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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the easiest, cheapest, fastest way to obtain a visa?
  2. How much money do I need?
  3. Can I use credit cards, traveller's Checks, and/or ATM cards?
  4. Will I be safe?
  5. What should I wear?
  6. What services do you offer?
  7. How can I stay in touch with home when I am in St. Petersburg?
  8. How can I travel to and from Moscow?
  9. Will I manage if I can't speak Russian?
  10. What is appropriate for TIPS in St.-Petersburg?
  11. How do I contact you with more questions?

What is the easiest, cheapest, fastest way to obtain a visa ?

Citizens of countries that were not a part of the Former Soviet Union are required to have a visa to enter Russia. There are different types of visas available depending on your needs and objectives. The most common visa that my guests use is a “tourist visa.” There are single-entry and double-entry tourist visas and they typically last for 3 months. For example, if you are flying into St. Petersburg, spending 5 nights here, and then traveling to Moscow for 3 nights before going home, you would only need a single-entry visa since you are only entering into Russia one time. But if you were planning on flying into St. Petersburg, but also visiting Riga, Latvia, or Kiev, Ukraine before returning to Russia and flying home, you would need a double-entry visa because you would cross into Russia twice.

If you think you will visit Russia more than two times over the course of one year, you may prefer to obtain a “business visa” which allows unlimited entries for one year. Despite the name, business visas do not require any proof of business, but they are approximately twice the cost of tourist visas. One advantage of a business visa is that you only have to register it once and are free to travel throughout Russia. With tourist visas, you are required to list the cities you plan to visit on your trip, and technically you have 3 business days within any city to register.

The extent of work you want done for you will effect how much you will pay for your visa. The fees are basically broken into two parts. One is the consulate fee. This is the set fee that the Russian embassy or consulate in your home country charges to process the visa. There is usually a price range that includes standard 2 week service, a higher price for 1 weeks service, and a premium price for as little as 24 hour service. I believe that standard service is approximately $75 but this may vary by country and is of course subject to change. (Would you believe that the Russian Foreign Ministry doesn’t update me on its changes? J

The second part of the fee is your “invitation” and/or agency fee. Essentially, you are required to have an invitation to enter Russia. Most tour agencies, hotels, or even private parties can arrange for this by fax for a fee ranging from $30 - $50. More common is the use of visa agencies. They charge a few more dollars but are generally more helpful in walking you through the process and answering your specific questions. Most will also mail all your information directly to the proper parties.

In the end, you will need to send, either yourself or though an agency, a copy of your passport information page, 3 passport photos, a self addressed and pre-paid envelope, preferably something registered and express such as Federal Express, your visa invitation letter and the exact date of your entry to Russia. This is critical. You CAN NOT enter Russia prior to the day on your visa. So if your visa says August 5th, but you’re plane is scheduled to arrive on August 4th, you will have many problems. Additionally, you will be declined a visa if your passport expires within 6 months of your trip, so please check and renew if necessary.

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How much money do I need?

This is subject to your tastes and needs. A back-packing student can probably manage on $20 a day after lodging, while most will need considerably more than that. Your lodging, if you are paying for a place, may range from a low of about $50 at a hostel to a high of $600 for the nice rooms at Western Hotels. Popular and affordable rental apartments range from $80 to $300 depending on size, location, and condition.

There is much diversity in restaurants and cafes. It is quite possible to eat all meals at decent quality restaurants for $10 - $16 per person before alcoholic beverages. Cafes and bistros can be found for a few dollars per person. Fine diners can expect to pay similar prices to western countries.

Transportation is a true bargain in St. Petersburg. For the mildly adventurous, the metro provides travel to almost every place of interest for just a few rubles per trip. Busses and other public transportation can be very crowded but equally cheap. Most foreigners rely on taxies to here and there. Russia taxies are quite an adventure and require negotiating a price up front to where you want to go. Drivers know that foreigners are used to paying significantly higher rates in their home countries and sometimes confuse the value of the ruble under pressure, so you have to try hard. For those in the know, few rides within the center of St. Petersburg should cost more than 100rubles (about $4). Taxies that wait outside of hotels and nightclubs will attempt the most ridiculous charges and should be avoided if you are on a budget.

Museum and theatre tickets are a sore subject for many foreigners because the city allows a two tier pricing system. While Russians can enter museums for just a few rubles, foreigners are typically charged $10 - $15, or fairly standard museum entrance fees for the rest of the world. Some guests understand that this is so ordinary Russians who may only earn $100 a month won’t be shut out from seeing national treasures, but others decry the system as discriminatory. It is possible to have a Russian (such as me J ) buy your ticket for you at the Russian price and try to enter on the discounted ticket, and usually provides good anecdotes for your friends and family back home. However, the people who collect the tickets are trained to find foreigners (hint: your shoes and smiles give you away!) and it can be embarrassing if you are caught.

Nightclubs usually charge a small cover fee ranging from $3 - $10. A ? liter of Russian beer usually runs about $1.75 and mixed drinks about $3 - $5. See question on tipping below.

Shopping costs in St. Petersburg will primarily depend on whether you are buying Russian or foreign goods. Because there is a high import tax of western goods, it is usually not advised to do your clothes shopping here, though you will find a wide variety of western stores vying for your business along the trendy Nevsky Prospect. If you are staying at an apartment, you can usually stock your refrigerator with snacks and beverages for the week for about $20.

Please let me know if you have any specific questions regarding costs while here.

 

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Can I use credit cards, traveller's Checks, and/or ATM cards?

Master Card and Visa are commonly accepted at hotels, restaurants and stores in the center of Peter, though you should always ask up front if they are accepted even if you see the logos in the window. American Express is gaining popularity but still not accepted in most places.   Diners Club and Discover are to the best of my knowledge never accepted here. (note: tips are never put on credit cards in Russia and must be paid separately in cash)

Traveler’s Checks are fairly unknown in Russia and can only be used to obtain cash from banks. ATM machines, commonly referred to as “bankomats” here are becoming more and more prevalent. It’s difficult to walk a few hundred meters in the center without coming across one.

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Will I be safe ?

Perhaps this should be the first question I answered because it is probably the one question that EVERYBODY asks. Apparently, many foreigners have a view of Russia as some sort of American Wild West or Chicago in the 1920’s location. Safety is of course a serious issue, and one can never be guaranteed complete safety regardless of where they travel. I can relay to you that my clients repeatedly tell me that they are surprised at how safe they feel and that they are surprised by the images they had before hand. I am often told that they feel more danger in New York, Los Angeles, or London.

A few suggestions:

bulletNEVER get into a taxi that has more than one male in the car.
bulletIf you have female company that you are unfamiliar with, NEVER allow your drink to leave your sight.
bulletKeep your doors LOCKED whether you are home or away.
bulletBeware of groups of children begging for money and who begin to touch you.
 
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What should I wear ?

The obvious answer is to be you. Many have been surprised to see how nicely Russians dress in everyday life, though recently blue jeans have become a dominant fashion trend. If you want to fit in and be less obvious in a crowd, some black pants, and black shoes will help. Sport coats are common with well-to-do men. The strongest advice I offer to those interested in appealing to Russian women is to keep your shoes clean. This is sometimes easier said than done because St. Petersburg streets can be quite dirty, so some cleaning supplies would be nice to bring or buy here.

If you are traveling during the winter, please pack accordingly. The temperatures can drop quite low in a short period of time. It’s important to wear layered clothing such as long underwear. During the summer, it should be noted that short pants are very uncommon in St. Petersburg, though they are being seen slightly more often.

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What services do you offer ?

You can check the services section of this web page for a more detailed answer, but basically, I can do anything for you that is legal. Common services I do for clients includes arranging accommodations, greeting them at the airport, providing driving or walking tours of St. Petersburg, interpreting for either business or personal meetings, delivering items such as business correspondence or flowers, buying theatre tickets, arranging travel around the Russia such as train or plane tickets, etc. Just ask. If I can’t help you, I can probably refer you to somebody that can. In addition to paid services, my goal is to be your host and friend while you are here, so if you have any questions or need any suggestions, don’t be afraid to ask.

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How can I stay in touch with home when I am in St. Petersburg?

Many apartment owners will block their phones from allowing long distance calls. This problem is circumvented by buying pre-paid phone cards available at all metro stations. Also, there is a Long distance call office that you can use. Internet cafes are springing up everywhere, and a few are open 24 hours. Some of the apartments I rent have computers with internet in them.   If you are bringing a computer with you, internet access cards can be bought at metro stations for about 40 cents per hour.

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How can I travel to and from Moscow?

There are two primary options:

Trains

There are about 15 trains a day that run between the two cities.  About 2/3 of them are overnight trains.  The fastest train takes 4:30 and the longest train takes about 10 hours.  There are usually three classes of seats - first through third class.  On most trains, a first class seat is a private compartment for two passengers with beds.  One a few trains, airline style seating has been implemented and first class is merely wider seats. Depending on the quality of your train, the time of day, season, and your type of seat, prices will vary between $10 and $95 per ticket. Almost all trains between the cities are serviced by Moskovsky Train Station in St. Petersburg and Leningradsky Train Station in Moscow.  There are however, a few trains that go through other stations so it is important to know for sure your stations if you have people meeting you.  Tickets can be bought at any train station or the Central ticket offices.  You will need your passport number.  Your tickets are not transferable as passports are often checked when boarding trains.  If your travel plans change, you can exchange your tickets at the ticket offices for a partial refund.  The closer to your date of travel you cancel your ticket, the higher the penalty will be. 

Planes

There are two airlines that fly daily between Sheremetevo Airport in Moscow and Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg, Pulkovo Airlines and Aeroflot.  A third airline, Transaero flies out of Domedevo Airport in Moscow.  The flight lasts about an hour.  Economy class tickets cost between $55 and $75 for a one way ticket depending mostly on time of year.  The summer and holiday seasons will be more expensive than the winter and shoulder seasons.  Tickets can be purchased at the airport, or in any local travel office.  There are approximately 10 - 14 flights a day between the two cities.  All domestic flights are on Russian built aircraft, usually Tupelovs or Ilyushins. 

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Will I manage if I can't speak Russian?

St. Petersburg is a fairly tourist friendly city. Many younger Russians speak at least a little English. Restaurants usually have English menus, etc. But there will probably be some headaches. Moscow is probably a little tougher since it isn’t as much of a tourist destination. My primary advice is for you to learn the Cyrillic alphabet before you come. Most tour books will have the alphabets or you can click here:

www.catcode.com/rintro/

www.friends-partners.org/oldfriends/language/russian-alphabet.html

www.masterrussian.com/

Understanding that bAHK is a bank and that PECTOPAN is a restaurant (the words are the same, just the letters are different) will go a long way. It will also enable you take the metro and read maps. It certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea to visit a book store or library and obtain some language tapes for a little practice. Russians enjoy meeting foreigners, and like most peoples, if you show that you made some effort to learn about their culture, they will shower you with kindness.

Some links to online dictionaries:

www.word2word.com/dictionary.html

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What is appropriate for TIPS in St.-Petersburg?

At restaurants, 10% of the bill is the common practice. Taxies usually aren’t tipped anything. Bartenders, coat checks, and such are usually very happy with 10 rubles (about 35 cents).

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How do I contact you with more questions ?

You can e-mail me at: 

info@oksanasapartments.com

Or you may call me at +7(812)970-6802.  Please keep in mind time differences when calling.  St. Petersburg is 4 hours ahead of London and 8 hours ahead of New York.  Please try to avoid calling after 11 P.M. local time unless it is an emergency.  

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WHAT MY CUSTOMERS SAY

 

 

Oksana Gumenyuk
Copyright © 2002  "Oksana's". All rights reserved.
Revised: March 23, 2009 .