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Visa questions

Q: I am afraid that if I handle my visa application myself, I will miss something important and my visa will be refused. Should I go to a visa services company which can guarantee visa issuance? Do not do this. Period. The process of visa application is very simple and straightforward if you follow our guidelines. These companies exist for the sole purpose of making extra cash on those who do not mind paying for having someone else put their visa application in mail for them. Besides, no company can guarantee any visas – the ultimate authority in visa processing rests with the Russian Consulate, and no private entity can influence the Consulate’s decision.

Q: What is “visa invitation” (“invitation letter”)? This general term denotes a set of documents that your Russian host (e.g. a relative, a business partner, or a travel agent) must furnish you with, so that you could apply for a Russian visa at the Russian Consulate servicing your area. If you did not receive any documents from your inviting party, do not send your visa application to the Consulate – it will be refused. In case of the tourist visa, an invitation consists of two documents: a tourist confirmation bearing your personal details and a travel voucher mentioning the details of your Russian trip (cities visited, types of services ordered, etc.).

Q: As a US citizen I can travel almost anywhere without a visa. Why do I need a visa to go to Russia? Visa regulations are governed by the principle of reciprocity. So, US citizens go through the same application routine and Russian citizens have to go through when going to the United States. Rates are identical as well.

Q: I have an invitation to visit a certain city in Russia. Will I be allowed to travel to other cities in Russia as well? Yes, you will.

Q: Last time I went to Russia nobody asked me for my registration when I was leaving home. Why should I register my visa next time I go to Russia? It is true that visa registration checks were not always carried out in the past, and those who neglected to get proper visa registration were not fined. However, these checks are becoming standard now and you will surely be asked at the customs for your registration. Failure to present such registration will result in a fine. Please register your visa!

Q: I am already in Russia and would like to extend or change status of my visa. Where can I do that? Unfortunately, it is impossible either to extend or change status (e.g. from tourist to student or business) of your visa once you enter Russia, as visas are only issued by Russian diplomatic missions abroad. Therefore, you will have to go back to your home country and re-apply for a new visa.

Q: How can I get a multiple-entry visa? The best solution for frequent travelers to Russia is to obtain a business visa which allows for unlimited number of entries. Tourist visa can only be issued for a maximum of two entries only in case your tour itinerary requires so.

Q: I will spend several weeks in St. Petersburg. While there, I want to travel to Finland and/or the Baltic States for a few days. Will my Russian visa be sufficient? No. Russian visa only gets you into Russia. To travel to other countries you will need to follow their respective visa regulations for citizens of your country. In most cases US citizens do not need any visa to travel to these countries for a short time. However, you must make sure that your Russian visa is at least double-entry, as each crossing of the Russian border counts as one entry. So, in case you have a single-entry visa and will leave Russian even for several hours, you will not be able to get back to Russia – another entry is required. Please make sure to plan your trip well ahead and get the right type of visa to avoid any frustration. Money Questions

Q: How much money can I bring to Russia and take home after my trip? You can bring any amount with you to Russia, but you must declare any sum over US $3000. This is important because the Russian Law allows you to take home only US $3000 (or equivalent in other currencies) without any paperwork. If you want to take more money back with you, you must present a special certificate (Permission to Export Currency) which can be obtained at any bank in Russia and comes at a price (usually, you have to pay the difference between their buy and sell rate). Please note that these regulations only apply to cash. Travelers’ checks can be taken home in unlimited quantity without any extra permissions.

Q: I plan to go back to Russia shortly. Can I keep all the rubles with me for my next trip? No. Russian customs regulations forbid exporting rubles. Please get all your rubles exchanged back into your home currency before departure.

Q: Are there currency exchanges in Russia? Should I try to get rubles before my trip? Yes, you can exchange foreign currency into rubles at many official exchange bureaus. You will need to present your passport, as it is forbidden to exchange money without it. If your hotel keeps your passport and you are not satisfied with the exchange rate offered at the hotel’s exchange booth – just ask them for your passport! It must be noted that most hotels no longer keep their guests’ passports for the entire duration of stay – only for an hour after you check in to register your visa.

Q: I heard that one can find a better exchange rate offered in the street by private money changers. If I can get more rubles per dollar, why should I go to a bank and get less rubles for my money? First of all, it is illegal to exchange money this way. Secondly, you risk losing your money not getting a kopeck back. In many cases street money changers will offer attractive rate just to lure you away from the official exchange place – and will disappear the moment they put their hands on your money. Quite often they stage up a little surprise show to persuade you that, for some reason, they do not want your money anymore, and then they leave you hastily giving you a counterfeit bill. The trouble is when you realize it is counterfeit, it will be too late – the tricksters will disappear.

Q: Are there ATM machines in Russia? Yes, there are plenty of ATM machines in Russia nowadays. They differ in the amount of commission a local bank (which owns the machine) charges you per withdrawal. ATMs which bear Alfabank logo on them charge 0% commission – you will only pay your home bank’s flat ATM withdrawal fee.

Q: Are there any restrictions on travelers’ checks or credit cards in Russia? No, there are no restrictions. You can easily pay with credit cards in most shops and restaurants. Unlike in your home country, travelers’ checks cannot be used for payment for goods and services – you must cash them first.

Q: Can I cash personal checks in Russia? Yes, you can. But it can take up to several weeks, as your check will need to travel back to the issuing bank abroad for verification. So, if you need to get money fast, either use international travelers’ checks (American Express, Thomas Cook, Visa, etc.) or ATM machines.

Q: I won A LOT of money at a Russian casino and they gave me cash. How can I take it home? The best way to take home a large amount of money is to purchase travelers’ checks (American Express, Thomas Cook, Visa, etc.). These checks do not need to be declared when leaving Russia. Miscellaneous Travel Questions

Q: What do I do in emergency when in Russia? In any case of emergency the first thing you should do is to contact your country’s Embassy (if you are in Moscow) or the nearest Consulate to inform them that there is a foreigner in danger. Also, you must contact the Russian authorities at the following emergency numbers (calls are free from mobile phones and street phones) Emergency Numbers in Russia

  • Fire brigade

    Dial “01”

    You should say “Pozhar” (fire) and give your address

  • Police (“Militsiya”)

    Dial “02”

    You can speak in English, as they have a phone tracking system and will be able to locate you by your phone number (if you call from stationary phone)

  • Ambulance (“Skoraya”)

    Dial “03”

    If you come to Russian for an extended period of time, it is a good idea to get registered with an American Medical Center available in major cities

  • Gas authority

    Dial “04”

    In case you stay in an old building and can suddenly smell gas from a gas pipe leak

Q: I want to bring my notebook computer to Russia. Are there any special regulations in regard to this? You may want to check our Bringing Laptop to Russia section. As you will learn, most of the formalities are at your home country’s end.

Q: Where can I buy authentic Russian souvenirs (like original hand-painted Matryoshka dolls, Russian fur hat, etc.)? Everything depends on your reason for getting the souvenirs. If you want to buy some cheap bric-a-brac for your little kids or bring a present to your neighbour, then purchasing souvenirs from curb traders or at a flea market is perfectly acceptable. Keep in mind, though, that most of the lacquer boxes they sell in the street are cheap imitations, whereas a picture on the top is a postcard glued to the box and then lacquered on the top. With time the postcard will peel off and the box can be thrown away. However, if you want to get a quality memento of your visit to Russia or buy a gift for a special occasion, you should consider shopping at special souvenir centres. Like all finer things in life, quality souvenirs are more expensive than those sold in the street, but you get the real stuff! After all, we get what we are paying for.

Q: We adopted a child in Russia and want to travel there together. Do we need to get a Russian visa for our child as well? While you are required to get Russian visa, there is no need to get one for your child. According to the Russian Law, children retain their Russian citizenship until the age of 18. At that point they will have the right to choose their citizenship (either to renounce Russian citizenship or to have dual-citizenship status). But until that age your child can enter Russia on the passport which was issued by Russian authorities upon adoption.

Q: Why was I charged duty on my duty-free purchases? Many travelers confuse the term “duty-free” for not having to pay a duty. This is not so, as all the items you purchase at a duty-free shop are subject to taxes when you exceed a certain quota. In case of the US, there is a so-called “Personal Exemption” which currently is $800 when you arrive in USA from Russia. This exemption means that you can take everything you buy at a duty-free shop for up to $800 without having to pay a duty when taking these items into the USA. In case you spent over $800 on your duty-free purchases (for example, bought an expensive watch or jewellery item), you will need to pay a duty on it. For more information on the US customs regulations read “Know Before You Go” guide.

Q: I cannot open and print visa application form using my Internet browser. You need to have Adobe® Acrobat Reader (version 4.0 or higher) installed on your computer. If you do not have it, you can download it for free from the Adobe website. If after installing the software you still experience difficulty downloading the forms in your browser, you should right-click on the download link and choose “Save target as.” Sometimes this is necessary in case of slow server connections.

Q: Can I take my pet with me to Russia? First, you will need to check your home country’s regulations on this matter. In many countries pets must be placed in a special quarantine for up to one month before they are ready to be taken abroad. During the quarantine your pet will get appropriate vaccination, as well as the travel container in which you will transport the pet will need to get sanitized. Upon arrival in Russia your pet may be required to be placed in quarantine for additional time (decided by the Russian quarantine authorities representative).

Q: How can I prove that I did not buy my watch/camera during my trip outside of the United States? If you take any of your foreign-made personal articles abroad, you may be required to pay a duty on them each time you bring them back to the US – unless you can present an acceptable proof of prior possession. Documents which fully describe the article, such as a bill of sale, insurance policy, jeweler’s appraisal, or receipt for purchase, may be considered reasonable proof of prior possession.

Items such as watches, cameras, compact disc players, or other articles which may be readily identified by a permanently affixed serial number or marking, may be taken to the Customs office nearest you and registered before your departure. The Certificate of Registration (CF 4457) that you will be given will expedite the free entry of these items when you return. Keep the Certificate as it is valid for as long as you have these articles and you do not need to apply for a new Certificate each time you travel abroad. For more information regarding the US customs regulations visit the US Customs & Border Control web-site

Q: I take pills. Can I bring them to Russia? Yes, you can. But make sure that you bring them in their retail packaging. Do not store all your pills in a plastic bag to save place in your luggage. Customs officers have the right to take away any suspiciously-looking substances (including medical drugs) for chemical probe. This takes time, so have your purchase receipts handy just in case you need to explain the origin of these drugs.