by Geneva Observer
Unfortunately I am not one of the lucky few whose mother dropped them on a favored part of the planet blessed with visa free travel to Russia.
The two states that makes claim to me have not yet found it in their interest to go forth and negotiate anything but the most annoying terms to visit. I can choose which passport I go with to the consulate, photo, multi-page application form in hand. I know I am on the path to enlightenment as I pull out my wallet to pay the fees.
I was simply not talented enough to have been able to make the Eurovision Song contest in 2009 or the International Tchaikovsky Competition of 2015 to travel visa free. My singing and humming will probably continue to be confined to the shower encouraged only occasionally by a stiff scrub-brushing by my dearest, which unfortunately does not happen often enough to encourage me to even start singing lessons.
There simply is no point in flying to the Vladivostok Eastern Economic Forum to get a visa free entry. Approaching the age of 60, I simply am surpassed by far better sportsmen for the Olympics, and the Winter Olympic event tickets were unobtainable to most people to avoid the visa. Even if there were an event for my age group, I will pass on doping myself like Mr. Armstrong did. World Cup soccer tickets are not going to lure me for a visa free trip this time.
I have to face it. With my Canadian passport Ms. Freeland could only negotiate a visa for me at the modest price of 90 CHF. The local consulate no longer takes applications directly. I need to pass through one of several competing agencies. In my case, add another 28 CHF. I searched on the local Russian consulate web-site for the application form, where I find out I need an invitation from an approved agency to issue me a hotel voucher. Natalie makes the arrangements, and a one page document, in Russian arrives three days later to my email in-box. That will be 3000 RUB (about 50 CHF), but it can be only for three weeks otherwise I need to pay the hotel in advance for a full month. I change the visa application to be for only three weeks, as getting another voucher is prohibitive in time and money. I initialize the change, saddened realizing I will have to trim my travel plans by seven days.
In Geneva, I only needed to supply one colorful, sober, unsmiling passport photo, which I was able to do using a local photo auto-mat. It makes six photos for ten CHF. I now have some spare pictures for friends, family, or my next visa.
The friendly young woman behind the visa service agency counter turned the pages back to front of my passport, then stopped at the first page, scrutinizing closely the expiry date of my passport. She then said I should immediately demand a new passport. Mine had another six months left. It had to be valid at least three months after the end of the applied visa period. In contrast, my son wants to visit New York. The US is demanding his Swiss passport be at least issued six months prior to his trip. This means a five year passport is only useful for four years and three months at worst and you will be deprived of it while visas are being processed.
The first time I applied for a visa, the hotel confirmation used information from my Swiss permanent residency permit where it should have been information from my passport. At the time, my reading the Cyrillic alphabet was not even good enough to read a STOP sign. My mistake not to have asked for help, to have someone else check it earlier. The agent said I had to get a corrected voucher. Shock and panic. Would I get a visa in time for my departure? I ended paying
twice as much for the visa to have a three day express service. I was 180 CHF out of pocket and still had not left Switzerland. My neighbors might prefer to smoke a joint and take a trip without leaving home (we just legalized smoking pot). I was persistent. There was a lovely lady waiting for me.
Silvio Bernasconi’s 2009 initiative for visa free travel for EU member citizens remains unfulfilled, suspended after the Crimea, like a spurned lover quit the Ukraine and rejoined the Russian Federation.
Ms. Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister, supporter of post-putsch neo-Nazis in Ukraine, has made Canada’s passport-holders subject to the most demands for documentation. Canada drags its feet handling Russian visa requests taking weeks to approve them, with a high refusal rate. Russia reciprocates with similar requirements, but at least I was treated fairly and expeditiously. This led to only 10’888 Canadians being issued visas to Russia in 2015.
If you were born in South Africa, or most of Latin America, as of March 30th, 2017 you can travel to Russia visa free for up to 90 days. Bravo, Mr. Lavrov!
Russia requires visa applications to be submitted in person to visa processing centers instead of directly to the consular section. Costs differ per administration center.
It may be in Russia’s interest to drop its visa reciprocity policy.
The increase in visitors would be a great way of attacking Russophobia.
Today’s visa constraints dissuade anyone from making a short trip to Moscow or St. Petersburg. It is almost cheaper for Russians and Swiss residents to meet in Marrakesh rather than having to get reciprocal visas. There is no possibility to make a spur of the moment trip to visit family, friends or just to go for shopping or in my case dental appointment.
France, the global tourism leader, a country with 66.6 million population in 2016,
had 83 million tourists in 2016
That is 1.25 tourists per inhabitant.
The number of arrivals in 2014 were as follows:
United Kingdom 32,613,000
It is hard to understand an island like the UK has more arrivals than the world’s largest country. With Crimea, Russia can now challenge France for wines and vineyards.
Russia can capitalize on tourism by dropping visa requirements while Russo-phobic countries shoot themselves in the foot. It is hard to estimate the number of potential travelers who have chosen other options rather than visit Russia. On the way back from Moscow we saw a majority of people at the passport control were of Chinese origin, beneficiaries of visa free accredited tour groups.
Russia, being the country with the largest landmass, part of both Europe and Asia offers many unique and exciting adventures and should take its place as a leading tourist destination. The signage at Moscow’s three international airports are already in Russian, English and Chinese.
It is time for Russia to make the next move.
I wholeheartedly agree with you.
Russia is fascinating country only partially touched by the scorched earth policies of financialisation and globalism.
Russian authorities need to breath out and stop treating visitors with an attitude of “WTF U WANT?” Just try to fill in a Business Visa and you are treated like a visitor of North Korea.
Breath out, will you, you’re special.
I half-agree on the original subject. In the ideal world that should be the case, but in the current situation Russia prefers to keep track of westerners coming and going, and I can’t really blame them.
On the other hand, when I travel there from Australia things are not that bad. Only annoying thing they changed in the last year or so is that you have to submit your application in person. That to me means travel to the city and a lost day’s pay. At least they do still post out the passport at the end, or it would mean yet another loss of day’s pay. But here they do accept visa applications from individuals, so there is no extra cost from having to go through a tourist agency.
On the subject of tourist vouchers, I tend to use one of the websites “way to Russia”. Can’t quite remember which one was it (there are few), but the vouchers are issued by Alliance Travel Company from Russia. Pay with a credit card or PayPal and voucher is emailed immediately. So far I have never needed to correct anything. Price is about 16 Euros, from memory.
By the way, issuing you a voucher that says “all travel and accomodation paid in full” for a month is technically illegal, but I am sure Russian authorities know that and don’t care. They know you will spend money for your stay there anyway and don’t make it overly complicated. Same for the question of health insurance on the visa application form. I’ve always put “no” and haven’t been refused so far.
I was recently in Uzbekistan which has a similar system, but it is much worse than Russian one. No Tourist agency will issue you a voucher without ACTUALLY booking your stay with them. There is a $4 tax they have to pay per tourist per night. There is also a legal requirement on you to actually STAY there every night, and on them to make sure you ARE THERE EVERY NIGHT, and if not – to report you to the pigs. You can get away if you have overnight train ticket, for example. Otherwise, everybody can get into trouble. They also have to register your stay with the pigs and give you stamped card at the end, which you might need to show to be allowed to leave the country.
To get a visa is a bit of a nightmare. They don’t have too many consulates, so there is a nice option to bring your documents with you and receive a visa at eh airport upon arrival. But to use it, you need to show your flight tickets and it must be clear that in your travel you are not passing through a country that has one of their consulates. Also a ticket showing that you have booked a flight out of the country.
But the dumbest requirement is proof of employment. When I told my boss what I need and for what, the office laughed. I earn their average monthly pay in less than a day, and they are worried I am going to skip my employment and stay in Uzbekistan and look for work? Ooook……
In short – for a fairly poor country that desperately needs tourist income, they do make it painful, and unnecessarily so. So don’t complain too much about Russia’s system, it isn’t too bad yet.
Having just visited Moscow from Canada, I can completely relate to your experience. In the case of sanctions, Russia often responds asymmetrically – I think that in the case of tourist visas it would be in their interest to make things easier for visitors rather than make things difficult just for the sake of being as annoying and demeaning as their Western counterparts are towards Russians. Even in this brainwashed land of ours, there are many that would visit Russia if the barriers to obtaining a visa (in $, time and complexity of process) were lower.
In our case, the visas were given to us with no problem, within the 21 day service standard, but it was a close thing and quite expensive. Getting accurate information was very difficult, using the online visa application was awful (the Canadian one is no better) and it cost something like $500 dollars for a family of three (I don’t remember the exact amount but it was probably more).
Despite these barriers, we intend on visiting Russia again, as resources and time permits. Moscow is really an amazing city and there are so many other places to see. Unfortunately, given current geopolitical realities, including a Canadian political class that can generously be described as glorified prostitutes intent on provocation, it is unlikely that the next trip will be any easier to organise.
I would love to visit Russia.
I even have an acquaintance there who would I am sure “invite” me.
But the visa wall is an obstacle.
The author complains that Russian authorities are checking
(his documents) to see if he is eligible to enter Russia or not.
This is nothing but the ‘exceptional’s’ mindset. As a Westerner
he thinks everybody is obliged to grant him access to wherever he
wants to go. Well not so!
Does the author complain about his own country’s administration,
are they granting everybody an easy-entry or not? Of course not!
For so long has the rest of the world (and Russia) been excluded
from the ‘rich’ (all stolen riches of course) West, now the table is turning,
and you are not invited!
People in Geneva are exceptional. We share an airport with France. Switzerland is member to the Shengen agreement on border controls, so visas issued by our partners must be recognized.
If Swiss authorities makes life too difficult, we can simply apply to the French consulate. Our Russian visitor will still arrive at the same airport.
We are at the heart of global arbitrage, and not just in a financial sense. It seems to run in our mind-set. Our authorities know this and chose its foreign policy more carefully. That is why my Natalie can return home with lots of Gruyere cheese each trip (we do enjoy camembert and brie too).
Welcome to Switzerland and say “cheese” for your next photo of the Matterhorn.
Do you mean Silvio Berlusconi? Mod
I agree too, as a French citizen living in a small city ( Ambilly) at the border of Switzerland I have to endure all the bureaucracy. But thanks to bilateral agreements, I have the opportunity to drop my visa application in any russian visa Center in Switzerland thanks for my EU passport. It saves the trouble having to go to Lyon( 200kms) to drop and get back my passport and the inherent costs of the transport.
I just drop my application form, a not so good looking picture of myself, invitation and insurance in Geneva and wait one week after being lighter of 80+ CHF ( plus 2% if i pay by credit card. little racketeering in my opinion).
For a russia enthusiast as I am, it is very expensive to get visa, the cost for an invitation and visa formalities is around 100€ for 3-4 days of stay in the country, multiply by 5-6 times for a year, and you have a two weeks all inclusive vacation in sunny Greece. ( sun is not a commodity which is abundant in Russia unlike others).
I think they should ease on the visa restrictions from the russian side but I do agree russia needs to control the flow of tourists somehow in this tense political climate and act in “retaliation” the way their citizens get their visa demands treated when they want to visit or move to their countries ( ie USA, Canada, Germany).
I have a good friend who is married to a German resident, highly educated, speaks three languages and a hard worker specialist (design interior) has been her working visa to join her husband. Strange for a country that accepted over a million of unskilled and uneducated migrants to deny a working permit to a qualified individual, her only “mistake” is to be russian? I won’t draw this conclusion but it seems to me that everything is pointing to this direction.
In comparison, EU countries issue Schengen visas for Russian citizens for several years.it means that They can travel to 27 countries for a period of 2-3 years depending the country that delivers the visa. in St. Petersburg it is the finish visa that is the most popular, Finland is smart they issue a visa for all Europe for several years ( depending on if you respected the short term previous visas that you were given prior) with a condition: you must come several time in Finland and spend 8 hours minimum on each visit in order to satisfy the visa requirement, all for less than 100€. All the Baltic countries were doing this too, unless the stopped doing this in their Russophobia frenzy of the recent months, and for which I have no input on this.
I think Russia should engage in such way for people that are regular visitor and to encourage them to visit the country, because the only tourists category you can see after the russian ones, on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg are Chinese and Indians ( in smaller number but growing).
Belarus lifted the visa requirements for 5 days trip in order to boost its tourism, Russia should engage in the same way as an effort to tackle Russophobia. All the people I encouraged to go to Russia came back very happy and were surprised that the country was not as they are repeated in the mainstream media.
Tackle stereotypes one tourist at a time. Visa free will be the new weapon for Russia :)
I agree! I have been busy making plans to visit the Crimea, not that I actually think I will ever get there but I figured out a fairly inexpensive way to travel and am ready to go at any time except winter. I will take a cheap flight to Moscow, then go by plane, bus or train down to one of two cities whose names sound the same to me – Sevastopol and another one. I know all about the 3 climate areas, the beaches, the mountains and the plains. It sounds wonderful and I am ready. But…..since I was born of people whose parents emigrated to the USA I fear that I will forever be longing to see the Crimea and never get there. However, back in the day I went from Mexico to Cuba and the travel agent handled the visa and they just stamped a piece of paper so there was no mark on my passport for the USA to see; maybe this can be done in another country and then I will go. As I write this blather I am thinking – where there is a will there is a way.