Getting There in RussiaEdit This
Passports & Visas
All visitors must have a valid visa afixed to the passport prior to entering Russia with the exception of Cruise ship passengers arriving at the port of St Petersburg. This visa waiver is for those who make advanced arrangements for guided tours from authorized tour companies.
The most common visas for visitors are the Tourist. Business and Homestay Visas. The Tourist is good for a maximum of 30 days and cannot be extended from within Russia. Business visas can be 30, 60, 90 180 and 365 day maximum duration. Foreigners are required to submit an AIDS certificate when applying for visas with durations of longer than 3 months. A Homestay Visa is intended for those invited to stay in the home of a Russian citizen friend or relative and is available in durations up to 3 months.
Check the Russian Embassy online for the most accurate and recent info. There are slight variations between local Russian Consulate visa application procedures in different countries. A visa application form, passport type photo and an invitation from your hosting organization or hotel.
An extention or renewal is not possible from within Russia so long term visitor can renew visas by exiting Russia and applying for a new visa in any other country. The standard processing time at the consulate is 7 days but shorter processing times are available down to 1 hour at some consulates. The consular fees increase for shorter reqested procssing times.
If you need to identify your self, as in any country away from home, the only valid form of ID is your passport. Don't lose it, a replacement can take some time and a visitor without a passport must leave the country within a short period. Booking a hotel room, getting cell phone accouts, booking train or bus travel will all require showing your passport.
Foreigners living in Russia have plenty of stories to tell about militsiya and passports. It ranges from simple stops on the subway, to bribe extortions and/or jail time hopefully with help from an influential person to convince the guards to let you out early. Generally speaking all those stories are 3rd or 4th hand and not easy to verify. Asking the same person if it has happened to them personally will usually result "no" as the answer. People from the Caucasus region can expect to be checked for proper visa and passport. Advice? Always have a valid passport and visa.
Aerflot has offered deals a couple times a year from major US hub cities to Moscow. It is a deep discount to watch out for. Other airlines these days definitely compete for that discounted rate, though. Take your time and shop for the best deal below $1000 roundtrip. I flew in on Scandinavian and out on Aeroflot. Discount European airlines are now flying into Russian major cities for ticket prices 1/2 to 1/5 that of train tickets. GermanWings for example has flights from German cities to Moscow for less than 40 euros
For someone on a budget the train was the best choice for travel between Western Russia and European countries. Now, however there are discount flights and bus service for lower prices. Russian trains in the 2nd class and 1st class cabins are indeed very comfortable. It is economical and easy to sleep on the train if you're going overnight amd have booked a sleeping cabin. Other classes offer seating which are much less expensive and fine for shorter trips. Russian train stations are based out of or near Metro stations around Moscow. Train destinations are organized by region: western Europe, the Caucasus, Ukraine, Eastern Russia, commuter cities, etc. One train station serves one region. Be sure to check you have the right train station; they're spaced far, far apart from each other in the city. It would be a pain to drag bags and bags of luggage across town on the Metro because you arrived at the wrong train station. Ticket sales are run by government employees and independent ticket sellers. Agents or independent sellers add a small commission to the offical ticket price. If you make sure you understand where the station is for your destination and what your ticket says, then it should be a breeze from there.
There will be a customs stop right at the border to check passports (regardless of the hour). Trains have the easiest customs and passport control procedures, with only a brief stop to pick uip customs and imigrations official who process entry for passengers while the train travels to the border where the officals get off.
Except for express trains running between Mosocw and St Petersburg, most Russian trains are slower and have rougher tracks than Scandinavian or European routes but the cabins can be quite cozy and relaxing for longer trips.
There is bus service to and between European cities. This is sometimes cheapest way to go, but it is also less comfortable than a sleeping cabin on the train. Quality buses are used on most routes so short trips can be quite convenient and accessible.
Russian transportation vocab
Mozhna kupit... = Can one buy...
platit = to pay (for)
Da, mozhna. = Yes, it's possible.
Nyet, ne mozhna. = No, you can't (sometimes absolutely not).
Da nyet. = May be.
tooda ee obratna = there and back (round trip)
adin poot = one way
bilyet = ticket
veeza = visa
vogzal = train station
stansiya metro = subway station
astanofka = bus stop
passport = passport
samolyet = plane
pa-yezd = train
AFtoboos = bus
zaits = hare (aka someone who cheats the fare and rides for free)