Some hints and tips for those who come to Belarus for the first time: Police, Border Guard, Customs, Security, Transport, Food, Accommodation etc.
Airport. Don’t try to make “friendly chats” with those who represent the authorities, as well as make jokes, especially about politics, religion or national or sexual minorities, it is a taboo.
Taxi at the airport is fully secure for your personal safety, but it is better to take those cars with aviation symbols. That taxi company reports to the administration of the Airport and charges less than other taxi services to get to Minsk (equivalent of 15 US dollars). You can change money at the bank booths in the building of the Airport. Don’t use ATMs (they can be dangerous). All exchange rates are official. Paying with bank cards in Belarus is safe – all banking system is under severe state control.
Food at the Airport is safe (there are decent bistro and cafeterias in the building) since all public nutrition in Belarus is constantly monitored by the state sanitary inspection. In Belarus, in all officially registered places of public nutrition food is safe and of decent quality, although there are some specific aspects like a limited selection of products, especially seafood; regarding conceptual fantasies – in fact, the menu everywhere consists of plagiarism imitating most popular (in Europe) cuisine, since local owners are very susceptible to foreign trends. In our opinion, plagiarism is neither bad and nor good, but you have to be prepared to meet poor-quality (as for taste – food itself is safe – again, due to severe state monitoring) plagiarism in Minsk restaurants. More in our video.
Alcohol. Belarus is not a wine country, therefore the staple alcohol here is vodka. We strongly discourage you from using more than 2 shots. If you drink more, the next morning might look more dark than it is in reality. The quality of local vodka is rather poor (it is made only from the same rectified spirit provided by state-run spirit rectification factory, except rare cases of craft moonshines) but safe from poisoning if purchased in official places (shops or restaurants).
Night life. In Minsk, there are many nightclubs and restaurants. It is not our task to describe these institutions, but perhaps we could describe the general trends.
- For young ladies, admission in nightclubs is free, so the prevalence of this social group is immediately apparent – they are more than 70%. This is easy to explain, many come “to work”, some have vistas for the greater perspective – for example, finding a “sponsor”, maybe a job, or even a husband. Manhunt, to be short.
- You have to be careful with cash, it is better to have a bank card when paying. Using bank cards in all officially registered businesses is safe – since it is under most severe state control. Although to tip a waiter with a bank card is almost impossible. In general, tips in Belarus is an accepted norm. However, you have every right to expect the appropriate service in return. If there is none, then don’t thank the staff without any embarrassment. The size of the tip depends only on you, but usually it is no more than 10%.
- The staff in different services in Belarus is not always smiling, which is a feature of the local mentality, therefore don’t be concerned about that. But they will be polite and try to be useful if they see a foreigner.
- General cultural and educational level is not uniform. In our opinion, the younger generation is no different from Western youth. A lot of young people work in information technology, as this is a general trend in the country (nowhere else can you get a decent salary except in IT-industry). However, be prepared to meet a scum of all ages especially in public transport.
Medical services. Medical treatment in Belarus exists in two forms: public (state-run) and private. 90% of all general medical treatment and operating practice is prerogative of the state; the private sector is mostly present in dental treatment, prosthetics, diagnostics. Foreigners have to pay in both sectors – state and private clinics. The only difference is when you get a service in the state sector, it is often necessary to use only “black” cash – such tradition comes from Soviet times (Stalin commented people’s talks about miserable doctor’s salaries (which is now about 300 US dollars per month!!! in state clinics), “A good doctor will always be fed by the people”).
Police and law enforcement. Police in Belarus is still called like in Soviet times – militia (милиция). KGB is also the same KGB. In general, police works not bad, especially when dealing with foreigners (although police officers don’t speak English), since they are very afraid of scandals associated with foreigners, so the alien is being treated by police much better than a local citizen.
However (information for lawyers), you have to remember that the hierarchy of priorities of laws is as follows: the Constitution of Belarus and the Presidential Decrees come in the first place, in second place are the directives of the Council of Ministers and other state institutions, and only in third place is the international law. This shall be taken into consideration, for example, in divorce cases and property matters. You also need to know that precedents is practically absent in court practice, and it significantly distinguishes Belarus from countries in America and Europe.
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