E-visa to Russia has become a hot topic last year, as first Kaliningrad, and then Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast have opened their doors for tourists a little wider. No different from other travelers, we also got excited about the possibility of visiting Russia, without the need for applying for the traditional visa first. The e-visa saves time, stress, and money. If you follow us on Instagram, you probably already know that we have recently spent one weekend in St. Petersburg and another one in Kaliningrad. These were our first two times in Russia, and we are already hungry for more.
But before we share our impressions and tips on what to see in Saint Petersburg and Kaliningrad in a weekend, let’s talk about the Russian e-visa application process. It is relatively easy, but it still requires some time and preparations. In this article, we explain how to obtain Russia e-visa free of charge.
Things to do before Russian e-visa application
Before you start the whole process of Russia electronic visa application, there are three things you should take care of. Without them ready beforehand, filling in the e-visa form will turn into a nightmare.
It seems obvious, and everybody should think about it before applying for an e-visa to Russia, but we didn’t. The photo. Having read the list of requirements that a photo used in Russia e-visa must meet, you realize you will most likely have to visit a professional photographer. The list is long, but it is basically the same as the one for a photo used in an EU member country passport. You can check the exact rules on the website of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Consular department. At this point, our first attempt to applying for an e-visa to Russia ended up in a failure. Thus, have the photo in a JPEG format ready to upload before you start your Russian e-visa application.
The hotel booking confirmation is not an obvious thing to make for an e-visa. Especially, when all the articles regarding the rules of Russia electronic visa application state clearly that, unlike standard visa to Russia, the e-visa does not oblige you to present your hotel reservation. Moreover, even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation confirms it on its website. The trick is, there is still a question about it in the e-visa application form, and you cannot leave the blanks empty.
We got surprised when we saw it halfway the form when first applying for an e-visa, and spent the next few hours looking for a hotel. We were initially planning to use an Airbnb, but got a bit scared and went for booking.com in the end. As we couldn’t be sure we would be granted the e-visas, we focused on those hotels which offer a free cancellation policy. And we recommend this solution. In case you would like to try your luck with Airbnb, using our referral will grant you up to 31 euros discount for your first trip.
UPDATE: The second time, while planning a trip to Kaliningrad, we applied for an e-visa much more in advance. At that moment, we were not completely sure this trip would happen at all. So we decided to risk and not book any hotel. After all, in the electronic visa form, one is asked to name the intended places of stay in the Russian Federation. Therefore, we provided the data of one of the hotels in Kaliningrad but did not reserve the room. We were both granted visas anyway and stayed at another hotel eventually. When crossing the Lithuanian-Russian border, we were asked by the customs workers to provide an address of a place we would stay. Nobody seemed to care it was different than the one given in the electronic form.
Hence, we still think the best solution is to book a place with a free cancellation policy before filling in the Russian e-visa form. If, for any reason, you would prefer not to do it, remember to reserve your hotel before crossing the border, as you may be asked for an address. This rule doesn’t apply to those who are visiting somebody in Russia and are staying at this person’s place. In such a case, just provide your host’s address.
Undoubtedly, even as a Russia e-visa holder, you still need a passport to cross the border. Above all, there are two important requirements your passport needs to meet:
- It must be valid for at least 6 months (depending on the source, either from the date you applied for an e-visa to Russia or from the last day of your stay in the Russian Federation)*,
- There must be free space for border crossing stamps.
*UPDATE: I had a rare opportunity to test the 6 months passport validity rule on myself. We were visiting Kaliningrad in the second half of December, while my passport expires in the first half of June the following year. The math is simple: by the time I would enter Russia, my document would be valid for less than half a year. And so I took some steps to clear this out. I contacted these two institutions:
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Consular department (the one responsible for issuing e-visas),
- Russian Embassy in my home country (Poland).
Both confirmed that, when it comes to the e-visa, this rule applies:
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months from the date you applied for an e-visa.
And so I applied for an e-visa to Kaliningrad Oblast when my passport was still valid for more than 6 months and crossed the Russian border with less than 6 months until expiration. At the same time, I stuck to the rule saying I can apply no earlier than 20 and no later than 4 days before the intended date of entry to Russia. Fortunately, I had no problems both during the application process and during the border crossing.
E-visa to Russia step by step
First of all, there is only one official website where you can apply for Russia e-visa free of charge, and it is the website of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Consular department. At the time we were requesting the e-visa to Russia for the first time, it did not have the highest rank in Google. However, we hope this would change in the future. The thing is, before we got to the right website, we virtually visited a few agencies offering the same service for a fee. Please, be aware that you can, and should, get the Russian e-visa for free. If you are suddenly asked for your credit card details during the application process, it means you are on the wrong website.
As mentioned before, the Russia electronic visa application needs to be filled in no earlier than 20 and no later than 4 days before your planned arrival on the territory of the Russian Federation. Your single-entry e-visa will be valid for 30 days, but you are only allowed to stay in Russia for up to 8 days. The processing of your application will take no more than 4 calendar days.
Russia e-visa step 1: too long, don’t read?
The first step of Russia electronic visa application is visiting the website of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Consular department. Here, all the rules of obtaining the e-visa to Russia for free are stated explicitly. The text is long, but it is worth reading carefully so that you get familiar with all the requirements. Hence, prepare a cup of coffee or tea, sit down on a comfortable chair and don’t let anything distract you for the next half an hour or so.
Start with choosing your nationality so that you know for sure which areas of Russia can you visit holding an electronic visa. Citizens of the European Union can apply for Russia e-visa Kaliningrad Oblast or Russia e-visa St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast. Citizens of some other countries can apply for an e-visa to Far Eastern Federal District, as well. Depending on the country you come from, you may be eligible to obtain an e-visa to each of these areas or only one or two of them. Remember that you can only apply for an electronic visa to one of the regions in Russia at a time.
Furthermore, as you go through the text, you will get the answers to all of your questions. Among the most crucial information, you will find out about:
- All the checkpoints you can use to enter Russia as an e-visa holder,
- The rules on counting the time of your stay in Russia with an e-visa (it is 8 days, but it does not equal 192 hours),
- The correct way of typing your surname and given names in case they contain characters of the national alphabet which are not present in the Latin one.
Having read the whole text, agree to the conditions of the e-visa issuance, the automatic processing, and the automatic messages regarding your e-visa status. Proceed to the next step by clicking Fill out a new application form.
Russia e-visa step 2: e-mail address
In step 2 of the Russian e-visa application, you are asked to provide your e-mail address and set a password. This e-mail will only be used to send automatic messages about your Russia e-visa status, so you can choose your main address with no worries. There will be no publicity coming to your inbox.
Russia e-visa step 3: identification number
Here comes the most important number. In this step of your application for an e-visa to Russia, you will finally get your identification number. Write it down, just in case. Anyhow, it will be sent to the e-mail address you provided in the previous step.
Russia e-visa step 4: personal data
Grab your passport, as you will need it in this part of the Russian e-visa application form. Time for your personal data. You will be asked to choose your nationality once again and provide your surname, given names, sex, as well as the date and place of birth. Make sure the data you type in is the same as in your passport.
Russia e-visa step 5: visit details
Step 5 of Russia electronic visa application concerns the details of your visit to the Russian Federation. At first, you need to specify the purpose of your visit. It can be tourism, or business, or humanitarian. The most common one is obviously tourism, and this was also our choice in both cases.
Secondly, you choose your visit area one more time. The next blank to fill in is your date of entry to Russia. Please, note that this is an intended date only, and it may change in the end. Our case is the best example. When going to Saint Petersburg, we were planning to enter Russia on Friday, but due to the queues on the border, we crossed it after midnight, already on Saturday.
The next information you should provide are the intended places of stay in the Russian Federation. As we said before, although officially the hotel reservation is not required, you should have it anyway.
Last but not least, if you have ever traveled to Russia before, you should list all your previous visits, including the dates. Good luck if you’ve been to Russia many times over the past 15 years or so.
Russia e-visa step 6: passport
To fill in this part of the Russian e-visa application, reach for your passport once again. It is time to indicate this document details. Choose the type of your passport, its number, as well as dates of issue and expiry.
Russia e-visa step 7: residential address and occupation
Here comes the most surprising part of the Russia electronic visa application form. The data you must provide may seem irrelevant, and maybe even too personal. But if you want to obtain an e-visa to Russia, you must play by the rules. Indicating a permanent residential address is relatively easy. As we live abroad, we technically have two of those, though. Thus, we decided to go with the most factual one and stated we live in Tallinn.
The next question concerns your work position, address, telephone number, and e-mail. It was a little tricky to me, as a freelancer with several employers. I decided to go with the one I work for regularly, based in Poland. Being a remote worker, I was a bit skeptical, since my employer’s address is in a different country than my residence, but I got the e-visa anyway. Twice. Honesty is the key.
Russia e-visa step 8: relatives in Russia
In case you have relatives who live in Russia, you will need some time to fill in the blanks in the next step of your e-visa to Russia application, as you shall provide the information of every one of them. Otherwise, choose “no” as an answer and proceed to step 9.
Russia e-visa step 9: the photo
Step 9 of the Russian e-visa application is simple: you need to upload your photo, which meets the requirements we mentioned before. It should be in the JPEG format.
Russia e-visa step 10: waiting time
That’s all! You have just filled in the Russia electronic visa application form. By now, you should have got a confirmation to your e-mail address. The processing has started. Come back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Consular department website to check your Russia e-visa status every now and then. In our case, it took two days to obtain an e-visa to Russia, both to Saint Petersburg and to Kaliningrad. In each of these cases, we filled in the form on Sunday and received a notice on Tuesday. Not at the same time, though, despite the fact that we sent our applications at the very same moment.
Things to do after Russian e-visa application
Once you are a proud holder of an e-visa to Russia, you can start preparing your travel itinerary. In the meantime, there are two more things you should take care of so that the border crossing process goes smooth.
Get medical insurance
You are obliged to have a medical insurance valid on the territory of Russia during the entire time of your stay. Although the official website for the Russian e-visa application does not specify the insurance amount, other sources state it should be a minimum of 30 000 euros.
Print out all the documents
For your own comfort, print out all the documents required to cross the Russian border. To sum up, when entering the territory of the Russian Federation, you should be able to produce:
- Russian e-visa,
- Health insurance.
We are not saying it wouldn’t be possible to present all these documents in an electronic version (except for a passport). Furthermore, you may never even be asked to show the medical insurance. But forewarned is forearmed.
Entering Russia by car
Call us crazy, but we decided to go for our first-ever trip to Russia by car. It seemed the most comfortable and the cheapest solution, as we currently live only 200 km from the Russian border. To our surprise, there was not much bureaucracy to do before the trip. According to some sources, it is a good idea to have an international driving license. But, even though we always take care of all the formalities, we somehow didn’t think about that. And then, when we were driving through Saint Petersburg, we were stopped for police control. The policeman was kind and didn’t find any reason to fine us, but still asked for all the documents, and the EU driving license turned out to be sufficient.
If you are planning to enter Russia by car, the only extra document you will need is a green card. In our case, issuing a green card was as easy as applying for it online, on our car insurance company’s website. A few days later, we found it in our post box. It was free of charge. Our van is registered in Estonia, though. Therefore, we are not sure whether issuing a green card goes that smooth in other countries, as well.
Crossing the border with Leningrad Oblast
Crossing the Russian border is another story and has nothing to do with ease or smoothness. As we were driving from Tallinn to Saint Petersburg, we had to go through the checkpoint Narva – Ivangorod. We arrived at the border in Narva at about 18:30 and cleared the customs on the Russian side at about 2:30 local time. Considering the time zone change, driving through the 300 meters long bridge over the river Narva took us 6 hours. Could we have saved some of this time? Now, wiser after the event, we know we could.
First of all, if you decide to enter the Russian Federation by car from Estonia, you can book your spot on the Estonian side of the border. You need to do it well in advance, though. We tried a few days before the trip, once we got the e-visas, but it was already impossible. In order to reserve the spot in the queue, visit the GoSwift website and follow the instructions. Even if you don’t make a booking, you can still check the border queues info, including the waiting time (only for the Estonian checkpoint).
Once you pass the Estonian checkpoint, you get to the one on the Russian side. The most important document you will be asked to fill in there is the Passenger Customs Declaration. We struggled a lot with this one, as there were no clear instructions on how to do it properly. The lady in the booth was speaking English, but her words were limited to: “Wrong. Please, fill in the form correctly.” Eventually, we learned we should hand in two identical forms, filled in by the driver.
Sometime after our trip to Saint Petersburg, I realized there is a very informative website of the Federal customs service, available in English. I also learned there is a pdf file with the declaration there. Apparently, you can download and complete it in advance (we were only given two first pages at the border). Better late than never.
Crossing the border with Kaliningrad Oblast
Since our first road trip to Russia turned out to be such a success, we decided to visit the Kaliningrad Oblast by car, as well. This time it was a much more pleasant experience, with no irony.
We entered Kaliningrad using the Panemunė – Sovetsk checkpoint. Panemunė is said to be the smallest city in Lithuania. Having driven all the way through it, we think calling it a town would already be an exaggeration. Except for the one leading to the border, the roads in Panemunė are not even paved.
We don’t know whether we were lucky or this border crossing is never crowded, but once we got there, there were only a few cars in the queue on the Lithuanian side. It still took more than an hour to cross this checkpoint, though. Comparing to our adventures in Estonian Narva, it was still a piece of cake.
Russian checkpoint was so much different from the one in Ivangorod. The customs workers were all very friendly and extremely helpful. Neither of them spoke English, but they still did their best to ease the crossing. Since I only speak basic Russian, everybody was talking slowly, using simpler words when needed. Although this time we filled in and printed out the Passenger Customs Declaration beforehand, it turned out to have some mistakes, again. We appreciate the patience of the official who took care that the document was neatly done and who didn’t get discouraged even though it required three or four attempts in total. He even praised us in the end! All in all, since our arrival in Panemunė until official arrival in Russia, it was less than three hours!
Traveling to Russia with a dog
You guessed it! Fabio, our dog, travels with us everywhere, and Russia was no exception. Taking a dog to Saint Petersburg and Kaliningrad was easier than we expected, but there were still some documents we had to apply for, some vet appointments we had to arrange, and some other requirements we had to meet. Hence, I decided to write a separate blog post about traveling to Russia with a dog. I hope it clears all your doubts!