Drowning in illegible Cyrillic-laden photocopies and bombarded with the incomprehensible “consulate-speak” spreading along my desktop, I almost gave up. But with the tiny goal of visiting Belarus, one of the world’s least visited countries, now within eyeshot, I slogged on. Who knows, maybe this won’t be so hard after all…
After toughing out the Russian visa application, I refused to let a pint-sized problem like getting a Belarusian visa change my travel plans.
Want to ensure a successful Belarus visa application? Here are a few lessons (and quick fixes) from my own experiences…
NOTE: There’s been a massive shift in Belarusian visa policy since I visited. These days, citizens of many countries including Canada, United States, Australia, and the UK, are able to visit Belarus without a visa for up to 30 days if arriving via Minsk International Airport (full details here).
For longer stays or transiting into Belarus via land borders (or Russia), you’ll still need to apply.
1) Getting a Belarusian visa is easier than getting a Russian visa
Compared to the panic-inducing process of applying for a Russian visa, getting a visa for Belarus is a leisurely stroll in the park.
The straightforward Belarusian visa application avoids the complexities of Russia’s, trading in seemingly irrelevant requests like “Where did you go to high school?” or “List every single visit to every country you’ve visited in the last ten years with exact dates.” for more expected questions such as “Have you ever been to Belarus?”
In fact, there is scarcely anything on the Belarusian application that is out of the ordinary.
So far, so good.
2) Belarusian visa application rules are not standard across the board
Depending on your citizenship, the rules for applying for a Belarusian visa differ. Here are a couple things you should be aware of:
- Minsk Airport offers a visa on arrival for most English-speaking countries with the major exception of Canada. Although this sounds easy in theory, you must still send your visa support documents to the Minsk Airport Foreign Admissions Division well ahead of your arrival. If a Belarusian embassy/consulate exists in your home country, the Belarusian visa on arrival fees also border on insane. For most travellers, there are other budget-friendlier options.
- Not all of the English-speaking countries have a Belarusian embassy. Canadians, Americans, Britons and South African should have no problems applying for a Belarusian visa in their home countries, but citizens of Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland, all of which do not have official Belarusian representation, will have to apply at a Belarusian embassy in a third country or obtain a visa on arrival at Minsk Airport.
- Even though Russia and Belarus have a customs union, you still need a separate tourist visa for both countries. When travelling between the two, you’ll notice a lack of border formalities—this does not mean you’re free to roam at will! Be sure your hosts properly register your visas with the authorities in both Russia AND Belarus to avoid any unpleasant skirmishes with the politsiya.
3) Double-check your paperwork—twice!
Bureaucracy can be infuriating. But a far worse fate is delaying your visa application due to your own carelessness.
Before you send everything off, ensure all your paperwork is in order! For your Belarusian tourist visa application, at any embassy, you’ll need the following:
- valid national passport with two full blank pages for visa and at least three months of validity before your expected travel dates
- completed visa application (no mistakes and no blank spaces—use “N/A” and “none” when questions don’t apply and when you have no answer)
- a professional colour passport-sized photo
- proof of comprehensive out-of-country medical insurance coverage
- applicable visa processing fee payable to the embassy (see table below for fees for single-entry tourist visa at time of writing)—postal money orders and bank drafts generally acceptable, but verify the preferred payment method at your local embassy before submitting your application
|Country||Normal (5-7 Days)||Rush (48 Hours)|
* country does not have Belarusian diplomatic representation—visa fees listed are for visa application at Embassy of the Republic of Belarus to the United Kingdom
- supporting documents, namely a tourist invitation from a licensed tourism company in Belarus printed on official letterhead with the company seal—your hotel will probably provide this if you ask nicely enough
- self-addressed courier envelope with tracking
After sending in all of the required documents with no errors, expect a fairly quick turnaround. Most embassies claim a regular processing time of 5 days, and I can attest from my own experience with the Belarusian embassy in Ottawa, that estimate seems bang on.
In fact, after sending my information, I was without my passport for just 4 full days—far more efficient than I ever would have imagined!
4) Enjoy Belarus!
Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Now’s the fun part—enjoy your trip to Belarus! There are a ton of fascinating places to visit in Belarus from the unmistakably Soviet architecture of Minsk to the bison-infused primeval forests of Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park near Brest.
The best part about travelling here is that, thanks to the relatively tough visa regime, you won’t encounter the same thickness of tourist crowds as you might elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
Belarusian Visa Resources
Still perplexed with the whole process of applying for a Belarusian visa? Here are a few resources you may find helpful:
- General Belarusian Visa Information
- Information on the Minsk Airport Visa on Arrival
- List of Diplomatic Representations of the Republic of Belarus
- Embassy of the Republic of Belarus to the United Kingdom
- Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in the United States of America
- Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in the Republic of South Africa
- Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in Canada