Despite international sanctions, it is possible to travel to Russia. Consulates issue visas normally and life in Russia is totally normal. However, you should keep in mind the existing limitations when it comes to booking flights, making payments, or reserving accommodation.
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People who travel to Russia, whether for tourism or to visit family or friends, have been experiencing difficulties for several years, first due to the COVID pandemic and then due to the conflict in Ukraine. In this article I will try to clarify the main doubts that travelers who go to Russia currently have.
Despite the war in Ukraine, it is possible to travel to Russia both for tourism, to visit relatives, for business or for humanitarian reasons. The Russian border is open and Russian consulates, both in Europe and in the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia, issue visas normally. Of course, the electronic visa procedure has been suspended since the start of the pandemic, so a traditional visa must be processed.
The Russians, despite international sanctions and the conflict, lead a normal life. COVID restrictions have also been lifted.
Of course, international sanctions against Russia have caused difficulties when it comes to finding flights, making currency exchanges or making payments. Throughout this article, which I will try to keep up to date, I will explain the latest situation for those of you who are going to travel to Russia soon, as well as practical recommendations on how to book flights, accommodation or make payments.
1. Safety in Russia
Traveling to Russia is completely safe. Life is normal in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and other big Russian cities. Of course, you must be careful when traveling to the regions bordering Ukraine (Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh, Belgorod, Kursk and Bryansk), as well as not approaching the border with Ukraine or military facilities or those of strategic interest.
It is also advisable not to make public demonstrations or statements on social networks criticizing what the Russian government calls a special military operation or questioning the success or work of the Russian army in Ukraine.
Regarding the health risk due to Covid-19, there are no longer any health restrictions. As of October 21, 2022, it is no longer necessary to take a PCR test before traveling to Russia.
2. Visa to Russia
Despite international sanctions, Russian consulates are normally issuing visas to travel to Russia both for tourism and to visit relatives, etc. Of course, the issuance of electronic visas has been suspended since the start of the pandemic, so a traditional visa must be processed at the Russian Visa Center, except for those nationalities for which a visa is not required.
In summary, the possible options are the following:
Option 1. Electronic visa (E-Visa). The issuance of electronic visas is currently suspended since the publication of the Order of the Government of the Russian Federation of March 16, 2020 N 635-r. At the moment it is unknown when electronic visas will be issued again.
Option 2. Regular or traditional visa. Since the electronic visa is suspended, you currently have to apply for a regular or traditional visa, which can be for tourism, business, private travel, etc. An invitation is still required to process the regular visa, which you can acquire with Russian tourist companies. In this link you can purchase the invitation with iVisa by card or through PayPal.
Option 3. Travel to Russia without a visa (Visa-Free). There are countries that do not need a visa to travel to Russia, such as Cuba, Colombia, Peru or Venezuela, among others, although under certain conditions.
3. Flights and ground transportation
It is possible to enter Russia both by plane and by land by bus. As for the plane, the problem is that after the international sanctions, the European airspace with Russia is closed, so it is necessary to resort to air connections with Russia through third countries.
The shortest connections are via Istanbul (Turkey) with Turkish Airlines or via Belgrade (Serbia) with Air Serbia. Other more distant and also more expensive connection routes are via Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) with Etihad Airways, via Doha (Qatar) with Qatar Airlines or via Cairo (Egypt) via EgyptAir.
I recommend checking the connections through a flight comparator. The problem is that Western flight comparators have removed flights to Russia, so it is not possible to compare prices and connections. However, the Russian flight comparator OneTwoTrip does work, although it does not offer all the existing connections. Therefore, it is advisable to also visit the websites of the airlines to check the connections and fares.
With international sanctions, flights have become more expensive. On the contrary, internal flights in Russia have become cheaper.
Another option to travel to Russia is to take a flight to a country bordering Russia (such as Finland or Estonia) and from there take a bus to enter Russia. The main routes of entry are:
- Flight to Helsinki (Finland) and take a bus from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg.
- Flight to Tallinn (Estonia) and take the bus from Tallinn to Saint Petersburg.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that firstly due to the Covid pandemic and then due to international sanctions, there is no train or ferry service between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg. However, trains operate within Russia normally.
4. Money and ruble exchange
Due to sanctions it is not possible to use Visa, Mastercard, Maestro or American Express cards in Russia. For this reason, there are two possibilities to make payments:
- Take cash (the maximum allowed at the border is 10,000 dollars or euros) and exchange it for rubles in Russia at money exchange houses or banks. For short tourist trips this is perhaps the best option.
- For long trips, a good option is to get a Tinkoff card, which you can order from their website. The card is sent upon your arrival in Russia in 1-2 days to the address you indicate (either hotel or private apartment). This card can be recharged for free from its mobile application with your personal cards. The great advantage is that you avoid having to carry all the cash behind.
5. Russian phone SIM card
It is still highly recommended to purchase a Russian SIM card. You have two options:
- Acquire an eSIm (electronic card) in Airalo before leaving on a trip. In this case, your mobile must allow the eSIM option and your operator must allow this option.
- Acquire a physical SIM upon arrival in Russia. This option is cheaper but requires going to a physical store upon arrival in Russia.
6. Booking accommodation in Russia
Regarding the reservation of accommodation, hotels or apartments, the main western reservation platforms (booking, Airbnb, etc.) do not allow hotel reservations in Russia, so you have to resort to other options such as the Russian electronic platform Ostrovok, through which you can hassle-free Russian hotel bookings, many with free cancellation.
7. In conclusion
Despite international sanctions and the conflict in Ukraine, you can travel to Russia. Consulates issue visas normally and life in Russia is totally normal. Of course, you must take into account the existing limitations when taking flights, making payments or reserving accommodation.
I hope this article has helped you to clear your doubts. However, if you have questions or doubts you can leave it in the comments area below.