Belarus made an announcement last week (read more here) that the country would provide five day Visa free facility for nationals from 80 countries come mid-February.
Visitor must enter via Minsk airport and must not be traveling to/from Russia to be eligible for this waiver. There appears to be a few things that tourist should take into account when traveling to the country, however.
Here’s an email from a LoyaltyLobby reader about the customs situation at the airport:
Just a warning about travel to Belarus.
There is a law on the books for Russia and Belarus that you cannot bring in more than 50 kg of goods without being subject to a 30% duty.
Russia does not actively enforce this but Belarus does. There is a scale waiting for your entry and if you are over this limit, you will need to produce a detailed inventory of all of your possessions and their value. By all, I mean all. Socks and underwear included. When you leave Belarus you will then need to produce this list and then prove that you are bringing everything back out again (even though you just paid duty on it all, if you did).
It doesn’t matter what your intent is, or if you are a tourist only and that you are going to bring everything back out. There is a list of personal items, where you may have 1 each of several things duty free, but they still count in the overall 50kg limit.
This is a country that is somewhat frozen in time with a full Soviet style bureaucracy and they are not a country like Germany or Thailand who is used to catering to people coming from different countries and values tourism.
Furthermore, the US state department website is actively incorrect, in stating that the duty is 4 euros per kilo in excess of 50kg. The rule as is on the Belarus website and the Russia website (they have the same laws from the Eurasian Customs Union) is that the duty is to be assessed at 30% of the value of the goods in excess of 50kg and to be *not less* than 4 euros per kg. It’s not 4 euros, that’s just the minimum duty, not the maximum or a straight assessment of what you will owe. The state department has misunderstood and thinks its a matter of putting luggage on a scale and paying 40 euros if you’re 10 kg over the limit, and this is not the way they do it at all. As mentioned, you will be given forms to fill out and expected to inventory everything and assess a value to each item, then provide the total.
Furthermore, the total value of all of the goods not on the “personal use” exclusion list (2 phones, 1 computing device, 1 camera, etc). have to have a value of less than 1500 euro. One traveler with Rimowa luggage will blow through this limit in the eyes of a Soviet style customs inspector.
Furthermore, there is no guidance on how to determine the “excess” value. Is it based on the average value per kg of your luggage, or the most expensive item, or least expensive item? It’s all up to the customs inspector to assess.
In my experience they have tried to collect 30% of the value of all goods as soon as one of the limits are reached without considering any excess. Even if they apply the rule correctly (and they will apply the rule in one form or another, they have a scale waiting there and as soon as you cross a line on the floor you cannot go back), you are stuck with this inventory list and then a long customs inspection on your exit. You will be faced with their decision and them waving Russian regulations in your face, and at that point, good luck.
Also note that if you end up in this situation they will count your money as well most likely, and your money will be inventoried on your exit. If the money on your exit is more than your entrance then you will have a problem, so to avoid this, you must keep all ATM receipts as well as your entrance declaration form so they can calculate how much money you brought in, and how much you took out of the bank, and then match it up with what you have.
Lastly, nobody will exchange Belarussian currency, or, very very few places. So whatever you bring out of the country you might as well burn if you don’t intend on returning. For this reason, exchange it before you leave, no matter how bad the rates, and keep all receipts in case of customs inspection.
I strongly suggest to people to consult carefully with the customs unions rules:
Before visiting this country. As well there are no consular services for many countries in Belarus, as they will refer you to your embassy in Poland or in Russia. Which is not of great use to anyone.
That said Belarussian people are very friendly and nice and Minsk is clean and a nice city to visit. You just need to understand you’re entering a country that still has one foot in the USSR and understand this means bizarre rules and mindless enforcement of them.
Arranging for a SIM card in advance, and a third party pickup at the airport via a tourist service, is highly recommended.
To be safe:
1. make sure you have your health insurance proof lined up, they are serious about this and will check, and possibly make you buy health insurance on the spot
2. make sure your luggage is not within 10% of the limit, this will include your duty free, contents of your pockets, the weight of your jacket, and of the luggage itself… you want to be 10% under the limit as you cannot rely on the scale to be accurate
3. don’t bring anything valuable into this country as it will be provoking an argument that you’re bringing it in to sell it… so don’t have two watches, don’t bring any jewelery you’re not wearing, don’t bring anything at all that looks like it is more than what you personally need for existing there for the total amount of time that you are planning to be there
The new rules are set around a traveler coming for 5 days, who can indeed come light. If you are on an extended trip through Europe and decide to visit Belarus, you could end up in a problem if you have accumulated some valuable items and/or have a large amount of luggage due to being on an extended journey.
My travel takes me to Kiev in mid-May and have entertained visiting Minsk before or after to check the city and country out (medium term plan is to visit all the countries).
The customs situation does sound bit hairy as I travel with two laptops, but the weight of my items are way less than 50 kilos. The only country that recorded the number of laptops I carried in was Cuba few years back. Not sure if the situation there has changed since my visit. Doubt that they have time to go through everyone’s luggage now that the number of flights from the US have increased.
Interesting to hear if other LoyaltyLobby readers are familiar with the customs situation in the country?