Belarus to Russia

My Story

So first up I started to plan my ‘long-term’ travel and rough plan. Once I got that I basically decided that I would want to travel from Switzerland to Japan by land transport only. So then I decided to do some European destinations before heading over to Russia which when my VISA starts on the 27th of February 2020. I then decided since I have always wanted to go to Minsk, to travel via Belarus.

And as I googled a bit I did see wow, there is a train that drives via Warsaw -> Minsk -> Moscow, a perfect plan to continue on to the trans Siberian railway.

Now I started my trip all good, and once I reached the Terespol/Brest border into Belarus I was sent back to Poland. Why? Actually I had planned my trip all in advance (because I need to get Visa’s) so planning was key, but what did I miss?
On my application form for my transit visa for Belarus I noted down 25.02.2020 – 27.02.2020 as I planned to then travel onward to Russia on the 27.02.2020. Now my Belarus visa was the last remaining visa that I had to get done and I got it back 2 days before my departure of Switzerland. I then was in a lot of stress in general, and anyway saw “yes my visa is done”. When I finally reached the Belarus border it was the 25.02.2020 however my VISA said 26.02.2020. So the embassy basically limited my visa period by one day and I hadn’tt realized it! So tipp: even though in stress, check the dates 🙂

Visa… yes or no?

What I found out is that it depends…
1. Fly In/Out: The easiest is of course is to fly in/out to Minsk and foreign citizens from 74 countries can travel to Belarus visa-free if you do not fly from/to Russia (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus; Embassy of Belarus in Switzerland). Keep in mind if you stay longer than 5 days you need to register (Belarusfeed: Registration)

2. Grodno-Brest Tourist zone: The other way is by car/bus/train to the Grodno or Brest regions, however you do need to somehow register (Visiting Belarus without visas; Belarusfeed: Registration)

3. Nationalpark „Belovezhskaya Pushcha“ zone: Maximum of 3 days and a registration is required (NPBP Brest)

4. Stay longer than 30 days (only if you fly in): You need to get a transit visa or regular visa

5. Transitvisa: This allows you to ‘pass’ Belarus for a maximum of 48 hours. If you are planning to travel onwards to Russia from Belarus you need a transit visa or a regular visa. If you are traveling by bus/car/train, i.e. by land you need to have a transit or regular visa.

Here is also a link Border Crossing for foreign citizens that can give you some more information. In general it was very difficult to find all this information and hopefully I could summarize this all into one good post.

How to cross the Belarus-Russia Border

The Belarus-Russia border is tricky for a foreigner. It is present on the map, but in life, it isn’t a conventional state border. It took me a while to figure out, and at first I didn’t know this and only because a fellow couchsurfer messaged me I realized that I could not travel by train from Belarus to Russia.
❗ The only way for a third-country person to travel between Belarus and Russia directly is by air and with two visas. ❗  

belarus-russia border crossing rules
Source: https://belarusfeed.com/belarus-russia-border-how-to-cross/

Apparently some mutual visa agreement or border control is missing at this border area. So basically there is no border control when travelling between Belarus and Russia, but since October 2016, document checks and prohibitions against third-country nationals have been instituted by Russia when travelling from Belarus to Russia by road, as it is prohibited by Russian law for third-country national to enter Russia outside border control, and there is no border control on the open border.

Visitors are advised by the Polish Embassy in Belarus to enter mainland Russia via Terehova–Burachki (Belarus -> Latvia -> Russia) and Senkivka–Novye Yurkovichi (Belarus -> Ukraine -> Russia)

Air travel between Belarus and Russia was treated as domestic and did not incur border controls before May 2017 (but there are identity checks as exist for normal domestic air travel in Russia and Belarus), since then, the flights have been treated as international by Russia and a full border check is done on third-country nationals by Russia, though no formal border check aside from a simple identity check is applied on Russian and Belorussian citizens.

Summary

The journey not the arrival matters”

T.S. Elliot

It is a bit more complicated than what I thought however I was mostly annoyed at the embassy for a) not telling me that they did not change the dates for the VISA, they simply just sent back the passport b) could not provide a detailed explanation on this complexity, and as I had to write on the visa application that I am travelling by train to Russia, they could have noted that it’s prohibited.