In this post, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about transport, visas, currency, where to stay and corrupt border guards when you travel to Transnistria.
Don’t feel bad. Technically, Transnistria doesn’t exist.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s got all the fun stuff real countries have. Government, currency, border controls, constitution, you name it. It’s just that none of this is actually recognized by any other country in the world. Confused?
Back when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Moldova had a bit of an issue. Transnistria, which at the time was a region in Moldova, didn’t want to stop living the soviet dream. Things went sour and Transnistria said: duck you Moldova, I’ll just be my own country. A short independence war later, the two countries decided to agree to disagree and the world continued saying Transnistria was still Moldova.
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Almost 30 years later, Transnistria is now dreaming of being annexed by good old Russia. Although the plan hit a little bump on the road in 2006 when Russia turned down the offer (ouch), the Russian presence in Transnistria is pretty obvious. There are a few Russian military bases for “peacekeeping purposes” and you can even get arrested by the KGB.
Oh, and then there’s this:
How To Travel To Transnistria
Transnistria’s capital Tiraspol is an easy stopover if you’re traveling between Ukraine and Moldova. The journey takes about 2 hours and there’s marshrutkas (fancy local word for a minivan) and trains running in both directions. Of the two, the marshrutkas are easier, cheaper and more frequent.
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Travelling From Odessa to Tiraspol
Buses leave all day from the main bus station near the market. We caught one at around 8 AM to make sure we got a full day in Tiraspol.
There’s only one daily train which leaves in the afternoon and gets to Tiraspol in the early evening. You won’t have time to explore much on the first day, so this option involves spending the night in Tiraspol (check what that means for your visa further down).
From Chisinau to Tiraspol
Buses leave every 30 minutes from the central bus station near the market.
There are two trains to Tiraspol:
- Chisinau to Moscow (train 66) leaving at midnight and arriving at 1:30 AM. Pretty useless.
- Chisinau to Odessa (train 642) which only runs in the morning on weekends. It leaves around 8 AM and arrives around 10 AM.
Entry: The Transnistria Visa
When you travel to Transnistria, you’ll get a free 10-hour transit visa.
The border guards will scan your passport and give you a migration card. This piece of paper will have your name, date of birth and the exact time your visa expires. You’ll need this to exit Transnistria, so whatever you do, hold on to it! Or, even better, grab your phone and take a picture of it, just in case it disappears.
If you’re entering by bus, this will be done at the border. If you’re entering by train, you’ll need to get your visa when you arrive. This can be done in either Tiraspol or Bendery by the immigration officer at the train station.
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Make Sure You Get Your Transnistrian Migration Card!
The border guards sometimes “forget” to give tourists their migration card when coming by bus. Make sure you get it when they give you back your passport.
If it’s not there, politely insist.
I know, this can be a little daunting when the border guards look like they’re from the KGB. But believe me, it’s worth the hassle as you’re otherwise guaranteed to have issues when leaving Transnistria.
Staying Over 10 Hours
Don’t stress, 10 hours is plenty of time to see the main sights in Tiraspol. If you can’t get enough of soviet relics and want to stay longer, you can extend your transit visa at the Immigration office or Ministry of Interior in Tiraspol.
They’re quite picky about entry and exit times, so make sure you don’t overstay your visa. Get an extension if you think you won’t make it to the border in time. This is considerably less painful than dealing with the guards at the border.
Where To Stay
There are no hostels in Transnistria, but there are Airbnb’s! Jump online and find a nice post-soviet house to call your own for a night or two.
If you’re up for a more fun and local experience, there’s also a few locals on Couchsurfing.
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I think the coins from Transnistria are the best souvenirs we picked up in all Eastern Europe. Why? They’re made of plastic, my friend. Yep, Transnistria uses real-life monopoly money and guitar picks as their currency.
The bad news is that since Transnistria doesn’t officially exist, it’s money is worthless everywhere else. Make sure you plan your expenditures in Transnistria wisely as no one will exchange this fantastically fun currency once you leave the country.
Exit: This Is Where It Gets Tricky
Once you’re done sightseeing, it’s time to take your migration card and head for the border. Depending on where you’re going next, the stamp situation can be a little interesting.
The border guards in this region have a bad reputation for being corrupt and charging “fines”. If anything happens just remember to be cool, calm and collected. All the guards want is cash and if you hide it well enough, they can’t do much.
Return trip from Chisinau: as Moldova doesn’t have passport checks on the border with Transnistria, it will seem like you’ve been in Moldova the whole time.
Return trip from Odessa: you won’t be getting any Moldovan entry or exit stamps, which makes life easier at the Ukrainian border. All you have to do is exit Ukraine, go through the Transnistria visa process for entry and exit, then do a normal re-entry into Ukraine.
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From Moldova to Ukraine: this is where the stamps can get annoying. The Ukrainian border guards may try to give you an unofficial “fine” for having an entry stamp into Moldova but no exit stamp. Officially, Ukraine couldn’t care less about you not having an exit stamp from Moldova. As you can see, the reality at the border is a little different.
From Ukraine to Moldova: again, you won’t get an entry stamp into Moldova. Make sure you get one in Chisinau if you don’t want to part with any bribe money when leaving Moldova.
If you’re staying in Moldova for less than 72 hours, your Ukrainian exit stamp will serve as an entry stamp into Moldova. This means that for this period of time, it’s legally okay to not have an entry stamp. If you’re staying in Moldova for more than 72 hours, you’ll have to get your entry stamp at the OVIR office in Chisinau.
What Happens If You Don’t Get An Entry Stamp?
If you don’t get an entry stamp and stay more than 72 hours in Moldova, you’ll have problems when you leave, just like us!
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Our border crossing to Romania got a little interesting when the Moldovan border guard realized we’d been naughty and done what we just told you not to do. We were asked to pay €20, which we kindly refused by saying that we didn’t carry any cash with us. Instead, we showed him the photo of our Transnistrian migration card and acted like innocent tourists.
After “debating with his boss” for 20 minutes, the border guard returned, gave us back our passports and wished us a good day. Our “fine” could have been real, but the amount probably not.