Minsk, Belarus Report of what it's like to live there - 04/23/19

Personal Experiences from Minsk, Belarus

Minsk, Belarus 04/23/19

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

We have lived in Moscow, Russia; St. Petersburg, Russia; Baku, Azerbaijan; and now Minsk, Belarus.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

We departed to Minsk from DC. It was a seven hour flight to Frankfurt, with a three hour layover and then continued on to Minsk. The flight from Frankfurt to Minsk was about two hours. It was easy to travel from DC to Minsk.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We have lived in Minsk for eight months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

The housing is great, we live in a spacious house. Typical housing: large stand-alone houses for families are in the suburbs, approximately 30 minute drive to center of city. Residences are gated and have large yards. Spacious apartments are in the center of the city. Commute times vary according to location.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries in Minsk are inexpensive. Household supplies are comparable to US prices.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Household items: Clorox wipes, Lysol spray or other favorite cleaners. Paper towels and toilet paper, as the quality is not as good here (not a must, but if you have room/weight you may want to put some in your shipment). Grocery items: Mexican food items, such as tortilla chips and salsa, refried beans, etc. (tortillas are available here); chocolate chips; brown sugar; powdered sugar; favorite cereals; canned pumpkin; extracts (vanilla, peppermint, etc.).

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There are many food delivery services, such as menu.by, which you can order directly from the menus of many local restaurants and whatever cuisine you want – Asian, Georgian, Belarusian, American, Middle Eastern, even mediocre Mexican. Delivery charge is two to four rubles (one to two USD), and generally completed in under an hour. The website/app is in both Russian and English. There are also several chain restaurants, such as Papa John’s Pizza, Domino’s Pizza, Carl’s Jr., KFC, Burger King and McDonald’s.

Availability of organic, vegetarian and specialty foods: Many hypermarkets have gluten free product sections. Tofu is readily available, as is seitan and tempeh at some specialty stores. Soy meat substitutes are also available. Fresh organic produce is hard to verify, although there are some vendors at Komarovskiy Rynok who profess to offer such. There is a vegan café, Monkeyfood, which is mostly for take away.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

No problems with insects or other infestations during the winter. Flies and spiders appear in the summer, but nothing unusual.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We have DPO and pouch addresses. It takes about three weeks to send/receive mail from the States.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Household help can be obtained through recommendations from other expats or locally employed staff. Average cost of household help is US $5-6 per hour. Expats typically employ housekeepers. Some expats that live in houses with yards may also employee a gardener.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There is a gym in the US Embassy. There are several sports/workout facilities in Minsk. The cost depends on how much/what you plan on using at the gym. There are yearly memberships, which can get pricey, or you can pay monthly or just for classes.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Credit cards are widely accepted. We have used our credit card at restaurants without a problem, however, we mainly use cash for most purchases. ATMs are common in stores and malls and are safe to use.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

I am not aware of English-language religious services available locally on a regular basis; however, on holidays such as Christmas and Easter there are English services available.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Expats need to be able to read Cyrillic. Language classes are available for embassy personnel and family. Minsk Linguistic University is also an option.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes, Minsk would be difficult to get around for those with physical disabilities, but in general, it is better than many cities in Eastern Europe with its wide sidewalks, wheelchair ramps, handicap parking and bathrooms in most modern shopping areas.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, local buses, trams, trains and taxis are safe and affordable. The price of a bus ticket, for example, is around 30 U.S. cents. There is also an app with the local bus schedule that can be downloaded.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

A car with all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive is recommended due to snowy winters, especially if you live outside of the city. Snow tires are mandatory during the winter months.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, high-speed internet access is available and typically takes about a week to install.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

We use a local provider and have been happy with it.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Personally no experience; however, other expats with pets reported importing a pet was easy. There are qualified veterinarians available at a very reasonable cost compared to the U.S. Cats and dogs are not quarantined upon entry. Western pet foods are readily available.

There are also kennels in Minsk. Some are called pet hotels, others are individual pet-keeping services. There are kennels located in the city and also outside of Minsk. Some kennels are for all types of pets. There are also kennels that are only for cats. Prices vary a little, for a dog it is about US $10 a day (feeding, cleaning and walking the dog). Kennels for cats are about $5 a day.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Most embassy expat spouses work at the embassy; some full-time and some part-time. Other expats work at QSI Minsk, the International School. No one generally works on the local economy due to low wages and language requirements as well as pay in the local currency that loses value.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are volunteer opportunities in Minsk; however you will need Russian language skills. Examples include: volunteering at orphanages and homeless shelters, or teaching English.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Dress code depends on position; but, generally business/business casual. Formal dress is rarely required.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There are no known personal security concerns that I am aware of.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical and dental care are below western standards. The embassy medevacs staff for all non-emergency surgeries. Most prescription drugs are available, but the quality of local generics varies.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Air quality is good. In the summer, if you live outside of the city, many people burn weeds, which can make it smoky. But generally, air quality is good and no negative impact on health.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

People with environmental allergies may be affected in the spring and should bring allergy medication. People with food allergies need to be able to communicate in Russian about their allergies.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Minsk has long, dark winters and Seasonal Affective Disorder tends to be an issue. However, using the SAD light helps to prevent this.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Cold, snowy winters. Spring is cool and rainy. Summer is very pleasant with warm temperatures. Fall is rainy and cool.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There is one international school, Quality School International Minsk (QSI Minsk). We have had positive experience with the school and our kids have been happy at the school.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

The school can accommodate some special needs. However, any such cases should be communicated prior to registration as the school has limited access to local providers of special services.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

QSI-Minsk has a preschool and it costs about US $7700/year. Some expat families have used local Belarusian preschools. They seem to be happy with the local preschool. It costs US $400/month for a half-day and US $600/month for a full-day.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

QSI-Minsk is continually providing more sports opportunities for kids after school. They have soccer, volleyball, gymnastics, swimming and tennis available for students that are interested. If you are able to speak Russian, there are many local sports classes for kids.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The overall expat community is relatively small.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

We socialize with other Embassy expats. The QSI-Minsk school has also been a good way to meet other expat parents. InterNations has been recommended by expats.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Minsk is a good city for singles, couples and families. There are many places to go and see and restaurants to dine in. There are many family-friendly activities to do here.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Probably not, the country seems pretty homophobic.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Yes, locals are very friendly. I am not aware of ethnic groups that feel uncomfortable here.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

I have not observed ethnic or religious prejudices. It does seem to be a male-dominated society, but not necessarily oppressive.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Trips to the provincial capitals; driving through little villages; visits to the castles and lakes in neighboring towns. Easy to get to the rest of Europe.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Outdoor sports: running/biking when it’s warm and cross-country skiing in winter. There are lots of spectator sports. There are surprisingly good art museums. The WWII museum is a must see. The philharmonic orchestra is also wonderful. Our family has enjoyed going to the circus and ballet. For little kids, there are several play-places located in the malls. The Aqua Park is a wonderful place for kids of all ages. There are also bowling alleys and movie theaters. There is usually at least one movie playing in English every weekend. There are so many “hidden gems” in and outside of the city if you are up for getting out and exploring.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

There are a few antique shops around. There is interesting artwork and handicrafts. Belarus is known for its linen and there are beautiful linen pieces available to buy.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Clean, quiet, safe, breathable air, and four seasons. It is relatively inexpensive in Minsk. Pedestrian right of way is rigorously observed. There is excellent public transportation and lots of parks. Decent restaurants and nightlife. There are many family-friendly places as well.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

There is nothing in particular that I wish I had known before moving here.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Knowing what I know now, I would definitely still move to this city and recommend it to others.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

You can leave behind most things. There is almost everything available here.

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4. But don't forget your:

Mexican food supplies (or drive to Vilnius and stock up). Baking goods, such as brown sugar, powdered sugar, and chocolate chips.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Belarus (Bradt Travel Guide). Once here in Minsk, The Best of Belarus Tourist Guide, can be purchased locally.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

In my opinion, Minsk is a wonderful place to live.

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