RUSSIA ENTRY REQUIREMENT
The Russian government maintains a restrictive and complicated visa regime for foreign travelers who visit, transit, or reside in the Russian Federation. The Russian system includes requirements of sponsorship, visas for entry and exit, migration cards, and registration. American citizens who also carry Russian passports face additional complicated regulations. Dual citizen minors who travel on their Russian passports also face special problems.
Russian immigration and visa laws change regularly. The implementation of immigration laws has not always been transparent or predictable. In addition, Russian Immigration officials at times implement laws and regulations governing entry and exit inconsistently, especially in remote areas.
The Russian government does not recognize the standing of U.S. consular officers to intervene in visa cases. The U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia is not able to act as sponsor, submit visa applications, register private travelers, or request that visas or migration cards be corrected, replaced, or extended.
Before traveling to Russia, U.S. citizens should verify the latest requirements with the nearest Russian Embassy or Consulate (for contact information for the Russian Embassy and Consulates in the United States, please refer to the last paragraph of this section).
U.S. citizens must always possess a valid U.S. passport and appropriate visas for travel to or transit through Russia, whether by train, car, ship or airplane. It is impossible to obtain a Russian entry visa upon arrival. Travelers must obtain visas in advance of travel from a Russian Embassy or Consulate in the U.S. or in a third country. Travelers who arrive without an entry visa are not permitted to enter Russia and face immediate expulsion by route of entry, at the traveler’s expense.
U.S. citizens transiting Russia in route to any other country are advised to have transit visas. It is theoretically possible to transit Russia without a visa but in several instances, travelers experienced great delays and hardships because they did not have a transit visa. Similarly, Russia-bound U.S. citizens attempting to transit Belarus or Ukraine or the Central Asian republics without visas, have encountered great difficulties. U.S. citizens are strongly advised to check the visa requirements for all countries on their itinerary.
A Russia entry/exit visa has two dates written in the European style (day, month, year). The first date indicates the earliest day a traveler may enter Russia; the second date indicates the date by which a traveler must leave Russia. A Russian visa is only valid for those exact dates.
Russian tourist visas are often granted only for the specific dates mentioned in the invitation letter provided by the sponsor. United States citizens often receive visas only valid for periods as short as four days. Even if the visa is misdated through error of a Russian Embassy or Consulate, the traveler will still not be allowed into Russia before the visa start date or be allowed to leave after the visa expiration date. Any mistakes in visa dates must be corrected before the traveler enters Russia. It is helpful to have someone who reads Russian check the visa before departing the United States.
Visas are valid for specific purposes and dates. Travelers should ensure that they apply for and receive the correct visa that reflects their intended action in Russia (i.e., student visa, religious worker visa, commercial visa). Foreigners can be expelled for engaging in activities inconsistent with their visas.
All travelers must continue to list on the visa application all areas to be visited and subsequently register with authorities at each destination. There are several closed cities throughout Russia. Travelers who attempt to enter these cities without prior authorization are subject to fines, court hearings and/or deportation. Travelers should check with their sponsor, hotel, or the nearest Russian visa and passport office before traveling to unfamiliar cities and towns.
Under Russian law, every foreign traveler must have a Russian-based sponsor (a hotel, tour company, relative, employer, etc). The official sponsor is listed on the visa. Generally speaking, visas sponsored by Russian individuals are “guest” visas, and visas sponsored by tour agencies or hotels are “tourist” visas. Note that travelers who enter Russia on “tourist” visas, but who then reside with Russian individuals, may have difficulty registering their visas and migration cards and may be required by Russian authorities to depart Russia sooner than they had planned.
Even if a visa was obtained through a travel agency in the U.S., there is always a Russian legal entity whose name is indicated on the visa and who is considered to be the legal sponsor. It is important for travelers to know who the legal sponsor is and how to contact it. Russian law requires that the sponsor must apply on the traveler’s behalf for replacement, extension, or changes to a Russian visa. U.S. citizens are strongly advised to obtain from their tour company or hotel, in advance, the contact information of the visa sponsor.
To resolve any visa difficulties (lost visa, expired visa), the traveler’s sponsor must contact the nearest Russian visa and passport office (OVIR/UVIR) for assistance. Resolving the visa problem usually requires the payment of a fee and a wait of up to twenty calendar days.
A valid visa is necessary to depart Russia. Generally, the visa issued by a Russian Embassy or Consulate is valid for entry and exit. It is helpful to make a photocopy of your visa in the event of loss, but note that a copy of your visa will not be sufficient for leaving the country, as Russian border officials always ask for the original.
Visitors who lose or have their U.S. passport and Russian visa stolen must replace their passport at the U.S. Embassy or one of the Consulates General, and then obtain a new visa to depart with the assistance of their sponsor (see above). Without a valid visa in their new United States passports, U.S. citizens cannot leave Russia.
Travelers, who overstay their visa’s validity, even for one day, will be prevented from leaving until their sponsor intervenes and requests a visa extension on their behalf (see above). United States citizens without valid visas face significant delays in leaving Russia and may have trouble finding adequate accommodation. By Russian law, travelers with an expired visa may not check in at any hotel, guesthouse, hostel, or other lodging establishment in Russia. There are no adequate public shelters or safe havens in Russia and the Embassy or the Consulates General have no means to accommodate such stranded travelers.
Visas for student and English teachers sometimes allow only one entry. In these cases, the sponsoring school is responsible for registering the visa and migration card and obtaining an exit visa. Obtaining an exit visa can take up to twenty days so students and teachers need to plan accordingly.
All foreigners entering Russia must fill out a migration card, depositing one part with immigration authorities at the port of entry and holding on to the other part for the duration of their stay. Upon exit, the migration card, which serves as a statistical tool and a record of entry, exit, and registration, must be submitted to immigration authorities. The card is also necessary to register at hotels.
Migration cards, in theory, are available at all ports of entry from Russian immigration officials (Border Guards). The cards are generally left in literature racks at arrival points. Officials at borders and airports usually do not point out these cards to travelers and it is up to the travelers to find them and fill them out. From time to time, various ports of entry – even the major international airport in Moscow – run out of these cards. There is no mechanism to obtain such cards once a traveler has entered into Russia. The Russian government has not indicated what a traveler should do in such a case.
Lost/stolen migration cards cannot be replaced. While authorities will not prevent foreigners who have lost their migration cards and have not replaced them with a duplicate from leaving the country, foreigners could experience problems when trying to reenter Russia at a future date.
Travelers who spend more than three days in the country must register their visa and migration card through their sponsor. However, travelers spending less than three days are advised to register their visas as well, since they may encounter problems finding lodging without proper registration. Travelers staying in a hotel must register their visa and migration card with their hotel within one day. A failure to register is unlikely to result in problems leaving Russia but travelers could experience problems when trying to reenter Russia at a future date.
Police have the authority to stop people and request their documents at any time without cause. Due to the possibility of random document checks by police, U.S. citizens should carry their original passports, registered migration cards, and visas with them at all times. Failure to provide proper documentation can result in detention and/or heavy fines. It is not necessary for travelers to have either entry or itinerary points in the Russian Federation printed on their visas.
American Citizens Also Holding Russian Passports
The United States government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. It expects American citizens to travel on U.S. passports. However, possessing and traveling on a Russian passport, outside of the United States, does not negate a traveler’s American citizenship. American citizens who choose to enter Russia on a Russian passport do face several possible difficulties.
U.S. citizens who have at one time held Russian citizenship are often required to renounce Russian citizenship before applying for a Russian visa in their U.S. passport. Unless a Russian citizen has formally renounced his or her Russian citizenship through a Russian Embassy or Consulate, he or she always risks being considered a Russian citizen and not allowed to depart on any travel document except a Russian passport. This can also interfere with access to U.S. consular services in case of an emergency. This risk is greatly diminished if the traveler enters Russia on a U.S. passport and Russian visa.
Such persons should also be aware that if their Russian passport has expired before entry or expires after entry, Russian authorities will not permit them to depart Russia using their U.S. passports. They will be required to obtain a new Russian passport – a process that generally takes several months. Russian external passports extended by Russian Consulates or Embassies overseas are not considered valid for departure from Russia no matter how long the extension. Bearers of such passports will have to apply for a new passport inside the country.
Males of conscript age (18 – 27 years old) who are deemed to be Russian citizens may experience problems if they have not satisfied their military service requirement.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child’s travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian if not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.
American citizen minors, who also have Russian citizenship, and who are traveling on their Russian passports, must have a power-of-attorney, written in Russian, allowing them to travel if they are traveling alone or in the company of adults who are not their parents. Such minors will be prevented from leaving Russia if they cannot present such a power-of-attorney.