Dear wheel (wo)men,
Visa and consulate application form
1. tourist visa: LOI from travel agent inside Belarus (BY) + hotel reservations made by the same travel agent (you choose from a list of hotels suggested by this travel agent) = expensive, not possible to cancel, no refund, but after payment hotels may accept that you change the dates of arrival. The number of nights you have paid for in advance = number of days of your tourist visa. Insurance contract has to mention the word "Belarus".
2. private visa: on the consulate application form fill in the name, address, telephone number, email address and give a scan of passport from a BY citizen. 30 days' visa possible. Insurance contract has to mention the word "Belarus". 60 Euro (or 120 Euro express = immediately or day after).
On the application form you have to mention your means of transportation, "train" or "bus" works.
Also how you will pay your way in BY: "cash" or "card" etc.
You have to fill out a double card: identical "entry" and "departure" (which you keep until your departure) sides. Under accommodation you may mention a hotel name or the name of your host, but it is immaterial since it is not checked against what you wrote on your visa application, so you may write another host/hotel name (only the city and oblast name is required, not the exact street name, not the house number or telephone number). In any case, you have the right to change your mind and not stay with the host/hotel you mentioned on your visa application...
Warning: check the DATE of entry stamp (on both your departure card and in your passport) to make sure it is the ACTUAL date, otherwise you are in deep shit later (even though it is not your own mistake)!
You will be asked a zillion questions, be consistent (e.g. they ask how much money you carry, but not always to show it when cash; you may or may not be asked to show your insurance).
Your insurance policy has to mention "Belarus" when you apply for the visa at the consulate.
It should be possible to buy insurance at the border, but I did not check.
You can buy insurance in every city in a BELGOSSTRAKH insurance office:
"obligatory medical insurance of foreign citizens and stateless persons temporary staying in the Republic of Belarus"
It costs 1 euro/day.
Insurance policy has to be IN RUSSIAN LANGUAGE when you do your registration in BY.
Registration in BY
You have to register within 5 days. Sunday and Monday all registration offices are closed. Mondays are not included in the 5 days.
Your hotel (without you) or your private host (accompanying you to the registration office) do your registration.
You may take a different host than the one you mentioned on the card at the border.
Your host must be the OWNER of her flat/house, NOT a tenant.
Your host has to know in advance what information s/he has to provide to the registration office. When your host does not know this and calls the registration office to find out, militia (police) may come to your host's place to check within an hour.
The registration must take place at the registration office of the area where your host lives; if this is an area where many foreigners register, there will be a longer waiting time at the office than in an office where few foreigners register. The registration itself takes a minimum of 20 minutes and requires a computer check of your visa application and border crossing.
To register, your insurance policy has to be IN RUSSIAN LANGUAGE. If you have a policy in another language (e.g. the one you provided to the consulate), it is cheaper to buy new insurance (1 euro/day) in BY than to have your insurance policy translated in BY.
Your insurance policy in Russian language (which you may have bought in BY) has only to be valid from the day your register until the day of your departure from BY or the end of your visa, whichever comes first.
Russia / Belarus border crossing
Even if you hold valid visa for both countries, it is ILLEGAL to cross the BY / Russia border ANYWHERE in either direction by persons who are NOT Belarus or Russian citizens. There are no permanent border check points on both sides, which means that you cannot get an exit and/or entry stamp in your passport from either side = liable to be arrested for illegal entry - with a fine and/or deportation as a consequence - at any time during your stay or at the border check point where you are leaving either country.
Train and bus tickets are being sold in e.g. Minsk and Smolensk to cross this border, but if you are not a Belarus or Russian citizen, you will be in trouble at or accross the border.
The only solutions when in BY is to cycle to Latvia and then cross the Latvia / Russia border or to cycle to Ukraine and then cross the Ukraine / Russia border. In Southeast BY is the "three sisters" border (BY/UA/RU border). Although the BY border official at this border stated that it was allowed to cycle directly after exiting BY to the Russian border (400 meters away), it may be better to err on the side of caution and cycle first in and out of the Ukrainian border (also 400 meters away) to get an UA entry/exit stamp and then cross the Russian border. When questioned during entry at the UA border, explain why you come there to make a U-turn!
Cycling in BY
In cities you must cycle on the pavement, not on the street. Like pedestrians, you cross on pedestrian crossings and take underpasses (many have rails to push your bike up and down). Watch out for the pain in your ass: curbs are not lowered for bikes!
In Minsk you have the most beautiful cycle path of BY: it meanders around the connected lakes from south (near the zoo) to north or v.v. with a short interruption due to a new construction near Lee Harvey Oswald's house.
Loitering and militia checks
BY people and country side are marvellous, however, the militia is ubiquitous and you may be checked anytime anywhere: when you are loitering in cities (without bike) in public spaces or when you leave your bike with luggage anywhere unattended, this may attract a police check of your documents. Even in shopping malls you should not loiter (and definitely not be caught napping!) or private security guards will stop you and call the militia. These private guards have NO authority to search you or to touch your passport, but they will physically stop you and hold you until the militia arrives. Minors up to 16 are under curfew (not allowed alone on the street 11 pm-6 am).
Check information sources regularly as the above info may change at any time...
HAPPY BY RIDINGS!