Russia requires citizens from the United States as well as many other countries around the world to get visas before they can enter the country. Russia is also very strict, and if you make one minor error on your application, it can be declined. If you want to get a brief taste of Russia without applying for a visa, you can consider taking advantage of a loophole.
If St. Petersburg, Russia interests you, you can visit the Russian city without going through the time-consuming process of getting a visa. The only visa-free way to visit Russia is to take a ferry from Helsinki, Finland. Otherwise, Tallinn, Estonia or Stockholm, Sweden will do, too.
Speaking from experience, you just need to follow these four simple steps:
- Get to Helsinki: There are non-stop flights to Helsinki from destinations all over Europe and the United States.
- Book a ferry cabin: Moby Lines offers direct ferries from Helsinki to St. Petersburg. The journey time is between 13 and 15 hours. While the cabins are basic, there is plenty to do on board.
- Book a shuttle bus: The ferry company provides a shuttle bus service to the city center, and you must use it to qualify for visa-free travel. The shuttle bus ride costs 25 euros.
- Book a hotel room: The Russian government requires that you pre-book a pre-approved hotel. You can book a hotel through a travel agent or through Moby Lines. If you don't book a pre-approved hotel, you may be refused entry into Russia.
The check-in process in Helsinki begins three hours before departure. When checking in, you will receive your boarding and departure cards and any cards for onboard meals that you may have purchased. Once on the ship, you can enjoy a drink, gamble, eat or just relax. There is even plenty of shopping available along with a specially equipped game room for kids.
After disembarking in Russia, you will then go straight through immigration. Lines can be slow; expect to spend over an hour at immigration. Once you pass through immigration and have your passport stamped, you can then proceed to the shuttle bus and go to the city center.
The shuttle bus driver will let you know the pickup times to return to the ferry. Going through immigration to get back on the ship is much faster. While taking a ferry from Helsinki to St. Petersburg is any easy way to visit Russia without a visa, you will only get a maximum of 72 hours in the city. However, it's a great option if you just want to get your feet wet.