Transnistria (locally called by its Russian name Pridnestrovie (Приднестровие), and occasionally, in English, Trans-Dniester) is a country in eastern Europe. It seceded from but still claimed by Moldova, and is only recognised by the other breakaway states of the former Soviet Union: Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia. It roughly corresponds to the territory between the Dniester River and Ukraine.
While Transnistria is not a popular tourist destination, it does offer a certain Soviet-era charm and is one of the few "countries that don't exist". You can boast of having been in a country that the rest of the world does not recognise, and banknotes in your wallet that are essentially invalid. And if it isn't for bragging rights alone that you come visit, there are some other attractions as well.
|Population||469 thousand (2018)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|Time zone||UTC+02:00 to UTC+03:00 and Europe/Chisinau|
|Emergencies||101 (fire department), 102 (police), 103 (ambulance), 104 (gas)|
|edit on Wikidata|
- 1 Tiraspol (Тирасполь) — the capital city with a historic city center, lovely parks, multiple means of transit and village-like outskirts.
- 2 Bender (Бендеры) — on the right bank of the Dniester with a pictoresque city center and a beautiful castle to its north;
- 3 Rîbnița (Рыбница) — a large industrial company town home to a steelworks.
Transnistria is a product of the messy breakup of the Soviet Union, when the region located on the left bank of the Dniester River (usually known as Pridnestrovie by locals and Transnistria elsewhere) fought a 2-year-long civil war against the supposed Russophobic and Romanian nationalist government of Moldova that ended in a bittersweet victory.
While the country is not officially recognised by any other sovereign nation, the government does effectively control the territory it claims to rule, although its actual control is perhaps a bit limited by the will of Russia, its biggest benefactor and political ally. It maintains its functional autonomy with military and other support from Russia.
Transnistria is divided into five administrative regions and two city regions.
Official languages in Transnistria are Russian, Romanian and Ukrainian. Romanian in Transnistria is spelled using the Cyrillic alphabet (and called "Moldovan") although some people and institutions use the Latin alphabet. The most common language used in the country is Russian, which practically everyone understands and is the language of government. Moldovan and Ukrainian are understood and spoken too but to a lesser extent.
However, 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.
Entering Transnistria is fairly straightforward by bus, train or car from both west (Moldova, usually Chişinău) and east (Ukraine, usually Odesa). Upon entering Transnistria, you present your passport and they'll enter your info on their computer and print out a card in Russian and English. Upon clearing immigration, this card, not your passport, is stamped – half the card stays at the crossing you entered, and half stays with you until you leave Transnistria. As of October 2018, this card was not stamped or checked during the entire visit.
From Chişinău to the crossing in Bender, a taxi costs 100-150 Moldovan lei. A marshrutka (minibus) costs around 60 lei. Marshrutkas between Odesa and the Kuchurgan border (on the main road to Tiraspol) are fairly frequent and cheap.
When crossing the border between Moldova and Transnistria, you will be checked only by Transnistrian officials. There are also peacekeeping Russian and Ukrainian soldiers who may stop and search vehicles.
Entering Transnistria from Ukraine will not get you a Moldovan entry stamp. If you then leave Moldova through a crossing controlled by Moldovan authorities, you may have problems with the Moldovan immigration authorities, who may try to claim that you entered Moldova illegally. Exiting Moldova through Transnistria to Ukraine (whether having a Moldovan entry stamp or not) causes no problems - even a subsequent visit to Moldova through one of the border crossings controlled by the Moldovan authorities doesn't raise problems with the border guards.
If you encounter problems, complaints can be made to [email protected] (Transnistrian Customs). There is also a complaint hotline: (☏ or 92568). 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 at ☏ or [email protected].
It is no longer necessary to register with the police (as of July 2018): you get a permit for up to 45 days at the entrance, depending on how long you say you want to stay. You need to provide an address or sponsor, so if you have reserved accommodation this is enough. They may ask to see the reservation. Once in Transnistria, you can extend your stay permit at the Immigration Office, and you'll need a local address. Passports are not stamped, but you'll get a paper with the departure date and time (to the seconds).
Transnistria does not have its own international passenger airport (it has a military and freight airport), so the best way is to fly to Chişinău (KIV IATA) in Moldova and travel from there. It is also possible to come from Odesa in Ukraine by bus.
The only major railway stations are Tiraspol and Bender.
Before the war, the Moscow to Chișinău train also stopped in Tiraspol but has since been completely halted. If it starts operating again, make sure to check the Poezda CIS Railway Timetable for up-to-date, timetables in English.
Cars can enter but expect delays of up to an hour at border crossings in busy times. Foreign nationals driving their own vehicles are prime targets for border guards trying to extract bribes.
If you're driving a rental car, you need an official cross border driving authorization from the rental company or else your insurance may not be valid. Not all rental companies allow you to cross so ask before booking. According to the official hotline of Transnistrian customs there is an official road tax (65 MDL per week)—ask for a receipt.
In 2019, the only crossing open to process foreign passports was at Bendery (road between Chisinau and Tiraspol). Some travellers have reported being turned back when trying to cross in the south near Purcari.
From specific destinations:
- Chișinău – There is a relatively frequent (about every 30 minutes 07:00-18:00, less frequently as early as 05:00 and as late as 22:00) bus service connecting Tiraspol. Ask for return times when you arrive. Marshrutkas (minibuses) also run this route. You should have no problem with border guards traveling by bus on this route (June 2019). From Chişinău maxi-taxis, 'microbuz' or 'marushkas' leave the Autogara Centrală behind Piața Centrală. If you walk a circle around the station, the Tiraspol/Benderbound ones tend to be on the northeastern corner. Costs: 36.50 Moldavan lei. You can use lei for paying on your way back.
- Odesa – When they ran, the buses to Tiraspol weren't so frequent. However, buses between Tiraspol and the border at Kuchurgan (Кучурган), and between Kuchurgan and Odesa are frequent (however will get you nowhere while the border is still closed).
There are hardly any train connections within the country, so the bus—if available—will be your only choice. Marshrutkas (minibuses) 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. If you miss the last bus to Chişinău at 18:35, you can take a taxi from Tiraspol to Chişinău, which should not cost more than US$30. As of August 2018, taxis booked through a local guide for this route could be negotiated as low as US$15.
Most visitors come to Transnistria to visit the Soviet-era buildings, monuments, and sculptures of the capital, Tiraspol.
Noul Neamț Monastery is a beautiful monastery complex just south of Tiraspol with a number of sizeable churches to explore.
Bender Fortress is a 16th-century Ottoman fortification with a terrifying collection of torture devices from the period. Outside is the newer Alexander Nevsky Church which is well worth a visit.
Official exchange rates for Transnistrian rubles
As of May 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current official exchange rates are available from the Pridnestrovian Republican Bank.
The national currency is the Transnistrian ruble. There is no ISO currency code from Transnistria, but banks may use either "PRB" or "RUP" to denote the currency. Wikivoyage articles use rubles to denote the currency. 1 Transnistrian ruble is equal to 100 kopecks. Coins in Transnistria come in denominations of 5-, 10-, 25 and 50 kopecks and coins made from composite materials come in denominations of 1-, 3-, 5 and 10 Transnistrian rubles. Banknotes in Transnistria come in denominations of 1-, 5-, 10-, 25-, 50-, 100-, 200 and 500 Transnistrian rubles.
Exchange offices are common and will happily give you Transnistrian rubles in return for just about any tradeable currency. Don't change more money than you need as trying to turn Transnistrian rubles into other currencies may turn out to be difficult, even if exchange booths advertise rates to sell euros, lei, US dollars, etc., they may not be willing to relinquish their stocks of 'real' money. Don't bother trying to change Transnistrian rubles outside Transnistria as no-one will touch them.
Mastercard is not accepted anywhere, but you can pay by international Visa card in several private places that frequent foreign visitors, although Visa cards from the United States are not accepted as often as European ones. Your card is charged in Transnistrian rubles in the shop/restaurant but your bank transfer on your bank statement will be in Russian rubles. There are several international ATMs around that dispense Russian rubles and US dollars.
Tiraspol has a post-communist "cubicle style" shopping mall on ground floor of the corner of 25th October St and Shevchenko St, the location of the most "luxurious" apartments of Tiraspol are. Furthermore, a short walk from these apartments you will find the outdoor markets of Tiraspol, where you can find outdoor areas selling fruit and vegetables, and indoor areas selling eggs, cheeses and meats. A word of warning however, the foods here are presumably organic and spoil easily. Strawberries last a maximum two days in the refrigerator, citrus fruits three days. The meat sold in the indoor market albeit freshly slaughtered is not refrigerated and is exposed to the occasional blowfly (and possible fly eggs). It may be worthwhile to forego meat altogether if your cannot face the reality that you need to cook these foods to kill these potential pests.
The local, excellent brandy is cheap, at about US$3 a bottle. Cigarettes are very cheap too. There are also arts and crafts to buy. A good exchange point is the Kvint store in central Tiraspol, there is an exchange office with good rates inside the shop. There is also an exchange booth at the Tiraspol bus/train station.
There is a large open-air market in Tiraspol, close to the Suvorov's monument, and another in Bendery, located a few metres away from the bus and marshrutkas station. They are probably not fashionable for those looking for something closer to the western style, but interesting to see.
Bender has a selection of nice shopping places, the open market as above, but keep in mind of the same risks. You can find places called "ateli" to repair your clothes, bags, shoes and watches. There is a Sheriff in the centre, along with an excellent kebab shop "doner hit", which are frequented by locals at all times. An excellent coffee shop that sells jewellery opposite the trolleybus station.
The most typical tourist restaurants are the "Back to the USSR" and the Soviet-themed restaurants. One of these restaurants is located in Bender, near the Green Market. The others are in Tiraspol. The most typical restaurant food will be a mixture of Moldovan, Russian and Western style food such as pizzas and a selection of sushi. You will find that many restaurants may share staff, kitchen or even a menu. Sheriff supermarkets also sell genuine Beluga or Russian caviar, it is a local product and you will not find a cheaper caviar sold outside of the borders, so if you're inclined to try it, this is the place to do it.
- La Vida (this chain is also in Moldova)
- Doner Hit (kebabs from 30-100 roubles)
- Dolce Vita
- Andy's Pizza (25 October Street in Tiraspol)
These restaurants are excellent choices and are relatively inexpensive: usually around US$10-15 for a 3-course lunch along with dessert and a choice of drink.
- There is a coffee shop (no name) which sells dress, (fake, non-gold) jewellery opposite the trolleybus stop in Bender centre. Although it does not have a name, this cafe sells a variety of different coffee beans sourced from a Russian company. It's truly the best in Transnistria.
Local Kvint wine and brandy are excellent and cheap. The Kvint factory is in Tiraspol, and Tiraspol has a Kvint shop, selling its products at very low prices. Kvint produces among the best brandy (called "divin") in the former Soviet Union. Kvint makes its brandy from grapes of classic cognac varieties, but it's extremely hard to come by in Western countries, although Moldovan supermarkets sell it. A trip to Transnistria is not complete without a sample.
There is also a slightly fermented bread-based soft drink that is sold in the streets called Kvas. Kvas prices (current 2023) are 4 rubles for small "malinka", or 6 rubles for a large "bolshoy". This is the equivalent of US$0.40-0.50. It is the Russian equivalent of dandelion & burdock or root beer.
The local Sheriff supermarkets also sell wines and Transnistrian cognac at similar prices to elsewhere you would find in the country.
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 visitors are scams.
Despite scary 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. If you speak Russian, the chance to be asked for bribes is much lower.
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 Transnistria's bars during the night. There are often mafia-like characters having a good time with rolls of US dollars and you should not inquire too closely about the source of their wealth.
Tap water is not contaminated with microbes, and is claimed to be drinkable, but it is recommended that you buy bottled water or at least use a water filter.
The name "Transnistria", while commonly used in English, evokes memories of the Nazi-backed Romanian occupation during World War II and the Holocaust. President Vadim Krasnoselsky, in 2019, said that the Latin name is "unacceptable for Pridnestrovie", and "foreigners should get used to saying its true name". Calling the country by the Russian name could avoid giving offence, and may win you friends.
Staring is considered rude.
Showing off large amounts of wealth or cash is also considered a faux pas.
Internet cafes are not widespread. There is one in Bender, on Gagarin Street (close to the city market) and another one in Tiraspol, near Andy's Pizza on 25 October Street. More and more restaurants offer free Wi-Fi for their guests, for example, 7Пятницъ,"La Placinta" and Andy's Pizza in Tiraspol. Although still not frequent, you can enjoy free Wi-Fi inside new trolley buses running between Tiraspol and Bender.
While Moldovan SIM card and ISPs may operate within some border regions of Transnistria, and in elevated buildings (think of the top floor of some apartment building near windows), the reception will be almost non-existent or otherwise unreliable. If solid coverage is a necessity, IDC (Interdnestrcom) will give you access to 4G band internet. There are no other ISP providers in the area. In order to preserve your bandwidth for prolonged stays, try to join as many restaurant wifi, and use home wifi as much as possible. You will need to activate the SIM and will require possible presence at the IDC centre, along with a choice of tariff. It is worth noting that the "unlimited" tariff for 400 rubles is only fast for the first 50GB, then the internet speed is throttled to less than 100kb/s! For IDC SIMs you will need a 4G mobile phone capable of VoLTE on band 20 for full functionality (without VoLTE you will not be able to make voice calls, and without band 20 you will not have coverage from them at all).