Russia is not on the top countries to visit this year for sure. Yet some of us still want to go. I did. I spent my summer, from late june to mid september in the very South West of the Russian Federation, travelling from the high alpine mountains of Sochi to the cristal clear shores of Crimea.
This post contains my personal experience travelling to Russia as a French national (European) : getting a visa, booking a plane ticket, entering & exiting Russia, money related tips and more.
Disclaimer : I refuse to travel boycott any country as in my opinion it targets the wrong people. I believe we should always seperate a government from its citizens.
Getting a visa
First thing first, I had to get a visa. I was honeslty worried that my 3 month tourist visa application would be denied at the end of may 2022. However it did not. I applied through a french travel agency, used the insurance of my Visa card (don’t ask me why & how, but it worked) and I received my passport with the visa stamped on it in less than 2 weeks later.
There was absolutely no problems nor delays. I guess the Russian embassy wasn’t very busy giving tourist visas to Westerners …
Find a way to actually travel to Russia
When I was looking for ways to travel to the South of Russia from France, the most convenient and available options were to go via either Turkey or Armenia. AirSerbia also offers flights from Paris to Sochi via Belgrade but they are not budget friendly at all. I finally chose to fly through Turkey and made a layover on my own in Istanbul.
Note : Late june 2022, the land borders were not yet open for third country nationals.
Booking the plane tickets
Finding a way to travel to Russia was easy, booking the actual tickets not so much …
I flew to Istanbul from Paris with Turkish Airlines so there was no problem to book the flight online with my (France issued) Visa card.
However booking a ticket to Sochi was a lot more complicated as only Russian airlines offer flights from Istanbul. I tried tones of websites to book it with my French bank card. I also used a VPN in various locations and even tried a turkish booking platform. It was always declined for the same reason : foreign cards not accepted – understand “cards not issued in Russia” – .
My last resort has been to use a Russian friend of mine’s bank card to book the ticket. I flew with Azimuth, a russian low cost airline and booked the ticket on their website directly. I also used a VPN to set up my location in Russia but I don’t think it was actually necessary. It would’ve worked anyway.
It looked like I was the only non russian in that small Azimuth plane. My negative PCR test was asked only once when I was checking – in my luggage in Istanbul. (The Russian authorities stopped requesting it early July).
On arrival in Russia, the immigration woman took so long that the people queueing behind me changed line … I got asked where I was planning on going and how many times I’ve been in Russia – Answer : 7 . Which is probably the reason why it took a little while – and she checked if my passport was real with some magnifying lens. Nothing unusual for me.
She sent me off with a “good luck” and that was all. The whole process took 15 minutes at most.
Note : No one asked me for the “application form for those who are on flights to the Russian Federation” in Sochi, and I doubt it was really asked elsewhere. I find it totally useless since all passengers were required to have a negative less than 48 hours PCR test anyway. Again, the Russian authorities stopped requesting it early July 2022.
As you surely know Visa and Mastercard aren’t operating in Russia anymore. Whoever doesn’t own a card with the MIR payment system (Russia made) needs to bring cash and of course euros and US dollars are the most valuable currencies.
I tried to change euros for russian roubles at CDG airport in Paris but apparently due to the sanctions they were/are not allowed to sell any in Europe … I changed some at Istanbul airport, just enough to get me going and reach the city center from the airport. The rate was obviously terrible.
The russian rouble is for some reasons doing pretty well since spring. At the time of writing it is 1€ for 59₽ . If you are willing to change your money unofficially (note that even in a proper office, the ticket machine is most lickely “broken” … you won’t get a receipt) you can get a better rate.
I changed 1€ for 65₽ – right on the street in some cities. Obviously this is black market out in the open, but I personnaly never had issues doing so even in my previous travels in Russia. It is really up to you.
In Sochi I saw a couple of guys here and there in the very city center holding a sign “Buying $€$”. They can’t be missed. I believe they are a bit everywhere accross the countries.
Simply walk to them, ask for the day’s rate, maybe bargain a little and within 2 minutes you’re all set with roubles ready to travel anywhere in Russia !
I changed my money unofficially for 65₽ everytime, the whole summer. It went up to 72₽ only once.
How did my three months travels go
I spent my summer months travelling in the very South West of the Russian Federation, in the Krasnodar Krai and Crimea to be more specific. Due to the sanctions and hard time russians have at the moment to go travelling abroad, many chose to stay in the country, and of course the Black Sea coast and Southern shores Crimea were one of the top choices for many.
All the resort towns on the former Soviet Riviera naming Sochi, Tuapse, Anapa, Guelenzhik were packed. And not just the beaches, hotels/hostels and transportations included.
As usual I don’t plan much my travels and go with the flow. It was quite difficult to book trains and “cheap” accomodation at the last minute. Often the trains were fully booked, I had to take buses. Hotels were very expensive, I stayed in hostels often, but of course the good ones were most of the time fully booked as well.
Everyone I met during these three months have been, as usual, very kind to me. No anger or whatever else when I told people I was French. In fact, it was quite the opposite, people were very happy to see a Western tourist especially now. And even more so in Crimea !
Less than a week before the end of my visa (mid september), I travelled by train from Krasnodar to Moscow to visit a good friend of mine. A couple of days before the end day, I took a night train to Saint Petersburg. The next morning I travelled by bus to Riga (around 12 hours, bording crossing included), where I then flew back to Paris.
The bus (LuxExpress – more coming on that soon) crossed the Ivangorod/Narva border into Estonia. On the Russian side, the customs ladies scanned everybody’s luggages. They asked me if I had medicine and American dollars. Nothing about Euros.
Then, at the immigration, I did not get asked a single question. I got stamped out of Russia very quickly. Everybody went back on the bus, and we entered Estonia. That’s it, no problem, no question regarding my 3 months stay in Russia as a European citizen. Everything went super smooth.
Overall, I had an amazing summer in Russia ! The people, landscapes, weather, food etc Everything went great for me despite the current situation.
Feel free to share your own experience in the comments !