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Last week I discussed with a friend if it is necessary to get a Russian visa if you travel with a cruise liner to Saint Petersburg in Russia? I think so, but my friend has the opinion that it is not necessary since you're accomondation is not in Russia but on the "international" cruise line. Who is right?

I have to edit my question to clarify something: I'm not asking if I need to care about the visa by myself or if the tour operator does it. I already did that this summer and I know it can be a PITA. I want to know if I need a Visa at all.

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More another question than answer. The visa exemption when travelling with an organised excursion of the cruise ship, does that apply to only USA residents or do other countries residents qualify. ie (New Zealand) ? –  Neil Wynne Nov 25 at 8:48
    
@NeilWynne, there are no conditions as to the nationality or residence to use this visa exemption scheme. –  Andrey Chernyakhovskiy Nov 25 at 12:09

4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Going with a cruise line is an exception to the rule that you need a visa. Basically, Russia uses the visa requirement to control the inflow of visitors. But if you are with a cruise line that has ALREADY submitted to Russian controls, you are effectively "controlled." The cruise line will only organize tours/excursions approved by the Russian government, using guides licensed by it. That, and not the "international accommodation", is the reason for the waiver.

When leaving the ship, you will need to show your passport and have it stamped at the custom house. They will then give you a pass that is valid only for that ONE excursion. Needless to say, you have to come back with the rest of the group, and not go out on your own. If you lose your pass, there is a fine. I believe it's $50. If you stay on board the ship the whole time, none of this applies. Then the "international accommodation" part holds. But if you go on your own (not a ship sponsored tour), then you need a visa.

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Actually, this is one exception where an organized "shore excursion" works better than venturing out on your own. In other words, you will be better served taking the tour with the cruise line. The cruise line takes care of the paperwork involving the entry visa.

We disembarked at St. Petersburg with the cruise company and had the visa taken care of, while others in our party who explored on their own, had to submit paperwork and seek visa approval before hand.

Enjoy St. Petersburg. It's truly breathtaking!

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You DO NOT need a Russian visa if you book for shore excursions through ANY licensed tour operator (absolutely not necessarily through the cruise line).

Smaller tour operators offer better services and more personal care. You can have a look at the tour operator Tour De Force or any other -

I have been working in the shore excursions industry in St. Petersburg since 2000 and I guarantee the info provided. We provide shore excursions without visa for thousands of customers every year.

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To answer your follow-up question, your friend is definitely wrong if he meant that the ship is not subject to the local laws and somehow allowed to go everywhere and disembark passengers without visa in each and every country of the world, just because they are not staying for the night. As far as I know, the only situation in which international law would mandate something like that is if the ship is in distress.

That said, many countries welcome international cruises and might provide ways to go on-shore without visa or facilitate the visa process because they are happy to get a boatload of tourists to spend their money. But that's still entirely up to them, it has nothing to do with the ship being some sort of “international accommodation”.

Similarly some countries have generous visa waiver provisions or offer exemptions from visa or even passport requirements for organized tours as a way to foster tourism (e.g. Tunisia, where some foreign nationals can go with ID but no travel document if they are part of a group), even though there is no ship and no international anything in this scenario.

Others have already commented on the specifics for Russia and Saint-Petersburg.

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