Visas are one of the major considerations when you travel internationally. Particularly if you hold a passport that doesn’t allow you to enjoy visa on arrival to many countries. That’s the reason why Ashray keeps on adding tips to his section about Visas for Indians. No matter what nationality or passport you may have, there are certain countries that are (in)famous for having a generally tough visa policy. While Russia happens to be one of those hard to enter countries, there is a way that makes it possible to travel to Russia without a visa!
There aren’t many nationalities that can get into Russia visa-free. People from Europe or North America, who may not be the most used to having to apply for visas in advance, would have to do so if they want to visit Russia. Other nationals from countries such as Guatemala, Mauritius, South Korea and Nauru, which is the world’s smallest independent republic, are the lucky ones in this case! You can view the full list countries that can enjoy visa on arrival to Russia here.
For the rest of us, mere traveling mortals, a trip to Russia involves applying for a visa AND getting an invitation letter. But today, we aren’t here to discuss how to get a visa to Russia. What we want to explore is the exact opposite thing: how to travel to Russia without needing a visa! We were in Helsinki when we discovered that it is indeed possible to visit Russia without applying for paperwork beforehand. The trip may not be as long as if you do have a visa, but it is certainly better than nothing!
72 visa-free hours in Russia
To enjoy visa free travel to Russia, you’d already have to be in Northern Europe. And, for that, you’d need to either be a European citizen, resident or a visitor with a valid Schengen visa. Once you are in Finland, it is possible to travel to Saint Petersburg on a cruise ship, as long as you are part of an organized excursion group. Finding one of these organized trips is extremely easy when you are in Helsinki, where we came across this, as offices with representatives selling cruise ship tickets dot the area adjacent to the popular Market Square.
If you arrive to Saint Petersburg by ferry, and without a visa, you can stay in Russia for up to 3 days. The time starts counting the moment you go through Passport Control in Russia. The ferries from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg and back operate almost every other day.
The ships operate overnight and you can book yourself into different classes of rooms, to rest during the trip that takes between 13 and 14 hours. No matter if you choose the cheapest one or the higher end suite, you’ll always have a bed and private bathroom for yourself. On board, you’ll find other paid services such as several restaurants, bars, casino, duty free shops, cinema and WIFI.
Even though you are technically part of an organized group, once you are in Russia, you can go out and about on your own. The ferry company will take you on a bus to the city center of Saint Petersburg and whatever you do thereafter is completely up to you – as long as you do not leave Saint Petersburg! You can book your own hotel, do your own activities and, certainly, you do not have to be with your own “tour group”. Being part of this excursion is more of a technical term so that the law that says only people in groups can travel visa-free to Russia, applies in this case. The ferry companies even have a CityBusTour program that defines the areas you are supposed to visit with them. Even though you are on your own and no one will know what you’re really up to, in theory, you are supposed to stick to those zones, which basically cover the city center.
If you are crazy enough, you can even travel from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg overnight, arrive in the morning, enjoy the city during the day, and go back to the cruise ship at around 6PM, in order to do the trip back to Finland overnight again. The travel time would be much longer than the actual period you get to enjoy Russia, true, but this is also an option that some people do follow to do a rather unusual “day trip”.
On this quick trip to Saint Petersburg you will be able to visit several UNESCO World Heritage monuments, marvel at distinctly unique Russian architecture, try Russian cuisine and interact with some local people. Hopefully, this quick trip will serve as an appetizer and inspiration to apply for a visa that will allow you to travel around Russia for longer, and further beyond this city.
Prices for traveling to Russia without a visa vary according to the dates and duration of your trip. You can get a package for 3 full days in Saint Petersburg, plus 2 days of travel, for about €250 Euros. This would include the 3 or 4 star hotels that the company would book for you. If you are an independent traveler, you can score a round-trip by ferry for as little as €84, which considering this covers 2 nights of hotel stay, seems very reasonable.
So, in short, this is how you can travel to Russia without a visa:
1. Travel to Helsinki, Finland;
2. Book yourself into one of the St. Peter Line ferries;
3. Make sure you go to the city center of Saint Petersburg using St. Peter Line’s bus (the price is probably included in your overall ticket. Either way, this bus costs €25);
4. To overnight in Saint Petersburg, you can arrange a hotel with St. Peter Line or book it yourself. Alternatively, you can go back to Helsinki on the same day you arrived!