How to visit Russia Visa Free – A simple guide to visiting St Petersburg by ferry
Getting a visa puts a lot of people off visiting Russia as it can be a lengthy and expensive process but did you know you can visit totally visa free? Just enter St. Petersburg by cruise or ferry and you are allowed to spend 72 hours in the country. This little travel hack makes the motherland a whole lot more accessible and is a great way to get an insight into the country before committing to a visa.
There are several ways to go about visa free entry. Several cruise companies offer this option and there are also group tours such as Go Russia where this is all organised for you. But the cheapest and best option for independent travellers is to take the ferry.
The St. Peter line Ferry operates between St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn on a two week rotating schedule. Tickets cost as little as 25 euro without a room. You can book online but it can be a tad confusing, I’m going to tell you all about it in this post. It’s not the easiest process even for the most seasoned traveller so take the stress out with this easy to follow guide.
“Foreign tourists and persons without citizenship or relevant visa and/or proper permission travelling on ferries may arrive to the Russian Federation without Russian visa for the period of 72 hours being part of organised excursion group. VISA-Free journey can last up to 3 days.”MOBY St Peter line website
How to book the St Peter Line Ferry
The best option is to book direct through the MOBY website here https://stpeterline.com. We found several companies offering the same service at elevated rates to get a slice of commission, but it’s exactly the same thing you’re getting. There are different standards of rooms, an average double room costs around €60pn with an mandatory harbour fee €15pp and city bus shuttle which allows you entry into the country:
“All passengers travelling visa free have to reserve sightseeing program in St. Petersburg in advance. The most affordable way is purchasing city bus shuttle service offered by MOBY SPL LIMITED mandatory shuttle bus ticket’s price is 25€ for adults and 12,5€ for children (0-12 years).”MOBY St Peter line website
How much does it cost?
It depends on the cabin class as well as the departure and destination cities. It’s pretty straightforward to work out when looking at the website. As an example we booked a B2 two bed cabin with bathroom from Helsinki to St Petersburg to Tallinn which cost €189 in total for two people with the harbour fee and shuttle. Not bad for two nights accommodation and transport.
Where to stay in St Petersburg
This is where it gets a bit technical. We heard you can stay on the ferry but have to go through the lengthy embark/disembark procedure cutting down your limited time in the city so we didn’t really look into it. The MOBY website leads you to believe you must book a hotel with them as they cannot guarantee a hotel will accept your visa free stay and fill out your registration papers. In fact most major hotels should provide this. However something to be careful with: DO NOT BOOK AN AIR BNB! They do not have the proper authority to register visa free stays apparently.
“If a passenger stays within the Russian Federation territory for longer than one day the passenger must present to the Border Guard Service a hotel voucher, a confirmation of payment for the booking. Passing the registration formalities at the hotel is obligatory.”MOBY St Peter line website
Don’t let these warnings deter you…
• “Hotel accommodation must be booked via booking system of MOBY SPL LIMITED.
Accommodation booked via Airbnb service is forbidden in frame of visa free cruise. Passengers booked accommodation via Airbnb service will be refused in check-in to the ship.”
• “MOBY SPL LIMITED guarantees accommodation in hotels only if its booked through booking system of MOBY SPL LIMITED. “
Whilst you can of course book through MOBY we found the rates to be inflated when compared to Booking.com and really there’s no difference.They state when booking hotels it’s important to check if the hotel provides registration services so a quick email to the hotel should suffice. However they do advise not to book the following hotels as there are issues with registration:
“Please do not book the accommodation in the following Hotels in Saint-Petersburg in order to avoid problems with accommodation:MOBY St Peter line website
1) Courtyard by Marriott St. Petersburg Vasilievsky
2) Renaissance St. Petersburg Baltic
3) Ghotel on Nevsky”
It’s best to book a hotel near St Isaacs square as this is where the included shuttle from the port will drop you off and pick up for departure. We chose Sonata at Nevsky 11, it’s central and cost around €50 a night for both of us. It’s basic but we’d recommend it and they can store bags.
What is the procedure on the ferry?
Expect general confusion. It’s an Italian ferry company sailing from Scandinavian countries to a Russian city! It’s not supposed to be easy, where’s the fun in that?! Some helpful tips:
- Debarkation is on Deck 4.
- The boarding card is also the room key.
- Make sure to get a ‘migration slip’ from the border and keep safe for exiting.
A handy schedule if you are doing the same route:
15:00/16:00 Helsinki ferry check in
17:30 Check in closes
18:00 Ferry departs
09:00 Ferry arrives St Petersburg
09:30 Onwards shuttles to St Isaacs square
Two nights totally free in St Petersburg!
16:00/17:00 shuttle departure from St Isaacs square (every 15/30mins, can get busy at check in)
18:00 Check in closes
19:00 Ferry departs for Tallinn
09:00 Ferry arrives Tallinn
Note: These ferries run between Stockholm, Tallinn, Helsinki and St Petersburg. Please always check the websites ferry schedule for your specific timings; www.stpeterline.com.
You will need all documents printed for embarkation. Please check additional requirements if you are travelling from outside of the Schengen area. Documents include a Passport valid for 6 months and a printed hotel voucher and proof of payment. Having some cash in Euros or Rubles is never a bad idea either. Always have a printed proof of travel insurance!
What’s the ferry like?
For anyone with experience of Italian ferries I don’t need to say much else. Cheap and cheerful is a polite way to put it, it’s a ferry not a cruise after all. Rooms are small but have an en-suite. The WiFi is expensive and pretty terrible so download films and bring a book to pass the time. There are several restaurants on board the Princess Anastasia, a New York style restaurant, a buffet, an English pub, an Italian and a breakfast cafe. OK quality but Scandinavian prices (I’d recommend a stashed bottle of wine and maybe even a packed dinner, there are a few signs deterring this but they seem to be ignored by many people!).
There’s also a casino, several bars and a spa with pools and sauna for an additional fee (€10 for 1.5hours). There also standard ferry stuff like duty free, money exchange and medical centre. It’s a pretty flat bit of ocean so is generally a very smooth crossing so no worries for those that suffer from sea sickness.
How was disembarking?
For general passengers it’s a scramble, the exit time is 9:30 from Deck 4. It can be a squash but if left later you could be further back in the long immigration queues. The border control process took about 1.5 hours in total and was fairly painless, everyone stuck to the lines and the questioning wasn’t at all as bad as I expected for a British tourist. Although my other half had a few cold hard looks deep into his soul from the Russian immigration lady.
The shuttle bus is super easy. There is a little desk after passing security which can give you info and departure times then right outside the door there is a sign with “Moby Shuttle Bus” written on it. The bus is difficult with big luggage but I’d say the whole trip is more suited to a hand luggage sized rucksack.
So in short…
- Book your tickets here https://stpeterline.com
- Read MOBYS rules for visa free entry but don’t be put off booking your own hotel. https://stpeterline.com/en_US/-/visa-free-rules (Note that these rules are for people who have permission to visit the Schengen Area, so if you’re visiting the Schengen Area on a visa, you’ll need a double-entry visa in order to do this trip.)
- There isn’t much info after booking so read your documents carefully and check specific timings for your stay on the website. Https://stpeterline.com/raspisanie-paromov
- Print all relevant documents for your stay; Accommodation proof, travel insurance and all tickets.
- Choose a hotel near St Isaacs square for convenience with the shuttle and it’s a good central location. Do not book through Air BnB!
- Check out my post Top 10 things to do in St Petersburg for tips.
Want to know more? Check out Topcatravels on YouTube for a how to video for booking the St Peters Line ferry: