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I'm interested in crossing the border from Norway to Russia at Storskog, via car. We thought about driving to Murmansk or even not so far - Zapolyarny for instance.

We will have a tent with us and ideally we'd like to camp. I'm pretty sure that there's no "freedom to roam" in Russia i.e. we can't just camp anywhere we'd like.

I'd like to find a campsite where we pay some money and camp there and have access to some facilities.

However, I'm not sure if we'll be able to plan in advance where we're going to stay.

When you apply for a Russian visa it seems as though you have to list a hotel or a person you will be staying with. Is there any way to get a visa without having an exact prior plan for where you will be staying? And if so, is a campsite considered an acceptable place of residence to list?

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3 Answers 3

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There's good news and bad news.

The good news - you CAN camp anywhere, except the church land, private gardens and near water reservoirs. We researched this in 2008 and found many, many resources online saying it's perfectly fine to camp even on the side of the road. We even checked this with locals in Novosibirsk when we got there. However, they suggested that while it's cool and all, it's safer to camp in a campsite as there's security. And we could register with the campsite owner.

The bad news - the campsite owners didn't do registration. However on subsequent trips to Russia, I've found a lot of places claim to not do registration, or will come up with all sorts of excuses why they can't do it (weekend, only staying a day, etc etc).

The way around this is to find a travel agent, as it's possible to register there. Or find a hostel and ask them to register you there for a week. That's what most who were willing would do for me, as it made no difference to them, and would increase the odds of me staying there if I was already registered.

And this helpful page on Russian visa registration also points out it's possible to go and register at a Russian police station. Personally though, I'd exhaust the travel agency / hostel tricks first before approaching the police about an 'unusual' situation (see past experiences).

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I'm confused (not your fault!). When I apply for my visa I have to list the place I'm staying. Can I just enter any random place? I had not even heard of the registration thing. –  victoriah Dec 15 '11 at 4:25
    
This is a good answer b/c I had not heard of the registration thing before, but it doesn't really help me with how to apply for a visa in the first place. –  victoriah Dec 15 '11 at 4:26
    
I found kolatravel.com/campings.htm which seems helpful but I'm unsure if the agency is reputable or not. –  victoriah Dec 15 '11 at 4:30
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Oh it gets fun ;) First you need an invite to Russia, either from a person living there, or from a company (it's daft, but that's how it works). I and friend have used visatorussia.com. Then you use the invite and apply for a visa. ONCE that's all sorted and you're IN Russia, you then need to register wherever you stay for more than 3 days. It's an absolute pain. I recommend travel.stackexchange.com/questions/447/… and similar for more detail, or perhaps ask another separate question ;) –  Mark Mayo Dec 15 '11 at 4:45
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Sounds awful. Probably not worth the hassle for a weekend trip I guess. –  victoriah Dec 15 '11 at 4:47
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As @Mark said, you must get an invitation to enter Russia. This is a legacy of the USSR, and though our politicians are trying to change it, it's very hard to do because of safety problems with immigrants from former USSR republics. But if you are going for a weekend, you don't have to register in Murmansk at arrival - the invitation with visa will be enough (as it is less than 3 days).

As for the camping - yes, @Mark is right - you can camp everywhere you can go on your own. You can even camp near lakes, rivers, roads and forests. You must only be careful with nature (don't leave your stuff behind, don't make a big fire, and so on).

Restricted areas are properly marked, so you wouldn't have any problems with that.

Update:
You must register in every city or village, if you are staying there for more than 3 days (without weekends and national holidays).
Proof link (In Russian)

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aren't there limits to the number of nights you can remain unregistered during your trip? I visited Uzbekistan earlier this year (another former USSR republic, so rules are likely similar from bureaucratic statis if anything) and there you have to get a card from every hotel you stay or a police registration to account for every single day of your stay in country, with a maximum of 3 days you're allowed to not have such paperwork. Not that we were asked to produce it on departure (which is a good thing, as many hotels bungled up the papers). –  jwenting Dec 15 '11 at 11:47
    
As @Mark Mayo said, you need to register wherever you stay for more than 3 days. –  VMAtm Dec 15 '11 at 11:48
    
I know, but in Uzbekistan those 3 days are cumulative for the entire trip, not per location. Ensure what it is in Russia to prevent possible trouble on exiting the country. –  jwenting Dec 16 '11 at 6:02
    
@jwenting Updated the answer with proof link –  VMAtm Dec 16 '11 at 7:43
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My company Russian Connections specializes in travel to Russia for people from the United States. I looked over all of the responses and have some extra information for you. Rules with Russian change all the time.

REGISTRATION: Currently you only need to register yourself only if you plan to stay more than 7 working days in Russia. I agree with the other that hostel and hotel registration is the best solution. If they are nice, they may register you for your whole stay in Russia. If you plan to move around a lot and will stay in Russia more than 7 working days, I recommend that you register at least in one city in Russia. That way if you run into any problems you can show that you did register at one city and then moved a round the country.

based on information on the russian consulate web site

CITIES: The cities that you list on your application are entered into a computer system and Russian officials can check that list. I recommend you list the 5-6 cities that you plan to stay more than 48-72 hours in. Better to list more than less.

If you have more question, I will do my best to answer them.

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Can you provide the proof link about the 7 working days, not 3 working days? –  VMAtm Dec 20 '11 at 5:37
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This is from the Russian Consulate in San Francisco site "Upon arrival to Russia if you stay in Russia more than seven business days you will have to register as a foreigner. This registration is mandatory as required by the Russian Law that regulates entry/exit and stay of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation." link –  Andrey Travel Dec 21 '11 at 21:32
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