We have found out that the introduction of the e-visa to St. Petersburg and the Leningradskaya Oblast (the Leningrad region) raised a lot of questions regarding entry rules to Russia. We have summarized all the basic options to enter the country with the clarification of some aspects which seem to be not so evident.
As of early 2020, there are four main options.
1. You don’t need a visa
Citizens of a few dozen of countries come to Russia in a visa-free regime of different kinds. Holders of passports of two of the countries, Belarus and South Ossetia, have a right for a stay for an unlimited period of time. Others can enjoy with only a limited stay, from 14 to 90 days.
The full list of the countries with free admission to Russia can be found on the website of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Russian).
2. You have a right for an electronic visa
E-visas have been introduced for three Russian regions:
— the Russian Far East, from Sakhalin to the lake of Baikal (entry is through the city of Vladivostok, the Primorsky region);
— the Kaliningradskaya oblast (the Kaliningrad region);
— St. Petersburg and the Leningradskaya oblast (the Leningrad region) as of October 1, 2019.
It can be used by citizens of 53 countries we listed here.
What the e-visa is, we wrote here.
Please, mind that an e-visa gives you a right for only one entry and access only to the specific region it’s issued for. Read our post about typical mistakes tourists make when applying for electronic visas.
As of January 1, 2021, the e-visa is to spread for the whole Russian territory as it’s been announced by Russian federal authorities, but documents have not still been signed yet.
If you are eligible for an e-visa, does it mean you must use it instead of an ordinary visa? No, you can choose any of the two options.
3. You’re a cruise or ferry passenger
All passengers of all ferries and of all cruise ships calling in a Russian port have a right for a 72-hour visa-free stay in the country no matter of a region. You can also travel to any other Russian region. But some other demands exist:
— first of all, you have to buy a tour and stick to the program of the tour;
— second, you have to leave Russia on the same ship you have arrived or through the same border crossing you have come in.
The introduction of the e-visa mechanism has not affected the visa-free regime for cruises and ferries.
How to get a right for a visa-free 72-hour entry to St. Petersburg as a cruise passenger? You either find a travel agency, book a land tour with it, and the agency handles all the formalities; or contact your cruise line to book with it. The line will then transfer your booking to a travel agency in the city, maybe that one you could have booked with directly. Before thinking which way to choose, look our post here on disembarkation rules in the St. Petersburg’s cruise port.
How to get a visa-free 72-hour entry to St. Petersburg as a ferry passenger? There is only one ferry operator calling in the port of St. Petersburg, Moby SPL, operating the only ferry Princess Anastasia. So you book with the line before or when travelling and then have a tour provided by the company. Is it possible to book with an independent travel agency? Theoretically yes, but as far as we know local companies prefer not doing this.
Moby SPL has faced some technical problems in late 2019 and was forced to cancel trips in November, December and January, but is anyway actively preparing for the season 2020, which starts on March 21.
Attention: this kind of regime doesn’t apply to river cruises.
So, when coming to Russia as a cruise or ferry passenger, you still have three options:
— get an ordinary visa;
— get an e-visa (if possible);
— get a visa-free regime.
That’s how things stand right now. This can change toward the start of the cruise season in April 2020, we will keep you informed. Follow our website and social media accounts to get fresh news.
4. You need a visa
Well, it’s simple. Just apply for a Russian visa at an appropriate consulate or embassy. The process is reported to be very difficult, time-consuming and costly though there are very good news on possible simplifications.