How to visit Russia without getting a visa

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Russia-St-Petersburg-Church-of-our-Saviour-4

Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg

All information in this article is current as of the posting date, but subject to change at any time due to Russian regulations.

Russia’s storied history and grandiose architecture make it a fascinating country to visit, which is why many people have a trip to Moscow’s Red Square or St. Petersburg on their wish list. Unfortunately, residents of most countries require a visa, which can sometimes be a time consuming and expensive process. Fortunately there’s one way around it: cruise to Russia.

russia visa passport cruise st petersburg

Visa free cruise to St Petersburg

The Russia visa free entry program is in place for those docking in St. Petersburg as part of an itinerary with a licensed operator, such as Viking Cruises’ Viking Homelands tour (they also have a longer Russia-only cruise, called Waterways of the Tsars). The program allows passengers to visit the country for up to 72 hours without a visa, provided they stay onboard overnight.

Another important stipulation is that if you want to get off the ship to explore, you can only do so by booking a tour through your cruise ship or a Russian company licensed by the government.

russia visa passport cruise st petersburg
Getting the visa to travel to Russia on a cruise

Once you disembark the ship, you’ll go through immigration at the port to get your passport stamped, and officials will also ask for proof that you’re a passenger on the ship (show them your key card) as well as the tickets for your tour. Depending on how many people are disembarking at once the process can take up to 45 minutes, so be sure to factor that in to ensure you make it through in time.

How to visit Russia without getting a visa

A passport stamp from Russia

You’re also required to stay with your tour company, so don’t get any ideas about breaking away to explore on your own. If the idea of being at the mercy of a tightly-controlled excursion isn’t your idea of a good way to see the city, then there’s one other option: book a private tour with an accredited driver who can take you anywhere you want. Click to book

How to visit Russia without getting a visa

You won’t be able to wander around, say, a shopping district on your own without a visa.

Most cruise ships dock in the port overnight, so you’ll get a couple of days to visit St. Petersburg. To make the most of your time, book a two-day tour that takes in highlights such as Catherine Palace, the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood, the Hermitage, Peterhof Palace and a city tour. Most cruise ships offer this package, as do these independent operators:

 

 

russia visa passport cruise st petersburg

Peterhof Palace near St. Petersburg

Important notes about how to visit Russia

  • If you want to get a Russian tourist visa so you can explore on your own, you cannot apply for one when you visit Russia and must secure one before leaving home.
  • Visitors are required to depart and return to the port with the tour (there are checkpoints), so you cannot try to make it back to the ship on your own.
  • The Russia visa-free entry program only applies to passengers in St. Petersburg. If your cruise continues through Russia as Viking’s Waterways of the Tsars itinerary does, you are required to obtain a Russian tourist visa in advance.

Helpful links:

russia visa passport cruise st petersburg

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This article was originally published in June 2016 and updated in May 2020

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