Minsk National airport, previously known as Minsk-2 airport, is the main international airport in Minsk and Belarus. After the fall of the USSR the passenger numbers fell drastically but with the launch of the national carrier Belavia and further investments in the airline with many new European and Asian routes the airport is once again seeing a steady growth in the number of passengers and especially an increase in the number of transfer passengers. But do international transfers really work at the airport? There is very little information on the internet.
International transfer at Minsk National airport?
Just like in Russia and some other countries that were once part of the USSR, international transfers pretty much did not exist two decades ago. There were no processes for passengers who were just in transit between two international flights with no intention to enter the country. In most cases some kind of transit visa was required.
In Russia international transfers have been possible for several years now, especially at the major airports in Moscow such as Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo. However there are still several large airports with international flights with no transit facilities for international transfer passengers.
In Belarus at Minsk National airport, which opened in 1982 during the USSR era, the terminal building was never constructed to allow or facilitate international transfers, it was designed for departing and arriving passengers visiting Belarus. This was still the case until very recently and the internet is full of stories of people who have had to buy transit visas on arrival (usually at very inflated prices), who have had to have lengthy arguments with airport officers or who have even been denied boarding at the departure airport because they have lacked a valid visa for Belarus.
Today most of this has fortunately changed due to a government decision and a reconstruction of the terminal building.
As always it is a good idea to check the latest info with the Belarusian embassy or consulate, just to be sure, but many of these websites will not inform about the rules. Belavia, the main national airline, states the following at their webpage (as of 2016):
According to the information, obtained from National airport Minsk border guard service: Those passengers, who travel in transit through Minsk, do not need the Belarusian transit visa, if the following conditions are fulfilled:
- passengers have a valid passport and valid documents (national passport and/or visa , etc.) required for entry into the country of destination;
- valid single ticket for the entire route to the destination point;
- stay in Minsk does not exceed 24 hours and the passenger does not leave the so-called airport transit zone.
How does it work?
Upon entering the terminal building on the ground floor there is a staircase to the right, just before entering the immigration hall, which a large sign marked “Transfer”. After the stairs to the first floor a long and somewhat sterile corridor leads to a transfer desk where documents are checked by an agent. It might also be possible to get a boarding pass here, but it is definitely best to travel on a single ticket and make sure to get all the boarding passes at the departure airport. The regular check-in desks are located landside, and in case any checked luggage is not through-checked the passenger would need a visa to go landside to reclaim and recheck the luggage.
After the transfer desk there is another document control where the passport and boarding passes are checked and the boarding pass is then stamped. This is followed by a normal transit security control of the passenger and the hand luggage.
With document checks and transfer security completed the passenger passes a customs filter and then takes the stairs to the second floor and the general transit hall for departing passengers, which is rather small but offers a few shops and cafes.
All-in-all it works much like any other international airport, just with a few more document checks. Just keep in mind there is just one transit desk and one transit security checkpoint, so do allow sufficient transfer time. But on the other hand the number of transfer passenger is still relatively low.
Transfers to and from Russia
International transfers to or from Russia via Belarus are trickier as flights between Russia and Belarus are generally regarded as domestic flights, just like when travelling between two Schengen countries in Europe. At many border crossings between the two countries there are no checkpoints.
At Minsk National airport there is a special section of the terminal building used for flights to and from Russia, separated from the transit hall for other international flights. If transiting at the airport between Russia and another foreign country it may be worth checking the rules if a transit visa for Belarus would be required to avoid problems.