Belarus has a comparatively low level of street crime. Most commonly are mugging and pickpocketing, occurs near public transportation venues, near hotels frequented by foreigners, and/or at night in poorly lit areas. Crime in Belarus is severely punished by the government and little organized crime is active within the country due to the government's efforts to curb these activities. Travelers should be aware that drug use of any type, including marijuana, is met with very severe penalties.
Pedestrian crossings in Belarus are very common. Jaywalking is illegal and can land you a fine if you are caught. Although some Belarusians will cross where there is no crossing provided there are no police around, crossing at a red light will get you some very strange looks and is highly inadvisable when with locals. Pedestrian lights in Belarus, like much of eastern Europe, may allow cars to turn across your path even when the light is green for you. When this happens the cars are required, just as at zebra crossings too, to give pedestrians the right of way. However this doesn't always mean stopping, but more commonly hastily changing lane to cut in front of you. To get a car to wait, you have to walk forwards quite determinedly, but be aware that if the car doesn't stop you will have to get out of its way quickly. As a general rule, when not at a pedestrian crossing, cars will make no allowances for you and will not change speed or direction to allow you to cross.
Driving in Belarus is not for the faint hearted. Drivers will change lanes at will, often without indicating, and drive very close to the vehicle in front. On long-distance country roads with only one lane each way, some cars may expect you to move over to the right onto the verge if needs be so that they can overtake, and it is probably best not to argue with them. Also be aware that drivers may try to overtake when there are cars coming towards you, and that you may need to suddenly slow down to allow them in front of you.
If you participate in a street demonstration with political banners, expect to be detained within minutes. Westerners especially should avoid any political discussions, protests, etc. due to the government's keen opposition to dissenting views. With that said, many Belarusians freely express their political views during regular conversation without fear of immediate arrest or some type of governmental retribution. Active demonstrations against the government are certainly inadvisable; however, foreigners should not feel unduly threatened by any restrictions on freedom of political speech. Aforementioned demonstrations can be identified by seeing a red and white banner, a white background, with a strip of red going horizontally across in the center, forming a white red white flag. If you see said flag, do your best to stay away from the demonstration.
It is illegal to be outside after 11pm if you are under 18. Young people may be stopped and required to prove their age, and failing to produce a passport if asked to will be interpreted as being under 18 and you will be fined.
Security personnel may at times place you, as a foreigner, under surveillance; hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities; these sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation.
Belarus police organizations are well trained and professional, but severely restricted by an un-reformed Soviet-era legal system, corruption, and politicization of the police force and other government authorities. Sophisticated criminal investigations are often inconclusive because of a lack of resources and/or political will.
Historically, Belarus maintained an excellent health system. Call 103 for ambulance. Normally an ambulance should reach a patient within 15min in cities and 30min in countryside (http://www.kp.by/daily/26...). The fastest way to secure Western-level care is medical evacuation to the European Union.
Tuberculosis TB is a serious health concern in Belarus. Though the illness-level is the same as at the Baltic states. Vaccinations against this disease is highly recommended. You need to consult to a doctor first and get the vaccination before entering Belarus.
In Belarus, there is a big institute and lots of funding for studying the after effects of the Chernobyl disaster, which happened in 1986 in a nuclear power plant on the Ukraine-Belarus border, in the food chain. In principle, food inspectors check food not only for bacterial contamination but also for radiation levels, and except for the banned region within about 50km of the Chernobyl plant itself and a second hotspot starting from the point where Russia, Ukraine and Belarus all touch each other, and running roughly 100km to the North of this point, food is considered safe.
Belarusian and Russian are the two official languages. Both languages are part of the Slavic language family and are closely related, and there are many similarities in those languages. According to the 2009 official census, 53.2% of Belarusian residents considered Belarusian to be their native language. However only 23% predominantly speak it at home, and these are for the most part older inhabitants of rural villages where the intense Russification of the soviet era was less strongly felt. Polish is spoken in the western parts, especially around Hrodna. But most local Poles use their own dialect with Belarusian as the base and with only some Polish words and sounds. There is a similar mixture of Belarusian and Russian, called Трасянка Trasianka. Towards Belarus' southern particularly southwestern border, Ukrainian will occasionally be spoken, but is much less common than Belarusian and Russian.
At least some knowledge of Russian is essential for an independent traveller, but if you do know Russian, you'll find that it, rather than Belarusian, will get you everything you need. There is little practical point in learning Belarusian, unless you want to impress the cultural elite or join the political opposition which is highly inadvisable. The authorities and some of the trendier shops in big cities like Minsk make an effort to use Belarusian, but it's mostly a token one and any information you actually need to know will most likely be in Russian. Expect to speak Russian, not Belarusian, in shops, museums, and on the street. Information in museums and other places of cultural interest will most likely also be in Belarusian, but if you have a good working knowlege of Russian, then understanding the gist of Belarusian speech is not difficult. Reading presents a bit more of a problem as Belarusian spelling rules are different to Russian, but if you say the word out loud with a Russian accent, in most cases the equivalent Russian word will become obvious.
English is not widely spoken in Belarus, especially not by people born before the fall of communism. Although in theory everyone learns English in school from the age of 7, in practice a combination of bad teaching and having no one to practice on means that a lot of people have a very good vocabulary and can understand you if you talk slowly, but will struggle to put together a sentence in reply. Among the older generation, German is a more common second language. As Western tourists are so rare, every English speaker you come across will jump at the chance to practice their English on you, and if you agree, then it may very quickly become quite a big commitment on your part.
There are 3 major GSM providers in Belarus:
All of them offer no-contract GSM SIM-cards and USB modems for Internet access. Cellular communications are very affordable and popular in Belarus. Each of these companies has numerous stores in Minsk, Brest and other regional centres. You will need your passport to purchase a SIM card, but many tariffs are available only to those who are registered with the authorities in Belarus. However, a stamp by your hotel on the back of the immigration card in your passport is sufficient to be registered, and this is routinely done by hotels upon check-in. See Prepaid with Data Wiki and PrepaidGSM.net for more information in English about buying SIM cards.