Belarus, a country sometimes referred to as “The Last Dictatorship in Europe” (Although Putin might have something to say about that), is not somewhere that jumps in to peoples minds as a tourist destination. The city was practically leveled during the Second world war and was rebuilt to the finest Stalinist standard featuring huge public buildings, a grand railway station and wide boulevards crisscrossing their way throughout the capital. Read the rest of this entry »
In the preceding post in this series I opted for a 48 hour transit visa as a good way to get some time in Belarus on the cheap. I booked a pair of sleeper trains from Kiev to Minsk and then 18 hours later from Minsk to Riga, using full timetables on RealRussia.co.uk to ensure that I would enter and exit the relevant borders within a 48 period. This visa would be £50 instead of the £120+ for a tourist visa and would also negate needing a letter of invitation to visit the country. All sounds great so far until you actually start applying for the visa as it is not the most straight forward one to get.
Firstly there is no separate application form for this unique type of visa, you use the same form as if you were applying for a longer visa meaning you end up leaving a lot of very important looking questions blank (but not blank as in incomplete as the guide I found tucked away on the embassy website said you have to put ‘N/A’ or the form will be rejected). There is also a reasonable amount of ambiguous and contradictory statements on the form/website that add to the confusion, my personally favorite being “Please detail the person/organisation inviting you to Belarus, even if an invitation is not necessary”.
In my attempts to answer these questions I found that there is a real lack of information online about getting a transit visa for Belarus. Now I know the route I’m taking (Kiev-Minsk-Riga) is not exactly a common thing to do but a lot of people transit Belarus from Poland to Russia on their way to Moscow to do the Trans-Siberian railway. I decided that if my nervously filled out application form got approved then I’d write up a post with some advice on the trickier questions.
Belarus is not exactly somewhere you’d see advertised in a travel agent. It is a borderline dictatorship, the current President having been in power for nearly two decades despite the maximum term originally being 10 years, and has been denied entry to the EU as it still practices capital punishment and has a military that is not under civilian control.
To put people off even more they are also quite strict on the visa front, requiring you to get a letter from a resident/travel agent/hotel inviting you to visit the country, a signed letter from your employer and £75 to cover the admin all before you’ve even booked a flight. If you’ve reached this point you’ll then find that there are almost no direct flights from London and you’ll end up spending hundreds getting there.
There are various companies that will source the Letter of Invitation (LOI) on your behalf but they usually charge a substantial fee (£30+) and offer it as part of a visa application package inflating the £75 fee with a service charge of their own. So as it stands we’re looking at £100+ on the visa and £250+ on flights, and quite frankly if you’re not specifically interested in going to Belarus it’s not really going to be worth the time expense.