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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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