Traveling alone to an unknown country can be a liberating and enriching experience. You’re in full control of everything, from start to finish – what you do, where you go, and what you see.
Some are put off by this concept of being alone in a completely foreign place, fearing boredom and loneliness. Others, however, embrace it with open arms, knowing what potentials a solo trip may bring.
Traveling alone can be a way for you to not only meet other people and cultures first-hand but get to know yourself a bit better, as well. If you’re thinking about embarking on such a journey yourself, there are a few things to know before you start packing your bags.
We’ve put together a handy list of practical information and tips for traveling solo in Russia to help you out and show you that there’s nothing to worry about regarding your solo trip.
Visiting Russia alone will be a life-changing experience – in more ways than one!
- 1 How To Get A Russian Visa: Everything You Need To Know
- 2 Practical Information & Tips For Traveling Solo In Russia
- 2.1 1. Figure Out Where You’ll Be Staying: Hotels, Hostels & Apartment Rentals
- 2.2 2. Don’t Be Afraid Of Making Connections
- 2.3 3. Enjoy The Freedom Of Traveling Alone (But Try Not To Get Lost)
- 2.4 4. Public Transport Is Your Friend
- 2.5 5. Let’s Talk Money: Cash, Cards & Currencies
- 2.6 Bonus Tip: A Little Common Sense Goes A Long Way
- 3 Additional Safety Tips: How Safe Is Russia For Tourists Traveling Alone?
- 4 Final Piece Of Advice Before Your Solo Trip To Russia
How To Get A Russian Visa: Everything You Need To Know
According to the official visa policy of Russia, it may be possible for you to travel to Russia without one – but it all depends on whether or not your country made it to the list of Russian visa exemptions.
There are over 40 countries on this list, whose citizens are permitted to enter Russian territory with nothing more than a valid passport. If, however, you’re a citizen of Europe, USA, Canada, UK, Australia, China, Japan, or India, you’ll have to get a visa before traveling to Russia.
Russian Visa 101: Where, When & How Much
Where is the Russian visa processed? How much will it cost you? And how soon before your trip should you apply for a Russian visa?
As a solo traveler, you can have your Russian visa processed in one of the following places:
- Consulate of the Russian Embassy
- Russian Visa Centers, independent businesses subcontracted by the Russian Embassy to serve as an intermediary between you and the Consulate
- Private agencies, which carry out the whole visa application process for you
The costs of processing the Russian visa may vary depending on who’s handling your application. If you choose to process your visa through a Russian Visa Center or a private agency, the cost will be a bit higher due to the additional administrative and management fees.
It is generally recommended that you apply for your Russian visa at least three weeks before your planned trip. That way, if there are any unforeseen processing delays, you’ll still get all your paperwork in order in time.
You’re free to apply for a visa up to 90 days before the date of travel, though.
Visiting Russia with an E-visa
Since 1 October 2019, it’s become possible to visit St. Petersburg and its vicinity with an e-visa for up to 8 days for citizens of 53 states. The same rules apply for two other Russian destinations: Russia’s Far East and Kaliningrad /Kaliningrad Oblast. For more information please check an official site and pick your destination point.
There is one more thing to take account of. Speaking of St. Petersburg, one can only enter the city with a Russian e-visa via the listed checkpoints. If, for example, you are arriving by plane you must take a direct flight to Pulkovo Airport. Transit flights (with a stop over in Moscow or other Russian city) are prohibited under the e-visa terms. The website of Russia’s largest air carrier also clarifies some things about e-visas to Russia which can be helpful.
Applying For A Russian Visa In 6 Easy Steps: A Guide For Solo Travelers
If you’re not entirely sure how to apply for a Russian visa, here’s a quick overview of what the application process looks like:
We promise that it’s not that hard.
Just set aside enough time to go through the paperwork, read through – and double-check – all the requirements, and be sure to apply in time!
1. Make Sure You Have A Valid Passport
The first step is checking is if your passport is valid for at least another six months after your planned trip. Another requirement is that you have a minimum of two blank pages left in your passport.
Also, check your passport for any signs of damage or deterioration – torn pages, stains, and the like. If there are noticeable signs of damage, it’s highly recommended that you renew your passport, rather than risk being rejected by the Consulate based solely on your passport’s miserable state.
2. Get A Letter Of Invitation (Visa Support Letter) and a Tourist Voucher
The so-called letter of invitation – also known as the visa support letter or a Confirmation letter – will be an essential part of your visa application. The hotel you’ll be staying in or an authorized Russian tour operator issues this document along with a Tour Voucher as proof that they’ve “invited” you to visit them.
We recommend that you get these documents through a Russian tour operator because it’s quicker and more convenient that way – and you get to change the listed hotels after obtaining your visa, too.
If your country falls into the unofficial list of what Russian migration authorities consider as “migration risk countries,” the chances are that you’ll have to provide proof of hotel reservations, payment confirmations, and a round-trip ticket to Russia.
3. Get Your Itinerary Straight (Know Your Trip Dates)
Your Russia visa will have to include the first and last date that you’ll be in the country – your entry and exit dates if you will. That means that you’ll have to set appointments for your trip before you even apply for a visa.
In most cases, you won’t have to provide transportation tickets to Russia when applying for a visa.
You do, however, have to be clear about when and where you’re going. List the cities you wish to visit when you plan on doing so, as well as where you’ll be staying during your time there.
4. Don’t Forget To Buy Travel Insurance
If you already have travel insurance, there’s a good chance that you might not need to buy a new insurance policy for your solo trip to Russia.
Before you get your hopes up, though, be sure to verify that it’s valid in Russia and that it meets all the requirements, as established by the Consulate.
If not, you’ll have to get a new one and submit either the original or the copy of your medical insurance policy when applying for a visa.
Understandably, it must be valid within the territory of the Russian Federation and cover the entire duration of your stay.
5. Fill Out A Visa Application Form
By now, you should be ready to fill out your Russian visa application form.
You’ll be asked to provide personal information, details about your trip, including the official dates and itinerary of your journey, and the purpose of your visit, passport details, and where you’ll be processing your visa application.
Once you’ve entered all the required info and you’re sure that all the information you’ve provided is correct, you can proceed to save and download your application form as a PDF file.
6. Submit Your Application (And Hope For The Best)
The final step is, of course, to take everything to the nearest Consulate or Russian Visa Center in your area.
You’ll get notified whether you were granted a Russian visa or not within about 10-14 or so business days.
Once you go to collect your passport – now, with a visa attached to one of its pages – be sure to check that everything’s in order:
Resubmissions of passports for correction are possible in the Embassy of the Russian Federation, but only on the actual day of the passport collection.
Practical Information & Tips For Traveling Solo In Russia
We’ve promised to share some proven tips for traveling solo in Russia with you, and here they are!
You’ve waited long enough, so let’s get straight to it!
1. Figure Out Where You’ll Be Staying: Hotels, Hostels & Apartment Rentals
A hotel might be the first accommodation option that pops into your head as you’re preparing for a solo trip to Russia. And sure, hotels are an excellent choice – but they’re far from being your only option.
There are a few different accommodation options worth exploring in Russia, including hostels and apartment rentals. And no, hostels are not reserved for 18-year-old backpackers only:
They can be a lot of fun – if you don’t mind having roommates, that is.
Still, staying in a hostel is an excellent chance to meet fellow travelers – and the rates can be surprisingly easy on the wallet, too.
Renting an apartment is yet another unique way to get a taste of the local culture and way of life. If you’re traveling to Russia alone for the first time, though, it is best that you contact a real estate agency, and ask them to help you find a suitable apartment for rent.
If you do opt for this not-so-conventional type of accommodation, know that it can go down one of two ways:
It can either inject your solo travel to Russia with flexibility and individuality or end up with scams or unfulfilled promises.
Still, if you take the time to choose wisely, and double-check everything, any of the options mentioned above can be a comfortable, charming, and convenient one.
- check with your hosting party if they can officially “register” you with their address. The outcome of it will be a special piece of paper with your details on it and address of your stay while in Russia. That will be required at the departure. Currently this only applies to those who are visiting Russia for 7 days or longer. Hotels, however will register you even if your stay with them is for 1 night only. This is required by law.
2. Don’t Be Afraid Of Making Connections
The thing that often worries people before they embark on solo travel in Russia is just that – the fear of being all alone in the vastness of this foreign country. For most travelers, though, this unsettling feeling doesn’t kick in until they get off the plane and realize that they’re on their own.
But once you get over the initial shock, a whole new world of opportunities arises:
You might not be single, but you’re alone – and ready to mingle!
Traveling alone is all about bonding with other solo backpackers, meeting the locals, and making connections wherever you go. The more people you meet on your trip, the higher your chances of making new friends and having a great time.
If you don’t know a word of Russian, start by talking with the other guests in your hotel – some of them are bound to speak your language. Ask around and see if there are any fun meet-ups and gatherings you might be interested in attending or, you know, use Tinder to your advantage.
And if you’re visiting Moscow alone, be sure to check out the Moscow English Conversation Club, which will give you a chance to chat with the locals.
3. Enjoy The Freedom Of Traveling Alone (But Try Not To Get Lost)
The beauty of traveling to Russia alone is that there’s a sense of freedom in letting your whims dictate your agenda. That’s why many decide to knock group travel in favor of solo trips:
By going to Russia alone, you’ll truly get to know and experience the everyday life – on your terms.
You can take your sweet time visiting Russia’s most notable landmarks, give the local cuisine a try, go partying with the locals, or treat yourself to a visit to a traditional Russian bathhouse. Or, wander the streets aimlessly, just soaking up the atmosphere and the Russian spirit.
Do whatever you feel like doing – you’re in charge of your adventure.
Oh, and if you happen to be visiting Moscow alone, be sure to explore the parks and take in the unique energy of Moscow’s city center, the Red Square.
If you’re going to travel alone, though, you should still sit down and make a rough outline of things you’d want to see and places you’d like to visit. You don’t have to stick to it to the letter, but it’s nice to have a starting point.
If anything, it will help you avoid getting overwhelmed by the number of possibilities.
Explore as much as you want, but try not to get lost along the way. Make use of Yandex Maps – available in English – to navigate around Russia’s cities and keep tabs on your current location.
4. Public Transport Is Your Friend
Public transport is easily the most cost-effective and convenient means of traveling around Russia’s biggest cities.
You’ll find the bus, tram, and trolleybus stations as a part of the public transportation system across Russia. Larger cities, such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Volgograd, and Yekaterinburg, even have underground metro stations.
Oh, and did you know that the Moscow metro is one of the most beautiful, reliable, and not to mention, safe, underground transport systems in the world?
Another reasonable way to get around cities such as St. Petersburg or Moscow is by taking a cab. Download Yandex.Taxi (Яндекс Такси) or Uber Russia (yes, you will need a separate Uber app for Russia), book a cab and enjoy an easy ride around the city for as low 7-15 USD (in Moscow).
Renting a car in Russia would be your other option. All you need is a valid driving license, your passport, and a credit card. If you opt for this means of transportation, though, brace yourself for the many challenges of driving in rural Russia, including poor signage, roads riddled with holes, and ruthless drivers.
Overall, though, you shouldn’t have any trouble reaching your desired destinations while exploring Russia’s cities on your own.
5. Let’s Talk Money: Cash, Cards & Currencies
As with any other trip, traveling to Russia alone will have its expenses, but the three major ones will, of course, be transport, accommodation, and food. Other than that, though, a trip to Russia won’t necessarily drain your budget, because it is a relatively inexpensive country.
Still, there are a few money-related things worth mentioning here:
The only officially accepted currency in Russia is the Russian ruble. We recommend that you use your credit card for any major purchases, but if that’s not an option, you’ll have to use rubles, instead – and that brings us to our main point:
Never – and we do mean NEVER – change currency with street vendors or at the airport. The exchange rates will be flat out outrageous, and you’ll most likely end up getting ripped off.
Going to the nearest bank is always your safest, most cost-efficient bet. Also, it will be a good idea to bring a small amount of cash (rubles, of course) with you – enough to cover the initial expenses until you find your way around town.
There are some subsidiaries of foreign banks registered in Russia. Chances are, if you have a card issued by one of the parent banks, you’ll be able to withdraw money at a better rate at the subsidiaries’ ATMs.
- Citigroup — Citibank
- Raiffeisen Bank International — Raiffeisenbank
- UniCredit — UniCredit Bank
- Société Générale — Rosbank
- Be sure to check with your bank that your card can be used abroad and ask about cross-border fees. Since it’s never recommended to withdraw cash using credit cards, make sure to get a debit card for withdrawing Rubles from ATMs. Your PIN should be set at 4 digits, as Russian ATMs will not recognise a 6-digit PIN. (Debit card payments don’t carry additional surcharges in Russia so feel free to use them at POS, just like you would use a credit card.)
- You won’t actually need that much cash on you while in Moscow or St Petersburg. Chances are, you have a credit or debit card, and Russia has a very strong culture of card payments. Every merchant with any significant revenue is obligated by law to accept card payments.
Bonus Tip: A Little Common Sense Goes A Long Way
If this happens to be your first solo trip, the chances are that you’re feeling unsure about the best way to handle yourself. And here’s the thing about traveling solo in Russia:
Without friends and travel companions, you’ll have to learn to rely on yourself for everything from staying out of trouble to keeping your valuables safe.
It’s not as hard as it sounds, though. What we always say to solo travelers is that a little common sense goes a long way when you find yourself alone in a foreign country.
We’ll list a few recommendations below, just in case you need a quick brush-up on solo travel etiquette before going to Russia alone:
- Blend in with the locals whenever that’s possible. Follow the local customs to the best of your abilities and try not to show off too much.
- Avoid picking fights with the locals or starting scenes for no apparent reason. No one likes a trouble-maker.
- Avoiding specific conversation topics – including religion and politics – is highly recommended, as you might unintentionally start a fight over a disagreement.
- Remember not to take comments made by locals over a few drinks to heart – they’re not trying to insult you or your country. They’re merely having fun and making conversation.
- Go out and have fun drinking with the locals, but be sure not to get carried away. You need to stay alert and observant at all times, especially if you’ll be walking back to the hotel alone.
Additional Safety Tips: How Safe Is Russia For Tourists Traveling Alone?
Some of you are possibly wondering is it safe to travel to Moscow alone – or any other city in Russia, for that matter.
Russia is an enormous country – we’re talking over 6.6 million square miles and a population of over 145 million people. It is, after all, the biggest nation in the world.
For this reason, it’s somewhat tricky to make generalizations about its safety status. Still, there are things you should know regarding how safe Russia is for tourists traveling alone.
We’ll explain everything below!
Are Russia’s Cities Safe For Tourists?
The streets of Russia’s largest cities, such as St. Petersburg and Moscow, are pretty much as safe – or as dangerous, depending on how you choose to look at it – as the streets of any other major city in the world.
While the notorious Russian mafia made for excellent movie villains back in the 1990s, these movie-like scenarios couldn’t be further from the truth:
You won’t find members of the mob running wild around town. The chances are that overly friendly, local drunks will most likely end up being the biggest annoyance you’ll encounter during your stay in Russia.
Sure, there might be sketchy areas, and you probably wouldn’t want to be caught all alone on the outskirts of the city in the middle of the night. But if we’re honest here, can you name a city that doesn’t pose these same risks?
You’ll notice that quite a few police officers are patrolling the city streets, metro stations, and shopping malls at all times. The chances are that you’ll instantly have a sense of greater security during your stay just for seeing them patrolling around town.
Furthermore, Russia also introduced the so-called tourist police, as initiated by local authorities in recent years, to provide support to foreigners. They’re not only there to reinforce security but to provide information to foreign tourists in English, as well.
Don’t hesitate to contact them if you end up needing help!
What Are Some Potential Risks You’ll Face When Visiting Russia Alone & How To Avoid Them
Much like any other country in the world, there are still some risks you’ll face during your stay. But as you continue reading, you’ll probably notice that, in general, they don’t differ that much from what you might experience back home.
There’s nothing unordinary or unusually safe – or unsafe – about it.
1. Stay Clear Of Dangerous Regions & Border Zones
Official border crossings are entirely off-limits. The border zones, in general, are a slightly different story but should be approached with great care and careful planning.
You may be allowed to hike in some border areas, but you’ll have to get a special permit first – going anywhere near the border without one will result in a hefty fine and even possible deportation. The downside here is that it may take up to 60 days to get one.
Next, certain areas fall into the category of “danger zones” or high-risk areas. The border with Ukraine and the North Caucasus region are a few examples of these potentially unstable, armed-conflict areas that should be avoided.
You can find more info on Russia’s current “hot spots” as well as additional travel advisories on the following government websites:
- US State Department
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs
- British Foreign Office
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs
It’s generally recommended to stick to large cities – Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Nizhny Novgorod, and the like – or taking the Trans-Siberian route.
2. Keep An Eye On Your Belongings And Personal Items
Although we wouldn’t label it as typical, pick-pocketing and other petty thefts can be a real problem in large Russian cities, as it is in any other developed country in the world.
Does this mean that you won’t even be able to leave your belongings unsupervised while you run to the bathroom?
Well, probably not – but we do recommend that you get to know your fellow passengers before you do.
As we said, the city center tends to be very safe due to all the police officers patrolling around tourist areas. However, you’re still advised to pay special attention to your personal belongings at all times, even more so when you find yourself in crowded places.
Public transportation and underground walkways tend to be particularly vulnerable areas for small crimes such as pick-pocketing and purse-snatching.
Keep an eye on your stuff and personal items, and don’t leave your wallet, expensive sunglasses, phone, or purse out on show – unless you want to make some pick-pocket’s day, that is.
3. Beware Of Scams & Rip-Offs
The fact that you’re a foreign tourist traveling alone could make you a potential target for scammers.
Again, this isn’t something that can happen only in Russia – a lot of travelers fall victim to scams and rip-offs when they find themselves in a completely foreign country.
For instance, there’s a genuine risk of getting scammed – or rather, ripped off – by the unlicensed, and therefore illegal, taxi drivers. They’re known to charge foreign tourists with insane amounts because they’re counting on you not knowing your way around town.
That’s why it’s always advisable to use only official taxi companies, and negotiate rates before even stepping into the vehicle.
4. Trust Your Gut Instinct (Especially If You’re A Woman)
We strongly encourage you to trust your gut instinct whenever you’re traveling alone. Furthermore, remember that a bit of common sense goes a long way safety-wise. Do as you usually would in your home town or any other city you’ve visited in the past – and be cautious.
For instance, if you’re interacting with a stranger and you suddenly get a “bad feeling” in your gut, go with it. You shouldn’t stick around long enough to find out whether they’re up to something or not.
Remember, and we cannot stress this one enough:
You don’t own anyone – especially strangers who would approach a solo traveler out of the blue – the benefit of the doubt.
While you generally have nothing to worry about, you should still exercise caution when walking alone or wandering out and about:
Try and be aware of your surroundings, stay alert, and, if possible, stick to well-lit areas after dark!
Final Piece Of Advice Before Your Solo Trip To Russia
So, now that you’ve had a chance to read our ultimate tips for traveling solo in Russia, do you feel ready to embark on such a liberating – and often, life-changing – journey on your own?
Sure, there will be an occasional travel hiccup or two, but this shouldn’t stop you from taking a road less traveled and going to Russia alone. Keep your wits sharp, your mind open, and your belongings safe – and get out there!
Oh, and one more thing:
Try not to worry too much. You’ll do just fine on your first solo trip to Russia!