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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Belarus

Belarus - Consular Information Sheet
October 11, 2000

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Economic and political reform in Belarus has stalled under the current government. Human rights are regularly abused by the Belarusian authorities. Tourist facilities are not highly developed, and many of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available. Localized street disturbances relating to political events may occur without warning, most frequently in Minsk, the capital. Bystanders, including foreign nationals, face the possibility of arrest, beating, and detention. Since April 1999, three prominent members of the opposition have disappeared without a trace, and are believed to be dead.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. A visa must be obtained before entering Belarus. Travelers who do not have a visa cannot register at hotels. U.S. citizens residing in Belarus are required to register with the local Office of Visas and Registration (OVIR). Failure to do so can result in fines and visits from local militia. U.S. citizens staying in hotels are automatically registered at check-in. Visa validity dates are strictly enforced; travelers should request sufficient time to allow for delays in arrival and departure.

As of October 1, 2000, Belarus requires all foreign nationals entering the country to purchase medical insurance at the port-of-entry regardless of any other insurance one might have. Costs for this insurance will vary according to the length of stay (Subject to change, current information puts costs at $1.00 for a one-day stay; $15.00 for a stay of 60 days, up to a maximum of $85.00 for a stay of a year.)

U.S. citizens traveling through Belarus to other countries are strongly reminded that there is a transit visa requirement for entering and leaving Belarus. Transit visas should be obtained prior to any journey that requires travel through Belarus. Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Russian visas are no substitute for this transit visa. U.S. citizens attempting to transit Belarus without a valid Belarusian transit visa have been denied entry into the country and forcibly removed from trains. Most travel agencies, including those in Russia and CIS countries as well as train ticket sales personnel, are often not aware of this visa requirement and may not seek a transit visa for a traveler unless instructed by the traveler to do so.

For more information concerning entry requirements, travelers should contact the Belarus Embassy located at 1619 New Hampshire Ave, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20009, tel. (202) 986-1606 or the Belarus Consulate in New York at 708 Third Avenue, 21st floor, New York, NY, 10017, tel. (212) 682-5392.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation.

There have been numerous situations involving American citizens traveling through Belarus by train in which Americans have been required to disembark while in transit. In some instances local border and train authorities have threatened passengers with jail or extorted "fines" when it was learned that they did not possess a valid transit visa. In some cases, American citizens have been subjected to rude and threatening treatment including body and baggage searches. American citizens are advised not to pay any border or train officials for transit visas. These officials are not authorized to issue such visas. Nor should Americans pay "transit visa fines." Americans finding themselves in Belarus without transit visas should, if confronted by border or train personnel, demand to be put in contact with consular officials at the American Embassy in Minsk.

CRIME INFORMATION: Belarus has a moderate rate of crime and common street crime continues to increase, especially at night and in or near hotels frequented by foreigners. Foreigners, and particularly foreign cars, tend to be targets of crime. Travelers should keep a copy of their passport in a separate location from their original.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. Additional information on the region can be found in the brochure Tips for Travelers to Russia. Both publications are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care in Belarus is limited. There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including anesthetics, vaccines and antibiotics. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties. Beginning on October 1, 2000, Belarus will require all foreign nationals entering the country to purchase medical insurance at the port-of-entry (See Entry Requirements).

Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation, and for adequacy of coverage. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: The Embassy recommends against drinking the local water even in larger cities. It is recommended visitors instead drink only bottled or filtered water. It is also inadvisable to eat any food grown in the contaminated areas near Chernobyl, especially mushrooms and berries. Consumption of Belarusian milk is best avoided as well.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via CDC'S Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Belarus is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

U.S. citizens may drive in Belarus with their home country driver's license for up to six months from arrival. Foreign drivers should, therefore, always carry their passports to prove date of entry into the country in the event they are stopped by the police. After residing in Belarus for six months, one may apply for a local driver's license. A medical exam at the Driver's Clinic, which will include a chest x-ray, is the only exam required to receive a local driver's license.

The roads in Belarus range from short stretches of highways where cars and trucks can exceed speeds of 120 km/h (75 mph) to dirt roads where 40 km/h (25 mph) is difficult to sustain. Visible and hidden dangers are profuse, including large potholes, the absence of roadsigns, and lack of service areas. Other hazards include unlit or poorly lit streets, inattentive and dark-clothed pedestrians walking on unlit roads, drivers under the influence of alcohol, and a common disregard for traffic rules. Driving in winter is especially dangerous because many roads are not properly cleared of ice and snow. Driving with caution is urged at all times.

Taxi service is prompt although fares vary greatly and the automobiles themselves are often in poor condition. Buses and trolleys are poorly maintained, lack heating or cooling capabilities, and are usually crowded.

For additional information about road safety, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page's road safety overseas feature at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.

As there is no direct commercial air service at present, or economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Belarus, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Belarus' Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Belarus's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Belarus of items such as icons, art, rugs, antiquities, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Belarus in Washington or one of Belarus's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belarus's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belarus are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Traveler's checks are not widely accepted in Belarus. Most Intourist hotels accept either American Express or Visa credit cards. In addition, one hotel in Minsk, The Planeta, provides cash from Visa credit cards during business hours. Travelers face arrest if they attempt to buy items with currency other than Belarusian rubles.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATION: Americans living in or visiting Belarus are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Belarus and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Belarus. The U.S. Embassy is located in Minsk at 46 Starovilenskaya Ulitsa; telephone (375) 172-10-12-83 or 234-77-61, fax (375) 172-76-88-62.

This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated January 7, 2000, to amend the country background information and update the section on Entry Requirements to address transit visa problems, and to address issues relating Health, Health Insurance, and Safety and Security

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