Transdniestr ‘visa regulations’

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Visa? What visa? This is Transdniestr, baby! You need a visa like you need a grenade launcher! (Seriously, do you need a grenade launcher? Cuz, I know a guy.)

That said, there are a few pertinent details:

While the situation has been much improved in recent years, meaning people usually skate through the checkpoints without so much as a sideways glance by guards, historically there have been numerous reports of disturbing hijinks at Transdniestran border crossings. Organized intimidation is used to separate travelers from their money with accusations of incomplete paperwork or invented transgressions like carrying a camera. Ludicrous “fines” go as high as 200 euros.

Again, the former bribe factory free-for-all has been greatly diminished, but if they decide to shake you down for a bribe, here’s the general process:

A popular opening line the guards use is asking travelers to present visas (nonexistent) or letters of invitation, acquired at the “Transdniestran Embassy” (also nonexistent). When you can’t produce these bogus documents, the head shaking begins. Anyone appearing to have more than two euro coins to rub together will be invited into a hut with several looming, armed guards to discuss your infraction(s). Sometimes a farcically massive, ancient tome, written in indecipherable Cyrillic script will be slammed down and opened so that you can stare incomprehensibly at the law you broke.

Then the haggling about your fine begins. Sometimes you will be directed “by law” to show them all of your money – a brazen way for them to gauge the size of the fine they can impose. If you resist, a theatrical performance designed to heighten anxiety and break your will commences: ominous forms are filled out, your bags will be pulled off your bus, presumably leaving you stranded. Anyone without passable fluency in Russian is in for a hard time.

If you enter Transdniestr on public transport and are detained, often your best defense is calm and patience. Let the maxitaxi leave you behind. Another will be along shortly. Even the most persistent guards will eventually get tired of dealing with you, particularly if their tactics don’t appear to be working. Worst case scenario, you’ll be stonewalled at a mirthfully small bribe offer (say 5 euros or 80 Moldovan lei) or you’re sent back to where you came from. They cannot legally detain you (unless you make the mistake of doing something blatantly unlawful while at the border).

In order to minimize potential drama, it’s strongly recommended that you travel in private transport with Moldovan plates and bring a fluent Russian speaker, preferably someone with experience traveling in the region. The hectic, bribe-factory border crossing near Bendery is where most of the theater of bribery has historically occurred. Ask around before heading into TransD. If the Bendery crossing sounds like it’s too hot, head up to the virtually deserted crossing at Grigoropol. Coming from Chisinau, this will add about an hour to your driving time to Tiraspol, but avoiding the hassle is worth it. (However you cannot transit Transdniestr to Ukraine using this crossing.)

Transiting the republic during a Moldova-Ukraine journey used all but to guarantee a bribe stare-down, but again this tactic seems to have ceased for now. That said, some people still opt to circumnavigate Transdniestr to avoid this potential hassle, by crossing the Ukraine/Moldova border at the southern village of Palanca.

Entry permit prices/requirements change frequently. When I last checked, permits were “officially” 12 lei (about US$1), available at the border no matter what the guys on duty playfully tell you. For stays of less than 10 hours, you don’t need to pay this fee.

If you’re staying for over 24 hours, you’ll need to register with the OVIR (Tel. 533-55 047; Address ul Kotovskogo No 2A; Hours 9am-noon Monday, 9am-noon & 1-4pm Tuesday & Thursday, 1-3pm Friday). Registration costs about 18 Moldovan lei or 16 Transdniestran roubles. Go down the alley and inquire at the rear white building with the red roof. Outside OVIR business hours go to the Tiraspol Militia Office (Tel. 533-34 169; Address Roza Luxemburg 66; open 24 hours a day) where registration is possible, but you’ll probably be asked to check in at the OVIR office the following working day anyway. Some hotels and tour operators will register you automatically.

If you enter Transdniestr from Ukraine before entering Moldova, keep two things in mind; you might have to purchase a “visitor’s pass” for TransD at the border, like always, but more importantly, when leaving Transdniestr to enter Moldova proper make sure your passport gets a Moldovan entry stamp or there could be trouble when you try to leave Moldova – unless you go back out via TransD, then who cares? No really, get that stamp. Don’t make me say “I told ya so.”

Oh yeah, you’ll also probably have to pay a small “fee” to the Moldovan guards for this unorthodox entry (if the Transdniestran and Russian guards haven’t already cleaned you out).

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