Russia: What to Know Before You GoExtras — By Mary on July 12, 2012 at 4:33 pm
Russia is not always the easiest travel destination. Between the visa applications, the price of tickets and the language barrier, the process can be overwhelming to even the most experienced of travelers. However, Russia’s history, culture and beauty make it worth the frustrations of dealing with Russia’s infamous bureaucracy. Here are a few tips to make the process a little less painful:
Check and Recheck the Travel Requirements: The requirements for entering Russia are always changing. Visa fees have increased, trips over three months (90 days) now require an HIV test and U.S. passports are now required to be valid at least six months after your trip is over. Be sure you get the most accurate and up-to-date information for the U.S. Department of State (http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1006.html) before you begin making arrangements. At the very least, you’ll need a passport valid at least 6 months after your return, a Russian visa and an official invitation (these can be issued by hotels, hostels, tour groups and travel agencies). Mistakes can be costly and dangerous-ranging from fines to imprisonment if you overstay your visa.
1. Dot Your I’s and Cross Your T’s
One of the holdovers from Russia’s recent Soviet past is its love of minutiae. This makes the visa application process a tedious event often resulting in rejected applications for even the most frequent visitors. If you’re looking to save money be sure to fill out every line of the visa application even if it doesn’t seem to apply to you (My application was once rejected for leaving off my fax number—I do not own a fax machine). If you prefer to spend a bit more to avoid the hassle, it’s worth using a visa processing service that will deal with the embassy for you.
2. Learn the Cyrillic Alphabet
While learning Russian might not be for the faint of heart, learning the Cyrillic alphabet before your trip will make the visit a bit smoother. While both Moscow and Saint Petersburg are both hugely popular tourist destinations, English is not as common as one would think particularly when dealing with older generations of Russians. Being able to read street signs and metro signs will make your trip less stressful and much cheaper. While the language takes years to master, the alphabet can be easily memorized on the plane ride over. Plus, it will help you stand out less as a tourist if you can recognize easy cognates such as Интернет (internet) and Кафе (café) without having to ask a local.
3. Get a Student ID
If you’re a student, be sure to obtain and bring a student ID with you. Russian museums and tourist attractions offer different prices for Russian citizens, students and general tourists—with non Russian tourists paying the most. The difference in price can be pretty dramatic. At the famous Hermitage Museum (http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/index.html) in Saint Petersburg the general admission price is $17.95, but it’s completely free to students.
4. Get Familiar With Russian Literature
I would be a bad graduate student, if I did not encourage you to pick up a Russian novel or two before your trip. The simple truth is that Russia as a society and culture is deeply connected with its literature. While walking around Moscow or Saint Petersburg, you would be hard pressed to find a city block that does not have some kind of plaque or statue dedicated to whatever writer, poet, artist or playwright lived there (no matter how short that period of time was). While reading War and Peace before your trip might not be your idea of a good time, learning a bit about Russia’s heavyweights like Aleksandr Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Mikhail Bulgakov and Anna Akhmatova will take your understanding of Russian culture and history to a new level.