Last updated: August 2019
This is a trip we’d been eyeing up for a while! A tiny Eastern European country, with its own borders, army, currency and more – yet very few people have ever heard of it. In fact, it doesn’t officially exist! Whilst Transnistria (or Pridnestrovie, as it’s locally known) enjoys relatively full autonomy, the international community recognises it as part of Moldova, the country it broke away from in the early 1990s after a short but violent conflict. When it first appeared on the travel wishlist, one of the big questions was how we would actually go about getting there. As it turns out, as long as you plan your route, visiting this ‘country that isn’t actually a country’ really isn’t too tricky at all!
We’ll be focusing on routes in and out of Tiraspol, Transnistria’s capital city, as it’s the perfect start point for exploring this fascinating state.
Public transport to Transnistria
With no airport in Transnistria – the nearest being Chisinau, Moldova’s capital city – the options are bus, train or taxi from either Moldova or Ukraine. None of these options should set you back too much – even a taxi can be hired at a fraction of what you’d pay in Western Europe.
- Trains: There is a train line between Chisinau (Moldova) and Odessa (Ukraine) which stops twice in Transnistria – namely in Bendery and Tiraspol – and runs once or twice each day. The big bonus of the train is that it runs at reasonable times – nobody wants to be dragging themselves to a station at 3am! From Chisinau, the 642 train leaves at 7:09am and takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach Tiraspol. From Odessa, the 642 leaves at 18:45 and takes 2 hours and 20 minutes. There are other options, so for an English language website to check the latest timetables, we’d recommend you use TuTu Travel (https://www.tutu.travel/poezda/).
- Bus: There are frequent marshrutkas (minibuses) between Chisinau and Tiraspol (every 30 mins or so) which take about 2.5 hours maximum – sometimes less, if you’re lucky with the queue at border control. From Tiraspol, there are about 7 buses per day to and from Odessa (sadly, in our excitement to buy tickets we forgot to take a photo of the timetable ourselves). The easiest way to nab yourself a space on any of these buses is simply to rock up at the bus station, take a look at the timetable, and then buy a ticket from the ‘Kassa’ – as long as you’re not arriving 5 minutes before the scheduled departure, you shouldn’t have an issue getting a seat.
- Taxi: A taxi from Chisinau will probably set you back somewhere in the region of $20-$35. It’s definitely worth trying to agree a price before you start your journey, or to make sure you’re being charged by the meter. The journey should last somewhere between 70 and 90 minutes.
Route Planning and Passport Stamps
Transnistria’s status as ‘a country that doesn’t exist’ can be a challenge from a passport perspective, but still relatively simple if you stay on top of things. There are a couple of bits and pieces to keep in mind:
- Transnistria is unable to issue entry or exit stamps (although you will still have to go through Transnistrian border controls at both stages of your journey, where you’ll receive a migration card).
- Moldovan border control will not issue entry or exit stamps when you cross into or out of Transnistria as, from Moldova’s perspective, this is not actually a border (as far as they’re officially concerned, Transnistria is simply a region of Moldova).
It’s therefore important when visiting to make sure that your route will result in a ‘complete’ set of passport stamps. For those (like me, Lucy!) who like to slightly obsessively plan a route to make sure that it will definitely work, here are the options for your Tiraspol journey:
- Chisinau -> Tiraspol -> Chisinau: The crossing between Moldova and Transnistria is not recognised as an international border, therefore no passport stamps are issued and you can get back to Chisinau nice and easily.
- Odessa -> Tiraspol -> Odessa: The crossing between Ukraine and Transnistria is an international border and you will receive a Ukrainian exit stamp. However, as you have entered Moldova via Transnistria, no Moldovan stamp will be issued. If you are returning directly to the Ukraine, this is not a problem – you will simply be issued with a Ukrainian entry stamp when you return.
- Chisinau -> Tiraspol -> Odessa: When crossing from Moldova into Transnistria, you will not receive a Moldovan exit stamp. Then, when you cross from Transnistria into Ukraine, you will receive a Moldovan exit stamp from Ukrainian border control at the same time as the Ukrainian entry stamp.
- Odessa -> Tiraspol -> Chisinau: When exiting Ukraine you will receive a Ukrainian exit stamp but no entry stamp for Moldova. Whether this is a problem or not depends on how long you intend to stay in Moldova. For a stay of up to 72 hours, no Moldovan entry stamp is required (the Ukrainian exit stamp is sufficient). However, if you plan to stay in Moldova for more than 72 hours, and have entered via Transnistria, you will need to register in Chisinau.
Crossing the border
Regardless of the route you choose, you will experience Transnistrian border control. Aside from the conspicuous military presence (tanks!), the border process is fairly standard and certainly nothing to worry about – do not believe some of the overly dramatic blogs and vlogs out there! They are either wildly exaggerating about their experience, or they haven’t been to Transnistria for years. The whole process took about 5 minutes.
When entering Transnistria, non-nationals need to register at immigration control at the border. We had to get out of the vehicle and queue up inside the immigration office, where we presented our passports, accommodation details, and confirmed how long we would be staying in Transnistria. We were then issued with a vital slip of paper each – a migration card. You absolutely must not lose this piece of paper as it is proof that you entered Transnistria officially and will be required upon exit. Pop it inside your passport for safe keeping!
When exiting Transnistria you simply hand in the migration card at border control. You must leave before the date and time on the migration card, so make sure when entering that the migration card is valid for your full stay.
So, that’s how to get into and out of Transnistria! It’s certainly not the easiest place to reach, but – with a population of around 500,000 – it can’t be blamed for not having its own airport! With a regular flow of buses and trains, there’s no reason why (with a little forward planning and an open mind) you shouldn’t be adding the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (to give it its official name!) to your travel list soon.