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I am hoping to travel by Train from Nice to Moscow next year before embarking on the Tran/siberian express. I understand the visa requirements but I am hearing though that there are issues with crossing the Belarus, namely there is no customs post at the crossing to entry stamp my passport into Russia properly.

Does anyone know if this is the case, is it possible to make alternative customs arrangements (eg arrival in Moscow), or what are the consequences of just going for it anyway?

  • (curious) I would be surprised if there is no checks when entering Russia. – Max Sep 10 at 12:41
  • Apparently the train only stops on the Russian side to change wheels. The border post has closed down, and there are no officials on the train. Its not an issue apparently for Belarus or Russian nationals but there may be problems for non union nationals. A check is made on entering Belarus, apparently. – djpekingman Sep 10 at 12:55
  • @Max Russia and Belarus have a kind of border free zone with limited controls similar to UK and Ireland. – MJeffryes Sep 10 at 12:56
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I travelled on the Prague–Moscow train in 2015. I had a transit visa for Belarus and a tourism visa for a fortnight-long stay in Russia. My tour actually left the Prague–Moscow train in Brest (the first station in Belarus where passport formalities and the bogie exchange to accomodate for Russian broad gauge occur) when we arrived in the morning, had a tour of the city and boarded an evening train (Brest–Moscow) on to Moscow.

Belarus and Russia form a union known as the Union State, including freedom of movement for both countries’ citizens and a customs union. From the point of view of an international traveller, this means there are no inspections when crossing the border between the two states. Your passport and visa will be checked in Brest once you cross the border into Belarus. You will be handed a Russian migration card to fill out and always keep with your passport. The entry stamp will probably be placed on your Belarusian visa with your Russian visa remaining unstamped. There’ll probably also be a quick customs check which I recall to be a guy walking through with a torch and checking for any obviously hidden stuff.

In terms of how it will all happen: unless they severely changed procedures the immigration checks will be the very first thing on Belarusian soil in a stationary train after you crossed the bridge from Poland. The train will then roll into the ‘Polish side’ of Brest station and passengers wishing to disembark will disembark. It will then be pulled back and pushed into the hall where bogies (and couplers) are exchanged which is quite a spectacle that is worth watching from the windows if you are not allowed to exit. Finally, it gets pulled out of the hall into the other direction and reaches the ‘Russian side’ of Brest station where onward passengers may board before departing towards Moscow.

When continuing on towards Moscow, you will be allowed a proper night’s sleep (or a full day of enjoyment) and likely won’t notice the border as you drive across it. I certainly wasn’t awoken but woke up the next morning in the outskirts of Moscow. You will already have been handed the necessary migration card in Brest; no further formalities are required. Specifically, you do not have to arrange for any customs inspection in Moscow since that has been performed in Brest.

After two weeks of crossing Russia by train and back, I exited on the Allegro to Helsinki from St. Petersburg. There, immigration inspection is performed on the running train right after its departure from St. Petersburg Finlandski station. My Russian visa received a Russian exit stamp, the migration card was taken away and everything was fine. There was also exit customs inspection by a Russian agent but that consisted only of a number of short questions which I could all answer to his satisfaction.

There were some rumours and reports of difficulties from the Russian side in recent years (post 2017) after Belarus introduced a visa-free entry scheme for a number of nationals through Minsk National Airport. Apparantly, so I heard and read, Russia was unhappy with tourists entering Belarus visa-free and continuing on by train to Russia although I never saw a full formal explanation. I was concerned whether this affected rail travellers, too. However, the all-knowing Man in Seat 61 confirms:

No problems have been reported by any westerners using the direct Russian Railways trains from Paris, Nice, Vienna, Berlin, Prague or Warsaw to Moscow via Belarus in 2017, 2018 or 2019, in spite of what you may have read elsewhere online.

As long as you have a Russian visa and a Belarus transit visa, travel from Western or Central Europe to Moscow on a direct Russian Railways international train seems fine, even if it crosses Belarus. The problem only arises if you want to START a train journey in Belarus to travel to Russia.

Thus, you should have no problems on your trip.

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    Thanks a lot folks - that all sounds like good experience instead of rumours! – djpekingman Sep 10 at 16:19
  • @djpekingman It's an internal practice by the Russian FSB not to deny entry to rail passengers embarking outside Belarus. Not formal legislation. As such, be cautious inside Russia, as any police checking your papers inside the country are unlikely to be aware of it – Crazydre Sep 12 at 16:33

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