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!
Visa-free Travel to Russia info by Saint-Petersburg.com
Isn’t Russia extremely racist towards non-white visitors? I’ve seen videos of countless Russian Neo-Nazis gangs in Moscow and St Peters. attacking innocent tourists and anyone who is not fully white. I’d personally never go there but I’d like to hear your experience.
We didn’t take the trip, so we don’t have first hand experience.
But this Indian guy on Quora had a good experience living in Russia: “Another aspect of living in Russia is the warmth people with exude towards Indians. They simply love Indians, if put simply. They love our complexion and they love Bollywood.”
Anywhere you go in the world, there are haters. And haters gonna hate! That doesn’t mean that the same applies to the entire population of a given country or even region. If you are polite to people, chances are they’ll be polite right back at you. There are some exceptions, true.. but I don’t think that’s a reason to avoid the entire country.
Don’t believe all you see in the Internet,
Specially when it is about Russia on western press, the Info wars are in full swing.
I have been travelling to Russia 4 years, regularly, monthly this last year,
I am Latin, not fully white.
I was always welcome and well treated.
I have never witnessed nor even seen any of those Neo-Nazis you say.
Also think a bit about that, Nazi Germany was Russia’s biggest enemy that costed around 30 million lives… almost all families lost someone to the Nazis during the war…
Do you really think there will be any kind of tolerated Nazi ideology or presence here?
We have been to Russia three times, once in summer, once in winter and once we did the 72 hours visa free tour from helsinki, as my daughter was not with us during the earlier two trips. Let me say that there is no racism whatsoever in Russia. We travelled to the interiors of Russia during our earlier two visits and people were extremely cooprative. They still have love for indians
no it is wrong ,Russians are very friendly people,and there expences also same as India,we 3 people aged 65 to 76 spend 11 days in Russia in august 2018,5 days Moscow and 6 days St Peters burg,we enjoyed a lot
Great stuff! Thank you for sharing this!
I was able to travel to St. Petersburg visa free about 5 years ago on a cruise. It is a cool city with plenty to see and do. Who doesn’t like free vodka at all souvenir shops?!
Thanks for commenting with 1st hand experience, Peter!
I can tell you had a great time in Russia! ;)
You are on your way to becoming THE place to go when searching about information on how to get visas! Great job!
We were wondering how to visit that tiny bit of Russia stuck between Poland & Lithuania with Violette (and didn’t want to go through that heavy and costly visa procedure)… I guess we’ve just found it thanks to you guys !
Good tips – I didn’t even know it was possible to go to Russia (at all!) without a visa :)
Great information! Its a cool place to visit & my dream destination. I could plan according to your guidelines & will make my dream come true. Thanks for sharing.
You can do the same tour to Russia visa-free from Tallinn, Estonia.
Oh, we didn’t know that!
Thanks for sharing, Ele! :)
In fact we got this visa free information when we were on our one day tour to Talinn from Helsinki
Easy may be, but I tried to book the trans Siberian. My stay in Russia would have been two weeks. I also applied for an invitation letter. The letter was not delivered to despite all the payment because allegedly the Indian immigration wanted payment for the letter to enter India. I tried to follow it up with the company but no one answered me properly, and my plans fell through. Damn disappointed.
In June 2016 We took a flight and a ferry to reach Helsinki. We went visa free on the St Peter Ferry Line to St Petersburg. We booked accommodation through Booking.com. It was easy to look around on our own. We even managed to take a train and a bus to Peterhof Gardens. It overlooked a beautiful palace.
Oh, so you didn’t to show that you have accommodation on the ferry for nights in order to be abble to enter and stay in St.Petersburg for 3 days? I thought that is one of conditions. That you have to show booked accommodation on boat!!?
The packages we found with the ferry company included the hotel accommodation. You can also book your own hotel or make arrangements for yourself. It’s better to ask the ferry company how it would work if you were to couchsurf.
It’s cool to read your article while I am
looking for going to St. petersburg.
I am a traveler from Vietnam I have been travelling for the last 2,5 years , at this moment I am living in Sweden and thinking about making a trip to St Pertersburg with a stop in Filand.
As I read your writing, I understood that we can book a around trip but must have 3 nights accommodation in cruise or ferry in order to enter St.P, right? Because I am thinking staying on Couchsurfing for 2 nights in St.P.
So can you pls tell me more which way I should choose with low budget? join the organization or buy ferry tickets? Looking to hear more tips from you as a low budget backpacker.
Hi Zara – would you know if the visa-free travel requires the passenger to do a roundtrip and come back to the original point of departure (Helsinki/Tallin) or it can be something like Helsinki -> Petersburg-> Tallin?
Hi Praveen! I’m not 100% sure.. but considering you’re going on a cruise and the visa is tied to this kind of trip, I’m assuming you’d have to return with them, as the trip you book is usually a round-trip! It’s worth checking directly with a few of these cruise providers though. Good luck!
St. peter line has 2 ferries, and they are doing different routes. You can go on a Visa-free cruise to St. Petersburg from Helsinki, Tallinn and Stockholm. You can just take a cruise from helsinki to St. Peter and back, or you can start from one city, and jump off at another, if you want. Or you can take a cruise around all 4 cities.
Thanks, Johan! That is helpful!
I was born in Russia. Do I need a VISA to travel to Russia from the United States?
Hello I am Rakesh Kumar
Russia visa on arrival Indiana passport
This is super helpful.
Short tricky follow up question – Can you do this with a dog (Who has a EU passport)
In 2014 we managed to book a St Peter ferry line trip to St Petersburg and travel visa free. I booked a hotel with a view of the Church of Strained Blood. I liked the comfortable ferry. We looked into visiting the garden with golden fountains at St Peterhof. We took a train and a bus to reach it. Without a visa we couldn’t have taken the boat.
Is it possible to travel from Saint petersburg to Estonia by road if i come from Helsinki. Please let me know.