The major frontier between the mighty European Union and Ukraine – an edgy, politically unstable yet extraordinary country. The contrast between the EU funded Polish side and the dishevelled Ukrainian side is stark. Within a few hundred metres you go from newly paved roads to potholed streets dominated by Soviet era minibuses and mischievous looking taxi drivers. For anyone who’s enjoyed free travel through the EU, it can be a daunting experience. Hopefully this quick guide helps.
Border crossing open 24 Hours
Poland – GMT+1
Ukraine – GMT+2
Frequent bus service to major towns on both sides
Fast Track for EU citizens into Poland
Toilets, currency exchange, shops on Ukraine sides. No ATM/Bankomat
Poland – 90 days (out of 180) visa. Many countries do not require a visa. Others require a Schengen Zone visa (€60 fee).
Ukraine – 90 days (out of 180) visa. EU/Ex-USSR/USA/Canada/Japan do not require visa. All other must receive a letter of invitation and apply at Ukrainian Consulate. See further below for more info.
Medyka, on the eastern fringe of the EU lies just metres from the Ukrainian village of Shehyni. Since the end of the Cold War, this border crossing has become a major transit route.
As it is the most common crossing, it has gained a notorious reputation for delays of up to 8 hours into Poland, as well over zealous Ukrainian border guards.
Nonetheless it’s used by the majority of travellers – whether they be on foot, bike or bus. Trains also pass through, but passengers are not required to disembark. Due to the strict visa checks into the European Union, coming into Poland can be an impatient nightmare for non-EU citizens. Coming into Ukraine, the delays aren’t as bad. However due to the conflict in Ukraine, additional checks are carried out so do expect delays.
I got very lucky in May 2015. On crossing from Poland to Ukraine, on a weekday afternoon, there was no queue. I managed to get through within 15 minutes. It was quick through the Polish side but the Ukrainian guards were very cautious, and examined both me and my passport – probably the strictest customs officers I’ve come across since a trip to the USA. An English guy with me got stuck for 40 minutes – turns out they even made calls to the British Embassy to ensure he was a UK citizen (he has no idea why). So expect some delays.
Coming back into Poland, there was a large queue. I stood for a while until a 3 foot old woman started gesturing and pointing at me. For a while I figured she wanted me to smuggle in some cigarettes, however she was pointing to a EU “Fast Track” lane, where EU citizens could skip everyone else. I got through in 30 minutes, though good luck if you are not from the EU. Bring plenty of water, and anticipate the worst!
All bags are thoroughly hand checked by Polish officers – to ensure you are not smuggling copious amounts of cheap vodka and tobacco into the EU. But you are allowed take some, which I highly, highly recommend 🙂
Ukrainian Visa Situation:
Certain countries such as EU / Ex-USSR states / USA / Canada do not need to apply for a visa and receive free upon entry at the border.
Others, including Oz, NZ, China and South Africa, must apply at a Ukrainian Consulate. Visitors must have a letter of invitation from an individual or business in Ukraine. Contact hostels / hotels and they can arrange this for you when booking. Visa take up to 30 days to process. Further information for countries linked below.
Continuing Your Journey
A bus goes directly to Lviv (Львів in Ukrainian) from the border town of Shehyni (Шегині). The bus leaves every hour from the small bus station. To get to the bus station walk straight and then take the first left after all the little currency exchange offices. There is no ATM so you must bring some Euros or Zloty to exchange (make sure the bills have no tears or bad creases, as they didn’t accept some of my mine). There will be some taxi drivers offering rides to Lviv, but just ask for directions to the bus station and they’ll show you. Remember, it’s just around the corner so you will see it!
At the bus station office ask for a ticket to Lviv (Львів), as of May 2015 it cost 36 Hryvnia. Luckily there’s a shop next to the office, so grab a beer (and be astounded by the price) and wait until the yellow bus arrives. Just look for “Львів” on the front. The journey takes less than 2 hours and drops you at Lviv train station. It’s a 20 minute walk or 10 minute tram ride to the beautiful city centre. To get back to the border, the bus ticket office is to the right of the entrance of the train station.
Train Connections Ukraine (see the surprisingly good booking website)
Kiev (Київ) – from 110UAH (5 – 12hr)
Odessa (Одеса) -from 125UAH (12hr)
Ivano-Frankivsk (Івано-Франківськ) – from 25UAH (2 – 3hr)
After crossing the border, at the end of the walkway from the Polish customs office there is usually a minibus waiting. Again there’s no ATM so change your UAH for Zloty at the Ukrainian exchange offices before crossing. For 2 zloty, it’s a 20 minute ride to Przemyśl train / bus station.
Don’t forget, Ukrainian money cannot be exchanged outside Ukraine!
Przemyśl offers regular train connections across Poland. There are also bus connections across south-west Poland, and a direct minibus to Rzeszów Airport (28zt), which is very handy for cheap Ryanair flights.
Train Connections into Poland
Rzeszów – 22zt (1 hr 20 min)
Kraków – 43zt – (5hr)
Warsaw – 54zt – (7 – 9hr)