“Miss Georgia,” the border guard drawled in his distinct Moldovan accent. “What brings you to Moldova?”
“Uh, the wine,” I replied, timidly, suddenly hearing my voice go up about an octave (why does this always happen to me)?
That at least managed to get a semblance of a smile before it disappeared. “And do you bring something special to this country? Some guns? Maybe some drugs?”
At this point I felt like the whole bus was staring at me. Even though it was -6 degrees outside, I felt hot. Don’t blush, you idiot, you’ll look guilty! I thought, which didn’t help at all.
“Uh, no, no.” I stammered, rather unconvincingly.
“Are you sure?” He stared at me intently. For a moment I second guessed myself; ah, the second stage of my “in the presence of authority nerves”. First the voice raises, then I begin to wonder if I actually am a criminal
“Yes, positive!” I eventually squeaked.
“Okay good, welcome to Moldova.”
I’d made it to the least touristed country in Europe. Next stop, Chisinau. Here’s how I did it.
How to get from Iasi to Chișinău, on a budget
If you make it to Romania, you might find yourself considering hopping over the border to Moldova. Or, maybe you won’t – after all, it’s one of the least touristed countries in Europe, so it’s frequently skipped over!
While the Romanian capital of Bucharest is well connected with Chișinău, things are a little more complicated if you’re further north in Brasov or Cluj Napoca, for example. From the north of Romania, your best option is probably to go from Iasi to Chișinău (Kishinev).
Not only is Iasi right near the border of Moldova (only about half an hour away), but it is a great place to visit in its own right. You could definitely spend a day or two in Iasi – here are some of my favourite things to do there.
I caught the bus from Brasov to Chișinău, which was cheap (50 lei) and pretty easy, once I managed to find the bus stop. Iași to Chișinău was a little more of a challenge as its a lot less popular route, however it was definitely do-able.
Here’s how to get from Iasi to Chișinău if you’re on a budget.
How to get the bus from Iași to Chișinău
If you are staying in a hostel in Iasi – I stayed at the Bicycle Hostel, which was lovely and the location was great – then they will be able to help you get from Iasi to Chișinău. A huge majority of the people staying in Iași make Chișinău their next stop, so it is a well-trodden path.
To give you an overview, or if you are staying in an apartment, here are some frequently asked questions.
What is the bus like?
Worried that the bus is going to be awful? Let me put your mind at ease – it’s not. The minibus was very modern and comfortable, and everyone had a seat. The only questionable aspect was the music – Romanian folk and Russian rap aren’t on my Spotify playlist – but it was all part of the experience. I have no complaints whatsoever.
What is the timetable for the bus from Iași to Chișinău?
The bus goes fairly regularly (there’s about a dozen departures) but the important thing is that they are mostly in the early(ish) morning and the late afternoon/night.
When I was there in November 2018, the timetable was as follows: 6:45, 7:45, 8:30, 9:00, 9:30, 9:45, 14:00, 14:45, 15:20, 15:45, 17:30, 18:30 and 19:30.
As you can see, there is a big gap between 10am and 2pm, but pretty frequent departures after that. I’d recommend trying to get to the bus stop at least half an hour to an hour before your departure, mainly because I had trouble finding the bus and no-one spoke any English.
Luckily, my newfound friend at the hostel spoke Russian (praise the lord!) and helped me out. Otherwise, I might still be in Iasi.
Do you need to buy a ticket in advance?
No. You just hand over your passport and your money on the bus, and off you go.
If you really don’t want to do that, you can make a booking on the phone with Alverstur. You can find their contact details here.
Where do I catch the bus from?
Okay, this is the complicated bit. There is a big, beautiful train station in Iași, and there may well be buses in front of it. This is not where you catch the bus to Chișinău (do not let your Uber driver tell you otherwise), however, it is close by.
The bus from Iași to Chișinău leaves from what is essentially a parking lot. It is on the other side of the busy road, between two larger buildings. There is a line of small buildings/ticket offices along the side.
Don’t expect the ticket offices to be very helpful in finding your way. You might be lucky, but when I was there I just got a kind of grumpy “go away” signal when I asked about the bus to Chișinău.
Luckily, it’s not a huge lot so it’s easy to find your bus. Just go from bus to bus looking for the one that has “Chișinău” in the front window. It’s easy to spot, and you’ll know you’ve reached the right one because they’ll ask you for your passport.
How much does the ticket cost?
The ticket was really cheap – 40 Romanian lei (about 10 euro). Bring small notes just in case the driver doesn’t have change.
What is crossing the border from Romania to Moldova on the bus like?
As you’ve probably read from my introduction, quite honestly it was kind of nerve-wracking. After about 45 minutes of driving, we arrived at the border of Moldova.
I’ve crossed a fair few land borders in my time (especially in Africa) so I knew what to expect. First you must exit Romania, and then enter Moldova. This can be a slow process – and it was, taking about an hour all in.
As we were waiting in the bus, a passenger seemingly self-appointed himself official passport liaison. Everyone started handing their passports
About twenty minutes later, the border guard stepped onto the bus and started handing back all of the passports, which were mostly either Romanian or Moldovan. He got to mine, and I’d started to reach up for it when I got a bit of a third degree as to why I was visiting Moldova. For the wine, I explained, and this seemed to make perfect sense. He smiled and wished me well for my trip.
We then entered the Moldovan side, which proved more difficult. Essentially, the process was the same – liaison takes the passports – but there was a bit more of an interrogation by this border guard. I was the only one who got it, though – I assume as the rest of the people on the bus were residents of either Moldova or Romania.
After the guard was satisfied I wasn’t a smuggler, our bags were searched and we headed on. The thing is, there was quite a lot of waiting between these stops, so in total the process took about an hour.
It certainly wasn’t the worst border crossing I’ve experienced (looking at you, Mozambique), but it is worth being prepared for the delays and the third-degree interrogation you might receive.
Arriving in Chișinău from Iași
In total, the bus ride only took about 4 hours, so it was pretty pleasant – even though there was a fairly bizarre combination of Romanian folk music, Russian rap, and then randomly some Eminem thrown in (I approved).
We arrived downtown in Chișinău about 4pm, when it was nearly dark. The city is pretty modern and there are lots of restaurants and ATMs near the bus stop. There are plenty of taxis, but if you’d prefer not to just flag one off the street, then you can use the Yandex App. There’s no Uber but it works in much the same way, and I was super happy with it.
From there, I’d arrived at my hostel: the Amazing Istiklal Hostel – an experience in itself.
Other ways to get from Iași to Chișinău on a budget
I looked into a few other options for how to get from Iași to Chișinău, and I’m convinced that the bus was the best option. However, if for some reason you have an aversion to buses, there are a few other options.
BlaBlaCar is a rideshare service that seems really popular in Romania and, by extension, Moldova. It’s even cheaper than the bus – about 20 – 30 lei – and you can get more of a selection of times to go.
You simply log in to the website, find a driver departing around the same time, and send them a message. Much like Uber and AirBnB, there’s reviews so you can see if your driver is a boy racer, boring conversationalist, or, hopefully, an axe murderer.
Honestly, even though it could have saved me a few lei, I wasn’t game. It wasn’t so much the getting in the car with a stranger part (I use Uber, Couchsurfing, AirBnB, etc), but the border crossing. I’m not sure how Mr. “Are-you-carrying-special-weapons” would have responded to me being in a car with a random person.
Nonetheless, plenty of people use it perfectly fine – so you might want to consider BlaBlaCar if you’re not as paranoid as I am.
Train or Plane
There are no direct trains or flights between Iași and Chișinău, you’d have to go through another city – most likely Bucharest. For this reason, I don’t really recommend it.
If you are in Bucharest and wanting to go to Chișinău then your best bet is to go direct rather than via Iași.
So there you have it – how to get from Iași to Chișinău on a budget. Any questions or tips to add? Have you tried BlaBlaCar? What was it like? Let me know in the comments!