Visit St Petersburg With or Without a Visa

Do I need a Visa to Go to Russia?

It depends on your nationality.  As of 2020, citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and other countries need a visa to go to Russia.

The tourist visa process involves a paper application to a Russian consulate, a fee, and some waiting.  Keep in mind that a Russian visa is typically valid for the exact dates of your trip.  Be careful when planning your flights, you cannot come a day earlier or leave a day later.  

Please make sure to start your visa application well in advance of your travel.  It might take between 10 days and 6 weeks to obtain a visa to Russia. 

Here is a link to the official Russian Visa Center for more information.

Russian visa application form can be found here.

You can find a full list of Russian consulates by country here  (in Russian) or just search for your specific location on the internet.

Coming to St Petersburg on a visa has its advantages. You can stay for more than 3 days, explore the city on your own and take a trip to Moscow, Vyborg, Novgorod, etc.

Electronic Visa to Russia (E-Visa)

If you want to visit St Petersburg (the Far Eastern Federal District, or Kaliningrad Oblast) for less than 8 days, you can skip the paper application and apply for an  electronic visa to Russia.  

At this time, in late 2020, only citizens of certain countries are allowed to enter St Petersburg on E-visa:

  • Austria
  • Andorra
  • Bahrain
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • China and Taiwan
  • Czech Republic
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Hungary
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Ireland
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Kuwait
  • Finland
  • France
  • Japan
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Liechtenstein
  • Luxembourg
  • Malaysia
  • Malta
  • Mexico
  • Monaco
  • Netherlands
  • North Korea
  • North Macedonia
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Qatar
  • Romania
  • San Marino
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Serbia
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Turkey
  • Vatican

Please make sure to check the official website for any updates to these rules.

E-visa is a single-entry visa and issued for 30 calendar days from the date of its issuance. You can stay in Russia for up to 8 days starting from the date of entry, within the visa validity period.  The E-Visa is free.  At the moment, you cannot use E-visa if you travel by train.

You cannot go to Moscow from Saint Petersburg if you enter Saint Petersburg on  E-visa.  You are expected to stay in St Petersburg or in the administrative area around St Petersburg, called the Leningrad Oblast.  However, it looks like you can go from St Petersburg to Moscow on a visa-free cruise and ferry tours.

Here is the link to the Official Russian E-Visa Page with the list of conditions of the electronic visa and the E-visa application form.  

Check the official E-visa page for updates.

How to Visit Russia Without a Visa?

"In accordance with the decision of the Government of the Russian Federation, cruise and ferry passengers may stay in the territory of the Russian Federation for 72 hours without visa if they arrive in Saint-Petersburg on board a vessel as part of a tour group."

You can visit St Petersburg visa-free if you arrive in the city by ferry or by a cruise ship.  

This gives you 72 hours to stay in town.  The 72-hour period begins from the moment of crossing border control.

In accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation (RF Government Resolution № 397, May 7/ 2009) to be eligible for the visa-free entry as a cruise ship passenger you must meet the following conditions:

  • arrive and leave by the same ship
  • have a passport valid for 6 months from the date of entry
  • book a tour & hold a tour voucher (one for each person) confirming service arranged by the Russian licensed tour company or a liner’s tour ticket arranged by your cruise operator
  • return to the ship in the evening & spend the night(s) on the ship
  • stay for less than 72 hours

Most cruises and ferries arrive in Saint Petersburg from Helsinki, Finland.  Most Baltic Sea cruises stop in Saint Petersburg for 2 nights.

The ferry or cruise company will organize transfer from the docks.

The cruise company will offer you to book hotels and excursions through them. However, many tourists have been able to arrange their tours with authorised tour companies in St Petersburg independently without overpaying for the cruise line arranged tours.  

Tour companies will pick you up at the pier after passport control.  The port is located on the Vasilievsky Island, about 15 minutes away by car from the city center.

Some companies offer visa-free shore excursions from St Petersburg to Moscow.

 

You will need a voucher provided by an authorised tour operator to show to immigration.  I would advise to pick a private or a small group tour and to stay away from the coach bus tour with 50+ people.

Here are some examples of visa-free St Petersburg tours and shore excursions from GetYourGuide that you can book independently.  Read the reviews and pick yours.   

There are some restrictions as to the hotels you can and cannot book.  According to Moby SPL, a ferry company, the following hotels should not be booked for your stay in St Petersburg on a visa-free tour:

  • Courtyard by Marriott St. Petersburg Vasilievsky
  • Renaissance St. Petersburg Baltic
  • Ghotel on Nevsky

Check their website for the latest details on the hotels that are not allowed (it seems due to registration formalities).

For cruise passengers, there is a requirement to stay on cruise ships, while the ferry passengers may stay in the city. 

Enjoy St Petersburg!

Saint Petersburg native and Travel Blogger