On the plane or in the arrivals hall of the airport you may be requested to fill out a customs declaration form. You are advised to declare ALL the currency that you bring into the country and on the back of the form list the particularly valuable items that you are carrying, such as very expensive jewellery items. Be sure to keep your customs declaration form as you may be asked for it when leaving the country.
The basic principle is that you won’t be allowed to export more currency than you import. In other words what you had declared is what you will be allowed to take out of the country. Unless you are able to provide additional bank or ATM and cash machine certificates (or receipts) officially entitling you to such export.
Whatever the situation, any export of cash (being Rubles, Dollars, Euros or the like) exceeding (per person) 10,000 USD equivalent in total has to be approved by the Central Bank of Russia, and, accordingly, the relevant documents have to be presented to customs at the time of border crossing. Otherwise the traveller is risking having the excess confiscated (at best).
If you buy an original piece of art, icon (normally never allowed for export), balalaika (other than the toy type mass produced ones) or a similar object, make certain that you get a legitimate(!) receipt and a signed and stamped certificate (no less legitimate too!) to say that it is not a genuine piece of antique, for customs purposes. The most common problem is telling a good/real certificate from a bogus one. Do not buy the things, the origin of which you are not sure of, unless you want to run the risk of ultimately losing them at customs.
You can only take one bottle of liquor to USA and only 250 grams of black Caviar
Nationals of most countries require a visa to enter Russia. There are 3 types of long term visas and two transit types of visas that are normally used by independent visitors. All of them, except the 3 day transit visa have to be received prior to your travel to Russia.
- Visitor’s Visa
Issued by a Russian diplomatic post (an embassy or a consulate) on the basis of a slip of paper, called Izveshenije, or notification, received from a Russian contact (usually a friend or somebody else you know, the one who can vouch for you and lodge the Notification Application at the local Immigration Office). It requires a certain amount of paperwork prepared by your contact and is processed in 4 or 5 weeks (frankly we have had quite a few situations when Immigration did not have the Notification issued by the time they originally promised, a delay of one or two weeks is quite common).
This Notification is not free, the Government requires a fee to be levied prior to issuing the Izveshenije. Although the fees change constantly, one can say that this type of visa support paperwork is by far the most economical and least complicated to get for the one who is in Russia and is a national of the country.
After your contact has received the Notification, he or she forwards it to you (either the original or a scanned e-mail copy, - it all depends on the Russian Embassy where you will apply for your visa), you attach it to your visa application and, then, get your visa. No visitor’s visa can be obtained without this small not too attractive but important piece of paper.
Most of the time it takes two or three weeks to get a letter from Russia. Ask your contact to send it via registered mail as there have been situations when the mail has been lost.
The longest one can expect to stay in Russia on a Visitor’s Visa is three months, but this has to be specified by your Russian friend in the Application, as the Notification is normally issued for the period of stay stipulated in the Application. A single entry is the only option on this type of visa. Extensions are hard, if not impossible, to get, although there are alleged occasions where officials have been bribed for an extension although, this method should not be either relied upon or recommended.
- Tourist Visa
The Tourist Visa is issued against an original (sometimes a fax or an e-mail scanned copy!) of a voucher(or what is called a reception confirmation) issued by a travel agency accredited with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as a reference number of that very travel agency.
This type of visa cannot be longer than 4 weeks in length. No hotel booking confirmation is accepted by Russian Consulates as a support of an application unless that hotel sends a required voucher (with a reference number), which some hotels do have and readily provide if you book with them and pay for your stay.
The Reception Confirmation Voucher needs to be attached to your visa application to support it. Single entry only. Extensions appear to be next to impossible.
- Business (Commercial) Visa
This type of visa is the most attractive for an independent traveller, as it is only this visa that can be issued for multiple or double entries. It also allows a longer period of stay in Russia as well as wider choice of travelling. Currently the longest you can expect to stay is one year, anything longer can be only be possible on the basis of a visa extension or renewal.
The Business Visa Supporting Paperwork can be processed much faster than any other type of visa supporting papers (except for the Tourist Visa support which can be issued in a matter of minutes). Some embassies accept copies, some need originals, some won’t accept your application if you apply for a Russian visa out of your home country. Check it with them to be sure that what you do it right.
All the applications for the visa sponsorship are filed with the Ministry of Interior of Russia. The party that has applied for you, receives an original of the document meant for the Embassy.
Short term Business Visas can theoretically be obtained in 24 hours
This, unfortunately is not true with a yearly or a 6 month visa, where a three week waiting period is a must (apart from the fact that one needs to have substantial evidence of his or her ties with Russia - read being one of the owners or directors of a Russia based company).
The fees collected by the Interior Ministry are also significantly higher than the ones for the Tourist or Visitor’s Visa, although it is worth the money if one needs it urgently or for an extended stay.
Only the agencies or institutions accredited with the Interior Ministry are allowed to lodge Business Visa Support applications. No individual or independent applications are accepted. If you require a Business Visa - try to locate an accredited company in Russia which will be able to prepare the paperwork on your behalf, leave it with the Ministry and, ultimately help you get the visa.
- A maximum 10 day Transit Visa
is issued against a valid visa to a third country (if required) and onward tickets confirming the Itinerary. You may be lucky to get a 10 day Russian transit visa if you have only Mongolia or China visas in your passport (or any other country that lies on your way after crossing into Russia). Generally the period the visa is going to be valid for, and the fact whether it will be issued at all, is quite unpredictable and very often up to the Embassy official you will be dealing with.
- 72 hour Tourist Visa
It is something new what the Russian Authorities have recently come up with. The visa can be received on arrival at Moscow or St Petersburg airports. Practically, getting this visa means that the travel company that supports your visa has to leave paperwork with the airport immigration and have its representative meet you on arrival. (Not always a very attractive solution) Check with you nearest diplomatic post for details to avoid difficulties or unpleasant surprises on your arrival.
All non transit visas, no matter what type, require registration within 3 working days upon arrival in Russia, normally done at the same place and by the same party where your visa support papers were originally issued. If one fails to register on time, or overstays, a penalty of approximately 100 US$ is imposed at the time of departure. The exact amount is very often up to a particular passport control officer.
Minor delays in registering are usually not a problem, although that involves writing a statement of explanation and a visit to the nearest police station. A penalty of 500 Rubles has also to be paid. Done that, you will most likely be registered for the rest of your stay with no hick-ups at all.
A number of hotels can register visitors too, provided one stays with them. A hotel most of time can take care of your registration for free.
Check with the nearest Russian diplomatic post for the specifics.