As Australian citizens getting across borders is not usually a problem. When it comes to the ex-Soviet countries of Belarus and Russia though, things can get a little tricky. Technically Russia doesn’t like to issue visas to Australian’s applying outside of Australia which can complicate things if you’re already on the road. We found a way around this by applying successfully for both a Belorussian and Russian visa in Warsaw, Poland.
Visa for Belarus
First off we visited the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus and although the gentleman we spoke to had limited English he was very willing to help us with information to ensure we would be granted a visa. In order to make the application we needed;
- Completed visa application form
- One passport photograph
- Proof of insurance showing a minimum of €10,000 medical cover and proof that the policy is valid in Belarus
- Visa support document issued by an authorised company in Belarus
After contacting both Belintourist and Belarusrent without any response we contacted Hostel Trinity who responded immediately. They provided visa support via an easy online payment system and issued our letters the next morning, though you do have to book/pay for one nights accommodation with them. Communication was spot on and fast.
Returning to the embassy with all of our documents we waited as they were checked by the immigration officer. Returning to speak to us he advised that he was only able to issue us a 10 day visa (rather than the 15 days we’d requested) based on the visa support provided. He’d even gone out of his way to contact Hostel Trinity to request further information which they were unable to provide. He said the only way he could issue a longer visa was if we had a full tour package booked which obviously was too expensive for us. So we settled for the 10 day visa, walked to the nearby nominated bank to make the payment and called it a day.
The total cost of a 10 day visa was €75 (plus a mandatory €0.55 bank fee to make the embassy payment) and took 5 working days.
- Visa support via Trinity Hostel – €20
- Visa fee at the embassy – €55
The embassy is located at Wiertnicza 58 and there are several buses from the center which will drop you right opposite, keep an eye out for the green and red flag of Belarus. At the time of writing applications can be lodged from 09:00 to 12:00 and once approved can only be collected between 15:00 and 16:00.
Visa for Russia
The best source of information we found online was Way to Russia. We used them to obtain our visa support letter and as with our Belarus visa we were able to pay online by credit card and were issued the letter the following day. There are full instructions on the website of what is required in order to lodge your application so we haven’t listed them again here. We will note that some nationalities, including Australians, are required to submit a ‘detailed autobiography’ with their application. For this we google translated the education and job history sections of our CV/resume and submitted this in both English and Russian, which was sufficient.
Once you have all of your documents prepared you have two options.
Lodge your application with the Russian Visa Centrum / IFS Poland between 08:00 and 16:00 Monday to Friday. They can assist with completing the application form for a 20PLN fee and will charge you a €25 service fee to lodge your application.
Address: ul. Starościńska 1, lok. C, 02-516 Warszawa
Make an appointment online (through IFS Poland) and lodge your application directly with the Russian Consulate. After you select ‘Book an Appointment’ check the option for ‘The Consular Department of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Poland’ then follow the prompts to select date and appointment time. Ensure you make a separate appointment for each applicant.
Address: ul. Belwederska 25C, 00-761 Warszawa
Don’t bother trying to visit the Russian Consulate to speak to anybody, they won’t let you in the building and will only point you to a noticeboard with the IFS contact details
We went with option 1 in order to avoid the unnecessary €25 service fee from IFS who also quoted us 24 days rather than the 21 days quoted by the Consulate. When we arrived with separate back to back appointments the lady allowed us to submit both applications at the same time, checked all of our documents to ensure she had everything, sent us to a travel/tour company across the road to pay the visa fee and gave us a receipt stamped with the return date 21 days later. Lucky for us this was the day before our Belarus visa began. If we’d applied with IFS we would have had to skip 3 days in Belarus. Three weeks later we returned to the Consulate between 15:00 and 16:00 and picked up our 30 day single entry Russian visas.
The total cost of a 30 day single entry visa was €77 (including exchange/fees when paying the visa fee) and took 21 days (including weekends).
- Visa support via Way to Russia – €25
- Visa fee at the Consulate- €52
Warsaw Poland to Brest Belarus
It’s possible to travel from Warsaw crossing the border to Brest in one day. Take the 06:10 PKP train from Warsaw Central to Terespol which arrives at 08:43. A second class ticket costs PLN40.80, first class PLN67.00 (second class is fine) and you can book online or purchase from a ticket machine or counter at Warsaw Central station.
Once you arrive in Terespol buy a ticket for the 11:25 train to Brest for 16.90PLN. There are two more trains at 15:12 and 20:15 if you want to spend some time in Terespol. Around 20-30 minutes before the train departs follow the train guards and the rest of the crowd to line up outside the mirrored building. Though you won’t find any signs this is in fact the Customs and Immigration building. You’ll need to pass through here to get your Polish exit stamp in your passport.
Once on the train it’s about 1hr 20min to Brest where you’ll be shunted through the crowd for your first experience of the Belorussian (non)queue. The border guard will most likely spot that you’re neither Polish nor Belorussian and will pull you aside and hand you a small paper immigration card. If they don’t you’ll have to ask for one. This is a very important document. DO NOT LOSE IT. You will eventually need it to get out of Russia.
Our first accommodation in Belarus was via AirBnb and therefore they did not register our visa but as we were only staying two nights this was not an issue. Upon arriving in Minsk Hostel Trinity, who provided the initial visa support documents, registered us and stamped the back of our immigration card. The remainder of our accommodation was less than two nights through AirBnb and again nobody stamped our immigration card which was not a problem.
Vitebsk Belarus to Saint Petersburg Russia
The information below only relates to the direct train from Vitebsk to Saint Petersburg, we can’t vouch for any other Belarus/Russia border crossings. Having purchased our tickets at Vitebsk train station (you can also buy online) we arrived early for the 22:13 overnight train and using our best (poor) Russian we asked the Customs and Information desks where we could get our passport exit stamps for Belarus. Both times we were told this wasn’t required and we only needed the immigration card we completed upon arriving in Belarus.
The train takes 9hrs 10mins arriving at Saint Petersburg at 07:23 in the morning and nobody came on board to check our passports or immigration cards during the trip. Upon arriving in Saint Petersburg we stayed at Apple Hostel where for a fee of RUB650 each they registered our Russian visa for our entire 30 day stay meaning we wouldn’t have to pay to have it registered anywhere else during our stay.
In order to leave Russia you’ll need to show both your visa registration card and your immigration card completed upon entering Belarus. You’ll also need to ensure you leave before your visa expires otherwise you’ll need to apply for an extension. If you’ve only overstayed between 1 and 3 days due to reasons beyond your control (ie the border was closed due to extreme weather as happened to us) you can easily get an extension from the Consulate office at Moscow Vnukovo Airport, located in Terminal A. The information desk will be able to contact them for you. A one day extension cost us RUB1,500 each which was payable by cash at a bank located within Terminal A.
We hope you found this information useful but if you have any questions or comments feel free to get in touch!
Check out our Flickr page for more photos of our time in Poland, Belarus, Russia and beyond.