I almost found myself in a really bad situation as I came to Belarus last week, having no idea about required medical insurance and home registration.
Luckily my host mentioned it at the last moment and I took care of it with their help.
Would love a complete list of these kinds of requirements! Has anybody compiled anything like that? Is there a Wikipedia section on this, maybe similar to the collection of visa requirements articles for all countries posted there?
For the details of my current situation, read on:
I just recently traveled to Belarus, connecting from Moscow, using my Brazilian passport, which grants me 3 months Visa free travel here.
Upon arriving at Minsk International, I simply exited the plane, walked into a room, and picked up my baggage. There were NO other areas to walk through. It was literally: Exit plane. Walk to baggage carousel. And the very next door exited to the street.
- NO passport control
- NO customs
- NO checkpoint
No problem, I thought. I was coming from Moscow, and there’s no border between Russia and Belarus. In fact, I had heard about how it’s the only other country a Russian child can visit without a passport. The border is completely open.
As for me, they had already checked my passport on the Moscow side and saw I have 3 months Visa free travel, so by the time I arrived in Minsk it completely escaped me that I, a foreigner, just waltzed into Belarus without anyone even blinking an eye. Later I realized I hadn’t even had an entry stamp added to my passport.
5 days later my host randomly asked me if I had registered myself with the government, providing my residence address and purchasing the required health insurance mandatory for all foreigners.
I was like, “Uhhh….. No?”
Mandatory health insurance??? Residence registration?
So my host insisted we come and register ourselves at the MFA office (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and after waiting for hours, dealing with a very confused border police, explaining about the absence of entry controls at the airport (which cognitive dissonance prevented them from comprehending), explaining to them that Brazilians have 3 months free (not 5 days like they thought), and finally paying a $ 15 (one day late) fee — which my host was charged as well! — PLUS a €30 medical insurance policy, the nightmare was finally over. (They had even been talking about deporting me as a possible option!)
I kept trying to ask WHY the airport had:
NO passport control, NO customs, and NO checkpoint — But nobody believed me. Even my host insisted we simply must have walked the wrong way.
Impossible. And even if such a thing were possible, it would defeat the whole point of border control. Border control is not optional. You can’t just walk through the “wrong door” to avoid it!
AS OF JANUARY 2018 THE COUNTRY OF BELARUS IS ALLOWING FOREIGNERS TO RANDOMLY WALK INTO THE COUNTRY WITH NO PASSPORT CONTROL OR CUSTOMS CHECKPOINTS. (At least from origin in Russia to MSQ)
THEY ALSO HAVE STRICT MEDICAL INSURANCE REQUIREMENTS AND RESIDENCE REGISTRATION LAWS THAT ARE NOT PUBLICIZED ANYWHERE.
IN FACT, PROACTIVELY GOOGLING FOR “REQUIREMENTS TO VISIT BELARUS” BRINGS UP ONLY INFORMATION ABOUT VISAS. (And an anti-homosexuality law that was rescinded in 1994. So, yeah, I was informed about that.)
Therefore I can only come to the conclusion that Belarus’ entire immigration / tourism / airport system is broken.
In fact — Imagine if you stayed for 2 months and didn’t get “caught” until your departure date at the airport, still completely oblivious to the rules! I can’t imagine what the fine would be at that point. Prison time?
NOTE: this entire nightmare applies mainly to couchsurfers and Airbnb guests. Most hotels in Belarus should automatically do all the registration for you.
But for all the thousands of private house guests visiting Belarus through the sharing economy, BEWARE! Unless your host has graciously informed you of these obscure requirements, you’re in the dark. The airport sure as hell isn’t telling you. No paperwork will be handed to you on the airplane. Nothing.
So, in that case, you’ll have to take yourself to the Belarusian immigration registration office where no one speaks English (or any language other than Russian), and figure out how to pay for all the necessary requirements, otherwise after your stay is over you’ll be detained at the airport and fined potentially hundreds of dollars and maybe even be forcibly deported.
I’m trying to work with both Couchsurfing and Airbnb, the leaders of the guest hosting sharing economy, to show a popup warning whenever a place in Belarus is booked. Something like this:
Visitors to Belarus are required by law to both register their residence address with the state and to purchase state authorized medical insurance for every day of your stay. This must be done within 5 days of your arrival into the country or steep penalties will accrue. The home office is closed on Mondays but that still counts towards the 5 day deadline. Traditional hotels may automatically register guests, but Airbnb guests must register themselves. If your host or local friends speak Russian you should ask for their help, as assistance in English or other languages is not available at the home office. Thank you and enjoy your stay!
Notice these two pages aren’t even connected. Even if you found the first page, you’d still have no idea of the second.
The state makes no effort to make these requirements obvious.
I posted scans of my actual documents for reference at http://carlosaugusto.net/belarus-and-its-twilight-zone-at-the-minsk-airport/
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