Belarus Unexpectedly Announces Visa-free Regime for Westerners
Combined with a new high-speed Moscow to Berlin train service, visa liberalization has the potential to make visits to Belarus as well as travel to Russia much easier than before
In a totally surprising move, President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus has signed a decree removing visa-requirements for citizens of 80 countries - including the United States, and the states of the European Union.
The following announcement appeared Janurary 9th on the Belarusian president's official website (full text):
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko signed Decree No. 8 “On the introduction of the visa-free entry and departure for foreign citizens” on 9 January.
The document introduces the visa-free entry through the border checkpoint at the Minsk National Airport and the visa-free stay in Belarus for up to 5 days for the citizens of 80 states.
These are 39 countries of Europe, including the entire European Union, Brazil, Indonesia, the USA, Japan, and other countries.
Other requirements for visa-free entry include a minimum level of cash per day of visit (exact amount not specified in the decree) and medical insurance with coverage of at least €10,000.
In addition, according to the text of the decree, visa-free entry will be possible only via Minsk airport, not at land border crossings.
The new rules are to come into force approximately 1 month from now, but no firm date was set.
Igor Fisenko, Head of the Central Consular Office of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Belarus hoped the move would be reciprocated by other countries, BelTA News Agency reported:
“As far as official contacts are concerned, we believe that rules of reciprocity need to be followed. In other words, we are going to open up for official contacts as much as our partners are ready for it. We have already sent the relevant proposals. We expect to get a response soon,” said the official.
This announcement is an exciting development which will substantially open Belarus to foreign tourism and investment. Until now, it has been (excepting Russia) the last country in Europe requiring visas for citizens of developed states.
Another advantage to eliminating visas is greatly facilitated transport between Russia and the EU, for which Belarus is a necessary transit country if using the most direct route.
On December 17th, Russian Railways introduced a high speed overnight train service "Strizh" between Moscow and Berlin - via Minsk and Warsaw. The total traveling time is about 20 hours. (Video report here - in German)
The train saves many hours at the Polish-Belarusian border because it is equipped with wheel sets for both Western and Russian rail gauges -- normal trains must spend hours changing to the other gauge.
For now, in order to use this train, passengers require a transit visa for Belarus -- as well as the destination (either Russia or the EU) - not super convenient.
Hopefully, after successful implementation of the airport visa-free program, Belarus will extend the program to land border crossings which will undoubtedly increase traffic and economic benefits for the country.