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When applying for the visa, there were a lot of complicated explanations about where not to go. What does it mean in practice?

Can I drive around in Russia anywhere I want? Or are there legal limitations? For example, if I want to do day-trips from St. Petersburg to wherever in the countryside, is that allowed? Can I go in any hotel I find anywhere?

I know this sounds a bit silly, as in other countries this is an obvious 'yes', but as i said, in the Visa application, there was a lot of fine print about not going anywhere else than my visa was applied/given for (however, the visa has no text on it with locations limitations).

[this question is not about my security while doing that, but about legally being allowed to]

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    There are signs on the road indicating where you cannot go, so reading Russian will be helpful. You don't want to get caught driving in a closed oblast or anywhere near a nuclear hazard. Most of Krasnoyarsk Krai for example is (or will be) closed except for passage on the railway, just about anything east of Ufa for that matter. – Gayot Fow Apr 7 '16 at 13:10
  • You can find a couple of related questions regarding this. You should start with this question: travel.stackexchange.com/q/19606/19 – VMAtm Apr 7 '16 at 17:06
  • Also might be useful: travel.stackexchange.com/q/442/19 – VMAtm Apr 7 '16 at 17:06
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Here's my understanding (based on lots of Russian travel): You can legally explore anywhere in Russia, except keep the following in mind:

1) Don't forget about registration requirements. If you're moving around a lot, this is likely a non-issue, but keep all your bus/train tickets, etc. If you're using a central hub city for radial day-trips, register in the hub city.

2) "Closed cities": Some cities require a permit to get into (typically ones with sensitive military-related industry). I don't know whether it's possible to get a permit unless you e.g. have a close relative there. Some cities (e.g. many cities in the north of Krasnoyarsk Krai) are closed only to foreigners, so locals may not know they're "closed". There's a list here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closed_city#Russia

3) Border areas. Unless you're in the process of legally crossing the border via an official crossing point, you need a border area permit to be there. The permit is possible to get but takes a long time (around 2 months). Note that in some areas (e.g. in the Arctic) some areas may be defined as "border areas" despite being thousands of kilometers from the actual border.

4) Due to recent political tensions, I would STRONGLY advise to stay away from anything that is even remotely related to the military or any sensitive industry, especially if you're carrying a camera, GPS-capable phone, etc. Also, stay well away from any remote place with especially luxurious houses / "dachas" that appear to be well-guarded.

5) Some nature reserves have areas that are forbidden to enter (or forbidden to enter without a special permit) for reasons of nature conservation. These are usually marked.

With all that said, seeing the little remote villages of "real Russia" can be very fun and rewarding!

  • Would there be signs about 'closed Cities', or do I need to learn a list by heart? – Aganju Apr 7 '16 at 23:21
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    There's a list on Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closed_city#Russia - I've added it to my answer – Eugene O Apr 7 '16 at 23:24
  • Thanks! There is a map there which tells me that I will be not even near any of them, that helped. – Aganju Apr 7 '16 at 23:31
  • Wonderful answer! – Gayot Fow Apr 8 '16 at 2:45
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    I think accidental entry is more of a concern when buying transportation tickets. E.g. I once bought an internal flight to a city in the "border area". They didn't ask for my permit when buying the ticket, when checking in, when boarding the plane, etc, only when I actually arrived. (Not sure though if there was some check done by the airline in the background without me being aware of it). Especially with cities closed only to foreigners, I'm pretty sure you can accidentally end up on a bus/train/plain/boat there and only find out about permit requirement once you arrive. – Eugene O Apr 10 '16 at 14:10
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Yes, it's a completely legal, if you aren't going to visit the restricted areas such as closed cities near the border and so on. And if you're asking, then you'll definitely see the warning signs near them, so you shouldn't be afraid of breaking some local law.

However, you should check the questions I've linked in comments as there are a couple of advises how to deal with registration issues. If you are going to stay in a hotel at night, it would be better to create a reservation, as the service isn't always be prepared for a visitor, unfortunately. Also the language barrier could be a problem for some places, so you should check for the English speakers at the place you're going to stay in.

Major restricting road signs you should be aware of:

http://sporic.ru/images/stories/znaki/Zapreshhajushhie/3.17.3.jpg
There is a control point ahead on the road

enter image description here
There is a danger zone ahead on the road

enter image description here
There is a road police checkpoint ahead on the road. You can try to gather some information there, but be careful and don't let them achieve your documents.

enter image description here
You can't go without a stop the vehicle. If you meet this sign somewhere not near the railroad, you've probably got near the restricted zone, and you should get the directions as soon as possible.

enter image description here
A STOP-line :)

  • Unrelated: are you aware of any plans to close Archangel? I know parts of the oblast are closed, but not the administrative centre. It would make a great 2 day trip out of Peter, but it would be terrible to arrive and not be able to enter. So difficult to stay on top of things when you have to rely on rumour. – Gayot Fow Apr 8 '16 at 2:42
  • I've covered similar theme in some questions regarding Murmansk region here: travel.stackexchange.com/a/62319/19. I can say that the Arhangelsk is much more open city, and I've visited it without any checks, got there with train. But some cities near it are closed, Mirny with Pliseck Cosmodrome and Severodvinsk with atomic submarine fabric. See also: full list of closed cities – VMAtm Apr 8 '16 at 11:05
  • Thanks for that. It's a problem when the OP wants to plan a trip and there's no indication of what WILL BE closed next month. Except rumour. Thanks again. – Gayot Fow Apr 8 '16 at 11:23
  • Right now there is a completely different approach, as the cities are opened like in Murmansk. I'm not aware of such rumours right now – VMAtm Apr 8 '16 at 15:04

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