Russian Visa-free Loophole
We always want what we can’t have. It’s human nature. In relation to traveling, it is no different. When the process to enter a country is difficult, it makes going to that country even more exciting. Such is the case for Russia. To obtain a Russian visa the traditional way, you must be sponsored by a Russian citizen. Your sponsor must write you an invitation letter and you have to know the exact dates you will enter and exit the country. In addition, you have to provide the Russian Embassy a copy of your bank statement that proves you have at least $3,000. The cost to apply for the visa is $150 plus a $30 visa support fee. Sounds like a bit of a hassle, doesn’t it?
What if you could bypass all of these requirements and still visit Russia?? That is what I did! There is a loophole that allows you to enter Russia for 72- hours visa free. To be eligible for this visa-free travel there are a few requirements:
1. You must enter and exit Russia via ferry.
- You can travel via ferry from Helsinki, Finland to Saint Petersburg, Russia.
2. You must book a 25€ city tour while in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
- The city tour was really just a shuttle from the port to the city center.
3. You cannot stay in Saint Petersburg for more than 72- hours.
The Ferry Line
To travel via ferry to Saint Petersburg, Russia, I used the St. Peter/ Moby Line. The cruise ship was a bit outdated and my room was very small and claustrophobic, but I paid for the cheapest room possible, so that was to be expected. There was nothing else wrong with the room other than the size. There are several restaurants of differing price ranges on the 7th deck of the ship. You have the option to choose a meal plan while on the ship, but I chose to forego the meal plan and just ate when we docked at each city. I believe I saved money by doing that. Even if you do not get a meal plan, you can still may for individual meals at the restaurants. Sometimes the credit card machines do not work, so try and carry euros around with you. Euros are the accepted currency on the ship.
The direct route to Saint Petersburg is from Helsinki, Finland, but you can choose to get on the cruise ship in Stockholm, as well. I found this to be a good option for me because I am attempting to travel to every country in the world, so I was able to hit three countries for 250€.
There is one important detail I wish I would have known before I booked the cruise! Please refer to the picture of the ferry schedule below.
If you look at the schedule, you will notice that the ferry only arrives in Saint Petersburg on Thursdays and Sundays at 09:00. The ferry only departs Saint Petersburg on Fridays and Sundays at 19:00 and 18:00, respectively. If you arrive on Thursday at 09:00 and want to stay in Saint Petersburg for the full 72 hours, the next ferry does not depart until 18:00 on Sunday, which is 81 hours. If you depart on the Friday ferry at 19:00, you only get 34 hours in Saint Petersburg.
To take advantage of the full 72 hours, you can wait to disembark from the ship until at least 14:30 on Thursday. You must make sure you return to the ship by 14:30 on Sunday to avoid fines for surpassing the 72- hour rule.
I was not aware of this loophole before I booked the ferry, so I only had 34 hours in Saint Petersburg.
Disembarking the Ship
The process for entering Russia was easy when you got off the ship. When you board the ship, you receive a “Boarding Card,” “Departure Card,” and “Arrival Card.” An example of the “Departure Card” is pictured below. The “Boarding Card” is your pass to get on and off the ship and it serves as your room key. The “Departure Card” and “Arrival Card” are what you hand the immigration officers when you arrive and depart Russia.
In addition, you must provide proof of accommodation to immigration.
The City Tour
When you clear immigration and customs, you walk outside and the city tour bus is right in front of the building. There is a St. Peter’s Line/ Moby logo in the front window of the van. You just show them your “Boarding Card” and the bus takes you to the city center, which is Saint Isaac’s Square. To return to the cruise ship, you meet at the point where you were dropped off and show the driver your “Boarding Card” again. The shuttle bus departs Saint Isaac’s square every half hour starting at 14:00.
The “City Tour” is not actually a tour, but rather a shuttle, so make sure to book a separate tour if you want a guided tour of the city.
Additional Options for Visa-free Travel
In 2018, the World Cup will be held in Russia, so there will be an opportunity for visa-free travel via a “fan passport.” Fans must register with the Russian migration authorities within 24 hours of their arrival in a city where a match is being held. Normally when you check into your hotel, this is done for you. The World Cup is May 25- July 25, 2018, so if you have always wanted to go to Russia, consider this option, as well!
Please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about my experience!