56

A friend of mine is taking the Train from Finland to Russia. She has now paid and sent the Tourist visa application, with the requested validity being from 3 to 16 August.

Now she's considering entering the evening before, so I would like to ask the following:

The Train she wants to take arrives at Vyborg (first Russian station) on 2 August at 22:22, then St Petersburg at 23:27. The Russian border guards board the train at Vyborg and do the checks while the Train is travelling between the stations, so sometime between 22:30-23:00

If the visa validity starts on 3 August, and she is checked at 22:30-23:00 the evening before, what would happen? Are they very strict about the starting date if it's within 1-1.5 hours, and how bad would the consequences be?

Although they do the check while travelling between Vyborg and St Petersburg, could they simply wait until arrival in St Petersburg, then hold her in custody for 30 minutes and then stamp her in?

  • 30
    You enter Russia at Vainikkala. The stop is at 22:00. So you would be entering a full two hours before your visa starts. And I very much assume the answer to be ‘no’ — it’s Russia. – Jan Jun 23 '16 at 2:18
  • 48
    One does not simply enter Arstotzka a few hours early. – JonathanReez Jun 23 '16 at 11:52
  • 23
    1-1.5 hours before the visa validity starts is a time at which the visa is not valid. If you rephase "1-1.5 hours before the visa validity starts" with "without having a valid visa", your question becomes "Is it possible to enter Russia by train without having a valid visa?" The answer now seems pretty obvious. – David Richerby Jun 23 '16 at 19:47
  • 21
    @DavidRicherby: whereas if you phrase it "is it possible for Russian border officials to exercise discretion to allow something that formally is forbidden?" then the answer is equally obvious and opposite. So the thrust of the question is whether either of those rephrasings actually reflects the real world, and if you have an answer to that question based on knowledge of the behaviour of actual Russian border guards then you should write it as an answer, like Jan did, not as a comment. Maybe Russian border guards follow the rules, maybe they don't: it was not obvious to the questioner which. – Steve Jessop Jun 25 '16 at 13:59
  • 7
    @SteveJessop It's nore remotely obvious that it's possible for border officials to use discretion to allow something that is forbidden. Unless you mean it in the most literal sense that, sure, any border guard anywhere in the world could do or allow anything that is physically possible, even if doing that thing would cause them to be fired, imprisoned or worse. – David Richerby Jun 25 '16 at 15:09
81

There are things I would try doing and there are the others. Attempting to enter Russia before my visa is valid (or attempt to overstay my Russian visa) even if by a few hours only clearly belongs to the others. The visa is valid from a minute before 00:01 of its first validity date and until a minute after 23:59 of its last validity date. Entering the country earlier (even two hours) is illegal entrance.

While the Finnish conductors and even the passport/toll people often seem rather nice (and I have heard one joke around with the passengers), the same cannot be said for the Russian ones. I perceive them as people I would not want to cross.

Even if the Russian border personnel does not board until Vyborg (Viipuri), they will know that the train entered their country at 22:00 and that you need a valid visa for today if you are on that train.

On an unrelated note: I read it on VR’s (Finnish state railway’s) website (but can’t find it anymore) that if you intend to travel with Tolstoi, the night train from Moscow, you must make sure that your visa is valid for an ‘additional’ day, since the train does not cross the border until well after midnight.

So: No, just no. If your visa is valid from day X, do not enter Russia until day X.

  • 55
    'While the Finnish conductors and even the passport/toll people often seem rather nice (and I have heard one joke around with the passengers)' - Huh? Finnish? Nice? I once tried to be polite to one and greeted him with a 'Hyvää huomenta' - he interrogated me as to whether I'd learnt Finnish in order to illegally stay in Finland. – ach Jun 23 '16 at 5:31
  • 57
    Otherwise, in Russia, country enter you! – Aron Jun 23 '16 at 5:32
  • 14
    @AndreyChernyakhovskiy the one I dealt with, was so polite/chatty that he forgot to stamp my passport on entry (that is entering Finland). I was detained on exit because there was no entry stamp in my passport. Luckily just for an hour until they realized what happened. – Andrew Savinykh Jun 23 '16 at 5:53
  • 4
    @Mehrdad the exit was at a different geographic location than the entrance. So no it was not the same officer. They did not ask any clarification from me, so I personally did not even know what the problem had been until I was returned my passport an hour later with two new stamps. One was a template filled in by hand (for entry), the name of the town was crossed out and the name of entry town was pasted instead and the other one was the standard exit stamp. – Andrew Savinykh Jun 24 '16 at 1:24
  • 1
    @AndreyChernyakhovskiy The people he was chatting with were obviously Finns. Come from outside of the EU and things change drastically … – Jan Jun 24 '16 at 21:55
69

I wouldn't risk this.

I exited Russia with a friend. He had given the end date for his visa, by mistake, as the day we left Moscow. Travelling by train, we didn't reach the border until a couple of days later. They got that he'd made an error, but they were not understanding.

He was led away by armed guards. There was no explanation. The entire train was made to wait and we didn't see him again for something like four hours. We later learned he was detained in a small room, ostensibly waiting for various officials and translators, and questioned repeatedly.

He had to pay a very large sum of money to the guards in woolly circumstances. This was vaguely suggested to be some sort of administrative charge, but very soon after he handed it over, it became clear it was just a bribe. After which (and we're talking about a sizeable chunk of his remaining budget for the trip), they still refused to let him through. The rest of the train was sent on, and they forced him to wait several hours longer for a train going back in the opposite direction. He had to get off at the next city, then pay accommodation and expenses there for several days while waiting for a new visa to be processed, which obviously he also had to pay for.

Note that this was leaving the country — not even like he was trying to get inside the borders.

Note also that I'm not even really complaining about any of this, and neither was he. It was his mistake. It's border control: you need to take it seriously.

If your friend does this, she'll be at the mercy of the guards, who have every legitimate incentive, and several illegitimate ones, to ruin her trip. The smart decision would be not to do this!

  • 8
    Thanks for your personal account and welcome to Travel SE! Hope to see you around, there are plenty questions that might benefit from experience of seasoned travelers like you, e.g. this one travel.stackexchange.com/q/67443/32134 :) – mts Jun 23 '16 at 8:36
  • Cheers, what a lovely welcome! In the dark on that other question, though, I'm afraid... – Cakebox Jun 23 '16 at 8:40
  • 4
    The entire train was made to wait, that's surprising. I wouldn't expect the train to wait in such a situation. – gerrit Jun 23 '16 at 10:35
  • 1
    @gerrit this can vary on train - some of them can wait for whole situation being solved, or have a some timeout after that the person simply will be removed from train, and it proceed on route. – VMAtm Jun 23 '16 at 18:24
  • 1
    No problem, of course. 2008. – Cakebox Jun 27 '16 at 5:20
65

I've been on a Russian train with a Canadian whose visa expired during the train ride (so just a couple of hours) as we crossed the border after midnight into Mongolia. Said passenger was marched off the train ("there is ... problem") and returned hours later with multiple fines and a black mark against their name.

Short answer: It's not worth the risk. Border guards are not known for their leniency and "I thought we could just wait" or "I didn't realise" is almost never an acceptable answer.

  • 5
    I wonder what would happen if the border crossing was scheduled at 22:00 but the train is delayed and passes after midnight... – gerrit Jun 23 '16 at 10:37
  • 20
    I think the correct answer is that "not worth the risk going to Russia".... – Ian Ringrose Jun 23 '16 at 10:49
  • 16
    @IanRingrose I don't think they're unique in this respect, most countries frown heavily against visa misuse. – Mark Mayo Jun 23 '16 at 11:25
  • 12
    Nobody else mentioned anything about bribes and being beaten up?!! We're merely talking about border guards not allowing you in early. That's all this answer contains. – Mark Mayo Jun 23 '16 at 11:46
  • 7
    @IanRingrose I'm 99% sure that's a myth. Even in Transnistria (the most corrupt of the former Soviet states) they don't do that. Yes, they threatened to destroy my passport and put me in jail for 20 years for illegal Immigration (because I wasn't checked on entry and so didn't get a Migration Card, but was checked on Exit), but when I remained unafraid they eventually backed off – Crazydre Jun 23 '16 at 14:47
46
+50

Let's think logically. Imagine one is a Russian border officer. One got a job during which each day got the stamp for the passport and visa checks:

enter image description here

As you can see, there is a date on it, and it's numbered (the stamp is adjustable itself, however is sealed, so officer can't change the date by himself). So there is no time there (this is important).

So back to our officer. He got a stamp, left a signature in some documents, and now is checking passports and visas. Likely the stamp for your friend will be done on the visa. So after that everybody who checks the visa and passport will see, that the visa is opened the day before it start date.

So there is a problem for our officer which could lost his job for such situation. More than that, it is a problem for your friend:

  • if he'll try to get another visa, then there will be a trouble, as the previous one was opened the day before it starts
  • if your friend accidentally being stopped by the police, they'll see that passport and visa, and they definitely will have a question: Why it is opened a day before it starts?

If I was your friend, the last (seriously), last thing I would wish is such question to me from Russian police, as the simplest explanation for them would be not I got train 2 hours before the visa starts but I got a fake passport and visa.

So, as others said, this is not a thing you should try. The only way your friend could get out from this situation without problems if the border officer in a good mood and he got a stamp with future date with him. This is as probable as to meet an elefant on Nevsky prospect in Saint-Petersburg. Maybe it ran away from zoo or you're on some festival, but in general this isn't that day.

9

Not that I am recommending it, but it happened to me. I received a Russian visa with wrong date on it. (Note to self: check visa for correctness in future). The boarder guard put a stamp on it like VMAtm described, without further comments. No one noticed on departing the country, either. Now I have a cool visa in my passport with a stamp, and not even the year matches.

On other trips, i found that the Russians have very tight border controls, not only on entry, but also on exit.

I would not risk it.

  • 4
    Wow! Curious, where did you enter and Exit? – Crazydre Jun 24 '16 at 8:06
  • 2
    If years aren't match, so it was a New Year night. Yeah, that can happen during such time :) – VMAtm Jun 24 '16 at 20:38
  • 1
    Probably, the border guard saw the correct day on computer and thought that there is a mistake rather than a mischief. – Cem Kalyoncu Jun 26 '16 at 18:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.