Paperwork, Russian Visa, and Travel Insurance for Russia
Getting a Russian Visa
To travel to Russia you need your passport and a Russian visa. Visa can be made only if you have an invitation and a travel voucher from a Russian hotel or a travel agency (both papers are referred to as "invitation" or "visa support"). Don't think you'll be obliged to book a hotel and stay for the whole period of your journey. The thing is that the invitation is in fact the confirmation of your booking, that's why you pay for it ($30 to $45 US normally), but you don't have to stay at the hotel that you booked. You can choose to stay with your friends, at a B&B, or just travel all over the country and sleep at a tent. That's what most travelers do – they get an invitation (usually online), print out the visa application form from the Russian consulate's website, and bring all that along with their passport and photos to the consulate to get a visa. You could also use an agency to do that for you, but that won't mean less paperwork. You just won't have to go to the consulate for the extra $50-$100 you pay for the agency's services.
After you receive the invitation (by e-mail or fax) and print it out, making a Russian visa will take about 7 to 14 working days and it'll cost from $40 to $60, depending on the country you're in. You will also need a visa registration when you come to Russia; hostels or hotels you stay in can do this for you for free. If you're staying with a friend or renting an apartment, your landlord should register you at any post office by filling out a form and sending it off to migration authorities. When you leave, they have to send off the other part of the form to confirm your departure.
While in Russia, you will need to carry your passport, visa and visa registration (preferrably originals) all the time with you. In fact, all Russians are obliged to do the same, because here things like driving license are not considered to be legal identity papers.
If you don't want to carry the originals of your paper, you can make the copies, but in this case it's better to have a notary proof of them.
More information about the Russian visa regulations can be found in our Russian Visa Guide.
Before going to Russia check if you need a transit visa for the countries you're going through. For example, when going through some eastern European or former USSR countries with a train you will need a transit visa, so contact the embassies of the countries you're not sure about. I heard how one guy travelling from Germany to Russia by train had to leave this train on the Polish-Belorussian border in the middle of nowhere just because he didn't have transit Belorussian visa. Belorussia is authoritarian country nowadays, so it's better to prepare if you're going to cross it...
More detailed information about the papers, which you need to come to Russia is in our Russian Visa section.
How to keep your documents safe
When travelling it's good to have the copies of all your documents and all emergency numbers written down somewhere, just in case. A good thing to do is to have a money bag (that you can put behind your clothes on your body) or a money belt. Also, make several copies of important documents, put a notarial proof on them (if possible), and keep them separately in different places (for example, you can carry one copy with you, another copy can be at the hotel in your backpack or suitcase, the other - in your jacket etc.)
If you have the copies of all your important documents, it'll be easier to make the new ones if the old ones were lost.
Russian consulates in some countries require a travel insurance valid for the duration of your trip. Some countries, like UK, has reciprocal agreements with Russia, so you can just show your UK NHS card to the consulate. Otherwise, consulates in the most EU countries and USA won't give you a visa if you don't have an insurance. Normally, credit card policies have travel insurances bundled, so you might want to check that. Also, your standard insurance may include worldwide assistance. In this case, just print out your insurance policy – making sure it explicitly states that it's valid in Russia for the duration of your trip (a special letter from your credit card company might help) – and bring it to the consulate.
When in Russia, however, we strongly recommend against using the local health system. It works well for emergencies, but if you have a minor issue, it may be better to wait until you come back home. Otherwise expect long queues and substandard treatment.
Driving License and Paperwork
If you want to drive a car in Russia, you need a copy of international driving license in addition to your standard one. These can usually be obtained at a local post office or AA (at least in UK) and cost almost nothing. Make sure you get the one accepted in Russia with the Russian translation of your driving license information. When you rent a car in Russia, it's fully insured, so your passport, visa, and driving license will suffice.
If you're driving into Russia, you need much more paperwork. Your car's documents must be translated with a notary proof (this could be done at a Russian consulate when you get your invitation) and you also need the insurance valid in Russia. However, if you don't have one, they are usually available on the border for $30-$50 / week.
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