- Searches beyond the perfunctory are quite rare, but clearing customs when you leave Russia by a land border can be lengthy.
- Visitors are allowed to bring in and take out up to US$10,000 (or its equivalent) in currency, and goods up to the value of €10,000, weighing less than 50kg, without making a customs declaration.
- Fill in a customs declaration form if you’re bringing into Russia major equipment, antiques, artworks or musical instruments (including a guitar) that you plan to take out with you – get it stamped in the red channel of customs to avoid any problems leaving with the same goods.
- If you plan to export anything vaguely ‘arty’ – instruments, coins, jewellery, antiques, antiquarian manuscripts and books (older than 50 years) or art (also older than 50 years) – it should first be assessed by the Ministry of Culture; it is very difficult to export anything over 100 years old. Bring your item (or a photograph, if the item is large) and your receipt. If export is allowed, you'll be issued a receipt for tax paid, which you show to customs officers on your way out of the country.
Required by all; apply at least a month in advance of your trip.
Getting Your Visa
Save for a handful of exceptions, everyone needs a visa to visit Russia. Arranging one is generally straightforward but is likely to be time-consuming, bureaucratic and – depending on how quickly you need the visa – costly. Start the application process at least a month before your trip.
- Visa Agencies
Comet Consular Services www.cometconsular.com
Express to Russia www.expresstorussia.com
Real Russia http://realrussia.co.uk
Way to Russia www.waytorussia.net
- Main Visa Types
Tourist Valid for a maximum of 30 days, single- or double-entry, nonextendable.
Business Valid for three months, six months or one year (three years for US citizens); may or may not limit the number of entries.
Private On invitation from a Russian citizen, who provides your accommodation. Up to 90 days, single- or double-entry.
Transit By air for 72 hours, by train 10 days.
Russian Far East free e-visa Citizens of 18 countries can arrive without a visa for stays of up to 30 days, if entering via Vladivostok, Kamchatka or Sakhalin and staying only in the Russian Far East.
Starting the Process
For most travellers, a tourist visa (single- or double-entry), which is valid for a maximum of 30 days from the date of entry and is nonextendable, will be sufficient. If you plan on staying longer than a month, it’s advisable to apply for a business visa – these are available as single-, double- or multiple-entry.
Whatever visa you go for, the process has three main stages: invitation, application and registration.
You may need separate permission for trips to sensitive border regions such as the Altai, Volga Delta, Caucasus and Tuva, which means the processing of your visa can take longer.
If your trip into or out of Russia involves transit through, or a stay in, another country, such as Belarus, China, Mongolia or Kazakhstan, our advice is to arrange any necessary visa or visas in your home country before you enter Russia.
To obtain a visa, everyone needs an invitation, also known as 'visa support'. Hotels and hostels will usually issue anyone staying with them an invitation voucher free or for a small fee (typically around €20 to €30). If you are not staying in a hotel or hostel, you will need to buy an invitation – this can be done through most travel agents or via specialist visa agencies, also for around €20.
Invitation voucher in hand, you can then apply for a visa. Wherever in the world you are applying, you can start by entering details in the online form of the Consular Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (https://visa.kdmid.ru/PetitionChoice.aspx).
Take care in answering the questions accurately on this form, including listing all the countries you have visited in the last 10 years and the dates of the visits – stamps in your passport will be checked against this information, and if there are anomalies you will likely have to restart the process. Keep a note of the unique identity number provided for your submitted form – if you have to make changes later, you will need this to access it without having to fill in the form from scratch again.
Russian embassies in many countries, including the UK, US, France and Germany, have contracted separate agencies to process the submission of visa applications and check everything is in order; these companies use online interfaces that direct the relevant information into the standard visa application form. In the UK, the agency is VFS.Global (http://ru.vfsglobal.co.uk), with offices in London and Edinburgh; in the US it's Invisa Logistic Services (http://ils-usa.com), with offices in Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, Houston and Seattle.
Consular offices apply different fees and slightly different application rules country by country. For example, at the time of writing, a pilot project to collect biometric data via fingerprinting was being run for visa applications in the UK, Denmark, Myanmar and Namibia. Avoid potential hassles by checking well in advance what these rules might be. Among the things that you will need are:
- A print-out of the invitation/visa support document.
- A passport-sized photograph for the application form.
- If you're self-employed, bank statements for the previous three months showing you have sufficient funds to cover your time in Russia.
- Details of your travel insurance.
The charge for the visa will depend on the type of visa applied for and how quickly you need it.
We highly recommend applying for your visa in your home country rather than on the road. Trans-Mongolian travellers should note that unless you can prove you’re a resident of China or Mongolia, attempting to get visas for Russia in Beijing and Ulaanbaatar can be a frustrating and ultimately fruitless exercise.
Every visitor to Russia should have their visa registered within seven days of arrival, excluding weekends and public holidays. The obligation to register is with the accommodating party – your hotel or hostel, or landlord, friend or family if you’re staying in a private residence.
If you’re staying at a hotel or hostel, the receptionist will register you for free. This will involve them photocopying every page of your passport. Once registered, you should receive a slip of paper confirming the dates you’ll be staying at that particular accommodation. Keep this safe – there's a very small possibility that you may be asked by officials to show this to prove you've been registered (this is unlikely).
If staying in a homestay or rental apartment, you’ll either need to make arrangements with the landlord or a friend to register you through the post office. See www.waytorussia.net/russianvisa/registration.html for how this can be done and for more details on the whole process.
Depending on how amenable your hotel or inviting agency is, you can request that they register you for longer than you’ll actually be in one place. Otherwise, every time you move city or town and stay for more than seven days, it’s necessary to go through the registration process again. There’s no need to be overly paranoid about this, but the more thorough your registration record, the less chance you’ll have of running into problems. Keep all transport tickets (especially if you spend nights sleeping on trains) to prove to any overzealous police officers exactly when you arrived in a new place.
It’s tempting to be lax about registration, and we’ve met many travellers who were and didn’t experience any problems as a result of it; however, if you're travelling for a while in Russia, and particularly if you're visiting off-the-beaten-track places, it’s worth making sure you are registered at each destination, since it’s not uncommon to encounter cops hoping to catch tourists too hurried or disorganised to be able to explain long gaps in their registration.
Note that you will not be asked to show registration slips when leaving from international airports.
Types of Visa
In addition to the tourist visa, there are other types of useful visas.
Available for three months, six months or one year (or three years for US citizens), and as single-, double- or multiple-entry visas, business visas are valid for up to 90 days of travel within any 180-day period. You don’t actually need to be on business to apply for these visas (they’re great for independent tourists with longer travel itineraries and flexible schedules), but to get one you must have a letter of invitation from a registered Russian company or organisation (these can be arranged via specialist visa agencies); a covering letter stating the purpose of your trip; and proof of sufficient funds to cover your visit.
For transit by air, a transit visa is usually valid for up to three days. For a non-stop Trans-Siberian Railway journey, it’s valid for 10 days, giving westbound passengers a few days in Moscow; those heading east, however, are not allowed to linger in Moscow. Note that transit visas for train journeys are tricky to secure and are usually exactly the same price as a single-entry tourist visa (in the UK £70 for either, plus a service charge of £38.40).
Visa-free visits of up to 72 hours are available to tourists arriving at Russian ports including Kaliningrad, Korsakov, Novorossiysk, Sochi, St Petersburg, Vladivostok and Vyborg. You will need to enter and exit the city on a cruise or ferry such as that offered by St Peter Line or Saimaa Travel.
There is also a plan, yet to be executed at the time of research, for visa-free travel in the Russian Far East for citizens of 18 countries (not including the US, Canada or any EU nation). Electronic single-entry visas, valid for up to 30 days, will be issued directly at the Russian border in Vladivostok (and possibly up to a dozen other entry points across the region in the future).
Visa Extensions & Changes
Any extensions or changes to your visa will be handled by Russia’s Federal Migration Service (Federalnoy Migratsionnoy Slyzhby), which is often shortened to FMS. It’s possible you’ll hear the old acronyms PVU and OVIR used for this office as well.
Extensions are time-consuming and difficult; tourist visas cannot be extended at all. Avoid the need for an extension by arranging a longer visa than you might need. Note that many trains out of St Petersburg and Moscow to Eastern Europe cross the border after midnight, so make sure your visa is valid up to and including this day.
Immigration forms are produced electronically by passport control at airports. Take good care of your half of the completed form as you’ll need it for registration and could face problems while travelling in Russia – and certainly will on leaving – if you can’t produce it.
The following are fees for single-entry visas including any service charges; expect to pay anything up to double/triple these fees for double- or multiple-entry visas.
- Australia Tourist and work visas issued in 10/two working days are $135/270.
- Most EU countries Tourist/work visas issued in four to 10 working days cost €61/141; visas issued in one to three days cost €96/185.
- UK Tourist and work visas issued in five working days/next working day cost £108/187.
- USA Tourist or work visas issued in 10/three working days cost $123/213.