How I Got My Visa to Belarus

Minsk building

I began my quest to get a Belarus visa back in early October.  According to the website of the Belarussian Embassy in the United States, I would need a letter of invitation from a registered travel agency – similar to the invitation requirement for Russia.  On the other hand, rumor had it elsewhere that nothing more than a confirmed booking from a hotel was required.

While I pretty much had to get my Russian visa while I was still in the United States, from what I read on the Lonely Planet message boards, I would be able to get the visa to Belarus from the embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania.
 

Working with a Travel Agency

 
I initially sent emails to three travel agencies in Belarus, all listed in my Lonely Planet and Bradt guidebooks. One responded telling me I could not get my visa in Vilnius (which I was 99.9% certain was not true), so I ruled them out immediately. I went back and forth with the other two for several weeks as my level of annoyance grew.

One told me they would only provide visa support if I booked all hotels with them (I hoped to save some money by staying at the only hostel in Minsk).

The other told me they would only provide the invitation if I also booked an excursion with them – in addition to 10 nights of hotels!

Both quoted me different rates for the same hotels.

In the end, I went with Alatan Tour and could not have been happier.  We had to tweak my itinerary several times based on hotel availability and transportation options, but my contact with Alatan was always incredibly patient and responsive. Once we finalized my itinerary and booked the hotels, they sent me a hotel voucher and a letter of invitation via email and gave me instructions on how to complete the sections of the visa application relating to my inviting organization. The application was available online so I could complete it before going to the embassy in Vilnius.
 

Visiting the Embassy

 
I arrived in Vilnius on Monday, December 12 and went directly to the Belarussian Embassy, located about  a 15 minute walk from the Old Town on a fairly unnoticeable side street (I walked by it the first time). It was 1:30 when I arrived and it turned out that the embassy was closed for lunch until 2:00 so I grabbed a spot on a nearby bench and waited as about a dozen people showed up behind me.

Once inside the embassy, everyone immediately darted to various numbered windows – I seemed to be the only one who was a newcomer. I tried to explain to a large man in a grey suit that I was there to apply for a visa and he gruffly asked me (in Russian) where I was from and asked to see my passport. He then directed me to a window where, to my surprise, an English-speaking woman greeted me and reviewed my application, together with the invitation and hotel voucher. The only point she asked me to clarify was my occupation – I simply listed “consultant” and she wanted me to write in exactly what kind of consultant I allegedly am.
 

Then she broke it to me that I needed to buy medical insurance.

 
I had read this was a requirement of entry to Belarus – they don’t recognize any other insurance policies even if they should be valid worldwide.  However, I didn’t realize I would need this to obtain the visa.  Luckily (and not surprisingly), there was a conveniently located travel agency just across the street from the embassy. Fifteen minutes and 17 Litas (just over $6) later, I had my insurance policy valid for the same period as my requested visa.

Back at the embassy, I was given an invoice and directed to the cashier’s window, where I was told the fee was 100 Euros.

Everything I read indicated that the visa fee for United States citizens was $140 and I assumed that meant the embassy would accept dollars as payment.
 

Nope, only Euros.

 
I found that interesting considering that I was in Lithuania and applying for a visa to Belarus and neither country uses the Euro. On the plus side, due to the exchange rate, my visa actually ended up costing slightly less than the advertised $140.

With only dollars on me, I headed out to a bank about three blocks away to change my dollars for Euros.  Arriving at the bank, I took a number and waited for about twenty minutes until I was called.

Back at the embassy once again, I handed over my 100 Euros, received a receipt and was sent to yet another window. There, I got a slip of paper with my name and passport number on it indicating that my Belarus visa would be ready the following Monday, December 19.
 

The fact that the woman told me “passport, visa ready” gave me confidence that the hard part was over and waiting was just a formality.

 
Sure enough, when I arrived at the embassy mid-morning exactly one week later, I walked right up to the window, showed my slip of paper and got my passport with a shiny new Belarus visa pasted squarely inside.

Belarus visa

In retrospect, getting my visa to Belarus was pretty painless. Working with Alatan Tour simplified the process and the staff at the embassy in Vilnius could not have been friendlier. Getting the visa abroad was also likely cheaper and quicker than trying to get it back home in the United States.

So if you’ve been thinking of checking out Belarus (there must be someone else out there!), don’t let the red tape of getting a visa stop you – what little hassle was involved was worth it to visit this former Soviet country that’s still far off the beaten path for most Western tourists.
 

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28 thoughts on “How I Got My Visa to Belarus”

  1. thank you times 100 million for posting this. i was expecting to head to belarus in 2011 and received SO much conflicting information on how to obtain the visa and it stopped me temporarily since i was dealing with visa issues here in norway for my residence visa! but as im planning on heading to belarus this spring, this is SUPER helpful and actually quite encouraging as it seems the embassy is willing to help 🙂 great post!

    1. You’re welcome! I read quite a bit of conflicting info as well (likely because rules change often) and was very nervous about it! The people at the embassy could not have been more helpful and friendly – even though I speak some Russian, the presence of an English-speaker was a very pleasant surprise!

        1. Not sure how far in advance you can apply, but I submitted my application December 12 and received my visa December 19 – the visit dates were January 2-16 (Alatan Tour gave me a couple days leeway on either side in their invitation letter).

          1. I am from Australia there is no embassy for Belarus. I have travelled there twice.
            The first time in 2009, I flew from Moscow to Minsk and got the visa at the airport.
            On my second trip in 2013 I was going to do it the same way but fortunately the travel agent in Minsk told me that the rules had changed and to fly to Minsk from Moscow was now a domestic trip so no facilities for a visa. I flew from St Peterberg to Helsinki and then back to Minsk. Last year they also forced me to purchase their medical insurance. Another problem was pay either in Euros or Dollars not in combination of both.
            I travelled by rental car and train.

            Victor

  2. I was in Belarus on a business trip about 15 years ago, and got the visa on arrival at Minsk airport. Very straightforward, just a 5 – 10 minute queue and a fee. Looks like things are a little more demanding these days then. I’ve been meaning to go back to that odd country, but haven’t yet. Look forward to reading your reports.

    1. Yeah, I think they’ve made it harder – although you can still get a visa on arrival, but only at the airport, not overland (and I was coming by bus). I found Chris Guillebeau’s attempt at getting one on arrival a couple years ago amusing: http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/getting-to-algiers/ (even though the post is titled Getting to Algiers, he details his Belarus experience as well).

  3. Thanks for the helpful information. Very interesting what is needed in different countries and the myriad of information to wade through. Thank goodness you did your research ahead of time and walked away pretty painfree.

  4. There is backdoor entrance into Belarus for ballsy travelers. If you take the train from St. Petersburg to Minsk, they usually don’t check passports. I know someone who pulled it off in 2011.

    1. You know, I was wondering about that when my friend Yuliya mentioned that there really isn’t any border control between Belarus and Russia.

      However, if you did that, I think you’d have to avoid staying at hotels because every hotel I stayed at checked for my visa, my entry form (which each hotel stamps) and one even asked to see proof of my medical insurance. And you’d probably have to go back out through Russia or they’d get you at the border leaving Belarus. 🙂

  5. im going to belarus for 8 days they told me no need for invitation letter just bring conformation of my booking with hotel on headed paper, so what should i write in the purpose of my visit.

  6. Wow! 100 Euros for a visa! Crazy price. I visited Belarus in 2007 and the visa was easy to get back then and cost me $30. I paid in British pounds (19 pounds) at the Belarus Embassy in London for it. In 2007 there was little or no tourism at all in Belarus and I remember the price of a beer in a bar was about 30 cents. I’m guessing times have changed slightly, though Belarus is still wildly behind the times. I stayed in Minsk and Bobruisck at the time. Bobruisck had one hotel! Safe travels. Jonny

    1. The visa is pricey, but Belarus itself wasn’t that expensive. They didn’t really have hostels when I was there (although I have heard some have opened since then), so I had to stay at hotels (you had to pre-book a hotel to get a letter of invitation for the visa), but the prices weren’t too bad. Stayed at a great place in Grodno that included Wi-Fi, laundry service and a homemade breakfast for about $40.

      1. Hi, I’m from Belarus and I have to agree that Belarusian visa fee is pricey but it is nothing compared to the fees we pay to get to the US (160 dollars) and UK (142 dollars) not to mention the crazy visa-obtaining process which is far worse than the one described above and which doesn’t even guarantee you would get a visa (very often visas are simply denied). It’s not even that easy to get a Schengen visa for us, although we live right next to the EU countries. Unfortunately, it’s all politics and all the complications we have only mirror political relations between the countries. Thus, right after the relations between Belarus and America worsened visa fees skyrocketed. there you go

    2. I think “wildly behind the times” is actually their tourism slogan. They like it that way, I think… thank the Soviet influence. Isn’t it cheaper for non-US tourists, though, on the basis of reciprocity? (hence the $30)

      1. Hello, Andrew. I am from Belarus. And no, we do not like it “that way”. We regular people you can meet elsewhere, who like to travel, read the news, want to live good, comply with good standards of living, keep up with the rest of the world etc. We are not cave people who are happy just with what we get. The only little problem is that we still live under dictatorship and under serious influence of the neighbouring bully which is Russia, and it’s a burden not a choice. I work in tourism myself and can’t even start to explain how difficult it is to get approval for something fresh and new from the government. Because you see, when your country is in the stuatuion like this, the regime controls all the spheres of life. The issue about Belarus is raised in international media every so often but nobody seem to care. And yes, as far as I’m concerned the EU citizens pay a little less than the US ppl: 75 euro (something around 85-90 dollars). We pay a lot more for US, UK and EU visas and are not guaranteed we would get any visa at all. cheers

  7. Very informative piece. Many westerners fail to take visas into account, and there are a few like this one that can really take awhile to get. It sounds even more complicated than I would think, and I’ve dealt with Russia, Myanmar, etc. Glad you got to go.

  8. All interesting. I’ve been thinking of an overnight trip from Vilnius. They have a new 3 hr train service to Minsk. You go thru’ Belarus customs & immigration in Vilnius Station. It will depend on how tough it is to get a visa in Vilnius – I’m only there for a week.

  9. Were you able to stay at the hostel in Minsk or did you have to book a hotel with the tour company as part of the package in getting the Letter of Invitation?

    Did you have to book anything other than the hotels to get
    the LOI from the travel agency?

    1. No. The one agency would let me stay at the hostel, but required me to purchase a tour, while the other didn’t make me purchase any tours, but made me stay in hotels.

      So all I ended up booking was my hotels in Minsk, Grodno and Brest from the agency that did the LOI for me. Actually, I did train tickets too, but that wasn’t required, just a matter of convenience.

  10. I went to the Consulate of Belarus (in Vilnius) this morning, they didn’t seem friendly at all, I wonder how much luck you had with it.

    1. Hmmm. I wouldn’t say they were super friendly when I went – I dealt with 3 or 4 different people there and some were nicer than others.

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