Entering Russia: My experience at the immigration checkpoint in Moscow
If you are done with not so smooth visa process for the Russian visa, then read carefully because the only thing that is more difficult than getting Russian visa is fitting all your warm clothes in 23 Kg limit check-in bag. Entering into Russia and the immigration process is a smooth ride and September was not cold! You won this one!
I flew in Aeroflot from Miami to Moscow a few weeks ago on the day when Miami airport was closed due to hurricane Irma. Luckily, I was already inside and my flight was one of the last ones to take off. The flight was smooth, and in-flight entertainment system had a wide variety of English and Russian language music and movies including my favourite Soviet classics, which I did not know before that they were my favourites and that they were classics. I knew that they were Soviet. I think so…
Entering into Russia
When we landed at SVO Sheremetyevo Airport, luckily it was the only international flight arriving in Moscow at that time. That is why there was less crowd at the immigration checkpoint. Most of the passengers on the flight were Russian, except few Latin Americans who came to Moscow to escape Irma. Local Authorities back in Miami had ordered people to move to Northern areas and what can be more North than Moscow? So, I expected immigration to be faster. However, unlike in the USA where eligible Global Entry citizen can enter without standing in the line using computerized terminals, in Sheremetyevo, everyone including citizens had to pass through a manned immigration checkpoint.
If I can remember well then there were about six to eight active booths and some of them were reserved for diplomatic passport holders. After about 15 minutes of wait in the queue came my turn. There was a young passport officer sitting at the booth. He asked for my Passport and I gave it to him with my Russian visa page open. He quickly glanced through my visa and my passport and matched the numbers against each other and looked at me to verify my photo.
“Where from?” asked the passport officer in English.
“Miami”, I replied.
“Do you have a Green card or US long-term visa?”
“Da”, I replied in Russian that means yes.
“Oh Russian! How do you know Russian?” from this moment our conversation turned into Russian, but I will still keep writing in English for the ease of the readers.
“I learnt by myself for 3 months”
“What? Just three months? That is so impressive!” Passport officer exclaimed.
He then continued asking about how is life in the USA, why did I leave India, and if Indians speak Mandarin. The last question was a bit lame but other than that it was a great conversation enough to frustrate the people waiting in line for me to finish. He quickly stamped my visa and generated an immigration card for me, which he placed it in my passport and welcomed me to Russia with a smile! Jackpot! I thought to myself. I got a smile from a Russian passport officer!
Things to Consider When in Russia to Depart smoothly
Once you have made into the city and to the hotel or to your friend. Make sure your hotel or friend is ready to register your visa with the authorities. This is one of the crazy old rules in Russia from Soviet times that they never bothered to change. If you are in Russia for more than 7 days then it is mandatory to get your visa registered with the authorities. Unfortunately, you cannot do it yourself. If you are staying at a hotel then they will do it for you either for free or for some extra cost. My hotel charged me an additional 1250 RUB. If you are staying with a friend then they can do it for you as well given that they have the permanent registration in their name for that apartment. If you are from one of those lucky countries whose citizen do not need a Russian visa to visit Russia then keep your flight tickets handy at all the time as a proof of when are you departing.
It is very common to get stopped by police on the streets asking for your passport. They will check your passport, your visa, the immigration card and visa registration. If everything is ok and you are lucky then you are good to go. If not, then you might end up in a police station for a brief background check or you might even have to pay some bribe.
Luckily I was never stopped by the police. In my near 2 weeks in Moscow, which I spent mostly walking the streets and riding the metro, I saw police stopping someone only two times. Both the times it was someone from the former Soviet republics of central Asia.
If you are confident, dressed and groomed well then I think there are fewer chances of getting stopped by the police. This is, however, my personal opinion. I did carry all my documents with me all the time. If you are scared of carrying your original passport, you can carry the copies as well.
At the Passport Control While Departing from Moscow
While the immigration process at the time of entering into Russia was smooth, it was conversely unpleasant while departing Moscow. Unlike in the USA, in Russia, you have to get a departing stamp on your visa. Once you pass through the immigration checkpoint they again go through all of your documents. The lady who I was supposed to interact with did not wait for me to give her my passport, instead, she snatched it from my hands. She quickly glanced through my passport and looked at me as if she hated me for some reason. She then quickly scanned through all my visas in the passport. Oh! The United States! She said with a surprise and began showing it to other officers around her. Then she flipped further and then stopped at my expired UK visa and so on she continued flipping through all the western countries’ visas on my passport and showed it to other officers. She asked me about the purpose of my visit, but she did not really listen to me. After a long interaction with other officers, she stamped my visa and let me go.
I would say that overall I had mixed experience at immigration checkpoints in Russia. 80% good and 20% bad. It could have been a 100% good experience if the lady at the departing checkpoint had behaved slightly better. However, I understand that being strict and careful is part of her job so that is Ok. This should not be something that should stop you from visiting Russia. Write in the comments below if you have questions or want to make any comment. Stick around for my next articles with more things that I experienced and observed in Russia. This is my first article on this website, so I am guessing that no one is reading it. Tht means I can mak some spelling mistakes.
If you are still reading, learn if it is safe to travel to Russia.