. People speak a mix of Russian and English in the workplace, and almost always work with English-speaking clients, where a non-Belarusian might even come in handy.
Belarus might not be the best country for frequent travelers due to the absence of low-cost airlines, but truth be told, it’s still a good one in terms of its geographical location.
A good number of countries can be reached by car or after a night on a bus. That’s not something the U.S., UK, or Australia can boast!
Minsk isn’t a small city, yet it’s nothing compared to the capitals or just large cities of the first world countries. This means, it’s easier and faster to move around the city, and you can’t possibly get into a situation where you need two hours to get to work.
Transportation is good, modern, and keeps improving. There’s also much less traffic compared to cities of the developed countries. Same goes for regional cities, although, of course, infrastructure there is not as developed as in Minsk.
Transportation within the country is ridiculously cheap. It’s completely subsidized by the government, as opposed to that of many developed countries (e.g., the UK, USA, Germany, or Switzerland). For example, taking a train for two hours in the UK will cost you around $50 (more if you’re going to London or through London).
In Belarus, it will cost you around $3.
This may sound counterintuitive, but there’re many advantages of Belarusian medicine compared to other countries. First, it got 98 out 100 in medical care in Social Progress Index: same or almost same to the UK, U.S., Germany, and Australia. Second, it’s organized better in many ways – you can choose to get free or paid medical care, while in the developed countries it’s one or the other, and it’s not working that well.
Here’s a quote of a Belarusian who moved to Germany, where medical care is insured:
“After sixty, you’ve got to pay about €250 per month for health insurance. Your average pension is around €500! Yet, when you do come with a health problem, it’s a much worse situation in terms of making an appointment than it is in Belarusian clinics. The average waiting time to see a doctor for something non-urgent is around forty days. ”
Here’s one of a Belarusian who moved to the UK, where medical care is free:
“You can’t see any specialized doctor just because you feel like you have to. You can only see a general practitioner, who is unable to diagnose you or treat you, and you have to wait about four hours for an appointment, even if it’s an A & E.”
In Belarus, you seem to have more choice. You still wait, not even that long if you’re going for free medical care, and you make an appointment with paid services if you’d rather pay and save the time. You can see a specialized doctor just because you don’t feel well. If you don’t like the doctor that free services provide, you can always go to as many different doctors in paid services as you like.
Again, if you’re an expat that has income that differs from Belarusian average, you’ll be positively surprised with the prices.
5. Leisure time
If we’re talking about Minsk, its entertainment, or rather its activities sector isn’t worse than that of big cities of the first world countries. True, you don’t get Broadway shows and world-class operas, but in reality, how many people visit these places on a regular basis?
Yet, if you’ve got a hobby that you want to keep up after moving here, or if you want to get a new one, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to satisfy your most niche interests. Anything from joining a group of Indian dancers to practicing canoeing and mountaineering is possible.
Having lived in two first world countries before coming to Minsk, I can genuinely say that this was the first city where I could satisfy all my interests and actually afford them.
This isn’t the full list of advantages of moving to Belarus. But these are the ones that people found particularly important.
And now over to you. Thinking of moving to Belarus? Or maybe you’re already here and want to share your opinion with us? Leave your comments and questions below!
Text by Alina Gorbatch.