Canal cruise in St. Petersburg

How to Visit St Petersburg Without a Russian Visa

February 1, 2020
General Information, Travel

In this article we offer an overview of ways to travel to St. Petersburg without applying for a Russian Visa. Here you will find advice on how to travel to St. Petersburg Visa-Free for citizens of The US, Canada, UK, and 53 other countries.

Firstly, since most of our guests arrive from The United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, let’s first address a frequently asked question from them (feel free to skip this section if it doesn’t apply to you).:

Can American, Canadian, and UK citizens tour St. Petersburg, Russia without a visa on their own?

The short answer is: “No”. But, if guests from these countries would like tour St Petersburg and skip the visa application process, there are some options available (see “Options 1 and 2” below).

You can always apply for a Russia Tourist Visa for a couple of months, or, if you know any locals, you can apply for a “Family/Guest Invitation” Visa. Personal visas will allow you to stay in St. Petersburg (and, basically, anywhere else in Russia) for the maximum of 6 months at a time, and have a validity of up to three years

This option involves paying Visa fees, mailing your passport to a Russian embassy (unless there’s one nearby), and waiting for approximately 3 weeks. If the embassy would like additional information, they reserve the right to call you in for an interview before making their decision. Needless to say, this process isn’t much fun.

Fortunately, there are options available. In short, If you are traveling to St. Petersburg by sea, you can enjoy a shore excursion without applying for Russian Visa.

(Option #1) Tour St Petersburg as a Cruise Ship Passenger (visa-free)

One of the most common ways for foreign guests to arrive to St. Petersburg is by cruise ship, on a Baltic Cruise. This is largely because they can enjoy visa-free travel to St. Petersburg by taking a tour.

If you are coming to St. Petersburg by cruise ship, you DO NOT need to apply for a Visa, as long as you book a tour with a local company or a local private guide. Before arrival, you will receive “tour tickets”, which act as a visa waiver for the duration of your time in port.

According to local laws, those who book a tour with a local company or a private guide should remain with a guide for the duration of their tour. Find out more at this governmental website.

If you decide to go to St. Petersburg by cruise ship, be prepared to hear stories from your Cruise Line. Among other stories, they will tell you numerous times that you won’t be able to get off the ship unless you book a tour through the ship. This is 100% incorrect! 

By scaring passengers with stories like this, cruise lines attempt to sell more shore excursions.

Don’t be afraid of booking a tour with a local company! You will actually save a ton of money by booking St. Petersburg shore excursion through one of the local companies. For example, check out our small-group shore excursions in St. Petersburg by Experience Russia

Canal cruise in St. Petersburg
Canal Cruise in St. Petersburg along the Fountain River

(Option #2) Arrive to St. Petersburg by Ferry and Book a Shore Excursion

Another lesser-known option for touring St. Petersburg on your own, without applying for Russian Visa is traveling by ferry. There are two main ferry companies (“St. Peter Line” and “Silja Line”) which have routes between European ports (typically Helsinki, Tallinn, and Stockholm) and St. Petersburg. These ferries stay in St. Petersburg for up to 72 hours.

On board, you can purchase a “Bus Tour” (which is more of a shuttle to downtown St. Petersburg) and you will be allowed through the passport control without having a Russian Visa.

After disembarking the ferry, you are allowed to stay in the city for up to 72 hours (or as long as your ship is in port).

In other words: if you come by any ferry to St. Petersburg, you can stay in the city for three days and tour it on your own, without applying for a Russian Visa!

However, you are required by law to return back to the ferry and depart Russia before those 72 hours are over.

Check out this blog article for a very detailed overview of traveling to St. Petersburg by ferry.

Nevskiy Prospect Avenue
View of the Nevsky Prospekt at Dawn

(Option #3) Apply for a St Petersburg e-Visa

In October of 2019, the Russian government enacted a new e-Visa policy that allows citizens of 53 countries to enter (through specialized check points, like one is Pulkovo airport (LED)) and stay in St. Petersburg for up to 8 days.

If you have a passport from one of those 53 countries, congratulations! You can apply for this e-Visa and come to St. Petersburg! Find a full list of countries in our post on E-Visa.

If you have a dual citizenship, and one of your passports is covered by the E-Visa regulations, congratulations! You may also come to St. Petersburg on the e-Visa.

For example, if, like many of our guests you have a UK & Irish passport, or Indian & American passport, or Chinese & American passport, you are eligible for the E-Visa. Once again, congratulations !

Hermitage Museum from the palace bridge on the Neva River
Hermitage Museum, the largest museum of St. Petersburg

If you have any questions regarding Visa Free travel to St. Petersburg, or if you would like to go on an amazing Visa-Free shore excursion of St. Petersburg, contact Experience Russia. We would be delighted to help you plan an unforgettable trip to the “Venice of the North!”

Don’t Visit Russia. Experience It!