Who can get one?
If you’ve ever fancied a visit to Russia then it’s just got a whole lot easier for some lucky foreign nationals. You can now get an e-visa for the St Petersburg and Kaliningrad regions. Looking to boost tourism the Russian government has relaxed the visa requirements for visitors from 53 nations. This took effect from 1st October 2019. The good news for EU citizens is that this list includes you; the bad news for UK nationals is that you are an exception and haven’t been included. This may be due to the ongoing Brexit negotiations or other political issues and hopefully, it may change in the future. For a complete list of countries see here.
How does it work?
For these lucky passport holders, gone now is the need to get an invitation, complete an application form, make a personal trip to the Russian embassy, pay the appropriate fee (upwards of €35, dependent on nationality) and wait up to 3 weeks for the visa to arrive. There is now an online application process for a single entry e-visa that takes just 4 days to come through and is free. The e-visa is valid for a visit of up to 8 days, although if you are planning to stay that long you need to read the small print. Day 1 starts at midnight the day you arrive, not the time you enter the country. There is also no longer a requirement to provide an invitation from a tour company or hotel or any other paperwork concerning your visit.
I found the process straightforward when I applied, although they did need a fair amount of detail. You will need the address and phone number for any hotel, hostel, etc. where you may be staying. You will also need to provide your employment details, including the name and address of your employer. Once issued, print it off to take with you. An electronic copy won’t be sufficient.
Where can I use it?
Most people will enter the St Petersburg area through Pulkovo Airport but the visa does allow entry by road from several crossings in Finland and Estonia, by foot from Ivangorod in Estonia and through the ferry/port terminals in St Petersburg. Unfortunately, you can’t yet use the visa for rail crossings between Finland and Russia. The complete list of entry points is here.
For Kaliningrad, you can enter by plane, car, train or boat. The list of entry points is here.
To apply for the visa go to https://evisa.kdmid.ru/en-US
One downside, if it can be considered such, is that the visa is only valid for 30 days from issue. My concern with this was: What if my visa application is declined? Many people are likely to book weeks or months before they plan to travel but then can’t apply for an e-visa until around a month before. If the e-visa is then declined it might mean a last-minute panic to try and get an old fashioned visa from the embassy.
For me, it was a last-minute decision to go. I saw Wizzair was now offering cheap flights from London Luton airport, checked the visa situation and saw it had now changed. So I made a spur of the moment decision to go. St Petersburg has long been on my wish list but the visa process and cost had put me off. I booked my hotel, flights and made the application. 4 days later I received an email confirming my e-visa. What would I have done if it had been declined? I don’t know.
My experience of the system was a positive one and I had a great stay in St Petersburg. I think the e-visa for St Petersburg and Kaliningrad is a great step forward for opening Russia up to foreign tourists and hope it is rolled out further soon. If you want to find out more about my visit then click here.