There are tons of rules and regulations to overcome for potential visitors to St. Petersburg, but don’t give up – the struggle will eventually be worth it!

IN THE battle with Russian bureaucracy, every aspiring traveller spoiled with the comfort provided by the Schengen area will most likely come to the point asking oneself: “Why so many regulations? Wouldn’t it make more sense to simplify entering Russia for harmless travellers like you or me instead of scaring them off with complicated travel rules?”

It is true; preparing your Russia trip can be an unnerving matter. However, with St. Petersburg being just a stone’s throw away from Helsinki, Pieter – as the town is nicknamed by locals – is naturally the first-choice destination for travellers seeking to spend a weekend in Russia. And it is worth the aforementioned paper war.

But what do you actually have to consider before sending pictures to your family and friends “from Russia with love”?

First of all: If you are a fairly organised EU-citizen and therefore already know about your Russia trip at least a month before, you just obtain your tourist visa from the local Russian embassy, which takes around 10 days to process and will cost you 35 euros.

But certainly, this is not an option for spontaneous souls ready for some last-minute booking action. Here, the visa-free rule comes into play. Generally, you can stay in Russia visa-free for 72 hours, if you arrive and depart by ferry, you have a confirmed place to stay and you are part in some organised travelling package. For independent travellers giving a sniff at organised tours, the cheapest way to handle this rule is to book the shuttle bus service (around 25 euros) together when booking the ferry trip.

Let’s move on now to the fun part: the paperwork. There are basically five things that you have to bring along with you. Naturally, there’s your passport, which must be valid still six months after your arrival to St. Petersburg. Then you will need the arrival/departure cards and the migration card, which you both will receive at the counter of your ferry company at the terminal. At the border control or the ferry counter, they might ask you for an invitation and a hotel confirmation. The invitation will probably cost something between 10-20 euros; hotels with a “sense for business” to put it mildly, might charge more. The hotel confirmation is basically the document you will receive in your mail inbox after paying your accommodation. Without accommodation, your trip to and from St. Petersburg will then cost around 150 euros, with charges.

If, for any funny reason, you want to take a certain amount of alcohol and cigarettes or any weapons ranging from a nail file to your standard rocket launcher with you, you will have to declare these for customs. Russian ferry border control basically passes off like on the airport – they will x-ray your luggage and find your stuff. So better stick to the rules!

Fabian Unger
Creative Commons / Kalle ID