- 1 Transport
- 2 Accommodation
- 3 Food
- 4 Connectivity
- 5 Busking
- 6 Visa
- 7 Cities
- 8 Travel destinations
It's common to travel by trains in Russia. To go to Belarus / Ukraine the best option is to take a night train to the border and cross the border by other transport / by hitch-hiking (crossing a border makes a train ticket cost 2 times more).
As for 2014, a traveller may find at least 2 or 3 hostels in any city with population higher than 400k population. The average price is about 500 rubles (in some towns it may go as low as 300 RUR). Quality and amount of hostels in Moscow and St. Perersburg are renown for bad quality and high prices. Hostel network is gradually spreading over the country. To find both accommodation and company, you can also use Hospitality Club, CouchSurfing and Russian+Ukranian+Belorussian Livejournal community Vpiska. The official language of the latter is Russian but you can use English as well (ask other members to translate your post to Russian in the end of your message if you like). Just post the name of the locations you are planning to stay in, or your route, the dates of your possible arrival, the number of your party, some information about you and your mobile number.
If travelling long distances through the country, it is advisable to bring a sleeping bag and tent. If sleeping by the side of the road, try to find a place obscured by trees, and avoid places with stray dogs. Sleeping by the road is usually very safe, provided you are not visible. Security guards and police will usually not bother you even if they see you, since nature-tourism is still quite popular in Russia.
Long-distance truck drivers are often very hospitable, and many will allow you to sleep in the second bunk of their cab.
There are many transit drivers taking cars across the country to and from Vladivostok. You may find yourself with one of these drivers for a number of days. There have been isolated incidents where people sleeping in these transit cars have been attacked and had their car stolen, and so the drivers may want you to stay with them for their own safety.
Not sure if this is up to date, but some info here http://wiki.apnchanger.org/Russia
Apparently most places have free wifi in Russia, it's allegedly very common.
Russia has an extended system of bureaucracy.
Most nationals of Western countries require invitations for a visa to Russia. Most EU states can now (June 2014) obtain a visa without an invitation, but through a travel agency. For example, in Berlin this costs €85 (June 2014) for a German passport and €105 (June 2014) for a UK passport.
The easiest way to get a Russian visa for EU citizens is to contact go to a Visa Center (you can find their website on the appropriate embassy website) who will take care of everything for about €80 to €100.
The Ultimate Guide to a €35 Russian Visa without an Agency for Most EU Citizens (except UK, Ireland and Croatia, among others):
Most Russian embassies in the EU don't require you to submit an application through a visa center/travel agent or to complete any additional steps, but it's very important to check the respective embassy's website for their particular requirements.
1. Get an appointment at the respective embassy of your choice. This the biggest hassle of the entire process as appointments are usually booked out for at least two months ahead... You'll find a link to the online appointment booking system on the embassy's website - it'll look something like http://paris.kdmid.ru/queue-en/. Record the appointment details.
2. Two weeks or so before your appointment, book accommodation through this website's affiliate link to Booking.com. They give free tourist invitations to anyone who books using their affiliate link - it's important to follow the link to Booking.com from their website. As it's Booking.com, you can give them a fake credit card (using a fake CC number generator of course) and you don't actually have to stay at the places or pay for them in advance. But you do need the reservations. Alternatively, you could also get an invitation through the many websites which offer it for as low as €10 - but the steps above will get you one for free.
3. Once you've managed to successfully book accommodation through Booking.com, fill out this form. They should send you scans of the invitation to your e-mail. Print those out.
4. Fill out this form exactly as you've filled out the previous form. This is the official Russian form which you'll submit to the embassy. Print it. Sign it. Glue two passport photos onto it (3.5x4.5cm size).
5. Get travel insurance which has at least €30,000 cover. Print a confirmation. If you're good enough with photoshop you can give them something legit looking. You'll also probably need this at the Russian border.
6. Go to the embassy for your appointment with all the paperwork (printout of the invitation, the official Russian form with your signature and photos and confirmation of insurance). Pay them €35. Wait for the visa.
7. Have fun in Russia!
IMPORTANT: Every embassy and every nationality is different! Check the embassy website before following these steps as there may be extra requirements not covered here!
Police, Visas and formalities
The general consensus is that, providing your passport and visa are in order, you will have no problem entering Russia. Even hitching in at remote border crossings in the middle of the night is fine. However you are very likely to be held when leaving the country by a land crossing, particularly if hitching out. You will most likely be required to describe your trip in great detail, and explain other passport stamps. Do not worry if this happens, just answer their questions and you will be allowed to go. (eventually)
Whilst hitching in Russia, the police will occasionally stop the vehicle you are traveling in to check the driver's documents. There is a small possibility that your driver will be asked about you, the passenger. This is likely to be the only time your ID is likely to be checked when hitching in Russia, other than at the borders. The police will not ask for too much information usually; they will look at your passport, visa and immigration card, and they may take notes of your name and address. They will most likely not check your visa registration.
You do have to have your passport with the visa and other papers you get while crossing the border handy. A good idea is to put them in some transparent waterproof bag – the immigration card is absolutely soviet style, and will not survive even the light raining.
As a visitor to Russia, it is important to understand the registration rules. Officially, you must register your visa in Russia within 3 working days of arriving in the country, and also subsequently register again in any town or city you remain in for 3 days or longer though in 2011, the rules apparently changed: Now you only have to register if you stay somewhere for upwards from seven business days, i.e. nine "real" days. The registration upon arrival also isn't necessary any more. Furthermore, the new law clearly stipulates that it's your host's responsibility to register you (i.e. hotel, hostel, or potentially private host). To be sure, check with people who know what they're talking about such as the thorn tree forum.
Hotels are legally required to register foreign guests within 24 hours. Hostels are, too, but in practice often don't or only do for a fee. If you are being hosted by a private citizen then you can register at the post office. This process is complicated and time consuming unfortunately, but registration provides peace of mind that you will have no problems if the police or border police try to find any.
If you do not plan to stay for a long time just have some strong evidence that you have just arrived. Buy a vegan hamburger if you can find one and keep the receipt before leaving some nice town or city you pass by (make sure there is the place‘s name on it). The train or bus tickets are the best means to persuade cops you are not hanging around St. Petersburg for half a year already, so you might take a short ride on a local train from time to time to have a set of tickets marking your way. Alternatively, you might also get your visa registered the once for peace of mind.
The border police do not often check visa registration, particularly at non European borders, as it is too much hassle. Some regular tourists in Russia comment that the cost and time consumption of registering a visa is too great, and prefer to hope that they are not checked when leaving. However if you are caught with an unregistered visa, expect at least a 2000 Ruble fine (as of before 2011 -- we are not aware of how the situation is now).
If you are travelling anywhere North of St. Petersburg, particularly around Murmansk and towards Norway, it is highly recommended that you register your visa. In early 2011, user haggismn had registration and other documents checked three times at the various military check points. (not including the Norwegian border itself)
Crossing the border
Citizens of most countries need a visa, the notable exceptions are most former Soviet states (apart from the Baltic states) and Israel. Most visa types require an invitation.
The border seems to be open only for holders of CIS passports.
Official sources (f.e. the German ministry of foreign affairs) say that this status changed and now it is possible also for Non CIS passport holder.
Please check the discussion about this. Before there is an confirmation by a traveller that crossed that border, the status will not be updated only to "open" instead of "disputed".
The border between Russia and Belarus is open. You will feel almost like in other parts of Europe, no border controls with an everlasting que at all. This is of course a nice time-saving fact, but it also means that you will recieve no entrance stamp to Russia. After the German embassy was creative enough to recommend to go to an airport and ask random police for an entrance stamp, the ministry of foreign affairs in Moscow confirmed that this is no problem for an overland traveller on another border and at the crossing to Kazakhstan nobody asked about the missing stamp.
UPDATE (2017): Third country nationals (ie. not CIS) are no longer allowed to cross the Belarus/Russia border even with a valid visa for both countries, due to reciprocity measures undertaken by the Russian Government because of EU sanctions. Non-CIS travelers are redirected to cross from Lithuania or Ukraine. There are checks at all major transit points. "Sneaking in" at a random village is not advised.
The crossing at Zabaykal'sk/Manzhouli requires that you are on board a vehicle. It is possible to get on board a Chinese tour bus for around 300 roubles. It is also ok to stand before the entrance to the border area and wait for a ride. As long as its not too cold, you shouldn't have any problem getting a ride. If you are not Chinese, Mongolian or Russian, prepare to be interrogated by the Russian border police about your journey. Coming from China is a similar process, however you will probably not be interrogated.
It is possible to cross the border by foot.
The Verkhny Lars - Darial Gorge crossing was reopened on March 1st, 2010 and since July 2011 is open for international travellers as well. Getting into Georgia via Abkhazia is not possible. For more specific information, check the Abkhazia article.
It's no problem to walk over the checkpoints between Latvia and Russia.
No border from Lithuania to the main land of Russia (so you have to go via Latvia), but there are several border crossings between Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast
As there is currently no chance for independent travelling/hitch hiking in North Korea, there is also no possibility to cross the border by hitch hiking.
The high amount of security between Murmansk and the border with Norway is a relic of Soviet rule, when people could escape into Norway without fear of being deported, unlike Finland. You will find that it isn't possible to walk to the border. From about 5 km out you will need to be in a vehicle. However, hitching is no problem, provided your documents and registration are in order (they will be checked). The army may also assist you in getting a ride at the military check points. If you are leaving Russia, prepare to be interrogated at the Russian side of the border about your journey.
The country is Russia's eternal 'native brother' and, despite all the political mess that constantly happens between the two states, Ukraine is one of the countries that is very easy to enter from Russia (Russians do not even need a foreign passport to enter it, as well as for Belarus). Make sure that the border crossing is working before attempting to use it. The big gate on the M2/E95 road (Moscow to Kharkiv) can be crossed on foot, which is very convenient because you do not have to wait in the line of the cars and you wont make your driver wait for you in case you have any delays with your passport. You will have to leave the car before all the checkpoints begin, though, or you will be considered a car passenger by the border police.
- Russian music thread on FB for inspiration