Foreign visitors frequently find using Belarusian public transportation difficult, particularly if they don’t understand Russian or Belarusian. A German friend visiting from Berlin, long before the World Hockey championships encouraged authorities to translate Metro station announcements in English, had great misgivings about his experience with Minsk public transportation. First, he tried to use surface transportation, but he couldn’t speak with the conductor to buy a ticket as she didn’t understand either German or English. Then, he tried to navigate using the Metro, but ended up getting lost as there were no maps or landmarks to tell him where he was at. Finally, he found that there was absolutely no foreign language interpretation at the bus stops to allow him to figure out where buses were going. After his experience, he refused to get out and see anywhere in the city by himself.
Fortunately, visitors to Minsk like this one have an alternative to public transport. As our German friend found, car rental agencies have plenty of pain-free alternatives that allow people like him the chance to rent a vehicle in which to explore the Belarusian capital independently and in comfort.
The two easiest ways for foreign tourists to arrange car rental are to request arrangements for a vehicle through the concierge of their hotel, or through the Internet.
Hotel concierges, along with other guest services, regularly help those visiting their establishment with renting cars. Particularly with the higher-rated hospitality providers, car rentals arranged through a hotel are generally safe, using only reputable dealers and providing vehicles in an appropriate state of repair for hassle-free driving. As with car rental dealers in the West, agencies in Minsk offer vehicles ranging from Economy class to Luxury options, with both manual and automatic transmission alternatives on offer (the split in availability is generally 40 percent manual and 60 percent automatic for rental agencies). Prices, however, are generally higher than seen among car rentals in the United States, particularly for options closer to the Economy side of the spectrum.
For Minsk, pick-up and return locations are usually situated either at the airport or in the city center (“downtown”) for most agencies. However, for a fee, a driver will deliver the car to any location (in general, this is about 60 USD). Alternatively, options exist for car+driver service, which will take you around the city at a cost of about 20 USD per hour or more.
If you are staying at the hotel where the car rental is being requested, the concierge will have all the data they need to make the appropriate arrangements. The only document they won’t have will be your driver’s license, so you’ll need to provide that. In general, it’s best to provide the hotel a 24-hour advance notice for arranging car rentals. However, sometimes the luckier hotel guests will find a car available with only an hour’s advanced notice.
For those who prefer the DIY (“do it yourself”) option, the Internet has plenty of choices. Using Google to find the keywords “car rental in Minsk” will turn up an impressive number of pages that offer vehicles. The best choices are those from companies that have been around awhile in Minsk, and of course which have their own cars to rent. Some car rental agencies do not own their own cars, but rather they rent vehicles owned by individual entrepreneurs. Usually, for these options, this may mean additional time to arrange the legalities of the agreement, and often the car involved is less comfortable.
Car rental sites offer a wide range of vehicles at a wide range of costs. Spending some time shopping around will produce some good deals, with Economy class cars costing 30 USD per day or more, Standard class vehicles ranging at minimum from 50 to 70 USD, and Premium or Business class options usually priced higher than 80 USD. However, a quick review at the end of July 2014 of the more popular car rental names – Europcar, Sixt, and Avis – demonstrated just how varied prices could be. Europcar’s cheapest option, an Economy class Skoda Fabia, was priced at 80 EUR (107 USD), while both Sixt and Avis offered Renault Sandero Stepways for 65 USD per day each. The Premium class Audi A4, offered by all three agencies, ranged from 152 EUR (203 USD) per day at Europcar, to 133 USD with Sixt, to 115 USD with Avis (if ordered from the American site, rather than the Belarusian site – the latter charged 130 EUR, or 174 USD).
It should be noted that Avis was the only one to publicize its surcharges and tax payments that it charges customers, which amounted to 15 USD for the Stepway (raising the total basic payment to 80 USD).
Insurance coverage for the vehicles also varies. At the end of July 2014, Europcar automatically issued a deductible for damage set at 550 EUR (737 USD) and Sixt set theirs at 400 EUR (535 USD) for its Economy class vehicles and 600 EUR (804 USD) for its Premium vehicles. The cost to bring this deductible to zero, ensuring coverage for anything that happens to the vehicle, was 30 EUR (40 USD) for Europcar, and from 32 (Economy) to 40 (Premium) USD for Sixt. Avis insurance doesn’t offer a deductible option (the insurance set for their vehicles covers everything).
The cost of extras also provides a difficult-to-explain range. Europcar, generally the more premium option, offers the ability to sign on an additional driver for 12 EUR (16 USD), a service not provided by the other two reviewed services. They also offered GPS at 14 EUR (19 USD) per day, and child or infant car seats at the relatively inexpensive rate of 6 EUR (8 USD) per day. In comparison, Sixt offered GPS for 16 USD per day, and Avis for an economical 8 USD per day. However, the cost for a child car seat as an extra on Avis cars was an astronomical 40 USD per day, considerably higher than the cost that Avis offers in other countries, such as the United States.
Some of the more intrepid car renters may choose to go directly to the site, rather than reserving a vehicle online. The drawback to this strategy is that the selection of vehicles may be much more limited when showing up in person. If you want a particular model among those the service avails, ordering online is the best way to ensure this.
For the better-known agencies, the cars will be clean and nicely maintained. The agency will expect that the car be returned in equally a clean state, running the vehicle through a car washing service before coming in for final inspection. This allows the attendant to better verify that the car is coming back undamaged.
It should be noted that it is not considered unusual for agency clients to photograph or video vehicles during the pre-drive inspection. Such imagery can prove useful in ensuring a car renter’s consumer rights, particularly with Western-based agencies that work hard to maintain a good reputation with Western clients.
When arriving at a car rental agency, the things that a client will need includes a personal ID (passport or other acceptable document), driver’s license issued by your home state, and from 100 to 500 USD to cover the deposit (the amount depends on the class of car desired – most agencies accept credit cards), if this has not been paid online. In the event the car is returned without damage, deposits will be returned in full. In some cases, proof of hotel stay may be required.
It should be noted that in most cases, drivers will be expected to be 21 years or older, and with 2 or more years of driving experience. Sometimes the price may go up if the driver is under the age of 25. However, there are some agencies that are not that particular about these sorts of things.
Although Belarusian roads are more orderly and not as death-defying as those in Moscow, Baku, or other CIS countries (the traffic police are rightfully proud for keeping it that way), accidents still occur. If you get into an accident, having the proper insurance will be your saving grace. Deductible options aren’t generally recommended.
In the case of a car crash, whether you are at fault or not, you will need to notify the police and the rental agency, the latter of which will give you instructions on how to handle the situation. If you aren’t at fault, your insurance will cover the cost of repairs. If you are at fault, the agency will charge you for the cost of repairs.
GPS navigation systems are generally available for all vehicles, but they are considered an extra. As such, requesting one at the time that you place an advanced reservation is generally the best practice. The same applies to child car seats, which may or may not be available, depending on the rental agency.
As a reminder, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises the following for children traveling to Belarus: “According to the rules of the road effective in Belarus, when children under 12 years old are traveling on the back seat of a light vehicle, the use of a special children’s holding chair is recommended. A passenger of major age traveling on the back seat of a light vehicle can lap one child under 12 years old on the condition that this passenger is buckled up.”
Europcar offers infant seats for children under age 1, and child car seats for children ages 1-3, both for the same price.
While on the road, all fees appropriate to normal vehicle operation (parking, car wash, gas, etc.) are naturally assigned to the renter, as they would be in any other locale. When returning the vehicle, it is expected that the vehicle will come back washed and filled-up. Failing to do this will incur additional charges, and in the case of car-washing, not complying may simply prove to be not smart, given that dirt can be said by the agency to have hidden damages incurred while driving.
If you have the chance, it is better to plan the renting of a car in advance. Reserving two weeks in advance is generally regarded as a best practice for Minsk. However, the bigger firms will generally have the better chance for having something available at the last moment.
Everything said, car rental is as normal in Belarus as it is in the West. The market in Minsk is sufficiently developed to offer the same freedom of choice as you would see in other European markets. The biggest selling point to using this transportation option is, of course, that a rental car will give you greater opportunity to discover more of this fascinating country of Belarus than you would have using the country’s public transportation, at greater comfort, and perhaps less frustration.
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