The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office publish useful information on their web-site and a link is provided here: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travelling-and-living-overseas/travel-advice-by-country/europe/belarus/
Health & Safety
It is said that Minsk has more police per head of population than any other city in the world. Partly because of this, and partly because of the generally passive attitude of the Belarusian people, the crime rate in the city is low. But that isn’t to say that the city is crime free and you should exercise the usual precautions.
The only problems that you might encounter are with authority but that's unlikely too if you follow a couple of rules. Do not photograph or film any government buildings, including the KGB headquarters on Prospekt Nezavisimosti. Don’t participate in any political demonstrations either. Even if you get close to one you could still be implicated.
Being drunk on the street is rarely going to be an issue but being disorderly will be. Minsk city centre is spotless and a fortune has been spent on modernising it recently. An outraged article in one national newspaper recently focused on graffiti in the city even though it’s practically non-existent by western standards. The locals are proud of their city and the authorities will happily throw the book at anyone guilty of defacing or committing an act of vandalism to either state or private property.
HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases are prevalent in Belarus so always take precautions. If you are a male staying on your own in a hotel it’s likely that you’ll be offered the services of a prostitute at some point, either by a telephone call or a knock on your door. Ignore them and you won’t be troubled again.
It’s best not to drink the water in Minsk. I’ve done it many times and I’m still here but it’s really not advisable. Bottled water is widely available and very cheap. Many foreigner visitors will have read advice discouraging them from consuming dairy products and mushrooms in Belarus due to contamination from the Chernobyl disaster. This is serious advice if you are going to be spending any length of time in the south of the country. But if you’re visiting Minsk for a week then a cheese sandwich and a bowl of mushroom soup is not going to challenge your life expectancy. Bear in mind that most products you eat will never have been anywhere near the contaminated areas.
Belarus is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have coins. So instead of a pocket full of change, expect to be in permanent possession of a fistful of banknotes. Be aware that the 1,000br and 50,000br banknotes are a very similar colour and are easily confused.
Despite the lack of tourists Minsk has currency exchanges all over the city, including all major supermarkets and department stores. This is essentially because Belarusians don’t trust banks and prefer to keep their savings in hard currency.
US dollars, Euros and Russian roubles are accepted everywhere while British sterling is accepted at most places in the city centre, but not so widely in the suburbs.
Most other major European currencies are accepted at the exchange offices at the railway station but you may struggle elsewhere. The exceptions are the currencies of the countries that border Belarus.
ATMs have sprung up all over the city in the last few years. An increasing, though still limited, number of shops and restaurants will accept debit or credit cards. Plastic money is still in its infancy in Belarus so always have cash on you including a few US dollars.
Small value banknotes are deemed worthless even by Belarusians as can be noted by their occasional soiled presence in the buckets in the paperless cubicles in public toilets. Sales assistants will occasionally short-change you by up to 50 roubles without any comment if they don’t have any small value notes. But when you bear in mind that they do this to locals too and it’s the equivalent of up to 2 US cents or about 1 British penny, it’s hardly the wide-scale fleecing of foreigners that goes on in Moscow, so it’s really not worth making a fuss.
Your mobile phone provider will probably charge you a small fortune for using their services in Belarus. If you are only going to be making local calls then it will be cheaper to sign up with a local provider. The Velcom Open plan costs just 17,000br including set-up fee, can be arranged in minutes and for that you get about half an hour’s worth of calls. If you run out of credit you can simply top up at any one of their pay points across the city. In order to sign up you will need the assistance of a local. You need to provide proof of a permanent address in Belarus so it’s easier for them to do it for you.
International calls can be made at any post office. Tell the cashier the name of the country you are calling and how many minutes you want. The cashier will require you to pay first and will then direct you to a cubicle. Otherwise a phone card, available at any newspaper kiosk will enable you to make local and national calls. Finding a phone box though can occasionally be a problem.
Internet access is available at most post offices. Elsewhere there are Internet cafés all over the city but don’t expect broadband or wi-fi.
The two that I’d recommend in terms of opening hours and location are the 24 hour Internet café on the third floor of the railway station (see Arriving by train) and Soyuz, a 24 hour Internet café in the Central House of Officers (Центральный дом офицеров). The address is Krasnoarmeyskaya 3 (Красноармейская 3) and this is the big grey building opposite Central Square, which is the small tree-lined area opposite the huge concrete expanse of October Square in the heart of the city. Here you can buy coffee and beer and there’s even a smoking section.
They’re pretty much everywhere as you’d expect for a city of two million people and they are notable for the green cross outside. In the past I have managed to find drugs that are only available on prescription in the UK. Here's details of two that might come in handy.
Rodni Kut (Родны Кут)
Prospect Podetiteley 11 (Проспект Победителей 11)
Mon-Fri 10:00-21:00 , Sat 10:00-19:00, Sun 10:00-18:00
There is a small pharmacy hidden inside this supermarket. It’s next door to the Hotel Yubileynia and is also handy if you’re staying at the Hotel Planeta or Hotel Belarus.
There’s a 24 hour pharmacy here. If it’s closed then they’re on a break but they’ll be back soon!