After your challenging visa application, here’s the second round of pain in the neck Russian bureaucracy : the border zone permit !
I’m explaning you here all the details to obtain this so called complicated document. In fact it’s a lot more simple than you think, unless the FSB thinks you’re a spy dressed up as a regular tourist willing to meet up with Chechen babushkas, and simply reject your application …
Last updated : 25/02/2023
Who’s the FSB ?
The acronym “FSB” stands for “Federal Security Services of the Russian Federation”. Understand “secret services”, aka the 21th century KGB. They are the ones watching the borders, approving or denying your permit application, and even your entry on Russian soil in case the rude and grumpy immigration lady thinks your passport, your look or your fake smile is questionable.
But don’t worry, as long as you’re not an undercover journalist, a political dissident, or threatening on Vova’s interests, you shall be fine !
Who should apply for a border zone permit ?
Everyone. Even Russian citizens, except if they are living in the neighboring villages or towns.
The area called “border zone” is a strip of five to ten kilometers depending on the region all around the borders of the Russian territory. Any borders with Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Finland, and every other bordering countries. Let’s be clear, it’s not within the Federation itself, there’s no permit needed between Dagestan and Kalmykia for example.
So whether you want to visit the Ivangorod castle in the Leningrad Oblast, the Vainakh towers in Ingushetia, meet Nenet people in the Far North or to prove to the young soldier at the border that yes you have the right to cross on foot, you’ll need to have a border zone permit.
If you wish to climb the Elbrus in Kabardino – Balkaria, a guide is mandatory. He or she must apply for the permit for you.
How & where should you apply ?
It’s quite simple if you know some Russian … You have to fill up the form in Cyrillic, email it (don’t forget to write a sweet note in russian saying that you’re a tourist from wherever applying for a border zone permit to whatever region) to the FSB office of the concerned region with the copy of your passport as well as your visa (valid one, don’t try to trick them with an old one). One application per person, same for kids.
You should have an answer within two weeks up to a month and a half, so make sure you apply in advance. If they do not get back to you, don’t hesitate to email them, call them if you dare or just ask a Russian friend of yours to do it for you.
Keep in mind that these people probably don’t speak english or will pretend not to (common for Russians in general). Everything must be in Russian on your application and the email as well. Write your name exactly as it is on your visa, middle names included. Like for your visa, any mistake and you can have your permit application rejected.
If you don’t need a visa to Russia, make sure you tell them in the email. And for your name, Google translate works pretty well to turn them into cyrillic.
Here you’ll find the official page with the list of all the FSB offices (Google translate it) and the email adresses to send your application. You will also find their phone numbers and of course the actual address of the office to pick up your permit because unless you have a home address in Russia to have it posted it to you will have to pick it up yourself.
What about writing a friend’s address ? Maybe. I personally wouldn’t try it because we are foreigners overthere, they might want to see in you person and ask you questions in the meantime …
You’ll find the blank form here. It can be used for any border zone permit application all over the country. Note : they updated the form in 2021. It has to be the № 89 and not the form № 455 of 2017. This is the correct one, I applied for a couple of border zone permits this june 2022 and an application with the old form will get rejected even though it is almost the exact same one.
Note that in Russia they don’t X to tick a box, but use V instead.
How to fill up the application ?
You will need the following things : A Russian visa, an address in Russia (hotel or friend), your travel dates in the border zone (if you don’t know the exact days, roughly write down your visa dates, unless you have a year visa and apply for a sensitive area, just write down 2 to 3 weeks), a phone number (I recommend you a Russian phone number, so make sure you already got a friend there, a Couchsurfing friend would do), your passport, and especially the name(s) of the « район » (rayon), meaning the “district” where you wish to go.
The border zone can be a strip of land spread on a few disctricts.
And now you probably wonder : “How am I supposed to find the names of the districts ?!”
Well, you will have to figure it out by using Wikipedia and Google Maps !
Google “Russian administrative divisions” or “subdivisions” with the name of the Republic, Oblast, Krai or Okrug you look for. If you can’t find anything in English or in your native language, search in Russian and you’ll just have to copy/paste the names to the form.
What if it gets denied ?
Your application can be denied for two main reasons : You didn’t fill up the form properly & a document is missing, or your profile is suspicious and the FSB doesn’t want you in a sensitive area.
For example the border with Ukraine is politically sensitive, or the border with Chechnya and Georgia is dangerous, highly militarised with potentially radical islamists roaming around (at least that’s what they say).
The only solution is to apply one more time and hope this time it will be granted, or just change your travel plans. Isn’t Russia the biggest country in the world ?
How much does it cost ?
Financially it doesn’t cost you anything if you apply on your own. If the officer who’s giving you the permit is asking for money, well, he wants a bribe … Avoid bribing FSB officers please or anyone else, you’re not a Russian citizen.
Unfortunately you will spend a lot of time finding the correct names of districts and filling up the form, especially if you don’t master Russian. Save a copy of the form with all your informations except the dates and districts names for next time !
Note that if you enter a “touristy” National Park like in Dombai in Karachay – Cherkessia for example, you will need to carry your passport, a border zone permit and you will have to pay en entrance fee, that’s the rule.
Need any help ? Don’t hesistate to contact me !
Let me know in the comments if this guide has been helpful !