Last Updated on November 25, 2023 by Irena Domingo
Despite international sanctions it is possible to travel to Russia. The consulates issue visas normally and life in Russia is completely normal. However, you should consider the existing limitations when taking flights, making payments, or booking accommodation.
I'm going to talk about ...
- 0. Introduction
- 1. Security in Russia
- 2. Visa to Rusia
- 3. Travel insurance
- 4. Flights and ground transportation
- 5. Money, ruble exchange and payments
- 6. Russian SIM card
- 7. Booking accommodation in Russia
- 8. In summary
Those of us who travel to Russia either for tourism or to visit family or friends, have been having difficulties for several years now, first because of the COVID pandemic and then because of the conflict in Ukraine. In this article I will try to clarify the main doubts that people traveling to Russia currently have.
Despite the war in Ukraine, it is possible to travel to Russia for tourism, to visit relatives, for business or humanitarian reasons. The Russian border is open and Russian consulates in Europe, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia issue visas as usual.
Both a traditional visa and an electronic visa can be obtained.
The Russians, despite international sanctions and the conflict, are living a normal life. COVID restrictions have also been lifted.
However, the international sanctions against Russia have caused difficulties in finding flights, exchanging currency or making payments. Throughout this article, which I will try to keep updated, I will explain the latest situation for those of you who will be traveling to Russia soon, as well as practical recommendations on how to book flights, accommodation, make payments or purchase travel insurance.
1. Security in Russia
Travel to Russia is safe. Life is normal in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major Russian cities. However, caution should be exercised when traveling to the regions bordering Ukraine (Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh, Belgorod, Kursk and Bryansk), as well as not to go near the border with Ukraine or to military facilities.
It is also advisable not to make public demonstrations or statements on social networks criticizing the so-called special military operation by the Russian government or questioning the success or work of the Russian military in Ukraine.
Regarding the sanitary risk due to Covid-19, there are no longer sanitary restrictions. As of October 21, 2022, it is no longer necessary to take a PCR test before traveling to Russia.
2. Visa to Rusia
Despite international sanctions, Russian consulates are issuing visas for travel to Russia for tourism, visiting relatives, etc., as usual. Inaddition, since August 1, 2023 it is already possible to apply for an electronic visa.
In summary, the current options are as follows:
Option 1. Electronic visa (E-Visa). A total of 55 nationalities can apply for an electronic visa to Russia, for stays of up to 16 days. The great advantage of the electronic visa is that it is not necessary to go to the consulate or to the Russian visa centers. In this article I explain what conditions you must fulfill, how to apply for it step by step and how to purchase travel insurance online.
Option 2. Regular or paper visa. If you do not meet the conditions required to apply for an electronic visa, then you can apply for a paper or traditional visa, which can be for tourism, business, private travel, etc, and allows longer stays than the electronic visa.
Invitations are still required for regular visas, which can be purchased from Russian tourist companies. However, there is the problem that Western Visa or MasterCard cards are restricted in Russian e-commerce. However, some Russian companies such as iVisa have adapted to this situation and now allow payment with European or American cards (Visa, MasterCard, Maestro or American Express).
Option 3. Travel to Russia without a visa (Visa-Free). There are countries that do not require a visa to travel to Russia, such as Cuba, Colombia, Peru or Venezuela, among others, although under certain conditions. In this case you do not have to apply for a visa, but you must have travel insurance for any eventuality that may arise.
3. Travel insurance
To enter Russia, whether on an e-visa or paper visa, you will need travel insurance with coverage in Russia. It is not easy to find Western insurance companies that offer coverage in Russia, so you will need to use Russian insurance companies.
The problem with purchasing travel insurance with a Russian company is that they do not allow payment with bank cards from outside Russia. However, some Russian companies have adapted to this situation and already allow payment with cards from other countries. In this article I will explain how to get a travel insurance from the Russian company Ingosstrakh paying with a bank card from any country.
4. Flights and ground transportation
It is possible to enter Russia both by plane and by bus. As for the airplane, the problem is that after the international sanctions the European airspace with Russia is closed, so you have to resort to air connections with Russia through third countries. Russian companies such as Aeroflot or S7 Airlines do not fly from Europe, North America or Australia.
From Germany, Austria or Italy there is also the option of using the low cost company Wizz Air, which flies to Yerevan (Armenia).
Other more distant and more expensive connections are via Abu Dhabi (UAE) with Etihad Airways, via Doha (Qatar) with Qatar Airways or via Cairo (Egypt) with EgyptAir. It is also possible to fly to Russia via Tashkent (Uzbekistan) with Uzbekistan Airways or via Casablanca (Morocco) with Royal Air Maroc.
I recommend checking connections through a flight comparator. The problem is that the western flight comparators have removed flights to Russia, so I would recommend you check the through a Russian flight comparator such as OneTwoTrip.
With international sanctions, flights to Russia through other countries have become more expensive. In contrast, domestic 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, Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania) and from there take a bus to enter Russia. The main routes of entry are:
- Fly to Helsinki (Finland)
and take a bus from Helsinki to St. Petersburg. Update: The Finnish Government announced on November 16, 2023 the closure of its four main border crossings (Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa, Imatra and Niirala) until February 18, 2024, so buses currently do not circulate between Finland and Saint Petersburg . This means that, at the moment, to go by bus to Saint Petersburg you have to do it from Tallinn or Riga.
- Fly to Tallinn (Estonia) and take a bus from Tallinn to St. Petersburg.
Several European airlines offer flights to the Baltic republics. For instance, Ryanair offers flights to Helsinki, Lappeenranta, Tampere, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Kaunas, etc.
More information in this article: Flights and buses to travel to Russia in a cost-effective way
Finally, it is worth mentioning that first because of the Covid pandemic and then because of international sanctions, there is no train or ferry service between Helsinki and St. Petersburg. However, trains operate normally in the Russian hinterland.
5. Money, ruble exchange and payments
Before the sanctions everything was simpler: you could pay with any bank card in Russia. Services such as PayPal also worked.
All this has changed completely. Visa and MasterCard cards issued by Russian banks work only in Russia. That is, if a Russian travels abroad, he/she will not be able to pay with his/her Visa or MasterCard. On the other hand, Visa, MasterCard, Maestro or American Express cards issued by banks of other countries do not work in Russia either to pay or to withdraw money from ATMs.
Therefore, if you travel to Russia you have three options, which you can combine:
Option 1: Take cash
Take cash (euros or dollars) with you and once you are in Russia, exchange it to rubles at a bank in Moscow, St.
Petersburg or any other Russian city where you are going to travel. This is a good option for short tourist trips.
Keep in mind the following aspects:
- You can carry a maximum of 10,000 euros or dollars without having to declare them at customs. Of course, you can bring more money, but in this case, you will have to declare them by filling out a form at customs.
- Carry bills without scratches or defects since they may not be accepted at the time of currency exchange.
- Choose a financial institution that offers a good exchange rate. Smaller banks usually offer better exchange rates. Some websites publish the official exchange rates, which allows you to choose the entities that apply the best exchange rate.
- Avoid making change at the airport. If you need rubles at the airport, change only the approximate amount you need.
Option 2: Purchase a UnionPay card before traveling to Russia
The second option is to acquire a UnionPay bank card, a Chinese card that is not subject to sanctions in Russia and currently allows making payments in Russia and withdrawing money at some ATMs in Russia (Gazprombank, Raiffeisen, etc).
It is possible to obtain a UnionPay card with Advcash, although it costs $95 and has a maintenance fee of $2.50 per month.
But always carry your card with you, because in Russia, Apple Pay and Google Pay have suspended their operations.
Option 3: Acquire a bank card in Russia
For longer trips or if you travel to Russia frequently, the best option is to purchase a bank card in Russia.
Currently there are several card options focused on foreigners traveling to Russia:
- 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 specify (either hotel or private apartment). This card can be recharged for free from their mobile app with your personal cards.
- Raiffeisen Bank card, which you can order from their website, although you will need a Russian cell phone number. However, you can also apply for it at one of their bank offices upon arrival in Russia with your passport and immigration card.
- SberBank card, which you can also apply for at any of its bank offices with your passport and immigration card.
More information in this article: How to pay in Russia: cash, cards and rubles
If you want to send money to Russia, most companies have suspended their services with Russia, so you have to resort to other operators such as Profee, Advcash or Unistream. More information in this article: How to send money to Russia (my personal experience)
6. Russian SIM card
It is still highly recommended to purchase a Russian SIM card to connect to Internet at an affordable price. You have two options:
- Purchase an eSIM (electronic SIM) from HolaFly before leaving for your trip. In this case your cell phone must allow the eSIM option and your operator must allow this option.
- Purchase a physical SIM card upon arrival in Russia. This option is cheaper but requires a trip to a physical store upon arrival in Russia.
7. Booking accommodation in Russia
Regarding the reservation of accommodation, either hotels or apartments, the main western booking platforms (booking, Airbnb, etc.) do not allow hotel reservations in Russia so you have to resort to other options.
The best option, in my opinion, is the Russian booking platform Ostrovok, through which you can book Russian hotels and apartments without any problem, many of them with free cancellation. In addition, it allows you to pay with foreign bank cards.
More information in this article: The best alternative to Booking.com and Airbnb in Russia is called Ostrovok
8. In summary
Despite international sanctions and the conflict in Ukraine, it is possible to travel to Russia. The consulates issue visas normally, it is also possible to apply for an electronic visa and life in Russia is completely normal. However, you should be aware of the limitations when taking flights, making payments, or booking accommodation.
I hope this article has been helpful in clearing your doubts. However, if you have questions, you can use the comments area below.