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Moldova is a small landlocked country in Eastern Europe, between Romania and Ukraine. Formerly of the Soviet Union, it remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in Europe. The far eastern portion of the country, Transnistria, has formed a breakaway state backed by Russia and is a source of continuing cross-border conflict.
Moldova is most famous for its wines, which are of a very high standard despite being largely ignored in the west. The average rural household will press an average of 3,500 litres per year, mostly from grapes grown in their own fields. Aside from this enterprise there is little industry in Moldova, which means that the air and rivers are largely unpolluted, even within Chisinau, the capital and largest city.
The majority of the buildings were destroyed during World War II, and subsequent Soviet-era rebuilding has provided a drab and functional air to the resulting structures in Moldova. However, several historical gems did survive and these are well worth a visit.
Orheiul Vechi is an ancient church complex carved into limestone cliffs, and the nearby village of Ivancea is a perfectly preserved medieval settlement populated by people of Ukrainian descent. Cahul, two hours from Chisinau, has restorative thermal spas, while Milestii Mici is home to an astonishing underground city of wine cellars stretching 120 miles (200km) below the city.
Despite these charms, very few people visit Moldova, making this a genuinely offbeat destination that appeals to adventurous travellers, wine lovers, and those interested in post-Soviet republics.
Moldova's climate is moderately continental: the summers are warm and long, with temperatures averaging about 68 °F (20°C), and the winters are relatively mild and dry, with January temperatures averaging 25°F (-4°C). Annual rainfall can vary greatly, but long dry spells are not unusual. The heaviest rainfall occurs in early summer and again in October, when heavy showers and thunderstorms are common.
The leu is the currency of Moldova and is subdivided into 100 bani. There are few ATMs in Chisinau but none outside the capital city. You can easily change dollars or Euro (Pounds not so easily). You can also change Romanian Lei and Ukraine Hyenda at a lot of places.
US dollars are accepted without conversion by quite a lot of businesses, even taxis. All along Stephan cel Mare Boulevard (the Main Street of Chisinau) money changers exhibit their rates. Credit card acceptance is few and far between and it is advised to take enough cash for your stay.
The official language of Moldova is Romanian, but English will be understood in larger cities like Chisinau.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Two-pin European-style plugs are standard.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the date of their arrival in Moldova. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the date of their arrival in Moldova. No visa is required for British passport holders for stays of up to 90 days, irrespective of the endorsement regarding their national status contained therein.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the date of their arrival in Moldova. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the date of their arrival in Moldova. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the date of their arrival in Moldova. A visa is required before arrival.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the date of their arrival in Moldova. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the date of their arrival in Moldova. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
All foreign passengers to Moldova must have return/onward tickets, the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country. Note that all visitors are required to register their passports at the offices of Population Registration of the Department of Information Technologies, within three working days after arriving in Moldova (this is usually done by hotels). NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Tipping is becoming increasingly common in Moldova, and is now expected in all restaurants and bars. A service charge is often included in restaurant bills but a further 5 to 10 percent tip is expected. Though it is not always necessary to tip them, taxi drivers can be rewarded for good service.
Visitors should take normal safety precautions in Moldova; keep valuables safe and be aware of pickpockets and scam artists in major cities. Corruption is rife and visitors should be cautious of policemen demanding fines for spurious offences, or asking to see documents as a way of stealing cash; if approached in this way visitors should offer to go with them to the nearest police station before handing over any money or documents. Valuables, including passports, should not be left in hotel rooms, or near the window of a hotel room when you are there.
Visitors to Moldova should not be unduly concerned with transgressing social mores. Moldovans are for the most part polite and friendly, and tend to go out of their way to ingratiate themselves with foreigners. In the more rural areas, there is a social stigma attached to women smokers.
Travellers, and especially those who speak English, are advised to carry their passports with them at all times, as police officials in Moldova have been known to extract bribes from tourists who do not have 'proper identification' on hand.
Business can be quite bureaucratic and old-fashioned. The country adheres to an imbedded hierarchical structure and often it is the eldest who receive the most respect in business and social meetings.
It is important to address each person according to their title followed by their surname; 'Domnul' for Mr. and 'Doamna' for Mrs. Moldovans prefer a face-to-face approach and like to strengthen personal relationships.
Appointments should be made in advance and confirmed. Although the visitor is expected to be punctual, the host may be late to arrive. Meetings are often quite formal and a general 'Western' set of old-world manners applies.
Business suits are appropriate for meetings. Moldovans dislike an overt display of achievement or exaggerated conversation. Business hours are generally 9pm to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken at lunch.
The direct dialling country code for Moldova is +373. There are numerous area codes applying to cities, towns and villages, for example (0)22 for Chisinau. The country is well covered with GSM and 3G mobile phone networks. Internet cafés are available in cities and larger towns.
Travellers to Moldova may import up to 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars, two litres of wine or spirits, five litres of beer, and perfume and gifts in amounts reasonable for personal use.
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