There are around 60 nationalities which are not required to have a visa to enter Russia (visa waiver). If you are not a citizen of any of these countries (and you don’t have a diplomatic passport), then you need to apply for a visa to Russia before departure. However, there are some minor exceptions to this general rule, for example, travelers arriving to Russian ports in a cruise or those attending certain international sporting events. In addition, there is also a simplified electronic visa procedure.
Article updated on February 9, 2020 (originally written March 13, 2017)
I'm going to talk about ...
1. COUNTRIES WITH VISA-FREE travel to Russia
The vast majority of foreigners traveling to Russia require a visa to enter the country, however, there are about 60 nationalities which are not required to have a visa to enter Russia.
Mainly it is about the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (former countries of the USSR) and countries of South and Central America, although there are also some European, Asian, African and Oceanian countries that do not require a visa. In this map you can see in a summarized way:
The list of countries that do not need a visa is a list that may vary, since the Russian government can reach bilateral or multilateral agreements with other countries or economic areas. For this reason, it is best to consult the list of countries with specific exemptions on the official website of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The site is in Russian but you can use the automatic translator)
A) Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)
Except the citizens of Belarus and South Ossetia, who can enter Russia without a time limit, citizens of most of these countries can stay in Russia for a maximum of 90 days within a period of 180 days::
This group does not include the 3 Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are currently members of the EU, nor Georgia or Turkmenistan, which are no longer part of the CIS.
B) Countries of South America and Central America
A total of 25 countries in South and Central America do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Commonwealth of Dominica
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
C) Balkan countries
Some Balkan countries do not need a visa under certain conditions:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina. They do not need a visa for up to 30 days for ordinary passports.
- Macedonia. They do not need a visa for up to 30 days, if they have a tourist invitation.
- Montenegro. They do not need a visa for up to 30 days for ordinary passports.
- Serbia. The holders biometric civil passports do not need a visa for up to 30 days.
Please note that citizens of Turkey no longer have visa-free from January 1, 2016.
D) Asian countries
The citizens of some Asian countries do not need a visa under certain conditions:
- Brunei Darussalam. No visa for all types of passports for stays of up to 14 days.
- Laos. No visa for all types of passports for stays up to 30 days.
- Maldives. Without visa for ordinary passports and stays up to 90 days.
- Mongolia. No visa for all types of passports for stays up to 30 days.
- South Korea. No visa for regular civil passports up to 60 days.
- Hong Kong. No visas of up to 14 days for permanent residents of Hong Kong with a valid passport.
- Macao. No visa for stays of up to 30 days for permanent residents of Macao with valid passport.
- Thailand. Without visa for ordinary passports and stays up to 30 days.
- Israel. Without visa for ordinary passports and stays up to 90 days.
Finally add that citizens of the People’s Republic of China can enter Russia without a visa for up to 15 days in tourist groups of 5 to 50 people, according to the certified lists and confirmations of Russian tourist organizations.
E) Countries of Oceania
Some small countries in Oceania can also travel to Russia without a visa:
- Fiji. No visa for all types of passports for stays up to 90 days.
- Nauru. No visa for all types of passports for stays of up to 14 days.
- Palau. No visa for all types of passports for stays of up to 30 days.
- Samoa. No visa for all types of passports for stays up to 60 days.
- Vanuatu. No visa for all types of passports for stays up to 90 days.
F) African countries
Few African countries are on the list of countries that do not need a visa to travel to Russia:
- Botswana. No visa for all types of passports for stays up to 90 days.
- Mauricio. No visa for all types of passports for stays up to 60 days.
- Seychelles No visa for all types of passports for stays up to 30 days.
- South Africa. No visa for all types of passports for stays up to 90 days.
2. Visa exemption for CRUISE PASSENGERS worldwide
If you are not a citizen of any of the countries that have visa exemption (and you don’t have a diplomatic passport and you are not part of the ship or aircraft crew), then you need to apply for a visa to Russia before departure, though there are some minor exceptions to this rule and some additional conditions that must be met:
- If you traveling in a cruise to St. Petersburg (or other Russian ports)
- If you are traveling by ferry from Helsinki, Tallinn and Stockholm (with a stop in Helsinki) to St. Petersburg with St. Peter Line company or from Lappeenranta to Saint Petersburg or Vyborg with the company Saimaa Travel.
CASE 1: Boat cruise to St. Petersburg (or other ports of Russia)
Around half a million tourists visit St. Petersburg by cruise every year. So, if you are travelling on a boat cruise and St. Petersburg it is one of the stops on this cruise, then you do not need a visa to enter Russia if you meet the following conditions:
- If you’re going to be in town for a maximum period of 72 hours and you are spending the night on the boat.
- If you are visiting the city with an authorized guided tour, who will accompany you at all times on your visit to the city. This means that from the moment you leave the boat in the morning (usually around 8) until you return to it (about 17 hours), you have to follow the scheduled time and you won’t have the opportunity to visit the city on your own.
This rule also applies if you arrive to Russia through the ports of Anadyr, Arkhangelsk, Kaliningrad, Korsakov, Novorossiysk, Murmansk, Sebastopol, Sochi, Vladivostok, Vyborg and Zarubino.
The question is: What guided tours can I hire in St. Petersburg to make this visit without a visa? Well, there are two possibilities:
- Hire the guided tour offered by your cruise. This is the easiest option, but note that the tours offered by cruises are significantly more expensive than those you can hire independently on your own count with any company in St. Petersburg.
- Hire a guided tour independently. The tours offered by cruises are not the only ones authorized to make visits to the city without a visa. On the contrary, there are a variety of tourist agencies in St. Petersburg which also have authorization to offer tours to their customers without a visa. The advantage of this option is that you have a variety of companies and tours to choose from with many different schedules (not only the most common, those usually offered by cruises). In addition, these companies also offer the opportunity to design their own itinerary and are usually more economic. Some guided tours that I recommend for travelers arriving on cruise ships:
Is it worthwhile to make a guided tour or is it better to apply for a tourist visa to visit the city independently?
It depends. The easiest way is to hire a guided tour; however, if you want to be completely free to move around St. Petersburg, enjoy the city at night (especially during the time of white nights) or the Sapsan train to reach Moscow in 4 hours and visit the Russian capital, the best option is to apply for a visa before taking the cruise, which will probably mean a lower expense than hiring guided tours (in this article I explain you how to do it and how to gather all documentation in 1 hour).
If you plan to visit the city at night, it is advisable to book accommodation in St. Petersburg, since it is likely that there are restrictions on returning to the ship from certain times in the afternoon.
In addition, citizens of 53 countries (European countries included) can already apply for an electronic visa. Americans, Canadians, Britons and Australians cannot apply for an electronic visa (section 5 of this article).
CASE 2: Travel by ferry to St. Petersburg and Vyborg
From Helsinki, Tallinn and Stockholm
If you are traveling by ferry from Helsinki, Tallinn and Stockholm (with a stop in Helsinki) to St. Petersburg with St. Peter Line Company, you can also enter St. Petersburg without a visa for a maximum period of 72 hours.
The ferry ride is also considered a cruise and to enter the city without a visa, you are required to book a guided tour bus via St. Peter Line. This is a shuttle that runs along the journey from Vassilevskiy Island to the city center, in which you can make stops. On this map you can see the path that it makes:
Unlike cruise passengers who are forced to spend the night on the boat, if they want to enter the city without a visa, St. Peter Line’s passengers need to book a hotel or apartment during their stay.
Besides St. Peter Line, it is also possible to enter without a visa in St. Petersburg or Vyborg, making the trip from Lappeenranta with the Finnish company Saimaa Travel, and hiring some of their guided tours.
CASE 3: Travel on the Allegro train to St. Petersburg
Finally, it has arose the matter of whether it would be a good idea to remove the visa for travelers that are going from Helsinki to St. Petersburg on the Allegro train, though to current date these travelers still need visa. We’ll see if in the future it is possible to enter without a visa by train from Finland.
3. Attendees to certain international SPORTS EVENTS
In the past, at some international sporting events, the Russian government has allowed assistance without a visa:
- 2020 UEFA Euro Cup (St. Petersburg)
- World Cup in 2018
- 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup
- Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014
4. TRANSIT through Russian airports
Passengers that make stops at international airports in Russia to continue their journey to another destination outside Russia don’t need a visa if they remain for less than 24 hours and don’t leave the international area of the airport, and don’t cross the passport control, either.
Just 5 Russian airports have an international transit area:
- Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO). Terminals D, E and F.
- Moscow Domodedovo International Airport (DME)
- International Airport of Vnukovo (VKO) in Moscow. Terminal A.
- Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg (LED)
- International Koltsovo Airport (SVX).
When you make a plane trip with a stopover in a Russian airport, I recommend to always contact the airline, so they expressly inform you if you need transit visa for the journey.
It is also useful to consult the Timaticweb system to find the specific visa requirements.
5. Electronic visa to Russia (e-visa)
The Russian Government has already implemented the electronic visa application (e-visa). It is not a visa exemption, but it is a procedure that allows you to obtain an e-visa to Russia very easily and quickly: you will only need your passport, a digital photo and medical travel insurance.
However, the e-visa can only be requested by some nationalities and at the moment it is only available to visit the regions of Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Kaliningrad and the Far Eastern Federal District. The electronic visa is not valid to travel to Moscow, Kazan or Sochi or to carry out the Trans-Siberian route.
More info in this article: How to obtain the Russian electronic visa (e-visa)
Have you traveled to Russia without a visa? Below you can leave your comments