Last week we looked briefly at the benefits of Russian language preparation for your forthcoming trip – and the payoff for putting the work in, beforehand. Consider it the best investment plan out there: even the most minimal commitment pays a handsome return. So, let’s look at a few precautions that should pay you back with bonuses later – in a “thank goodness I did that” kind of way.
A port of call that you should definitely become familiar with is your government’s travel advice
page, the UK government’s version (for Russia) is here. The information conveyed is concise, to-the-point and designed to keep you out of harm’s way. At the time of writing; Chechnya, eastern border regions abutting Ukraine and other territories are considered especially dangerous due to the ongoing conflicts entrenched there. The page is updated regularly and as needed, so don’t find yourself in a war zone! The usual news outlets are worth monitoring also – especially in times of conflict.
The document that everyone knows about is of course: the VISA. Did you know that you will also need an “invitation”/”VISA support letter” as part of your application? This will be from a Russian firm, individual, hotel, other – depending on your purpose within Russia and where you will be staying? You will need to submit your passport during the process – which must have at least 6 months of validity remaining subsequent to the date of your return. You will also need two passport photos signed on the back -one of which will end up on the completed VISA itself.
There are several types of VISA and you are likely looking for the “tourist” version, but it’s essential to be sure. In case you were wondering: the item itself is a laminated print that is stuck onto a blank passport page. It contains identifying information plus crucial entry and exit dates. Yes, it’s important to realise that your Russian VISA facilitates EXIT as well as ENTRY.
The other ingredient required is time. At least one month should be allowed for VISA processing, and for your passport to be returned to you. You will also have to factor in a visit to a Russian VISA application centre to present your documents/application and have the staff go through them with you. In the UK, these are located in London, Edinburgh, and Manchester. Be aware of opening times or the centre’s rules before setting off!
Ok, that’s not an exhaustive list, but condenses most main points and is correct at the time of writing. Rules do change and are generally inflexible, so you have to remain vigilant.
Not a nightmare, actually
Most people want to drive but nobody wants to take a driving test – that’s the analogy. Once you have the licence however, the angst of that final exercise is just a memory. The VISA application process is immediately similar in this regard (though not as bad) and daunting only because it’s new to you. The important considerations are that everything has to be accurate, complete and legible. The staff in the application centre are there to help, and to ensure that all the paperwork is in order, so that things run smoothly. It’s not an interrogation! I found the London office to be friendly, helpful and matter-of-fact without any problems.
The easiest way to navigate the procedure is to hand the reins over to a reputable travel company. In this regard Russia Experience will handle the machinations (and external documents) and simply tell you what you need to do step by step. You say “ok” and oblige as requested -then things are suddenly easy.
The important thing to note is that Russian customs and immigration (and police) are renowned for their lack of humour. If you plan to “pull a fast one” or do certain silly things involving undocumented “medication”, then your game is likely over. They’ve seen it and heard it all before.
You will have to be aware of what you are allowed to take in -and out- of Russia. This includes medication, alcohol, anything classed as an “antiquity” (which may not be that old incidentally), expensive goods without receipt/documentation, large amounts of cash etc. Especially consider that your VISA entry and exit dates are etched in stone. They are inflexible outside of the most dire, genuine emergency – at which point (or preferably before) you will have to formally apply for an extension. Maybe you’ll get one.
Being caught in Russia outside your permitted travel window -even by crossing an additional calendar date is a sure way to invite bad things into your life: perhaps a fine of several hundred UK pounds and a temporary (or permanent) travel ban. Don’t be that person.