Transnistria (official name Transnistrian Moldovan Republic; in Russian Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublika, PMR) is a part of Moldova that declared its independence in 1990, entailing a civil war that lasted until 1992. Transnistria has not been recognised by any country, but maintains its functional autonomy with military and other support from Russia.
Transnistria is divided into 5 administrative regions and two free cities.
Official languages in Transnistria are Russian, Moldovan (which is fundamentally identical to Romanian), and Ukrainian. Moldovan in Transnistria is spelled using the Cyrillic alphabet, although some people insist on spelling it with the Latin alphabet, which is a matter of dispute.The most common language used in shops, bars and taxis is Russian which practically everyone understands, Moldovan and Ukrainian are understood and spoken too but to a lesser extent.
As a non-Moldovan and non-Ukrainian citizen, you can get into Transnistria via bus, train or car from Moldova (namely Chişinău). If you enter Transnistria from the Ukrainian side and then enter Moldova, you will not get a Moldovan entry stamp, and when you leave Moldova, border guards may claim that you have entered the country illegally. Exiting Moldova (while you have a valid entry stamp) through Transnistria to Ukraine and then returning through one of the normal border crossings (e.g. Palanca) doesn't give problems with the border guards.
If you do get into Moldova through Transnistria from Ukraine you have to register with the Ministry of Information, Technologies and Communication, located in Chisinau at 49 M. Kogalniceanu str, within 3 days (72 hours) on arriving to get a Moldovan entry stamp.
When crossing the border between Moldova and Transnistria, you will be checked only by Transnistrian officials. There are also peacekeeping Russian and Ukranian soldiers who may stop and search vehicles.
For stays up to three days, there is no official fee for entering Transnistria, apart from a $5 road tax when entering by car. Any minor misconduct may be used to try and milk some foreign currency out of you. You may also be asked to declare any foreign money you are bringing in. Be sure to get a copy of the customs declaration if this happens. You will also be given a "talon" (small sheet of paper with your entry date). You need this piece of paper to get out of Transnistria again.
If you are holding a passport from a non-CIS state, you may be delayed at the border and asked to pay a bribe. The Transnistrian government does not condone this, but in practice some individual border guards are known for targeting non-CIS passport holders in an attempt to extract bribes. Other border guards are courteous and professional. The situation can vary considerably based on where you are crossing, and whom you are dealing with. Certain crossings (Dubasari) are known for being easier to cross for non-CIS nationals than others (Bendery). The best course of action is to have a back up plan, and to be flexible. If you don't get in at one crossing, try another crossing, or the same crossing another day. Your situation depends entirely on what guards are working the border at the time you cross, and often what kind of mood they are in. If you don't speak Russian, it may help to enlist an ally on the marshrutka who can.
Tourists are more likely to be asked for bribes when leaving Transnistria. Once you are in, you are "theirs"! British tourists travelling from Chişinău to Odessa in May 2010 reported no problems getting into Transnistria, but were asked for a "little present" when crossing into Ukraine later the same day. They had to pay $2 or have their passports destroyed. It is possible to get away with paying very little if you act clueless and innocent. It is possible to get away without paying anything if you are not carrying hard currency. Hide your US Dollars and Euros carefully and keep your Moldovan Lei in your pocket. The border guards don't want them!
If you speak one of the official languages of Transnistria (especially Russian), you will have a much easier time at the border as a foreign national. Most marshrutkas (minibuses) heading into Transnistria have blank entry forms; fill one of these in ahead of time (they are printed in Russian or English) to save time at the border.
If you are turned away at the border, there are many buses and marshrutkas that will take you back into Moldova or Ukraine, and these can be hailed on the non-Transnistrian side of the border after they have passed through both borders. You will be expected to pay cash, and the cost can vary. Taxis also can often be found at the border. From the Bendery crossing to Chisinau, a taxi costs 100 to 150 Moldovan Lei. A marshrutka costs around 25 lei.
Complaints are possible at , but you have to go to the Russian version (click on Горячая линия). You can also send a complaint to email@example.com (Transnistrian Customs). The complaint should be in Russian. Use the google translator, if you don't know anybody who speaks Russian. Future travellers will be grateful for your complaint! There is also a complaint hotline: (+373 533) 9-45-78 or 9-25-68. Try to memorise the number of the officer before he asks you for a bribe. Even the nicest officer can be corrupt! If you complain you should also state the time, the date and the name of the border crossing. You should also give your phone number. There is an English speaking officer responsible for complaints. You can reach him under +(373 777) 71508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is no longer necessary to register with the police for stays under 24 hours: this is now done at the border. If you are staying longer, be sure the hotel or person you are staying with registers you.
Transnistria does not have its own international passenger airport (it has a military or freight airport), so the best way is to fly to Chisinau in Moldova and travel from there. It is also possible to access from Odessa in Ukraine via bus.
The only major railway stations are Tiraspol and Bendery. Train connections have been suspended for several years. There are no trains between Odessa, Transnistria and Chişinău as of September 2007. As of February 2009 there is train connection between Chişinău and Moscow, stopping at Tiraspol.
Cars can enter but expect delays of up to an hour at border crossings in busy times. Note that foreign nationals driving their own vehicles are prime targets for border guards trying to extract bribes. According to the offical hotline of Transnistrian customs there is an official road tax ($5). Ask for a receipt!
There is a relatively frequent (about every 30 minutes from 7AM to 6PM, less frequently as early as 5AM and as late as 10PM) bus service connecting Chişinău and Tiraspol. Ask for return times when you arrive. Marshrutkas (minibuses) also run this route. There is somewhat less frequent bus service to Odessa (once every 1-1.5 hr). You have to buy the ticket from Tiraspol to Odessa inside the busstation.
On entering Transnistria you will need to obtain, fill out and get signed a Transnistrian ‘immigration’ entry form (a white A5 similar to the entrance form for Ukraine, written in Russian and English). This can be obtained at the border, or if you're lucky in your Chişinău-Tiraspol bus/marshutka. Ask the bus driver for a form, or anketa ("DAIE-teh anKYEtu").
It is often easiest to cross the border in a (large) bus or marshutka. The driver (and to a lesser extent other passengers) have a vested interest in getting their bus (and thus you) across the border as quickly as possible. If you don’t speak Russian yourself, look forlornly at the fixer/driver/fellow passengers and if you are lucky they will point you in the correct direction or tell border guards to hurry up and help you.
After passport control there will be a queue to get the form filled out for Moldovans, Ukrainians, Russians etc. If you make it obvious you are a Westerner, you may be dealt with separately in an office. It is not likely they will want a bribe but carry some extra currency (dollars or euros) just in case. Once your entrance form is signed (stating the time at which you must leave the country) and no one is stopping you from crossing the border barrier any more you can safely head on to Tiraspol. All you need to leave the country is the ‘departure’ half of the entrance form (It is by far the easiest to visit Transnistria for a day from Chişinău – you will be given permission to stay in the country for 24 hours).
Leaving the country is ridiculously simple once you have the ‘departure’ form. When travelling back you simply hand over the form to the border guards, who will probably not even want to check your passport.
There are hardly any train connections within the country, so the bus -- if available -- will be your only choice. Marshrutkas (minibusses) zip between cities much faster (and often more frequently) than buses. They cost a little more, but travel much faster and can be hailed anywhere along their route. If you flag down a marshrutka, it's customary to pay on leaving.
Taxis in Tiraspol are very common and are quite cheap. Be wary of scams however--make sure to negotiate a price before you get in the taxi.
The three official languages of Transdniestria are Russian, Moldovan and Ukrainian, although everybody speaks Russian, and Russian is the language of government.
Some people speak English, German, or even French. After the official languages, English and German are the most common. Young people especially may speak some English. However, don't expect many people to be fluent in English--the quality of English education in Transnistria is quite low, and is expected to remain that way given the difficulties of recruiting native speaking teachers due to the country's political situation.
Furthermore, even people who speak some English (or another foreign language) can be quite shy about it, and may deny that they speak it even if they have been educated in it. Keep in mind, there is essentially zero tourism in Transnistria. If you are a native speaker of a foreign language, there's a good chance that you're the first native speaker the person you are talking to has ever spoken with.
Tiraspol does not exactly boast a shopping mile; shops are few and have a limited choice. Official currency is the Transnistrian Rouble (which can only be used and exchanged in Transnistria), though most shops and sales stands will accept Moldovan Lei. There are exchange offices (at least in Tiraspol) that will change your Euros or Dollars and a few other currencies. There are excellent deals in brandy made locally to a world class standard, about $3 a bottle. Cigarettes are very cheap too. There are also arts and crafts to buy as well. A good exchange point is the Kvint store in downtown Tiraspol--there is an exchange office with good rates right inside the shop. There is also an exchange booth at Tiraspol the bus/train station. Be sure to exchange your money before you leave Transnistria. It is truly Impossible to exchange Transnistrian Roubles outside of Transnistria due to the unrecognized status of the government. International credit/debit cards and Travel checks are not accepted anywhere in Transnistria. However, there is an international ATM on 25th October Street that dispenses USD and Russian Roubles.
There are many restaurants serving Ukrainian, Moldovan, and American. There are no western fast food chains but there is an "Andy's Pizza" restaurant on 25th October Street.
Local wine and cognac are excellent and cheap. The Kvint factory is in Tiraspol, and Tiraspol has a Kvint store, offering incredible deals on Kvint products. Expect to pay less than 3 US Dollars for a half liter of standard Kvint, and no more than 15 US Dollars for 750 ml of high quality cognac, often aged at least 5 years (we paid ~18 euro for a 14 year old one). Kvint produces arguably the best Cognac in the former Soviet Union, but is extremely hard to come by in Western countries. A trip to Transnistria is not complete without a sample. However, the factory is closed to tourists.
There is a choice of cheap and nearly cheerful hotels. A five star hotel is due for completion in 2007 at Sherrif stadium. Be aware that in some hotels hot water and showers are not standard. They often cost extra on top of the price of a basic room, although often no more than a few dollars on top of the base price. Hotel Timoty is currently the best hotel in town until the 5 star Sherrif hotel is completed. Rooms at Hotel Timoty with standard Western amenities are available for around $50, depending on the size of the room, the date of your reservation, and your nationality. Note that many hotel rooms at cheaper hotels may not come with a private bathroom. And even if you have a private bathroom, hot water is not guaranteed. Ask in advance.
Hotel Aist is a Soviet museum of a hotel (with ugly looks to match!) but is well located near the main square and overlooks the river. A two-room ensuite twin without hot water costs 250 PMR Roubles, 400 with hot water. This is about $26 and $42 respectively as of October 2009.
A cheaper alternative to staying in a hotel is to rent a private apartment.
The physical dangers of Transnistria are almost non-existent. The major cities are much safer than Western European and American cities of similar size and economic makeup. Also, despite the political situation with Moldova, there is essentially no threat of being caught in a military action. There has not been fighting in Transnistria for many years. Indeed, Transnistria is a very safe place for travel. By far the biggest threat to the traveller is scamming.
Despite scare reports, Tiraspol is very welcoming, mainly because it gets so few tourists. Young people speak English and are helpful. The city is well-policed. Crime is low.
Many Transnistrians are excited to see foreigners and will be very welcoming, if a bit shy at first. Some, however, see foreigners as being sources of easy money. Always negotiate the price of a taxi before you get in. Use pen and paper if you are not a Russian speaker. Ask about the prices of items before you order them at a bar or restaurant. It is not common to be scammed, but it is far from rare. However, even when scams are attempted, it is often for no more than a few euros.
Be wary of Police officers. If you look foreign, they will stop and ask to see your passport. Often, they will request bribes, but it should not take more than a few US dollars or euros. This practice is not condoned by the Transnistrian government, but in practice is fairly common.
Some countries, including the United States, announced travel warnings for their citizens traveling to Transnistria.
Medical care is almost entirely non-existent in Transnistria, especially for non-citizens. Furthermore, even if you have travel health insurance it will often not be valid in Transnistria (but valid in Moldova). It's advisable to check in advance with your insurer.
Be careful in Transnistra's bars during the night. There are often mafia-like characters having a good time with rolls of dollars and you should not inquire too closely about the source of their wealth.
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