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Author Topic: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel  (Read 5792 times)

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Offline mendeleyev

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A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« on: February 17, 2009, 09:29:12 PM »
Welcome to the section to find out about Belorussian culture, look up information and photos of cities, and learn about language and food.

But did you know that RUA has compiled one of the most comprehensive and important guides to travel to, and inside of, Belarus?  Our members and editor/moderator Chris have spent hours sharing their valuable insights, timely information, and travel tips with you.  From maps, to Embassies, to banking and money exchange and even finding a doctor or hospital is there!  RUA travel is at your fingertips!  Just follow this blue link.



Human rights abuses occur daily in Belarus. Everywhere are posters and billboards of smiling citizens as a reminder that you too should be happy, if you know what's good for you. To keep abreast of the apartment searches, midnight arrests, and disappearances of opposition leaders and outspoken actors, artists and musicians, here is a weblink. Just click on the city of interest to the left and the most recent news will be posted.

Offline ECR844

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2009, 04:46:38 PM »
Here's a link to an online travel guide:
http://books.google.com/books?id=JQX2YhvgrZ8C

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #2 on: April 28, 2009, 11:43:17 AM »
One has to love this description of Belarus as found on LonelyPlanet:

Few people consider venturing into this hermetically sealed Soviet time capsule, notoriously ruled with an iron fist by its moustachioed megalomaniac, Alexander Lukashenko. But that’s exactly why you should visit. Only in Belarus – where the KGB still listens in to phone calls and people keep their politics to a low whisper – will you feel as if the Cold War never ended. Although getting a visa isn’t a problem, the government isn’t crazy about foreign influences and encourages xenophobia with all-pervasive propaganda. Westerners cool enough to come here are living, breathing examples that the world outside Belarus is not going to hell in a hand basket – at least not in the near future, anyway.

The capital city of Minsk – with its staunch, Stalinist buildings and orderly streets – is a testament to Soviet ideology, but sprouting up like stubborn weeds in the cracks of communism you’ll find enough chic boutiques, cafés and nightclubs to keep you entertained and get you connected with the lovable locals, who are shy at first but intrigued and flattered by foreign visitors. Brest, on the border with Poland, is one of the country's more Western cities, while the novelty of Hrodna lies in just how un-Western it is. Vitsebsk is notable for being the birthplace of Marc Chagall, as well as for its strong sense of the past. But Belarus's attractions are not limited to its cities: Pripyatsky National Park is a swampy and wildlife-rich expanse of land that provides an interesting contrast to the country's predominantly dry, flat landscape.

With almost no street crime, you are probably safer here than anywhere else in Eastern Europe, and foreign tourists are untouched the government’s repressive ways. So why waste a visa application on a country that’s trying to be like yours anyway? If you were born post-perestroika or never got to visit before the Wall came crumbling down, now’s your chance to be back in the USSR. Until then, you won’t know how lucky you are.


Offline lindochka

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2009, 08:46:49 AM »
First of all, it's Belarusian, not "Belorussian."  ;D

And from the perspective of a Westerner who has traveled here over the past several years and who now lives here, I would be happy to try to answer any questions anyone might have about Belarus.
Life is so short we must move very slowly.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2009, 09:45:36 AM »
lindochka, how nice to see you!

How is life in Belarus? We've missed you.

Offline lindochka

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2009, 11:47:45 AM »
I'm liking it, though there is no possibility for me to be invisible in a small country town. I'm from a fairly large city in the US and I'm not used to being noticed all the time. People who have never seen me before know of my existence. Trust me, I have never been so exotic in my life!

You might remember my concerns about getting around town on my own as posted at another board, and you'll be pleased to know that I have not only mastered our city bus system (including shoving my way onto a bus while toting three or four large bags of groceries) but I can easily get all the way to Minsk and back on my own (100 km, 2-3 hours each way). Of course once I get to Minsk I grab a taxi if I'm on my own -- I'm still nervous about navigating the Metro alone!

Speaking of Minsk, I may be teaching there. Hopefully I'll have some more to report about that soon.

BTW, for those who are looking and undecided as to which FSU country to visit, may I suggest Belarus? Lots of beautiful ladies here, and not all of them are my relatives...  :laugh:
Life is so short we must move very slowly.

Offline WestCoast

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2009, 05:12:37 PM »
lindochka how is the culture shock of living in Belarus?  Do you speak Russian or Belarusian?  We so often hear of the culture shock of a FSU woman moving to the west but we never hear of the culture shock of a western woman moving to the FSU. 
Ipsa scientia potestas est. Knowledge itself is power.   Sir Francis Bacon

Offline lindochka

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #7 on: September 06, 2009, 07:03:57 PM »
Based on the descriptions I've read about the culture shock experienced by FSUW moving to the West to be with their husbands, I think that I have quite a lot in common with them!

I do speak Russian and probably better than many FSUW who speak some English at the time they move to the West, though definitely imperfectly. I wish I spoke Belarusian but I remember only a handful of words my grandparents used when I was a child and nothing useful in conversation unless I want to buy a length of oilcloth for my kitchen table or to discuss frogs in the swamp nearby.

I was better prepared for the shock than many FSUW are because I had traveled extensively for several years in the area where I now live. I also have family here -- I live about a half hour from where my maternal grandfather was born and I first came here nine years ago to meet relatives I'd searched for and located. I became close with several of my cousins and it's been pretty amazing to see how many similarities there are between us despite the fact that we grew up in such different places.

I was talking with one of my cousins just yesterday and he was remembering the first year I came. He said, "You know, we weren't right that first year. You came here and we thought you were just like us and you would understand everything. And you were just like us, and you weren't like us at all." In his own words he was describing exactly what I felt then and to a large degree still do. Some days it's like living in a parallel universe straight out of comic books.

And some days it's like living on another planet...
Life is so short we must move very slowly.

Offline ChrisE

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #8 on: August 29, 2011, 10:01:51 PM »
  Since I was looking for travel information to Belarus, and this thread was titled as a complete guide, this was the first place I looked. But as can be seen, there really is no information to be found here. So I did my own searching and I'll post what I found.

  For those who didn't know, Belarus requires a visa which must be issued before travel. Here's a link of the consulate page on this topic: http://www.usa.belembassy.org/eng/consular/consulate/visa_requirements/
For other countries, visa requirements can be looked up at the VisaHQ website: http://www.visahq.com/
VisaHQ has the option to use their visa services, but it costs another $48 for something that anyone can do themselves.

  Belarus also requires health insurance during your stay which can be purchased at the airport. The table shows it can be purchased for about 50 cents US a day


Offline TwoBitBandit

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2011, 01:27:32 AM »
Lindochka, how did you get a visa that enables you to live in Belarus?

Did you marry a Belarus man or did you have some other route like a student or work visa?

Offline ChrisE

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2011, 02:12:05 AM »
Two bit, I don't think you will get an answer. She hasn't posted here since Nov of 2009.

But during my reading, I found there a few ways for a foreigner to live in Belarus. One is to invest 150,000 Euros or more in the country. Then you can stay for up to a year. Another way is through marriage, becoming family. The only other way unless you are close relation to family already there is to have certain special skills or talents needed in the country, to be determined by and approved by the president.

 Here's the link to the complete laws regarding temporary or permanent residency as posted by the embassy of Belarus. http://www.usa.belembassy.org/eng/consular/consulate/visa_requirements/legal_status_foreigners/ 

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #11 on: August 30, 2011, 05:12:05 AM »
ChrisE is correct that she's not posted in a long time. Lindochka had roots in the Belarussian community via her grandparents and she had recently married a Belarussian man.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #12 on: August 30, 2011, 05:16:05 AM »
Given that the President of Belarus recently pardoned a group of prominent businessmen for the "Crime" of starting/running private businesses (early August), I'd be very cautious about investing money. The expectation is that you make the investment in the country via a national bank with the hope of interest repayments. The government is the primary employer and operates the majority of all business interests from the largest to the smallest and doesn't like competition.

Offline ChrisE

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #13 on: August 30, 2011, 08:11:15 AM »
Given that the President of Belarus recently pardoned a group of prominent businessmen for the "Crime" of starting/running private businesses (early August), I'd be very cautious about investing money. The expectation is that you make the investment in the country via a national bank with the hope of interest repayments. The government is the primary employer and operates the majority of all business interests from the largest to the smallest and doesn't like competition.

 So what you are saying then that even the citizens there cannot start up a small business?

Offline ECR844

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #14 on: August 30, 2011, 09:25:15 AM »
Chris E,

They can and do. Their ability to remain and succeed however means they largely 'play ball' with the gvt. and do it's bidding and do not 'rock the boat' in the interim.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #15 on: August 30, 2011, 10:44:39 AM »
It is a near full blown communist ideology at play, yet some market realities have forced Luka to make some modernization concessions. However most small businesses in Belarus are owned or managed by the state.

The few private businesses which exist are under constant inspections, heavy penalties for the slightest misstep, complicated and costly permits/licenses and anti-competitive regulations along with government price regulation.

ChrisE, if memory serves correctly you have a business background and are looking for investment opportunities so I'll make this somewhat more expansive than normal. Given these realities, if you and I decided to open up a grocery market on a corner we'd have to put it in a special "free enterprise zone," with in many cases limits on annual profits (jail terms if exceeded), could not compete with government owned markets in the same area, and the government would set our prices no matter what we had to pay to obtain products, pay employees, utilities, rent, etc. The amount of "oversight" via government inspections, monitoring, and paperwork would be staggering.

Operating a business outside the six "free economic zones" (FEZ) is illegal. The businessmen that Luka pardoned last month had done just that. Inside these FEZ zones a limited number of private enterprises are permitted but with heavy regulation. Those six zones are:
- Brest
- Minsk
- Vitebsk
- Mogilev
- Gomel-Raton
- Grodno

A free economic zone is not always an entire city, as in some situations it can be part of a city territory that the government believes in need of investment for additional services and employment. There are very precisely appointed borders and specific regulations as to how businesses can be operated.

The government (not you or I) decides what type of business is needed for a special area and allows someone to apply for registration of that business. Lets say a flower market is thought to be needed in a specific area within the zone. The government would determine the location, the rent, the types of flowers to be sold and any additional floral services allowed and would set the sales prices for the flowers. An investor/small owner would then evaluate whether or not it made sense with the understanding that adding services not sanctioned by the registration or selling flowers away from that specific address would amount to an express lane to prison in most cases.

All this is done as part of a managed economy, the code of the FEZ certifying to "the necessity to create industrial and social infrastructure on the condition that FEZ residents are accommodated on the FEZ territory." Translation: We want a flower shop easily available at every Metro station, or whatever type of enterprise, because the convenience will keep consumers happy in that area.

Each specific FEZ (free economic zone) has restrictions. For example, in Brest no applications are taken for gambling business, in Minsk, Vitebsk and Gomel public catering (sidewalk cafe/kiosks) are not available for license. Sometimes this is for visual effect of cleaning up the streets in certain areas and in many cases it is because the government already controls catering in those zones and will tolerate no private competition.

Were someone brave enough to invest money in Belarus right now, in the FEZ of Mogilev and FEZ of Grodno license registrations are being accepted for businesses catering to exporting Belarussian made products (flax, potatoes, refrigerators, freezers, television sets and potash) and also for shops that sell imports termed "replaceable import goods" (such as batteries, suitcases, umbrellas, tires, etc). An approved list of what would be allowed can be obtained from Government of Belarus.

In these "Free Economic Zones" revenue is declared but profit earned by free economic zone residents through the sale of products of own manufacture is exempted from taxation for a period of five years following its declaration. There are specific limits and in the case of our flower shop for example, because we didn't "manufacture" the flowers ourselves we'd pay tax on profits from day one. There are other taxes we'd pay in addition to taxes on profits. Belarus also has a VAT. We could save on import tariffs by buying our flowers from anywhere in the new "customs union" of Russia-Kazakhstan-Belarus.

Farming could be the best business to start because farming outside an FEZ allows for export of products of own manufacture outside Belarus which are exempt from customs duty and are not subject to licensing or quota requirements. But profits are taxed. However our ability to obtain farmland as foreigners would be severely restricted.

Large foreign corporations can enjoy lower tax rates and are taxed the same as a corporation home to Belarus. Coca Cola, Proctor & Gamble, Pepsi and McDonald's, for example, play under those rules. Their assets are free from seizure due to treaty however as small players we would not enjoy that kind of asset protection.

According to the specific investment statues a preferential taxation order exists in Free Economic Zones of Belarus. It includes legislatively established common privileges for all the organizations of Belarus as well as additional privileges and preferences for FEZ residents. Translation: Best to be a citizen or start a business with a citizen as the majority partner.

The Minsk government indicated that in 2010 the average annual salary was just over $3,800 USD per household, a three-fold increase from 2005. Keeping in mind that much of that 2010 number included a spike in "buying" the election via salary and benefit increases, Belarus is not exactly an attractive consumer market for most potential investors.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #16 on: August 30, 2011, 10:49:03 AM »
An investor would do well to also understand the regulatory overview of a host country. I'll give an overview of the depth of management from the top.

Regulation of life and business is the job of Government Ministers appointed with the authority to simply carry out presidential decrees. The Parliament is not a deliberative body, rather it's sole purpose it to ratify presidential decrees. Parliament doesn't even introduce laws, it simply waits for a decree and then has a time limit for ratification or else the decree becomes law without their approval.

Using the USA as a quick example the House would deliberate and if passed (or perhaps it would fail), then it goes to the Senate where it is deliberated some more and maybe it would someday be passed and finally sent to the President to be signed into law.

Lawmaking in Belarus works in an entirely opposite manner. There is the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus (Parliament), sort of like the House of Representatives. Laws as titled and numbered by presidential decree. Those come from the president and are sent to Parliament which is required to ratify them. End of story. It is a communist dictatorship.

For example in August there are these new laws:

- Decree No. 348 of 9 August 2011
On the Measures to Organize the Recovery, Storage of Unused Vehicles and their Subsequent Disposal

- Decree No. 346 of 9 August 2011
On Introducing Amendments and Additions to Some Decrees of the President of the Republic of Belarus

- Decree No. 336 of 1 August 2011
On Some Guarantees for the Citizens Doing Compulsory Military Service

After ratification by Parliament the decrees are given to the Council of Ministers who are responsible for implementation.

Offline ChrisE

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #17 on: September 01, 2011, 03:09:56 AM »
 Thanks for all the great info! Much better to go in with the proper knowledge and eyes open. I guess for now I need to see how things go with the lady, and if there is a future with her, then start looking into the advantages and disadvantages of which country to live.

 The farming idea isn't one I haven't ruled out. It's actually how I was raised, and would feel more comfortable with this than most other ideas. My lady already takes part in farming at her village, as well a being a lawyer. Her prospect of being employed in the US would be minimal, as her law degree would not transfer over. But in Belarus, I can easily farm, and and also make my own products to sell (thus of my own manufacture). There would still be money to be made over the internet, and the lady would be gainfully employed yet. The lady's citizenship should allow the purchase of more land if needed to increase income potential. I could be a great place to raise a family in my opinion.

 I had thought of going back into farming here in the US, but it is a losing battle. The cost to buy the land alone is staggering. The small town where I grew up (about half the size of Orekhovsk) farmland used to sell for about $250/acre. Now it is more valuable as subdivisions and private lots, with some land selling for over $100,000/acre undeveloped. Then the cost of operation has gone crazy with high fuel costs, fertilizer, utilities, livestock, etc. I don't even want to go into the tax rate hikes or insurance costs! Plus there is no way to compete with large corporate co-ops. It's no wonder my father sold the farm and retired!

Offline ECR844

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #18 on: September 01, 2011, 04:03:44 PM »
In Belarus if you have a 'legal' farm you farm solely for the gvt, plant what they tell you to, and when, and you receive what they decide to give you for it. As for whatever is left, it will more than likely be sold to a few foreigners 'read Russians' at a premium. the locals are out of meat and lots of other things as a result of these practices.

BTW Lukashenko used to run a 'collective farm' before he upgraded his street cred and thug appeal. So good luck pulling the proverbial 'wool' over the eyes of a man who likes 'to run the country how he ran his farm'. (:)

Offline ChrisE

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #19 on: September 02, 2011, 12:14:58 PM »
Thanks ECR, that's really good to know. Maybe it's not such a good idea trying to make a go of it in BY. Of course it's quite early yet and haven't even been there yet. Maybe in a few weeks if all goes well, I will have more perspective on the whole situation.

Offline ECR844

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #20 on: September 02, 2011, 03:19:00 PM »
Thanks ECR, that's really good to know. Maybe it's not such a good idea trying to make a go of it in BY. Of course it's quite early yet and haven't even been there yet. Maybe in a few weeks if all goes well, I will have more perspective on the whole situation.

When are you going and for how long?

Offline ChrisE

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #21 on: September 03, 2011, 11:24:13 AM »
 The plan as of today is to go in Nov during the thanksgiving holiday, being a 4 day weekend for me. I will only have 2 days there, but it will be a first meeting, and should be enough to see if there is the chemistry between the lady and myself. If so, then I can plan on returning in a few weeks when I have more vacation time after new years.

 The lady has already sent me travel and visa info, which I already had most of. But now it's up to her to approve the dates yet. So far, everything has been really positive.

Offline ECR844

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #22 on: September 03, 2011, 12:11:17 PM »
The plan as of today is to go in Nov during the thanksgiving holiday, being a 4 day weekend for me. I will only have 2 days there, but it will be a first meeting, and should be enough to see if there is the chemistry between the lady and myself. If so, then I can plan on returning in a few weeks when I have more vacation time after new years.

 The lady has already sent me travel and visa info, which I already had most of. But now it's up to her to approve the dates yet. So far, everything has been really positive.

Well if you're up in the Vitebsk area and have some time shoot me a message. Perhaps we could meet up as I'll be there during both of those time frames.

Offline ChrisE

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #23 on: September 03, 2011, 01:17:15 PM »
That might be possible. I may be passing through Vitebsk on my way to Orekhovsk. But no solid plans have been made yet. It's also possible that I just meet the lady in Minsk and make a weekend of it there. I would love to meet her family and see her village, but it's a long way off. Plus the fact that the return flight leaves at 5:20 AM Monday makes things a little more difficult. Right now the ball is in her court, so it's up to her what she wants to do.

Offline ECR844

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Re: A Complete Guide to Belorussian Travel
« Reply #24 on: September 03, 2011, 03:24:17 PM »
That might be possible. I may be passing through Vitebsk on my way to Orekhovsk. But no solid plans have been made yet. It's also possible that I just meet the lady in Minsk and make a weekend of it there. I would love to meet her family and see her village, but it's a long way off. Plus the fact that the return flight leaves at 5:20 AM Monday makes things a little more difficult. Right now the ball is in her court, so it's up to her what she wants to do.

It would logistically (for you) and time wise make more sense with such a short stay to get an apartment in Minsk for the few days for the two of you. That way you can maximize your time together and not 'lose' the approx 6-7+ hrs RT time in a car, train, horse drawn carriage or whatever.

The trip to her village, can take place when you have more time to spend 'in country' and on the ground there and you are both sure you want to 'move on' with the relationship. Normally I'd advocate going to her home and being in her village, but I think you'll find that the 2 days is just 2 little time for that.

Also if you're switching planes in FRA or WAW be sure to grab 5 euros at a currency exchange for the 'mandatory BY national health insurance' to save yourself the headache of getting taken to the cleaners on the exchange rate at MSQ. You won't need to register for such a short trip, but the next time if you stay longer you will. At that time you'll need the insurance or it will be a nightmare for both of you to correct for the registration.

Here's a link to the Health insurance rates based on LOS (Length of Stay for the acronym impaired)
http://www.belgosstrakh.by/insurance/17/941/1362/