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My partner and I will be starting our Trans-Mongolian adventure in about a week or so, but after reading the visa registration procedures from various resources, we're still a little confused about some of the details for our trip.

Basically, we'll be travelling from east to west. More specifically: our journey starts in Beijing, after which we'll hit Ulan-Bator in Mongolia for a few days, and our first stop in Russia will be Ulan Ude. From there, we'll be making our way towards Moscow over the period of 2-2.5 weeks.

Our main uncertainty is how to deal with registering our tourist visa along the way, from Ulan-Ude to Moscow (once we're in Moscow, we'll be staying at the same accommodation for a week, and close to another week after that in St. Petersburg, so we're confident our ho(s)tels will be able to help us out there).

Between Ulan-Ude and Moscow, we'll only be staying for one or two nights at a place at a time. That is, we'll get off the train, stay for one or two nights, and continue onwards west by train after that.

Our two main questions:

  • Is it fair to assume all hotels and hostels in Ulan-Ude offer a visa registration service? As far as we understand the process, we'll definitely have to register our visa within 7 days (not counting weekends and public holidays) of entering the country, regardless of how long we're staying at one location. Ulan-Ude seems to be our best option/most logical choice, but if not, what alternatives do we have? We were informed that sometimes the local UFMS or post office requires you to present a formal letter of invitation to register a visa - we don't have one, and honestly, it's sounds like a painful and time-consuming process if we were to have to do this at every stop...

  • After Ulan-Ude, can we expect visa registration services from ho(s)tels in cities like Krosnoyarsk, Novosibirsk, Perm and Vladimir? Should we even bother registering if we're only staying for one or two nights at every stop, or could we cherry-pick one or two cities where registering is 'easy' (while making sure we don't exceed the 7-day period between every subsequent registration)?

We're sure we're in a pretty common situation, and we're probably worrying too much about this stuff, but for whatever reason we found little to no documentation on the appropriate course of action for this scenario. Any advice is greatly appreciated!


PS: We're doing this trip independently. There's no travel agency or so involved, but of course we did get our support documents through a licensed tourist agency based in Russia (based on which we were both granted a 30-day tourist visa).

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The legal technicalities are as follows:

  • What is registered is an alien's stay (not visa). While an alien is en route, no legal obligation of being registered exists.
  • It is hosts' duty to register their alien guests. The latest edition of the law on registration even explicitly states that under no circumstances aliens may be held responsible for violations (except when the alien and the host are the same person).
  • Hotels and alike must register their guests within 24 hours after arrival (not counting public holidays).
  • Private hosts must register their guests within 7 business days after arrival (not counting the day of arrival itself). Increased deadlines apply for nationals of some CIS countries.
  • Hosts register their alien guests by sending a notification form by mail at a post office. The post office certifies the 'detachable part' of the form and hands it to the host as a proof. How large the fee is nowadays I don't know but suppose it must be somewhere around 300 RUB.
  • Upon entry onto the territory of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, an alien fills a so called 'migration card'. The departure half of the card must be turned in at exit. However, the old practice when registration records were stamped on the card was abolished a few years ago (in Russia, but not in Belarus). Since then, there was also the stipulation in law that upon departure from a place of stay, aliens had to leave their 'detachable parts' to their hosts so that they turned them in to the authorities. This has also been canceled, though there is no clarity as to if aliens now have to keep them until exit.

Practicalities are a bit more complicated due to the variety of interpretations.

  • Generally, Russia suffers from a serious degree of lawlessness. Many policemen have a very vague notion about what the law is (which, nevertheless, never prevents them from acting), and judges may easily hold you responsible for things which the law explicitly states you cannot be held responsible for. However, registration laws are mostly turned against those who live or do business in Russia (and are therefore 'easy prey') or, as we say, 'crossed the road' of someone influential. I haven't heard about ordinary tourists being harassed for quite a long time.
  • Despite all the wordings of the law, it is quite widely presumed that an alien must be registered within 7 days since entering the country or leaving the previous place of registration.
  • Large 'well-established' hotels register their guests easily. Many of them don't even require the official fee. However, there have been reports of some weird cases, such as when a hotel in Nizhniy Novgorod refused check-in to tourists who had no proofs of registration after 7 days since entering the country.
  • Small hotels and especially hostels often operate 'in grey area' and more often require fees above the official ones. Those of them who cater for international clientele, will register you willingly; in any case, they need a day to do that.
  • Passport control officers, at least in large airports, never ask anyone to produce proofs of registration.

Thus, to play safe without being paranoid:

  • Most probably, you will have no problems at all even if you never are registered. Don't give too much effort and thought to the issue.
  • For greater confidence, if you stay somewhere longer than one night, ask about registration. Registering just once before you get to Moscow will be sufficient.
  • Insist on registration at all places where you stay a substantial span of time.
  • If you look like tourists, it is highly unlikely that you are approached by the police. However, if you are, be polite but don't give in if you smell something fishy. Don't be proactive, only show as much as requested. Have your nearest consulate number in your telephone, and when in doubt about anything, call them for advice. Russian words you may need for communication in these circumstances are mostly adopted from Latin or French: 'palitsiya' (police), 'dakumenty' (documents), 'paspart' (passport), 'viza' (visa), 'migratsionnaya karta' (migration card), 'registratsiya' (registration), 'bilet' (ticket), 'telefon' (phone), 'konsul' (consul).
  • Keep your tickets. Most probably, you won't need them, but 'just in case' presenting them may be the easy way to quickly refute any attempts of accusations.
  • 3
    +1 for the last section. We regularly got checked, and at any time Russian police can request all your travel documents - train tickets, accommodation receipts and more. Having them easy to hand prevents a lot of pain. – Mark Mayo Nov 6 '14 at 23:41
  • Very nicely documented indeed. – CGCampbell Nov 7 '14 at 0:56
  • Thanks for the detailed answer, much appreciated! I suppose part of my uncertainty about the registration process is that for the first 2-2.5 weeks, we will not be staying anywhere for a substantial period, but I'm sure it'll work out alright. We very much look like (western, blonde) tourists. We had read about hanging onto tickets/receipts as a less formal alternative 'prove' to where one's been recently, so we're definitely doing that. I'll post back our hands-on experience after our trip. Fingers crossed for a smooth ride. – MH. Nov 7 '14 at 11:01
  • Is is true that one need not be registered if they are staying in Russia for less than 7 business days, no matter hotel or AirBNB? – trollster Mar 21 '18 at 2:26

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