The opportunity to travel to Belarus is most commonly used by border residents in Latgale. Latvian Radio spoke to Mihails and his wife, who travel there to shop. “Now you can move freely, buy products, glass containers are cheap. A lot of things are half as cheap, so we're driving there with my wife. We buy sugar, fish, canned goods. There is, of course, a limit on the quantity of goods, but we can bring in double when we both go. Also fuel, I fill the tank and drive for a month. There, further behind Braslav, diesel can be bought for 80 cents. But here it costs over €2."
The visa-free travel automatically reduced the number of recipients of Belarusian border crossing permits. "Compared with 2019, those numbers declined, even very much. In 2019, we had already received 1,300 applications by this time," said Žanna Kobzeva, representative of Daugavpils City Council. This year, the number of applications is around 600, whereas the actual number of border crossings has increased sevenfold. Instead of 1,000 vehicles per month, it is now 6,000 to 7,000, according to State Border Guard Daugavpils post representative Vladimirs Šersts.
People come back from Belarus with full cars.
“They bring food – sugar, oil, butter, also vodka, wine, alcoholic beverages, tobacco,” said Šersts.
It takes at least a few hours to inspect each vehicle, and there are days when long queues form on the border, said Šersts.
“Mostly, queues are forming on weekends and holidays. Leaving Latvia in the morning and returning in the evening. There are times that the queues are great when the Belarusian side is working quite slowly. Then there were cases where it took 8 hours to cross the border just one way.”
On average, 3-4 hours should nevertheless be taken into account when attempting to enter Belarus with a passenger car. By bus, it is faster. Several buses a day are currently traveling from Daugavpils, and they are full, said Šersts.
Also on buses, Latvian residents bring goods purchased in Belarus, like food and textile products.
One person may import goods worth €300 without paying customs duty. Up to 10 kilograms of sugar, coffee, pasta, and up to 2 kilograms of honey. Excise goods can also be transported, including 2 liters of strong alcohol, 40 cigarettes, as well as oil products, but only for self-consumption and not more frequently than once every seven days.
The Ministry of Finance (FM) intends to change this arrangement by increasing the period from seven days to 30 days. The draft law will still be reviewed by the Saeima.