How to Travel to Russia Without a Visa
Want to visit Russia without paying for a pricey visa? I’m here to tell you that it’s possible but there are a few guidelines.
Last month, I embarked on a journey that landed me in St. Petersburg for a day. You can travel to St. Petersburg by cruise ship and stay up to 72 hours! Most cruise depart from Helsinki, Finland. The journey is approximately 12 hours one way, departing from Helsinki in the evening and arrive in the early morning.
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Where to Book Your Cruise:
I booked my cruise on St. Peter Line. Booking early is crucial if you wish to stay in Russia for the total of 72 hours. I booked a last minute trip and was only given the option of a day trip to St. Petersburg.
About the Cruise:
St. Peter Line is NOT a luxury cruise. The amenities are basic at best and the cruise hasn’t had a face lift since maybe the 80s. You do not have a direct cabin attendant and the rooms are extremely cramped. If you can look pass it, than I recommend checking this cruise out.
The cost for the round trip from Helsinki to St. Petersburg was about €62 for the basic room. The room includes 2 small bed, a tiny shower and washroom. Towels are provided and there is an all in one soap dispenser.
It is MANDATORY to book a tour while visiting St. Petersburg. St. Peter Line automatically adds an additional €25 for their City Bus Tour which is similar to a Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour. The van takes you to 4 main stops and the van runs every 30 minutes.
Booking a Tour:
If the City Bus Tour doesn’t entice you, you have other options but you still have to pay the €25.
You have the option of booking a city tour with the cruise ship. It will cost you another €35. The tour lasts about 4 hours and gives you a small break for lunch.
Your last option is the option I did. I hired my own tour guide. It is more expensive but you get that one on one interaction, and you get an insiders view of the city. I paid about $20/hour for the tour guide and $15/hour for a driver.
The cruise will try to encourage you to purchase the food package. DO NOT PURCHASE IT. There are about 6 other restaurants to choose from and the food package only grants you access to the buffet with mediocre food. It will be a waste of money. Most of the food on the ship are American or Italian food.
Check In Progress:
There are two terminals in the Helsinki Port. I departed out of terminal 1 but make sure you are in the right terminal. The terminals are about 700m away. If you are in terminal 1, head towards the back of the terminal (do not head upstairs yet). You will see a few check in counters. Have your passport and booking number ready for presentation. If you are not from the EU, you will need to show when you entered into Europe via passport stamp. My stamp was unclear. It showed the date clearly but not the country name. MAKE SURE WHEN YOU LEAVE IMMIGRATION AT THE AIRPORT THAT YOUR STAMP IS CLEAR! I pointed out my stamp and the check in agent said that I would have to check with border control to see if it was acceptable.
Once you have checked in, the ticketing agent will give you 4 cards (or more if you purchase additional services). The first card was your boarding card. You will need the boarding card everywhere you go: when you exit the boat, to when you board the boat. You will also need the card to access your room. The room number is listed on your boarding card. The 2nd card is the arrival card. You will hand that to the border control. The 3rd card is the departure card. You will need that to board your City Bus Tour and you will hand that in when you leave St. Petersburg. The last card is a discount card at the duty free store.
Going Through Border Control:
Go upstairs for border control. Have your passport ready for presentation. The officer will look for your entrance passport stamp.
Entering the Boat:
The agent will ask for your boarding pass to scan you in. You will than place your items on the converter belt to be scanned like you do at the airport.
The boat departed as scheduled. The rest of your time will be on the boat. There isn’t much entertainment but places to eat and drink. There were a few slot machines, movie of the day (extra charge), and performers to entertain the kids.
Arriving into St. Petersburg:
I arrived in St. Petersburg around 8am, Helsinki time. Disembark does not begin until 9:30am…. if weather permits. I had a rare case where I was unable to dock for 3 hours due to weather. My tour guide said she never seen that happened ever. Disembarking the ship is a NIGHTMARE. You will disembark on the 4th floor. The 4th floor is also where most of the rooms are located. I DO NOT RECOMMEND WAITING FOR THE GATES TO OPEN. Most people will try to push to the front of the line. There is no order. If you are traveling with a child, you have first priority. You are able to go straight to the front of the line. Until the gates open, I recommend getting a bite to eat on the 6th floor called Coffee and Bakery. It may be the only restaurant open. The director of the ship will make an announcement when disembarking is ready.
Going through Immigration:
Going through immigration is another headache. There is no signs to indicate where to stand. If you are a Russia citizen, head to the left side of the hall. Everyone else must go to the right hall. there are 7 lines. If you are not a EU citizen, you MUST stand in lines 1 to 3. There are no signs that directs you to where to stand. You will need to ask an agent. There will be one long line and the agent will direct you to stand in lines 1 to 3. For all other EU citizens, you are able to stand in any of the lines on the right.
I hope this is helpful in your quest to visit St. Petersburg. Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.