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Russia (Russian ?????´?, transliteration Rossiya) - more fully known as the Russian Federation (Russian ?????´????? ??????´???, transliteration Rossiyskaya Federatsiya) - is a vast country in Eastern Europe and northern Asia. Russia has both extensive Arctic Ocean and North Pacific Ocean coastlines, as well as smaller coastlines on the Baltic, Black and Caspian Seas. Russia is bordered by Norway and Finland to the northwest, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine to the west, Georgia and Azerbaijan to the southwest, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia to the south, and China and North Korea to the southeast. The American state of Alaska lies opposite the easternmost point of Russia across the Bering Strait.
Russia also administers the exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast on the Baltic coast between Poland and Lithuania.
Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of area. Despite its size, much of the country lacks proper soils and climates (either too cold or too dry) for agriculture. Mount Elbrus (Gora El'brus), at 5,633 m, is Europe's tallest peak.
Passports, Visas, and other documents Visas Citizens of most non-Russia or CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries must obtain a visa prior to arriving to Russia. Obtaining a Russian visa is a costly, time-consuming, and sometimes frustrating process. Most visitors should start the process at least two months in advance.
There are two terms, invitation (or voucher for tourist visa) and the visa itself. Invitation is the paper in exchange of which one gets the actual visa. Visa is a sticker to one's passport. There are several types of invitations and visas.
The tourist invitation is a letter of confirmation of booking and pre-payment of your accommodation and travel arrangements in Russia. Can be obtained from a government approved hotel in Russia, on-line hotel booking service or Russian travel agency. The sign of government approval is so called "consular reference" the number of government registration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. Only hotels and travel agencies that have consular reference can issue the confirmations valid for visa purposes. Using a local Visa Service to obtain a Russian Visa will streamline the process. They will double check your application and invitation, go to the embassy for you and return your passport to you. This saves time and frustration.
It should be noted that tricks like booking one night of a hotel and getting a visa for 30 days with the paper received from the hotel for one night booking won't work, as the visa will be granted for one day only in such a case.
However, some travel agencies will issue a confirmation for a fee, without actually collecting the accommodation pre-payment. The legality of such actions are in question and there is a bit of controversy about this.
Tourist confirmation and the accommodation voucher are normally accepted as a faxed/e-mailed copy, though the consular official has a right to ask for the original if fraud is suspected.
Another type of invitation is required to obtain a business visa. Business invitations are issued by the government and for many Russian consulates the original hard copy is required (though some will accept a faxed copy, always check this before applying) Obtaining the business invitation is time consuming and costly. Any registered company in Russia can apply for the business invitation for a foreign national in the visa and passport office in Russia. It normally takes 4 to 6 weeks to get one. Business visa is granted in exchange of business invitation by the Russian consulate and it is a lot more flexible than a tourist one. Can be multiple entry and valid for travel and stay in Russia for up to 12 months. Some travel agencies in Russia can help obtaining business invitation.
Some Russian local governments have a right to invite foreigners for business and cultural activities by sending a TELEX to the Embassy or Consulate of Russia overseas, requesting the visa issue to a particular foreigner or group of foreigners. Such telex messages are used instead of invitation. This is normally the way to go if you are invited by the government.
Personal invitation. Any Russian citizen can apply to invite foreign national for a visit at the passport and visa office. The process is much the same as for business invitation. Take 4 to 6 weeks. Looks exactly the same as business one, but the purpose of travel and the visa type will be stated as personal. The inviting individual is solely responsible for all your activities while in Russia and can be penalised heavily if something goes wrong. So personal invitations are usually not available for a fee through the net.
It should be noted that you will need to pay for the cost of the invitation and the visa itself, each of which can cost from $40-100 or more, usually depending on how fast you want it issued. To save money, start the process as early as possible.
When you go through passport control into Russia, you will give the border official a filled-in migration card. You should be given the card back, and it should be stamped. You must carry this card with you at all times in Russia, and you may be asked for it when you leave. You receive the migration card while you're en-route to Russia, either on the train or in the plane. It is a small white piece of paper nearly the size of two index cards. There are two parts: one for exit and one for entry. When you cross the border the 'entry' portion is taken and you keep 'exit' part. You must get this card registered. If on a tourist visa, your hotel should do this. If you are on a business visa, usually it is best to do it through the company that got you the invitation. This registration has a fee also, and without it you could get in trouble. Police on the streets will do random passport checks so you must have your passport on you at all times. But you're not alone -- this goes for Russian citizens as well.
Moscow and St. Petersburg are served by direct flights to most European capitals, and Moscow also has direct flights many cities in East Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and North America. Currently the only non-stop flights from the United States to Russia are offered by Delta (from New York and Atlanta to Moscow) and Aeroflot (from New York, Washington and Los Angeles to Moscow). There are airports in all large cities in Russia. However, international service to destinations other than Moscow and St. Petersburg is still very limited.
Aeroflot (Russian Airlines) constitutes Russia's national airline.
S7 airlines (ex-Siberia or Sibir Airlines) Russia's largest domestic carrier with international service to many cities in Germany, China and ex-Soviet republics.
Low-cost air-lines from Europe:
DBA from Germany to Moscow flies from Berlin (Tegel), Duesseldorf (Nordrhein-Westfallen), Koeln/Bonn (Konrad Adenauer), Muenchen (Franz Josef Strauss), Stuttgart (Echterdingen). Approximate one-way price - 110 Euro
Germanwings from Germany to Moscow flies from Berlin-Schonefeld, Koeln/Bonn, Hamburg, Stuttgart. Approximate one-way price - 100 USD.
Wind jet from Italy to Moscow flies from Forli. Approximate one-way price - 90 Euro
Evolavia from Italy to Moscow flies from Ancona on Wednesdays till 27.10.2006. Approximate one-way price - 140 Euro
Norwegian from Norway to St. Petersburg flies from Oslo. Approximate one-way price - 94 Euro
Transfering between the international and domestic terminals at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO) could be difficult for a non-Russian speaker. Many people arrange for a private car in advance.
Train service is usually reliable. You can get a direct train from many cities in Eastern and Central Europe to Moscow and sometimes St. Petersburg. Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, Berlin, and Warsaw are all possible departure points with daily services to Russia. Most long distance trains have 2 to 6 passengers per room, 4 being the most common. The Trans-Siberian Railway spans the entire country and connects European Russia with Russian Far East provinces.
For details on Russian trains, see below in the Get Around: By Train section.
Travelling in Russia by car can be difficult. Roads may be poorly marked, if marked at all, and poorly maintained - especially outside the cities and towns. Car rental services are only starting to develop in major cities such as Moscow or St. Petersburg, and are expensive.
Crossing the border by car is also a peculiar entertainment.
There is no doubt that car travel is the best way to see the country, but it is a risky enterprise which is recommended only for the brave and capable.
Russian highways have highway patrol police (GAI) roadblock every 20 km or so. If you have an international license plate, prepare to pay a bribe ($5-$20) in some of the most corrupt regions (e.g., in the Caucasus). Russian traffic rules are very numerous and you will be found violating some of them. If you decide not to pay, at best you should expect to spend several hours at every road block.
Service is scarce and poor, and the countryside can be quite dangerous without experience and fluency in the Russian language.
Information provided by Wikipedia
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