Russia can be an incredible and exciting country to visit but it could also be intimidating and stressful – a disaster in waiting. From picturesque landscapes to architectural feats, this country has many faces that one has to be careful with. Here are some tips for a worry-less and fun-filled wanderlust to the world’s biggest country.
1. Visa is not as complicated as it looks like. The requirements are:
- Passport with 6-months validity
- Application form (get from online from your country’s embassy) with 3x4cm photo
- Travel agency’s tourist voucher/invitation letter and confirmation receipt
- Medical insurance
- Flights (entry and exit)
Visa alone costs 80$ and you need to personally apply.
If you need a cheap agency to get an invitation letter, use OSTWEST.COM for $14. I shopped around for a cheaper agency and this is the best and cheapest agent. It is accredited with the Russian embassy and it was the consul who recommended it to us after a series of emails. [Always check with the embassy if your agency is accredited or not.]
Medical Insurance – this is required. Use GoingRus for $5 only.
2. At the border immigration, you will be issued a migration / arrival card. Do not lose it.
3. Register within 7 days of your stay in Russia. Also, if you stay in one city for 7 days, you need to register again and on that city. Your hotel/hostel will register you with your visa, passport and migration card. Your hotel will give you a receipt of registration, in case they don’t, don’t be alarmed. The receipt is not required. Have a soft / online copy of your passport and visa.
4. Download / Install an offline map (maps.me). It will help you survive. When we were in Irkutsk, we took the local bus (2 hours) from Listvyanka. The locals cannot speak English so we have to show our map to help us direct to our hostel.
5. The cheapest way to get from the DME Moscow airport to/from the city center (Zamoskvoretskaya metro station) is via bus 308 for 100 RUB or 1.7$ for 30-45 minutes. It is just outside the terminal entrance before the train station. Signs are everywhere or ask the airport ushers. Tell the bus driver you are getting off at the metro.
6. Metro cost in Moscow is 50RUB or 0.8$.
7. The cheapest way to get from/to the Pulkovo Terminal St Petersburg airport to/from the city center (metro) is via Bus 39E for 85 RUB or 1.5$ for 30 mins.
8. Metro cost in St Petersburg is 45RUB .
9. The cheapest way to get from/to the Murmansk airport to/from the city center (metro) is via Bus 80 for 15 RUB or 0.3$ for 30 mins. Use your offline map to look for it. It is located just outside the train terminal and near the McDonalds. This McDonalds is the northernmost branch of this fast food chain!
10. Traffic is terrible in Moscow. Do not change terminal if you only have 3 hours or less layover. There are 3 main terminals in Moscow located far away from one another.
11. When you travel during winter, bring gloves, hood, face mask and thermal clothes. It is really biting cold! Bring spare batteries for your camera. Sometimes, cold will freeze your old ones.
12. I booked our hostels via booking.com. Payment is on arrival, never credit card. I send an email to each of our hostel to ask for the easiest direction to their location.
13. All Russian airlines (even the budget) offer free food in flight. S7 has free champagne! Who doesn’t like freebies?! Aeroflot has free tea / coffee aside from the food. We tried S7, Aeroflot and Red Wings.
14. Vodka is relatively cheap at $3 for 1 liter. Kyrgyzstan is cheaper though.
15. Do not ride on shady taxis. Better if you ask your hotel receptionist to help you book a taxi and fix the price. Before taking a taxi, search or ask around how much is the average or expected cost to your destination.
16. Trust your instincts. Never let strangers take your bag or join a carpool.
17. Airports aside from Moscow and St Petersburg are small with no food stalls or places to wait. Some toilets have fees (Murmansk Airport) with no wifi working (Murmansk and Irkutsk).
18. Irkutsk to Lake Baikal in Listvyanka – take a van for 120 RUB or 2.12$. But take note if you have a big luggage, additional 50RUB is collected.
19. If you are staying in Moscow and you plan to visit Kremlin, Hostels Ivan da Marya has a good location with a budget price. It is also very clean with good beds and showers. However, there is no sign outside the building, ask the convenience store beside it. I don’t know why they don’t have a sign but this place offers value for money.
20. Lake Baikal – stay in a cabin at Belka Hostel! You’ll know why.
(Thanks to Erick for the cover photo of this post. Follow him in IG at erickcamba)