Russian Federation (2009)

This trip was my first visit to the cities of Moscow and Syktyvkar and I traveled there together with my husband. We put quite some time into planning this visit in order to make as much use as possible of the little time we had available.

I'll also provide links and information that might help others that are planning their own vacation. If there are any questions, feel free to drop me a note. Please keep in mind though that I am neither a travel agent nor a tour operator so I won't perform any hotel bookings or organize concert tickets. = : )
If you are only looking for pictures of those cities, you can fast forward by using the drop down menu on the left. I hope you'll enjoy your stay at

General site disclaimer: Rules change. So do telephone numbers, opening hours, travel information and website addresses to name a few. I cannot accept any responsibility for any consequences arising from the use of information provided on its pages, nor for any material on third party websites and cannot guarantee that any third party websites listed will be a suitable source of travel information. 

Before departure

I applied for my tourist visa at the Consulate of the Russian Federation in Ottawa, Canada. 

I followed the instructions on their 
website, provided the appropriate documents and received my visa within one (1) working day. The visa fee depends on nationality of the applicant and how much a visa for Russian citizens cost to travel to your country. 

In order to be able to get a visa, you need to present invitation(s) to the embassy. And no, I don't mean dinner invitations. There are specific types of invitations (AKA visa support) used for private stay, tourist, transit, student and business. For more details check out the website of RussiaToday. We were applying for a tourist visa. If you book hotels independently from each other (to gain flexibility and/or save money) you would need separate invitations from each hotel for each period of stay. Say you are going to stay there three weeks in two hotels: first week in Moscow, second week in St.Petersburg and third one in Moscow at the same hotel as the first time. In this case you would need three invitations that are covering your stay back to back without gaps. Two of those invitations are going to be from the same hotel and yes, that's right, you are going to pay the administrative fees for issuing the invitations three times (two of them to the same hotel). 

If you decide to save and book all your hotels via a travel agent then you would receive just one invitation with your full itinerary. We have used IntelService and AnyWayAnyDay (which does not deal with invitations/visa issues but does provide deeply discounted rates on flexible conditions for both air travel and hotels). IntelService seems to be very flexible and can convert your existing reservations into their tour (if your price or conditions are better then theirs). The only thing to watch for is that the spelling of your name and/or itinerary is correct. In our case they seemed to be overworked and did get it wrong. Just ask them to correct it. They also operate and  properties. You can also check out AcademService. We have never used them but they passed our shortlisting criteria.

The invitation is an official form with a reference number, registration number of the issuing entity (hotel, travel agency, railroad etc), name of the entity and their seal. Only officially registered entities that have posted a security bond can issue tourist invitations. Google around to see how such an invitation should look like and check if your hotel/travel agency is allowed to issue tourist invitations at Rosturizm. This website is unfortunately Russian only but you can use the search feature (screen centre) and you can provide either the Cyrillic name (partial is Ok) or the registration number.

Air travel

Our route brought us from Montreal via Munich to Moscow where we stayed a few days and then continued to Syktyvkar. After a few days we returned to Moscow for a little breath-taking before the long flight back to Montreal, again via Munich. 

All international flights were operated by Lufthansa. Economy class on all legs. I actually enjoyed all segments besides the one from Munich back to Montreal, but well, that's a good three out of four, right? :)

From Moscow to Syktyvkar we flew with UTair. On the way there we flew Business Class since Economy was sold out. On the way back, we chose Economy again. The seats were the same in both classes (may be a little bit more comfortable in Business), but in Business they treat you with all different kinds of nice foods. The service was friendly both times (again perhaps a little bit more attention paid to those in Business). 
Since it is quite a short flight of about 2 hours, the main reason to go for a Business Class ticket would be if I need to pass a lot of time at the airport. The Business Lounge makes up for the extra fee.

Registration in Russia

According to Russian law, your Russian visa must be registered within 3 business days upon your arrival. If you stay in a hotel, the reception should take care of that, but it won't hurt to double check when you make your hotel booking. They usually charge a small fee for the service. 

If you stay at a private home, your visa must be registered by your landlord.  He/She needs to register it in the local post office or police station.

Once you got your confirmation of registration you should carry it with you in your passport at all times (it is also a separate insert into your passport). During the first three days after arrival you should carry some kind of proof that you had arrived less than three business days ago (tickets, hotel bills etc).

When moving inside of Russia you will need to unregister and register anew at the next place.

Hold on to your migration card which you will receive upon entering Russia (it is the second half of the card you filled out after landing). You will need it again when you leave the country. Don't loose it!

Before leaving Russia you should unregister at the last place you were staying.

Walking the streets of Russia

Outside of the Caucasus region you should take the same precaution against crime as you would take in a North American city comparable in size. For the Caucasus region and other travel advisories see US State Department safety and crime advisories for Russia or check the website of your respective Ministry of Foreign Affairs for travel information/advisories. Pay especial attention to the advisories if you or one of the persons accompanying you are of a visual minority.

Remember that in Russia tourists should always have valid documentation with themselves. Photocopies of documents might work sometimes but officially they are not allowed. Russian police officers ("milicia") have the right to ask for valid documents like passport with visa, registration slip and migration card.

Have your papers in order

Make sure you have proper documents when you travel to Russia. If you are a tourist, get a tourist visa. If you go there for work, get a business visa. There are huge number of travel agencies out there that are willing to provide you with fake invitations that are stating invented itineraries, fake bookings and/or conferences you never going to attend. All of this in the name of convenience. The thing is, you do not need to fake your schedule. You know what you want to see there and you know where you are going to stay. Say, you want to go on a long train ride from the East to the West and you do not stop over anywhere for longer than 48 hours. That's not a big deal either - railway lines issue invitations for their customers, too. 

Just think practically - if you do not speak Russian or do not understand fully local customs and your rights and obligations, maybe you do not want to stay in a cheap privately rented flat where the hosts might not be aware about the legal procedures involved with registering and unregistering you at their address. Stick with the known hotel chains or the expensive local hotels that deal with foreigners all the time. There most likely will be no problems with getting your visa registered (and upon departure unregistered again) as it should be. 

Carry a cell phone with you

As in most places, it's a good idea to carry a cell phone with you when travelling in Russia. Add the phone numbers of your local Embassy or Consulate and the phone numbers for the local police to your address book. Russian SIM cards for many popular brands of GSM phones can be purchased at shopping malls and kiosks in major Russian cities for about USD 5, there are even providers that offer free SIM cards for prepaid airtime of a minimum of roughly 200 RUB (currently roughly 7 CAD/6.6 USD/5 EUR). In Moscow, many cellular kiosks are open 24 hours a day. Even if you have no GSM phone, you can just buy a new, unlocked GSM starting from about 30 USD.

Emergency phone numbers for Police / rescue service 

If you are able to speak a bit of Russian, enough to identify yourself, your location and to describe the problem, call 01 for firefighters, 02 for police and 03 for ambulance.

If you do not speak Russian at all but you have a GSM phone (obviously one that generally does work in Russia; this can also be a roaming foreign GSM phone that you can make phone calls in Russia with), then dial 112 which connects you to the rescue service by the service provider that handles your phone calls over there and they speak both English and Russian and will arrange help for you. The service is free of charge.

What to do if you get approached by police at random

There are lots of stories, most of them quite old ones, out there about being approached - out of the blue - by one or more police officers, demanding your documentation. The thing is, they might not actually be police officers in the first place. Just some crooks with fake IDs and uniforms. How can you distinguish them from the real ones? You most likely won't. 

Be confident and ask them for their identification first. It is a perfectly fine request, since you would like to know whom you're talking to. Don't be rude or aggressive, it won't benefit you.

Chances are, if they approached you without any reason, that they are crooks and want your money. The best thing to do, is to phone POLICE (or your embassy if you don't speak Russian). Ironic, isn't it? :)  It is quite likely, that if they just wanted to get a few bucks from you, they will leave you right there, looking for a different target that is easier to get money from.

If your documents are in order, you have nothing to worry about. 

By current law, Russian police can only detain a foreigner on an immigration violation for three hours, and they cannot arrest you unless you have been caught committing a criminal act. Unless you have committed a crime, they cannot touch you or use force. You are NOT obligated to give the police your passport, only to show it to them, and you can insist on turning the page to the appropriate visa yourself. 

If your documents are NOT in order (like you never bothered to register) currently the maximum FINE for an infraction on immigration rules is between 2000 and 5000 RUB (currently 47 to 119 EUR or 66 to 166 USD) and that is it. Don't forget to ask for your receipt. How much fine is being charged within that range is up to the police officer.

However, be aware that if you obtained your visa fraudulently (such as with an invented schedule, fake bookings in the hotels etc) and the police (real) is able and bothered enough to prove it, then you might get charged with fraud which is obviously a felony. Be your own judge - what would be considered an offense in your own country, most likely would be considered an offense in Russia, too. 

Other tips

Mind your step

I found out the hard way, that there are steps and slopes in sometimes unexpected (at least for me) locations at least all over Moscow and Syktyvkar. Mind your step, else a strained ankle might spoil the impression a bit.

Moscow                               Syktyvkar

General site disclaimer
: Rules change. So do telephone numbers, opening hours, travel information and website addresses to name a few. I cannot accept any responsibility for any consequences arising from the use of information provided on its pages, nor for any material on third party websites and cannot guarantee that any third party websites listed will be a suitable source of travel information.