General Information

Belarus, meaning "White Russia," is in Eastern Europe and consists of flat lowlands separated by low hills and uplands. Thriving, beautiful forests cover a third of this republic, and the Pinsk Marshes occupy much of the south.1

This vibrant republic is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered by Russia in the north and east, Ukraine in the south, Poland in the west and Lithuania and Latvia in the north. With a complex history and rich architecture Belarus is a wonderful place to explore no matter what time of year. With a diverse geography and a passion for natural history and wildlife Belarus would be an outdoor enthusiasts' dream.2


640px-Miensk_-_Plac_Niezaležnaści.jpgMinsk is one of the best kept secrets in Europe.  Ecologically clean, safe, inexpensive for foreigners and full of activities for children, it makes the ideal home for families.  The most difficult part about living in Minsk is actually getting to the city as visa restrictions are still fairly strict.  However, international families that settle here often ask to extend their stays, as they fall in love with the city and wonderful people of Belarus.

Activities for children:

Kids should never be bored in Minsk as there are activities to keep them occupied all year.  During the warmer months, long strolls through the city’s many parks such as Gorky Central Park and Chelyuskintsev Park are a must.  Walking along the winding paths in parks leads to several surprises as one might find a Ferris wheel, open air concert or a charming ice cream stand in the middle of a green zone.  Although most locals do not speak English, using hand signals can help you get that double dip pistachio and chocolate ice cream.

Directly downtown, you will also find the Belarussian Circus (www.circus.by), where world class clowns, acrobats, and other attractions will amaze the little ones and keep the attention of even the most stoic of fathers.  Eastern Europe holds on to its tradition of the circus, with nearly every major city in the former USSR having a centrally located, permanent building dedicated to the art.  For those who are interested in a little more action, check out Dream Land (www.dreamland.by), a local amusement park.  Tickets are about 10 USD for adults and 5 USD for kids.

Minsk also has more formal and extra-curricular activities for kids.  Music lessons are not only of the highest caliber, but also very inexpensive by Western standards (10 USD per lesson).  Students who are serious about their studies may join a music school that meets 3 or 4 times a week.  The current cost of music school is 8 USD per month.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Lessons will focus on one instrument (violin, piano, etc.), as well as voice and music theory.  Kids can also take art lessons as they learn sculpting, painting and sketching from professionals.

IMG_8202 2.jpgIf parents are in town for a while, they may consider signing their children up for a gym membership at someplace like Mir Fitnessa (www.mf.by).  They not only have two pools, but a list of active classes for the kids:  karate, kid-yoga, gymnastics, ballet, aerobics, water polo, and more.  For the older kids they also have contemporary dance and boxing classes.  There may be a language barrier if your kids do not speak Russian, but you will find that people here are very happy to make the best of any circumstance.  Your lack of language will almost always be greeted with a smile and an attempt at English.  After a few weeks of working out with local families, your children will be speaking quite a bit of Russian.

Winter time brings its own challenges to life in Minsk.  The weather can be frightfully cold, but people are still active.  Around town, you will see people cross-country skiing, enjoying the snow and -20 degree weather.  Remember to dress in layers to keep warm and get some good boots.  If downhill skiing is more of your style, then head over to Silichy (www.silichy.by), a ski area that is a short 30 km ride from Minsk.  Kids can learn to ski here as instructors are happy to have beginners or intermediate students.  Some know English, so be sure to mention that your children will need English when you arrange for lessons.  

Safety and Cleanliness

Minsk surpasses expectations as far as safety is concerned.  Foreigners have commented that they feel much safer here than in any other city in Europe.  The streets are clean and the parks are not filled with beer drinking local youngsters (there is an enforced open container law in Minsk).  Air quality is superb, with little smog on normal days.  One only has to head out beyond the ring road around Minsk to see how glorious Belarus actually is.  The city has amazing lush forests surrounding it with plenty of spots for picnicking, bird watching, or mushroom hunting (a very popular activity).  

Economics

The best place to look for updated economic information from a consumer point of view is Numbeo (www.numbeo.com).  The website is a little clunky, but if you search you can find a lot of real information about Minsk and updated prices on goods and services.  For example, it lists that a liter of milk currently costs .63 USD.  That is pretty accurate as dairy is quite inexpensive in Belarus.

Transportation

The public transportation system serves the city well, but is not without its faults.  Buses run according to a schedule, but will most often be late or clumped together as 3 buses arrive at the same time.  If you are heading to a specific location, taxis are recommended and cheap at about 5 USD per ride.  Unlike many cities, one cannot simply “flag down” a taxi on the street.  Taxis gather in central spots in downtown, but you will generally need to call a cab to find one if you are outside of the center.  Once again, this requires Russian as the dispatchers do not know English.  When phoning, you will just mention your address, not where you are heading.  The dispatcher will put you on hold and then let you know when the taxi will be there.  For whatever reason, it is always 7 minutes.  When the cab arrives, you will tell the driver where to go or you may hand him a business card with an address printed on it.  Taxis always have meters so there is no haggling over the price.  

Pets in Minsk

One of the best parts about moving to Minsk is that you can bring your whole family, including your pet.  These days, pets are part of the family and moving internationally many times means leaving them behind with other family members or finding new homes for them.  However, bringing your pets to Minsk is not only possible, it's relatively easy and affordable!  The only paperwork you need to bring with you to import your pet is a Veterinary Certificate stating your pet is in good health, up to date with their vaccinations (including Rabies), and has the microchip implanted.  If you are coming from the US, it must be stamped with the USDA stamp (costs $37.50) from your state.  Upon entering the country, you will go through customs and declare your pet.  The veterinarian at the airport will look at your pet, validate the paperwork (and translate it into Russian), and you will pay approximately $6.00.  Then, you have 30 days to register your pet at a local veterinarian.  Once you and your pet are in Minsk, the city is very pet friendly.  Many apartments and houses are available for pet owners.  If you bring a dog, you will be in good company as many people in the city have dogs.  You will meet many new friends as you go out on walks.  If your dog is a small dog (less than 10 pounds), you will find that you can easily travel around town with your pet (you will sometimes see people bring their tiny dogs into restaurants and shops).  Pets are allowed on the local the bus system as long as they are leashed or in a carrier.  Pet cats and dogs are found all over the city- you will not be alone!Veterinarian care in Minsk is a bit different from that in other countries.  There are many veterinarians throughout the city, and they do all services, however the cost is significantly less than in other countries.  There is even an option to have home-vet care if your pet is nervous or afraid to go to the vet!  Some medications may not be available here for your pet, however, so if your pet is need of special medication please confirm that it is available first.There are many pet stores in Minsk, but they are much smaller than the big-name stores you find other places.  You can find however, with some searching, a variety of toys, treats, bones, crates, carriers, clothes, food, and other pet-accessories.  Some of the pet stores sell small animals (birds, mice, fish, etc) and their accessories as well.Minsk is a very pet-friendly place.  You and your pet will love making Minsk your new home!

More Information

Official Website
Wikipedia
National Geographic
CIA World Factbook

References

1 National Geographic Travel Website

2 Official Website