BELARUS: Know Before you Go!
You are about to begin a ministry that may well be one of the most gratifying experiences of your life! Begin praying, and expect amazing results! Belarusians are VERY open to the gospel! You will work hard, but your heart will be touched and you will return home rejoicing. Below are a few details that will give you some idea of what to expect and how you should be prepared. God bless you as you begin this wonderful journey to a charming little country called… Belarus.
You MUST have a valid passport to travel to Belarus (and make sure you remember to sign it)! If you do not already have one, get one right a way. Usually there is an office at your local city hall that can assist you in this process. You will need to include a photo with your application, and you will need a second photo for your visa.
Requirements for “passport style” photos may be found at:https://travel.state.gov/passport/pptphotoreq/pptphotoreq_5333.html. I’d recommend you go to Office Depot, Staples, CVS, or a local photographer. They can provide you with a “passport style” photo which meets all the requirements.
Make at least two photo copies of your passport. Leave one at home with your family and carry the other copy with you separate from your original passport. In a pinch, photo copies of passports have been known to allow a tourist to leave Europe and reenter the USA with minimal difficulty. You may also want to consider using a passport “neck pouch”. They look like a pocket with a string that goes around your neck and can be worn underneath the clothing making it nearly impossible for your passport to be stolen. They also sell a version that you wear like a “belt” under your clothing. These pouches often have a second and third pocket for cash and credit cards. They can be purchased at Staples and Wal-Mart.
Please be advised, the US Government suggests you renew your passport approximately 9 months BEFORE its expiration date! Failure to do so could result in your visa being denied and you being prohibited from entering certain countries. We have seen this happen. Check the expiration date of your passport! If it expires in less than 9 months, we strongly recommend you renew it.
For more information regarding passports go to: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports.html
You MUST file a visa application with the Belarus Embassy in Washington, DC. You will need to provide your signed US passport, one “passport style” photo, the visa application, visa application fee, and a letter of invitation that Andrew will provide. Andrew will let you know when these need to be submitted, but typically it will be about 6 weeks before our departure.
When traveling to Belarus (and most other areas of Europe) in “coach”, airlines typically allow you one “checked” item, one piece of carry on luggage, AND one “personal item”. Personal items can be purses, briefcases, camera cases, diaper bags, laptops and items of a similar or smaller size to those above. Checked luggage policies differ according to the specific airline and change without notice. I recommend double checking the airline’s website to determine current policies.
Delta: (as of 2/22/14)
Checked Luggage: 1st checked bag is free; 2nd checked bag is $100, each additional is $285
Weight: 50 Pounds Maximum;
Size: 62” Maximum (length + width + height)
Carry On: Weight: 40 Pounds Maximum
Size: 22″ x 14″ x 9″ Maximum
NOTE: Carry on’s must fit easily in the SizeCheck® unit (approximately 22″x14″x9″) and must fit in an overhead bin or underneath the seat in front of you.
KLM: (as of 2/22/14)
Checked Luggage: 1st checked bag is free; 2nd checked bag is $100, each additional is $200
Weight: 50 Pounds Maximum
Size: 62” Maximum (length + width + height)
Carry On: Weight: 26 Pounds Maximum
Size: 21.5 x 13.5 x 10 Maximum (L+W+H = 45” Max )
Lufthansa: (as of 2/22/14)
Checked Luggage: 1st checked bag is free; 2nd checked bag is $100, each additional is $200
Weight: 50 Pounds Maximum
Size: 62” Maximum (length + width + height)
Carry On: Weight: 18 Pounds Maximum
Size: 21.6 x 15.7 x 9 Maximum
You may carry as much liquid or gels in your checked baggage as you like, however your carry on bag may only contain liquids or gels in travel size containers of 3oz or less, AND all of those carry on containers MUST fit in a single 1 quart plastic bag.
As is the case with travel to most foreign countries, going through customs and immigrations can take some time. The things to remember here are to be patient, pleasant, and serious. This is not the time to crack jokes or be unruly. You will be handed some forms on the airplane asking where you will be staying. You will need to enter either the name of the hotel, the address of the mission house of the host family with whom you will be staying. Ask Andrew for specifics. You will also be asked the purpose of your visit. It is best to say you are there “on vacation” or “for pleasure”. It is NOT wise to say you are there on a “mission trip” or to “share Jesus Christ”. While things are much better now compared to the days of the USSR, in Belarus publically sharing one’s faith is strongly discouraged.
Part of the whole immigration process involves securing health insurance for each member of the team, and is required by the Belarusian government. Andrew will act as your “go between” to make sure the process goes smoothly. In addition to the customs and immigration process, you will also need to register in the country the day after you arrive. Why that can’t be done at the same time you go through customs and immigration at the airport I have no idea. If at any time an official asks you a question and you’re not sure how to answer, ask Andrew for assistance.
Whether entering Belarus or returning to the US, do NOT use your camera, cell phone, or open any luggage until you have passed completely through customs and immigrations. This is serious! Officials enforce these rules and disregarding these regulations is not taken lightly.
Belarus is in a “year round time zone” (UTC/GMT +3 hours) which means they are 7 hours ahead of the US Eastern Time (ET) during the spring and summer, and 8 hours ahead of the US Eastern Time in the fall and winter.
Bottled water only! DO NOT DRINK THE TAP WATER (except at the mission house. The water there is from a well and is safe to drink). Andrew will provide large containers of bottled water. From this we will fill up smaller (approximately 16oz) bottles that may be carried with you during the day. Although Andrew will supply them, I like to bring one EMPTY 16oz bottle with me to the airport and fill it up AFTER going through security. Remember, you are NOT permitted to take any drinks through the airport security checkpoint! HINT: Wal-Mart sells a clip that attaches to a 16oz water bottle with a carbineer on the other end that may be connected to a belt loop or back pack. Very convenient! About $1.
By all means bring some of your favorite snacks. There will be times when we will be rushing from one meeting to another and the next meal may be delayed. Individually wrapped snacks are best and will have the least amount of scrutiny when going through security and customs. DO NOT bring fresh fruit or nuts as these are forbidden to be transported in or out of most countries. Packaged snacks containing nuts are usually acceptable, as are packaged fruit chews, gummies, etc.
ACCOMODATIONS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Part of your stay in Belarus may include a few days at the mission house in the town of “Bobruisk”. The mission house is just that, a large house situated in small residential neighborhood. In fact Andrew’s brothers have homes on either side of the mission house. There may be up to 2-3 persons sharing a room. As a result it is highly recommended you bring some ear plugs (not that you would ever snore – it’s just those “other” people). You may also want to bring some “blinders” as often the window shades and curtains are either thin or non existent, and the sun seems to rise early at certain times of the year. Don’t forget to bring an alarm clock (although you may have difficulty hearing it with ear plugs). You will want set an alarm for the morning, not only to be ready and on time for the day, but also so you can “stagger” your morning shower sequentially with your fellow roommates. Although it’s usually supplied, I have found I like to bring my own towel and bath soap. Contact information for the mission house is:
Contact Information in USA:
Byelorussian Mission, Inc.
7530 Campground Road, Cumming, GA 30040
Contact Information in Belarus:
2 Per. Slutsky 8A, Bobruisk, 213800
Telephone: 011 375 296084312 (from USA)
8 029 6084312 (within Belarus)
Andrew & Inna Ryzhkov
It is likely that some or all of your accommodations will be in a “host home”. These are usually the homes or apartments of the people from the local sponsoring church, but not always! Sometimes these people are unbelievers, so beware of your testimony! In all cases be as gracious as possible. Upon entering the house take off your shoes and leave them at the front door. Your host will may provide you with slippers to wear while in their home. Please bear in mind the average income in Belarus is only about $344 a month. Your hosts have likely made great sacrifices so that you could spend the night with them. It’s not unusual for them to give up their bedroom and go sleep on the couch so you’ll be more comfortable. They probably spent extra money and prepared a special meal just for you. So… even it you don’t like it – EAT IT! (with a big smile of course). It is considered quite rude to not eat what you are served. Of course if you have a certain food allergy or are absolutely convinced you will not be able to hold down a certain food, then discretely and politely pass on that item. Additionally, if you know in advance that you will be staying in host homes, be sure to bring some small gifts for the husband, wife, and children. They will be GREATLY appreciated and will help to leave a positive impression. It’s simply a nice way of saying thank you.
As you might expect, the menu is “Belarusian style” which most Americans find quite enjoyable. Common are such foods as: mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, chicken, beef, pork, vegetables, tea, coffee, cheese, eggs, beets soup, vegetable soup, meat ball soup, fruits, salads, several types of pancakes, deserts, milk, yogurt, cereal, jam, ravioli, and many others. Plan on hot tea with every meal! It seems to be main stay over there and is essential for any sort of social gathering where refreshments are served. Meals usually begin with some cheeses, small pieces of lunch meat, and bread. You may at first think, “Boy, this isn’t much to eat!” Shortly, however, other foods will be brought to the table, often followed by soup and then the main course. I assure you, you will have plenty to eat!
Other than dressing for comfort (see “Climate / Temperature”) a few considerations should be given to your choice of clothing. In general the Belarusians are a bit more conservative than us. When visiting orphanages, schools, hospitals, etc. during the week, it’s okay to wear a GOOD pair of jeans and a nice shirt or blouse. On Sundays it is best to dress up a little more. For the guys at least a button up shirt and tie, and for the ladies a dress is preferable. If you are a pastor, and / or teaching or preaching in the churches, it is best to wear a suit. When at the mission house, tee shirts, jeans, sweat pants, etc. are acceptable.
If at all possible bring as many changes of clothing as you will need for the entire trip. There is a washer for your use at the mission house, however you may be staying at a hotel or in a host home on the day you need to do laundry. Additionally, trying to find the time in your busy schedule to do a load of wash at the mission house, with 15-20 other people also wanting to wash, may be difficult. Also bear in mind, there are very few dryers in Belarus. Whatever you wash will need to be hung out to “air dry”.
The Belarus electrical standard is 220/240 volts, and uses a two round pin plug that is common in much of Northern Europe. There are two types of these plugs, one uses a larger diameter pin, and the other uses a smaller diameter. The type used in Belarus is “usually” the larger diameter pin, (although you may occasionally find the smaller one) often called a “Schuko” plug, and technically known as the “CEE 7/4”. It should be noted however that the “smaller” style of these plugs will also fit and function just fine in the “larger” style socket.
The United States’ electrical standard is 110/120 volts. Many “wall wart” style chargers sold in the US (i.e. for cell phone chargers, iPod chargers, electric razor chargers, etc.) will also work in Belarus with just a simple (and inexpensive) “adapter plug”. Most other devices will require a “power converter”. One type of “power converter” is needed for heating devices (solid state) like hair dryers, curling irons, and a different type (transformer) is needed for electronic devices. Do not confuse the two! IT IS ESSENTIAL that you read the label on your device to determine if a “power converter” is needed (and which type; transformer or solid state) or if just a simple adapter plug will suffice. Now days you will even find a few power converters that are “switchable” and will work both for electronics and heating devices!
Adapter plugs and power converters may be purchased at Radio Shack, Target, Brookstones, Ace Hardware, Best Buy and most luggage stores. Adapter plugs ONLY may be purchased at Wal-Mart. If you are not sure what you need, take the items that you wish to use abroad with you to your local Radio Shack and ask the sales person for assistance.
Conair sells a 120/240 volt hairdryer. It is the Conair Euro Styler Champion, Model C558 and can be purchased at Walmart.com for $20. The quality is not very good, but it should do the trick. It comes with a US plug on the end of the power cable, so you will still need an “adapter plug”. Make absolutely sure the switch is set for 240 volts when in Belarus or it WILL burn out. There are probably better units out there, and I’d encourage you to find one and let me know.
For additional information and solutions regarding foreign electrical standards visit:
NOTE: Chi hair styling irons sold in the US will NOT work on 220 volts EVEN with a power converter. This is a known condition (from personal experience) and the manufacture warns against it. The unit WILL overheat and cease to function!
Generally, unless you want to spend a fortune, it’s best to tell your family that you will only be able to call home once or twice. A “land line” telephone is installed at the mission house however it is not always operational. If it is, Andrew requests that for every minute we speak, that we put a dollar in the “jar” to help cover expenses. See “Accommodations & Contact Information” above for the telephone number at the mission house
Typically cell phones from either T-Mobile or AT&T will work in Belarus with no problem, and most “newer” phones from Verizon will work fine as well. That being said you will almost certainly need to call your service provider in advance to activate and allow for international calling. If you have picture and video messaging, or “data services” on your phone, it would be VERY wise to temporarily shut off these features. Otherwise you will have to pay outrageous additional charges for these features while “roaming” in Belarus. For Verizon the prices are as follows. AT&T isn’t much different. (Current as of September 2013):
VOICE PER MINUTE: $4.99 (to US or within Belarus, receiving or making calls)
TEXT MESSAGES: .50 (send) .05 (receive)
DATA – EMAILS – ETC: .02 per KB $20.48 per MB
If you MUST have a working cell phone in Belarus, consider these options:
1. Call your cell phone service provider and ask if your cell phone will work in Belarus. If so let them know the dates you will be traveling, as they will almost assuredly need to “activate” your phone for use abroad. You would also do well to ask the rates, just so there are no surprises!
2. If your cell phone will NOT work in Belarus, there is a good chance that your service provider can provide you with a rental phone that WILL work while you’re there.
3. Whether or not your existing cell phone will work in Belarus, you may want to look into the possibility of either purchasing a third party global SIM card or buying or renting a third party global phone. There are many options available on the web and they are MUCH more economical that ANY US service provider. When you search, look carefully at all the costs. Many companies change a per call “connection fee” in addition to the “per minute” charges.
Sources for Global Phones & SIM Cards:
Almost any global SIM card or global phone will save you a significant amount of money if you are planning on calling or receiving calls from the US. Presently my favorite is “One SIM Card”. While it is not the cheapest, it does seem to work best and is only slightly more costly than some of the others.
www.onesimcard.com (most reliable; voice, caller ID, voice mail, & texts all work well)
www.telestial.com (voice ok; caller ID, voice mail, & texts sometimes don’t work)
WARNING: Data services (such as browsing the web, background updating, news services, downloads, email, etc.) on your cell phone, Ipad, tablet or computer can cost up to $30.00 per MB depending on your carrier. It is HIGHLY recommended that you turn “Data Off” on your cell phone while in Belarus, otherwise you could end up with a bill of THOUSANDS of dollars. Really! It has happened to others before!
If you must have data, contact your carrier. They may be able to provide you with a “data package” that, while still being way overpriced, is considerably more reasonable. For example, as of September 2013, Verizon had a 100MB data package for $25.00. Additionally while you will almost certainly find a better price on the web for voice minutes compared to your local carrier, data may actually be cheaper (MUCH cheaper) through your existing carrier. In my case, my best option was to use a third party SIM card for voice, but then swap back to my Verizon SIM card when I needed data.
Belarus uses the “Belarusian Ruble” (abbreviated “BYN”). It is NOT the same as the Russian Ruble. Exchange rate as of October 9, 2017: 1 US Dollar = 1,9730 Belarusian Rubles (BYN)
Please be advised most businesses do NOT take credit cards or debit cards, only cash! None the less, if you think there is any chance you will be using a credit or debit card while traveling, be sure to contact your credit or debit card company and let them know of your travels in advance, otherwise your purchases will most likely be declined. Please be aware, the likely hood of fraud is greatly increased if you use a debit card. If you must use a “card”, I strongly suggest you only use a credit card.
NOTE: All your meals will be provided. There is little need for you to spend money except for an occasional snack, or souvenirs for yourself, family, or friends. Typically $100 – $300 is all you will need or want! Andrew usually will make provisions to exchange your US dollars for Belarusian rubles once in Belarus. No one that I am aware of in the United States is able to supply Belarusian Rubles. As a result, once you have returned to the United States you will NOT be able to exchange your Belarusian rubles for dollars. Therefore I suggest in Belarus you exchange only just as much money as you think you will really need. Upon leaving Belarus, you may be able to covert your rubles back into dollars at the Minsk airport (assuming of course that the exchange office is open and that you have sufficient time to do so). Technically speaking, it is illegal to leave Belarus with Belarusian currency in your possession. Alternatively, you might want to consider simply donating your remaining rubles to the ministry!
emperatures in Belarus vary greatly depending on the time of year. They are almost always considerably cooler than most places here in the United States. It is not uncommon however to have an occasional “swing” in temperature where the high for the day might be as much as 20 degrees cooler or warmer than the day before. Mornings and evenings can obviously be a little cooler as well. To be on the safe side, even during the summer months, you will want to carry a lightweight jacket, especially if your “mission travels” start early or run into the evening.
Average sunlight hours range between 9.5 hours/day in June, to 0.8 hours/day in December.
The hottest month is July with temperatures averaging 73 degrees.
The coldest month is January with temperatures averaging 12 degrees.
The driest month is March with an average of 1.0 in of rainfall occurring within 15 days.
The wettest month is July with an average of 3.3 in of rainfall occurring within 16 days.
AVERAGE LOW / HIGH TEMPERATURES*
|12 – 25||14 – 27||21 – 36||34 – 50|
|45 – 64||52 – 72||55 – 73||54 – 72|
|46 – 63||37 – 50||28 – 36||19 – 28|
*Source: https://www.climatetemp.info/belarus/. Please note. While the above is a supposed list of accurately calculated averages, my personal experience is that the temperatures typically run a few degrees warmer in the summer months.
We are going to preach Christ and Him crucified! Perhaps the two of the MOST important things in life are politics and religion; however Jesus Christ is FAR more important than either of these. Political discussions will only divide and detract from our real purpose. It is wise if asked your political opinion to just say something like, “Well, I don’t know much about that. We’re here to just enjoy your wonderful country”. Not only will this help keep the discussion “on track” but it will also prevent you from alienating someone who might otherwise be quite open to the gospel. Additionally, speaking poorly of the Belarusian government is EXTREAMLY unwise and dangerous. Doing so could not only close the doors for future mission teams to minister, but could also jeopardize the safety of YOUR mission trip.
NEVER at anytime or in any country should you take out your camera and take pictures at immigrations, customs, or inside any government facility, including the inside of an airport! I can speak from experience. This is NOT a smart thing to do! In most areas of Belarus taking pictures is not a problem, HOWEVER just to be on the safe side, when out in public, check first with Andrew before using your camera.
At host homes, hotels and mission house you’ll feel right at home. Public toilets are a different story however and are often not very well stocked. For this reason it is very important to CARRY A SMALL TRAVEL PACK OF TISSUE WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES, as well as some sort of hand sanitizer.
It’s okay to bring your laptop or tablet with you to Belarus. More and more Belarusians now have high speed internet connections in their homes, but Wi-Fi is still somewhat rare. If you need to check your email while at the mission house, usually Andrew’s brother will allow us to come next door and log on to his computer, or you might be able to use a computer at one of your host’s homes (although not every family has a computer). Please be careful to keep your sessions short and few so as to respect the time and privacy of someone else’s family. Computers and tablets with 3G and 4G wireless access (direct connection to the internet via cell phone systems) can be EXTREAMLY costly! See “Cell Phones & Telephones”.
Many people do experience some very mild stomach upset or diarrhea that lasts for perhaps a day or two. This of course is not unique to Belarus; it is quite common when traveling anywhere abroad. I want to emphasize, usually it is very mild however, being prepared with some “Imodium AD” or something similar is an excellent idea. Likewise, at other times, some people may experience some constipation. So being prepared for either extreme is wise.
Belarus – Culture Smart: Really great book! What can I say? Just buy it! Very easy to read guide that is packed full of terrific cultural, historical, and political information. Published in 2008, it is my favorite! 168 pages. $9.95 on amazon.com.
Belarus (Bradt Travel Guide): Definitely a more difficult read with small print, however it has greater detail and pretty pictures. Also published in 2008, it is not as “enjoyable” to read as the Culture Smart guide above, but does contain quite a bit more information. 232 pages. $18.97 on amazon.com.
Available online in multiple languages including English.
Minsk City Guide: Can be downloaded for FREE as a PDF file and has a fair bit of interesting information not only about Minsk, but about Belarus in general.
WEB SITES, TV AND RADIO
“The Virtual Guide to Belarus”: Many specific articles regarding Belarusian, culture, industry, politics, and current news. Well organized with many pictures and graphics.
“Data: An Independent Belarusian Web Site”: Plenty of information, but not so easy to navigate.
“BelTA: Belarusian Telegraph Agency; National Source of News”: Good up to date source for news in Belarus. Highly Recommended.
“Belarus.by: Official Website of the Republic of Belarus”: A very diverse site with travel, cultural, and weather information. Seems to be designed with the “tourist” in mind.
“Alpha Radio”: Live radio broadcast from Minsk, Belarus. Plays in Windows Media Player. Mostly in Russian, of course!
“Telegraph.by”: A newspaper style website that is frequently updated. Appears to be an excellent source for news in Belarus.
“Belarus Television”: Live television broadcast from Belarus TV. Plays in Windows Media Player. Totally in Russian!
“Belaruse Today”: Articles regarding PAST events in Belarus. Sadly it is VERY out of date. Last update was 2008.
“Belarus Digest”: Another newspaper style website with very good up to the minute reporting. You can even subscribe to the site and receive automatic news emails.
YOU TUBE VIDEOS:
“Europe’s Last Dictatorship – Belarus”
“Merchants of War – Belarus”
“The Iron Fist Returns – Belarus”
“EuroNews – Interview – Belarus’ opposition leader warns…”
“Chernobyl’s Children – Belarus”