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Russia - Visas

Whether you are arriving in Russia for a holiday or to join the expat community, you will need to ensure you have all the necessary documents to enter and remain legally. Stay only in safe areas and obey the law in every action and discussion. A combination of politics, economics and culture means that arrest and imprisonment in the country can be a traumatic ordeal for any traveller.

Bureaucracy In Russia

Russia has laws, regulations and a functioning justice system. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy is often slow and confusing, and corruption happens at many levels of the police and court services. If a police officer tries to take a bribe you can take note of their badge number and file an official complaint.

Whenever you come across a bureaucratic system, you will need patience. A Russian friend to help can sometimes be useful if you have a problem to resolve face to face.

Avoid any involvement with illegal drugs, drink driving or any other illegal activity. If you are arrested, ask for help from your nearest Consulate immediately.

Take A Valid Passport To Russia

You must have a valid passport which you have signed and which has at least six months before it expires. Carry your passport with you at all times along with your visa and show it to any police officer or official who asks to see it.

If you have dual nationality, think carefully about which passport to use before applying for a visa and booking your flight. If you need consular support for whatever reason, you can only receive help from the country whose passport you used. The second country’s consular staff cannot become involved in your case.

On arrival, you’ll be asked to complete an immigration card. Half of this will be handed in immediately, while the other half must be kept so you can hand it in when leaving Russia. Don’t lose it, or your departure could be delayed.

If you are staying anywhere in Russia for seven days or more, you must be registered with the authorities. The hotel management or landlord of your accommodation is responsible for doing this.

Which Visa Do You Need To Enter Russia?

Carefully check which visa you need to enter Russia and then obtain the correct one. You cannot arrive on a tourist visa for a business trip. Nor can you arrive under a tourist visa with the intention of applying for a residential visa inside Russia.

Most visas are issued within 20 working days of the application being filed. Check the information carefully as soon as you receive it, in case there are any errors to be corrected before you travel.

Do Not Work In Russia Without A Work Permit

Do not work in Russia until you have received a work visa along with the right to live in the country. This applies even if you work on a self-employed basis.

A significant part of the Russian economy is thought to be operating out of official sight. Cash in hand means a worker pays less tax on their income. Employers can pay a lower hourly cost and less taxes if they hire someone illegally.

However, if you are working illegally and an accident happens, you will have little protection from state laws. Moreover, the authorities could identify your workplace as a location for illegal workers and raid the premises. If you are caught as an illegal immigrant, you will be deported with no chance to organise your affairs.

Obtaining a work permit can take several months. You are required to complete an application, supply all official documents, have an HIV test and provide your police record. Your prospective employer must explain to the authorities why they need you to enter the country instead of offering the job to a local person.

UK expat Dan took an unusual route to obtain the right to live and work in Russia. “The biggest challenge was always getting a visa and figuring out a way to stay long term. First it was multi entry exit business visas then, when the law changed, I found a contact to pay to get me work visas. Then I found official employment and didn’t have to worry,” he explains.

If you want to know more about the types of work expats find in Russia, head over to the Finding Employment section of this country guide.

Arrive In Russia With Good Medical Insurance Cover

You must arrive with medical insurance in place, regardless of the reasons for coming to Russia or the length of time you intend to stay. Anyone can unexpectedly fall ill or have an accident. Healthcare is expensive and maxing out your credit card is the last thing you should be worrying about when needing emergency treatment.

Avoid Dangerous Areas of Russia

Most people visit and live in Russia safely. However, there are areas of the country which you must avoid. You run the risk of kidnap and harm in the North Caucasus, and your family at home may be unable to pay the ransom, even if they do have the money, since doing so violates laws about payments to terrorists. Many kidnap victims have been killed and neither their nationality nor occupation have given them any protection.

In big cities such as Moscow, dark streets and alleyways should be avoided so you don’t get mugged. On the whole, your safety in Russian cities isn’t much different to many other cities around the world, although many expats choose to live in gated communities. You can learn more about keeping safe in Moscow in the Expat Focus article Just How Dangerous Is Life As An Expat In Moscow?

Racism, Homophobia And Religious And Political Intolerance In Russia

Russian attitudes to society are conservative and are not likely to change anytime soon. If you are from Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent, or are a member of the LGBT community, you may find racist and homophobic taunts a commonplace experience in the country. After dark or near venues where people are drinking heavily, the risk of physical assault increases.

It is not illegal to be gay in Russia, but a number of official actions in recent years reflect the intolerance of society there. For example, the Pride march was banned for 100 years in Moscow in 2012.

For 73 years, the Communist Party aggressively suppressed religious worship in Russia. Once that era of control was over, people quickly found their religious devotion again. Communities in some areas are dominated by Islam, but the majority of believers across the country attend Russian Orthodox churches. Russian society as a whole has become increasingly intolerant of those who follow different beliefs. Many minority religious faiths and cults, including the Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientologists, have been made illegal.

Even atheist views can cause offence. In 2012, three members of the feminist protest punk group Pussy Riot were given prison sentences of two years for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. This was following a short punk performance by the band in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Russia has a long and complicated history of political relationships with countries and states near and far. Some of them have been violent and bloody, such as the war in Chechnya and related terrorist massacres in Russia. Other relationships have warmed and cooled again, including those with the EU and the US. Hostilities with the Republic of Ukraine have been ongoing since 2014, and annexation of the Crimea by Russia remains in place.

Many Russian people feel a sense of threat from the US and its allies, which forms a defensive perspective. This is reinforced by the majority of the media, which portrays Russia as a strong leader. You are strongly advised not to discuss politics with anyone outside your home.

When you arrive in a country whose population sees the world in a different way to the one you have come from, you do need to make some adjustment. US expat Jasilyn, a teacher based in Ufa, advises expats to be “open to new experiences and cultural differences. If you are a woman, you should realize that relationships between men and women are different, and this can be a good or bad thing. Also, be aware that bureaucracy is different and their way of thinking is different. It was really hard when I first came here because it felt like everything was disorganized, but if you just accept it as the way things are you’ll be a lot less stressed out.”

Read more about this country

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