TICOP2012

Important TICOP Information

Travel and Visa Information
It is MOST IMPORTANT that passports be valid to at least March 2013.

ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS

The Russian government maintains a restrictive and complicated visa regime for foreigners who visit, transit, or reside in the Russian Federation. A U.S. citizen who does not comply with Russian immigration laws can be subject to arrest, fines, and/or deportation.Russian authorities will not allow U.S. citizens to depart the country if their visa has expired. Travelers must wait until a new visa is approved, which may take up to 20 days. Please verify the expiration date of your Russian visa, and leave Russia before your visa expires!

Sponsorship

Under Russian law, every foreign traveler must have a Russian-based sponsor, which could be a hotel, tour company, relative, employer, university, etc. Even if you obtained your visa through a travel agency in the United States, there is still a Russian legal entity whose name is indicated on your visa and who is considered to be your legal sponsor. In many cases, organizations with sponsorship ability are being paid informally by travel agents to act as a legal sponsor, in violation of Russian law. Please ensure the name of the sponsor indicated on your visa corresponds with the organization you intend to visit, or those who are arranging your travel in Russia.If the sponsor named on your visa is not the person or entity you intend to visit, you may encounter problems with Russian immigration authorities. If you intend to work for a non-government organization (NGO) or engage in religious work, be sure to apply for the specific type of visa required by Russian law (usually a humanitarian visa).Russian law requires that your sponsor apply on your behalf for replacement, extension, or changes to a Russian visa. You should ensure that you have contact information for your visa sponsor prior to arrival in Russia, as the sponsor’s assistance will be essential to resolve any visa problems.

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Entry Visas

To enter Russia for any purpose other than short transit by air, or some cruise ship and ferry passengers, (see below), you must possess a valid U.S. passport and a visa issued by a Russian embassy or consulate. You cannot obtain a visa upon arrival, so you must apply for your visa well in advance. U.S. citizens who apply for Russian visas in third countries where they do not have permission to stay for more than 90 days may face considerable delays in visa processing. If you arrive in Russia without an entry visa you will not be permitted to enter the country, and could face immediate return to the point of embarkation at your own expense.

A Russian entry/exit visa has two dates written in the European style (day/month/year) as opposed to the U.S. style (month/day/year). The first date indicates the earliest date a traveler may enter Russia; the second date indicates the date by which a traveler must leave Russia. A Russian visa is only valid for those exact dates and cannot be extended after the traveler has arrived in the country, except in the case of a medical emergency.

Russian tourist visas are usually granted only for the specific dates mentioned in the invitation letter provided by the sponsor. U.S. citizens sometimes receive visas valid for periods as short as two days. You may wish to have someone who reads Russian check the visa before departing the United States. Please ensure that your visa reflects your intended activities in Russia (e.g., tourism, study, business, etc.) If you are denied a visa, you may seek clarification from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 32/34 Smolenskaya-Sennaya Pl., Moscow, Russia, 119200, ministry@mid.ru.

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Limitations on Length of Stay

Most foreigners may remain in the Russian Federation for only 90 days in a 180-day period. This provision applies to business, tourist, humanitarian, and cultural visas, among other categories, and is typically noted on the Russian visa. Those whose visas permit employment or study are not normally subject to this rule. If you plan to remain in Russia for more than 90 days, consult your visa sponsor to ensure that this is not a violation of visa regulations.Exit Visas:You need a valid visa to depart Russia. If you overstay your visa validity by less than three days you may be granted an exit visa at the airport (at the discretion of the Russian Consular Officer). If you overstay your visa by more than three days, you will be prevented from leaving until your sponsor intervenes and requests a visa extension on your behalf. Russian authorities may take up to 20 calendar days to authorize an exit visa, during which time you will be stranded in Russia at your own expense. You may also have difficulty checking into a hotel, hostel, or other lodging establishment with an expired Russian visa. Again, be sure to leave Russia before your visa expires. If you lose your U.S. passport and Russian visa by accident or theft, you must immediately replace your passport at the U.S. Embassy Moscow or one of the U.S. Consulates General. You must then enlist the assistance of your visa sponsor to obtain a new visa in order to depart the country. It is helpful to make a photocopy of your visa in the event of loss, but a copy is not sufficient to permit departure.

Visas for students and English teachers sometimes allow only one entry. In these cases, the sponsoring school is responsible for registering the visa and migration card and obtaining an exit visa. Obtaining an exit visa can take up to 20 calendar days, so students and teachers need to plan accordingly. Please see the section below regarding Teaching in Russia .

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Migration Cards

U.S. citizens entering Russia must carry a migration card, while in Russia. These two-part cards have traditionally been provided to foreign passengers before landing in Russia, to be filled out by the traveler. Upon arrival, Russian immigration authorities retain one of the identical halves, and the other half is carried in your passport for the duration of your stay in Russia. In 2011, Russian authorities launched a new program in Moscow’s Vnukovo and Domodedevo Airports, by which migration cards are electronically completed and provided by immigration officials. If you receive an electronic card, continue to carry your migration card in your U.S. passport and submit it to immigration authorities upon leaving; however, the loss of an electronic card does not present difficulties to departure, but the loss of a hand-completed form may. While only these two airports are currently issuing electronic migration cards, the Russian Federal Migration Service plans to expand their use to other international airports in the future.

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Visa Registration

If you intend to spend more than seven days in Russia, you must register your visa and migration card through your sponsor. If staying at a hotel, the hotel reception should register your visa and migration card on the first day of your stay. If you choose not to register a stay of less than seven days, we advise you to keep copies of tickets, hotel bills, or itineraries in order to prove compliance with the law.

Russian police officers have the authority to stop people and request their identity and travel documents at any time and without provocation. Due to the possibility of random document checks by police, you should carry your original passport, migration card and visa with you at all times.

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Transit Visas

If you intend to transit through Russia by land en route to a third country, you must have a Russian transit visa issued by a Russian Embassy or Consulate. If you are transiting through an international airport in Russia, and will depart from there again in 24 hours to an onward international destination, without leaving the customs zone, Russian law does not require you to have a transit visa. However, this law is sometimes misinterpreted by travelers and customs officials alike, and we recommend you obtain a Russian transit visa if there is any doubt about your transit plans. Foreigners who arrive in Russia without a valid visa, who do not meet visa-free transit requirements, may be forced to return to the point of origin at their own expense.

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U.S. Citizens Also Holding Russian Passports

If you are a dual U.S./Russian national, you are expected to enter and depart both Russia and the United States carrying the passport of that country. If you are a Russian citizen carrying a Russian passport, you should confirm that your Russian passport is valid beyond your planned departure; you will not be permitted to depart Russia with an expired Russian passport, and obtaining one in Russia, as a non-resident, is extremely difficult.

Russian external (international) passports extended by Russian consulates or embassies overseas are not considered valid for departure from Russia no matter how long the extension. Bearers of such passports must apply for a new passport in Russia. Males of conscript age (18 - 27 years old) who are deemed to be Russian citizens may experience problems if they have not satisfied their military service requirement.

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Minors

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated special procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child’s travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian, if not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not legally required, may facilitate entry/departure. For further information, please see the Department of State’s webpage regarding the prevention of international child abduction.

Special note: U.S. citizen minors who also have Russian citizenship, and are traveling alone or in the company of adults who are not their parents, must carry a Russian passport as well as a power of attorney written in Russian and signed by their parents. Such minors will be prevented from entering or leaving Russia if they cannot present such a power of attorney.

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HIV/AIDS Entry Restrictions

Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to, and foreign residents of, Russia. Short-term visitors (under three months) are not required to undergo an HIV/AIDS test, but applicants for longer term visas or residence permits may be asked to undergo tests not only for HIV/AIDS, but also for tuberculosis and leprosy. Travelers who believe they may be subject to the requirement should verify this information with the Embassy of the Russian Federation.

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Apostilles

The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General in Russia cannot provide apostilles to documents; this process must be done by the Secretary of State of the U.S. state which processed the document (or in the case of a U.S. federal agency document, the State Department’s Office of Authentications.) For more information about Apostilles, visit the U.S. Embassy website.  

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Embassy of the Russian Federation

For additional information concerning travel to Russia, U.S. citizens may contact the Embassy of the Russian Federation, Consular Section, 2641 Tunlaw Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20007, tel. 202-939-8907.

In addition, there are Russian Consulates in:

Houston: 1333 West Loop South, Ste.1300, Houston, TX 77027, tel. 713-337-3300; New York: 9 East 91 St., New York, NY 10128, tel. 212-348-0926; San Francisco: 2790 Green St., San Francisco, CA 94123, tel. 415-928-6878 or 415-202-9800; and Seattle: 2323 Westin Building, 2001 6th Ave., Seattle, WA 98121, tel. 206-728-1910.

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Demonstrations

U.S. citizens should avoid all public demonstrations, whether properly authorized by local officials or not, and avoid any large crowds and public gatherings that lack enhanced security measures. Occasional peaceful demonstrations near the U.S. Embassy do not generally interfere with public services, but U.S. citizens should avoid them when possible. Travelers should also exercise a high degree of caution and remain alert when patronizing restaurants, casinos, nightclubs, bars, theaters, etc., especially during peak hours of business.

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Personal Privacy

Travelers should be aware that the Russian Federal Law on Operational Search Activity passed in 1995, in conjunction with Order No. 130 by the Minister of Information Technology and Communications (July 25, 2000), commonly known as SORM, permits the monitoring, retention and analysis of all data that traverses Russian communications networks. This may include fax transmissions, telephone calls, internet browsing and e-mail messaging. U.S. citizens should be cognizant of this when using these means of communication.

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Currency

The Russian ruble is the only legal tender currency. It is illegal to pay for goods and services in U.S. dollars except at authorized retail establishments. Worn U.S. bills or bills marked in any way are often not accepted at banks and exchange offices.

Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are plentiful in major cities. Travelers should follow all normal precautions about using ATMs. In particular, they should avoid “stand-alone” machines and opt for machines at banks or higher-class hotels and stores. Credit cards are not universally accepted, and travelers should check in advance to see if a specific store, restaurant, or hotel accepts credit cards. Outside of major cities, commercial enterprises still operate largely on a cash basis and travelers should plan accordingly.

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Customs Information

Passengers must personally escort their luggage through Russian customs. Under a strict interpretation of this law, airline companies may not deliver a lost bag to the traveler’s final destination. Not all airlines will reimburse the traveler for expenses related to retrieving lost luggage. 

Rigorous searches of baggage and strict enforcement of customs regulations against the exportation of items of “cultural value” can occur. U.S. citizen visitors to Russia have been arrested for attempting to leave the country with antique items they believed were legally purchased from licensed vendors. Travelers should obtain receipts for all high-value items (including caviar) purchased in Russia. Any article that could appear old or as having cultural value to the Customs Service, including artwork, icons, samovars, rugs, military medals, and antiques, must have a certificate indicating that it has no historical or cultural value. Certificates may not be granted for certain articles, either due to their cultural value or antiquity. Where certificates are required, they may be obtained from the Russian Ministry of Culture. For further information, Russian speakers may call the Sheremetyevo-2 Airport Service Office in Moscow at (7) (495) 578-2125/578-2120. In St. Petersburg, the Ministry of Culture may be reached at 311-3496.

The importation and use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and other radio electronic devices are sometimes subject to special rules and regulations in Russia. The Russian Customs Service recently stated that terminal GPS devices can be imported upon their simple declaration on arrival. A special customs permit should be obtained in the case of importation of a GPS to be used as a peripheral device to a separate computer and/or antenna to increase its capability.

In general, mapping and natural resource data collection activities associated with normal commercial and scientific collaboration may result in seizure of the associated equipment and/or arrest. The penalty for using a GPS device in a manner which is determined to compromise Russian national security can be a prison term of ten to twenty years.

Visitors may bring regular cellular telephones to Russia without restriction. Satellite telephones require advance approval from the Russian authorities. The Russian agency responsible for telecommunications issues and which approves the importation of satellite phones is Rosnadzor.

There are no restrictions on bringing laptop computers into the country for personal use. The software, however, may be inspected upon departure. Hardware and software found to contain sensitive or encrypted data may be subject to confiscation.

Travelers entering Russia with $10,000 or more in cash may have to explain the money’s origin and intended use. You may be required to present supporting documentation such as receipts from the sale of personal items or for ATM cash withdrawals.

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Prescription Medication

Russia also has very strict rules on the importation of large quantities of medication. Certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs common in the United States are prohibited in Russia, and large quantities of any medicine will receive scrutiny. Contact a Russian embassy or consulate for specific information regarding this or other customs regulations.

The U.S. Embassy recommends that all U.S. citizens entering Russia with prescription medication carry a copy of their valid U.S. prescription. U.S. citizen visitors have been detained in Russia for not being able to prove that their prescription medication was lawfully obtained in the United States.

If a traveler is in doubt regarding the importation into Russia of a particular item, he or she should address specific questions to the Federal Customs Service of the Russian Federation or send a message to their email.

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Accessibility

Individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation in Russia very different from what you find in the United States. Russian law requires that most new public buildings and others with community space (e.g., shopping centers) be accessible for persons with disabilities. However, many older buildings are not required to meet these requirements. The Moscow Metro is not accessible to persons with disabilities.

Getting around in Russian cities and towns may be difficult at times since many sidewalks are narrow and uneven. In general, mobility is easier in cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, compared to smaller towns and rural areas. In general, public transport is not accommodating to people with disabilities. 

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MEDICAL INSURANCE

You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:

  • Does my policy apply when I’m out of the United States?
  • Will it cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or a medical evacuation?

In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS

You may encounter road conditions and driver safety norms that differ significantly from those in the United States. As a pedestrian, exercise great care near traffic, as vehicles frequently fail to yield to pedestrians. In some areas of Russia, roads are practically nonexistent. When driving, adhere to all local driving regulations; these are strictly enforced and violators are subject to severe legal penalties. Russia practices a zero-tolerance policy with regard to alcohol consumption prior to driving. The maximum punishment is a two-year suspension of a driver’s license. An intoxicated driver may also be detained until he or she is deemed to be sober.

More: Traffic Safety & Road Conditions

Avoid excessive speed and, if at all possible, do not drive at night, particularly outside of major cities. In rural areas, it is not uncommon to find livestock crossing roadways at any given time. Construction sites or stranded vehicles are often unmarked by flares or other warning signals. Sometimes cars have only one working headlight and many cars lack taillights. Bicycles seldom have lights or reflectors. Due to these road conditions, be prepared for sudden stops at any time. Learn about your route from an auto club, guidebook, or government tourist office. Some routes have heavy truck and bus traffic, while others have poor or nonexistent shoulders; many are one-way or do not permit left turns. Also, some of the newer roads have very few restaurants, motels, gas stations, or auto repair shops along their routes. For your safety, have your vehicle serviced and in optimum condition before you travel. It is wise to bring an extra fan belt, fuses, and other spare parts. In the Russian Far East, most vehicles are right-side drive, affording the drivers limited visibility on two-lane roads.

Temporary visitors to Russia may drive for up to 60 days with a valid U.S. driver’s license and a notarized Russian translation. Tourists may also use International Driving Permits issued by the American Automobile Association or the American Automobile Touring Alliance to drive in Russia. Foreigners in Russia on business or employment visas, or with permanent residence status in Russia, are required by law to have a Russian driver’s license. In order to obtain this license, one has to take the appropriate exams in Russian. A U.S. driver's license cannot be exchanged for a Russian license. Travelers without a valid license are often subject to prolonged stops by police.

Drivers must carry third-party liability insurance under a policy valid in Russia. U.S. automobile liability insurance is not valid in Russia, nor are most collision and comprehensive coverage policies issued by U.S. companies. A good rule of thumb is to buy coverage equivalent to that which you carry in the United States.

Roadside checkpoints are commonplace. These checkpoints are ostensibly in place to detect narcotics, alien smuggling, and firearms violations; however, they are sometimes used by traffic police to extract cash “fines.” See paragraph under Crime on mistreatment by police.

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