The title refers to two common traditions in Belarus.
Belarus doesn’t get the same tourist love as other European countries due to not being a European Union or Schengen member. This means a visa is required for lots of people, like myself with a kiwi passport (one of the best in the world). Add in the tendency for humans to take the easy option (a.k.a avoid applying for a visa), it gets left off European itineraries.
I took the plunge and the first week here has been wicked. But given it isn’t a thriving tourist destination yet, there have been a few things which have been annoying in the first week.
Applying For The Visa
I applied for the Belarusian Private visa at the Embassy of Belarus in Riga, Latvia. The process was fairly simple after we managed to get past the reluctant security guard to find out exactly what was needed. Anna would ‘invite’ me and I’d pick up the visa five days later.
- Buy Insurance.
- Get Two Passport Photos.
- Fill Out The Forms.
- Pick Up Your Passport.
- Ensuring you have your immigration form with you from when you entered the country.
- Collecting the registration forms.
- Fill them out correctly (read closely, we stuffed up a few times). Some bits will need to be in cyrillic.
- Heading to the bank to make the deposit. As of Sept. 2015 the cost was 90,000 rubles (4.50€). The registration office will provide you with the bank account details, making it straight forward.
- Bring your payment confirmation, completed forms, immigration card and passport to the office for completion. The office I used was located at here-ish.
Normally worldnomads.com is the go to for insurance for me, but in a stroke of genius-nous, across the road was this joint. For the measly sum of 13.50€ I had insurance for the month.
The ones I had on me were not perfect. There is a kodak store in the train station a 10 stroll minute away so that wasn’t a big issue. Four photos; four euros.
A bunch of the fields needed to be filled out in cyrillic. Find out how to write your name in cyrillic, that will save you plenty of time. You can wing the rest.
I waited five working days and was told to pick my passport after 3pm. I was in and out in a couple minutes. Easy.
When you arrive in Belarus you need to register your arrival within five business days (if you are staying 5+ days); bureaucracy blah blah blah. If you are staying in a hostel or hotel, they should be able to help you out. Given I was at my friends it had to be done by us. It took a few trips but essentially the process involved:
Never Knowing If Things Are Closed
Early September sees summer coming to a close and with it, the peak tourist season. I noticed the autumn leaves collecting themselves already but we didn’t expect Aqua Park and DreamLand to be closed. They are not far out of town, but it is still niggly to find its closed when you get there – a simple note on the website would help. It also happened at a Museum we wanted to go to as well. No sign, no nothing.
I came to Belarus from Riga with my friend Anna who speaks fluent English. English is taught from a young age in schools here, but this doesn’t seem to have had the effect on English competency like in neighbouring Latvia and Lithuania. I’m not sure what the exact reason is but it still requires a desire to learn the language and practice. Perhaps there is a lack of these two factors? I haven’t gone to explore on my own much yet, but its going to be interesting.
Wi-Fi is available in a decent amount of restaurants/cafes but to connect you often need to have a local phone number in order to receive a code. Not ideal, but lucikly sim cards are really cheap in Eastern Europe. Head to a Velcom Mobile store and you can get a sim card with 1GB data and 20 minutes of local phone calls for 40,000 rubles (~2€). Easily solved.
All notes and duplicate colours. New Zealand has one of the best currencies, high quality plastic notes that are brightly coloured with small coins and the lowest denomination is a practical 10 cents. In Belarus I was definitely excited to become a millionaire but have had a struggle since.
There are no coins, all paper baby. Lowest denomination = 100 Belarusian Rubles, which is 0.005€, that’s 1/10th of five cents (quick research shows the 50 not has recently been abolished. Progress. Highest denomination = 200,000 Belarusian Rubles = 9.92€. Belarus is a cheap country so that is no real major issue.
When you are in a rush, look how similar these notes look. That could lead to some people being sneaky, I haven’t seen it yet but I’m conscious of these kind of things. The currency is niggly.
Time To Stop Whinging
I’m a pretty positive person. Don’t get me wrong, Belarus is awesome so far (posts to come) but these were some things on my mind. In the grand scheme of things, they are nothing major and never pissed me off but it can be helpful to you before arriving I think.