How to drive to Transnistria

In November some friends and I drove from Chisinau, Moldova, to Ukraine. To make this trip we had to go through Transnistria, a curious little disputed territory that lies in the way. Now this is no mean feat, especially in a rental car. We’d planned to make the journey for some time, but this meant researching how on earth we’d get a car into, and back out of the Predniestrian Moldavian Republic. We’d asked the big name car rental companies, and they explained that we were not permitted to take the car out of Moldova, not even to take it into Transnistria (which is legally the same country).

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This is the Border at Bender. We didn’t realise at the time, but this is the only entrance from Moldova into Transnistria that is open to the public. It just happened to be on the main road from Chisinau to Tiraspol (our stopover for the night). At the border we were asked to park up, open the boot and then go into the hut on the right of the above photo. There, the guards examined our documents. Our passports were sufficient to get us into the country, but there were several documents which we’d managed to secure from our rental company in Chisinau, 4rent.md.

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When crossing into Ukraine you’ll be issued one of these

This is issued as you enter the customs complex and taken away once you leave. Each stage of the border crossing process earns you a stamp, and you’re only allowed to proceed if you have the relevant stamps. Be sure to get them all, as you’ll be held without them. The number of stamps varies, but you should get between two and three.

We had to pay an additional €5 a day for the CASCO, a series of documents which prove the car is insured in both the country you’re leaving and the country you’re entering. It also includes a passport for the car, and a certificate of road-worthiness and ownership of the car. These documents will be inspected twice at every border, by the border guards and then the customs officials. You pass these two checkpoints twice at every border too: one for the country you’re leaving, and one for the country you’re entering.

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In the above map, you can see all of the roads within Transnistria, Ukraine is to the right and Moldova is to the left. The blue line shows the route you have to take to get from Chisinau to Odessa. The ‘no-entry’ signs show the borders that are closed. These are not always obvious and you cannot rely on road signs to guide the way. We followed road signs and ended up at a border that was closed by Russian soldiers and a tank.

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The borders are closed for good reason. As you do not get a leaving stamp from Moldova when you pass into Transnistria, or from Transnistria when you enter it, this makes border crossings a little awkward when  you go the other way. We also got no leaving stamp when we crossed from Transnistria into Ukraine.

As such, our passports had a Moldova entry stamp, but no exit stamp, and a Ukrainian entry (and exit) stamp, with no evidence of us having crossed the border legally, having declared our exit from Moldova.

The borders like the one in the photo, are not equipped for handling such cases, so they just don’t let anyone through at all. We had to drive back to the Bender border and get a slip of paper from the Moldovan Government that explained where we had been and that we were permitted to leave.

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Our permission slip

This was checked at the border at Ungheni (the train border with Romania) and we were finally given an exit stamp from Moldova.

I should point out that at no point were we asked for a bribe, nobody that we saw crossing the border was asked to part with any money.

To summarise, what you’ll need when you drive through transnistria:

  • A good road map (we were relying on road signs and google maps…)
  • Passport – with the right to enter Moldova or Ukraine without a visa (check before!)
  • CASCO (car passport, certificate of insurance, registration, road-worthiness, rental agreement)
  • Patience – the border crossing from Ukraine back into Transnistria took about an hour
  • A stern resolve – most border guards are extremely serious and will deliberately make your life harder for no apparent reason. Do not show face to them, it will only make your life even harder.
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