Belarus is one of the last countries in Europe that feels like a forbidden destination. Many adventurous travelers want to visit here to take a look at what one of the last communist countries on the planet looks like, with its cities that feel like a step back in time.
Of course, Belarus goes beyond this somewhat stereotypical view of the country. The country has some of the last truly wild, untouched areas in Europe, including forests such as Bielaviežkaja Pušča National Park and swamps.
Others visit to see the fascinating yet mostly unexplored historical landmarks such as Mir Castle and Brest Fortress. Belarus is also an important center for spiritual tourism, especially for the Jewish community.
Many people don’t know a lot about Belarus, as the government is fairly closed to outsiders. Before planning your adventurous vacation, you might be wondering if the country is safe to visit as a tourist.
But don’t worry — our travel experts have done the hard work for you. We’ll show you the most common safety concerns you may encounter in Belarus, how to stay safe, and more. Let us be your guide!
Is Belarus Safe to Visit?
Right now, most world governments advise their citizens against visiting Belarus. The country is probably safer for visitors than locals due to low levels of crime, but the political situation is not safe.
Due to ongoing political unrest as well as the war in neighboring Ukraine, which Belarus is implicated in, it’s best to save your vacation to Belarus for another time. Most Western governments advise their citizens against traveling to Belarus.
The United States issued a Level Four travel advisory against Belarus due to the ongoing war in Ukraine as well as civil unrest over the past few years. It is joined by other world governments, including Ireland, which also put Belarus on its “do not travel” list.
However, if your heart is set of going, there are a few things you should keep in mind before booking your ticket to Belarus, including:
- Civil Unrest
- Pickpocketing and Petty Theft
- Car break-ins
- Corruption and Bribery
The big reason why most governments tell their citizens not to go to Belarus is due to the war in Ukraine. You might be wondering what a war in a neighboring country has to do with Belarus.
However, Belarus is closely allied with the Russian government, and the Russian military actually has some operations in the country. You probably don’t want to visit any place that is connected to an active war zone.
Even before the war in Ukraine, many governments advised their citizens not to visit Belarus due to ongoing civil unrest. Starting in August 2020, Belarusian people protested in the streets against probable election fraud committed by long-time president Alexander Lukashenka.
The protests continued until 2021 and were met with widespread repression and violence condemned by organizations such as Human Rights Watch.
While it’s definitely more dangerous to be a dissident citizen of Belarus in the country than a foreigner, foreign governments advise against travel due to the risk of getting targeted. If you look at just the crime rate, then the risk of traveling to Belarus is fairly low.
The violent crime rate is low, much lower than in the United States. Other forms of crime, such as theft, do occur, but the levels are relatively low. Don’t be fooled, though.
Just because the crime rate somewhere is low, that doesn’t mean it’s the safest place in the world to travel. Keep the complexities of the security situation in mind and maybe save your trip for when the region calms down a bit.
Crime in Belarus
If you look at just crime, then the situation in Belarus doesn’t seem that bad. The country has low levels of overall crime as well as violent crime. According to data from the World Bank, the rate of violent crime is just 2.38 incidents per 100,000 people.
Of the different types of crime, theft is the most common as well as the most common one encountered by tourists. In an informal survey of Belarusian people by Numbeo, 46.79% of people worry about being mugged or robbed.
Most incidents of theft are minor, such as pickpocketing or car break-ins. More severe forms of theft such as mugging, carjacking, and burglaries do occur.
However, keep in mind there are a few problems with Belarusian crime statistics. One is that the government is notoriously opaque about whatever doesn’t work in its favor, so there’s good reason to believe that the crime statistics aren’t the most accurate.
Anecdotes from previous tourists say that they encountered pickpocketing, carjacking for luxury vehicles, drugged drinks and food, as well as prostitutes soliciting in their hotels.
Crime statistics also don’t always include crimes perpetrated by the authorities. It’s telling that in the survey mentioned above, the crime respondents were worried about most was corruption and bribery, at 81.02%.
Authorities are strict and arbitrary in their application of Belarus’s strict laws. There have been incidents where they spy on and target foreigners. Plus, you can’t always count on their help if you are a victim of a crime.
The security situation in Belarus is a bit more complex than you might think looking at violent crime statistics, so it’s worth thinking twice about planning a vacation to Belarus at this moment.
Pickpocketing and Theft
As with most other places in the world, the primary crime tourists in Belarus encounter is theft. Most thefts are crimes of opportunity, where pickpockets and thieves take advantage of distracted foreigners.
Most thefts are just pickpocketing and bag snatching. Common hot spots for petty theft are popular tourist destinations around Minsk, such as Victory Park.
Public transportation within Minsk and intercity buses and trains are also hotspots for pickpocketing and petty theft. Defenses against pickpocketing in Belarus are the same as pretty much everywhere else.
Keep in mind that as a foreigner, you probably have more money than most of the people you meet on the street, so don’t flash your valuables.
Keep your wallet and documents close to your body, such as in a cross-body bag or front pocket instead of back pocket. Stay alert, especially in crowded places, and beware of people getting too close or acting overly friendly.
When going out to eat or drink in Belarus, previous travelers recommend being careful, especially when consuming alcohol. Roofieing, or slipping drugs into foreigners’ drinks, has happened before, with the goal of incapacitating someone to make robbery easier.
Take basic precautions, such as never accepting drinks from strangers and never leaving your drink unattended. Break-ins also do happen, particularly in Minsk where most foreigners visit.
Thieves might case your hotel room and decide to break in. One way to avoid this is to splurge for a higher-end hotel (that will also protect you from prostitutes that enter hotels to solicit). Car break-ins, as well as car part theft, also happen.
There are no concrete statistics to support this, but anecdotal experiences share that luxury foreign cars are often targeted because they have parts that are hard to get in Belarus and sell for a lot on the black market.
Park your car in secure spots such as garages, especially overnight, and never leave valuables where they are visible. One thing to keep in mind about theft in Belarus is that despite low crime rates, you shouldn’t expect a very responsive police force.
Some travelers have reported that police were indifferent at best and combative toward victims at worst when they went to report a crime.
Corruption, Repression, and State Violence
The biggest danger to you when traveling in Belarus is not the average Belarusian citizen but the government. Belarus’s government is famously repressive, a situation that grew worse after the 2020–2021 protests and the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Foreigners in Belarus have always been under surveillance, but the situation has gotten worse in the past few years as the government has become even more of a pariah on the international stage.
Some people report welcoming treatment by border guards, but others were questioned extensively and even turned away arbitrarily. Foreigners are also not-so-secretly followed by police and secret agents to monitor for any espionage.
For some people, this extensive questioning is part of the charm of adventure tourism to what some people call Europe’s last dictatorship.
However, you shouldn’t underestimate the dangers of what could happen if an interrogation goes wrong. Belarus has few consular or diplomatic relationships with Western countries, so your home country can’t help you if you’re detained.
If you have content on your phone, computer, or social media that is critical of Belarus, Lukashenko, or Russia, you are at higher risk of running into trouble with authorities.
It’s worth keeping the security situation in the neighborhood in mind. Belarus has said it is participating in what it calls Russia’s “special military operation” and allowed Russia to send and deploy troops to its territory.
Although the war hasn’t yet expanded into Belarus, the security situation could change at any moment, and you don’t want to be caught in the crossfire if it does happen.
Avoiding Bad Areas
As you can tell, it’s not the best idea to go to Belarus right now. However, you can minimize your risk by sticking to safer areas and avoiding bad areas. Definitely stay away from the Ukrainian border now.
Not only is there a war going on just over the line, but border towns are often sites for Russian military mobilization. You don’t want to accidentally get on the wrong side of a Russian soldier for photographing the wrong building.
Areas with high levels of Russian military activity include the towns of Yelsk, Mazyr, Gomel, and Brest. The situation at Belarus’s other borders is also tenuous.
Since 2020, Belarus has been in conflict with its other neighbors over immigration. Expect increased checkpoints and even unrest at border crossings, for example the Bruzgi-Koznica crossing with Poland.
Things to Consider
Here are some things to keep in mind before visiting Belarus:
- Always carry your passport with your visa with you as that is the law in Belarus; no copies are allowed.
- Foreign citizens have had trouble leaving the country via land borders, so make sure you have an exit visa and be prepared to change plans at a moment’s notice.
- Flights in and out of Belarus are limited and subject to last-minute cancellations, so budget (with time and money) for potential changes.
- Register with your government if you go to Belarus, but know that their ability to help you out is sometimes limited by tense diplomatic relationships.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other things you might want to know about Belarus:
Can foreigners go to Belarus?
The answer depends on your nationality. Citizens of some countries can visit Belarus without a visa; others can visit without a visa only if they book a tour in a certain location through a certified operator, while diplomatic tensions are making it harder for certain nationalities, such as Americans, to visit. Always check ahead of time.
Is Belarus safe at night?
Belarus is pretty safe at night, considering the overall low levels of crime. However, you should still take precautions, such as avoiding side streets.
Is Belarus a good holiday destination?
Given the security situation in Belarus and its neighboring countries, it’s not exactly a good holiday destination unless you are a fan of dark tourism. There are so many attractions in the country; hopefully, the situation calms down enough to welcome tourists again.
Can you speak English in Belarus?
You can speak English in Belarus, but not everyone will understand you, especially older people outside of popular tourist areas! Most Belarusians speak Belarusian or Russian.
Is Belarus a free country?
According to many international freedom monitors, Belarus is not a free country. The country ranks low on measures of press freedom, freedom of speech, and pretty much all other freedoms.
So Is Belarus Safe to Visit in 2023?
Despite its low poverty rate, Belarus is not the safest place to visit right now. The security situation due to the war in Ukraine and ongoing protests mean the country is often volatile, so skip it on your travel itinerary for now. Happy travels!