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No visa needed for cruise passengers? St. Petersburg

I have seen other discussions about visas for St. Petersburg but I found an article that says it's no longer necessary, if you stay for less than 72 hours. You just need confirmation from the cruise company that you are with them AND "You are required to depart and return to the port with the tour, you do not have the option to stay in St. Petersburg and return to the ship on your own."

Oh, great... so you still need to sign up for the expensive excursion. I was hoping to avoid that.
Ah, there is one way around that. Apply for a visa to visit as if you were not going on a cruise. At least I think that would work. Apparently, we could get one in about 3 weeks. http://www.st-petersburg-essentialguide.com/russian-visa.html

Does anyone know for sure? And is there really any need for a guide? Especially of the ship is only there for one day? Taxi to the Hermitage?

Posted by
7206 posts

I think the deal is that if you're signed with an "approved" tour company, no Russian visa is required. If you look online or on TripAdvisor, you can find dozens of approved tour companies offering large and small group tours and individual tours.
We were there 18 months ago, and went on a group tour for two days with about 10 people. Our guide met us at the port with a small Mercedes van and a private driver. They took us through back streets and alleys to get us to the most popular tourist sights faster than big tour buses could make it--beating the crowds. The tour guide was in her late 20's and a university graduate. She was simply incredible in her knowledge of Russian history, and she also took very good care of us.

Our tour company didn't require any deposit, and they even advanced us local funds if we wanted to make any souvenir purchases. We finally settled up at the end of the second day.
By all means, look for such a tour. And you'll have a much better experience if you book it direct--not through the cruise line.

Posted by
1778 posts

We got a 3 year visa to Russia and went to St. Petersburg twice. We stayed for about a week each time. We did it all on our own (no tours) and had a great time. Hotels, restaurants and museums speak good English. We used Rick's guide for St. Petersburg and found his recommendations for museums, sites and restaurants to be great. I've heard that most cruises require you to take their on-shore tours that are quite expensive.

Posted by
28 posts

Thanks for the replies folks. We have been on five cruises and were never expected to take the ship's own tours. But when you get off the ship at 8am, and must to be back on by 5, it's scary to take a private tour that might not get you back on time. The ship would leave without us.

One of the cruises we are considering does allow two days in St. Petersburg and that would work for a private Company tour on Day 1. Then we could go on our own on Day 2 with Rick's book - suddenly we would need a visa. The 2 day tours are fine, a lot cheaper than the cruise ship excursions, but I would want to talk to the operator to make sure we would be back on the ship at the necessary time.

Cheers! Peter

Posted by
436 posts

Hi pkburian,
Look, on any given Tuesday or Saturday there is a total of probably fifteen thousand tourists from cruise ships alone roaming the streets of St.Petersburg. Most of these tours are handled by a handful of companies that specialize in dealing with cruise crowd and their specific requirements. Having their clients miss their ship would get them out of business, pronto.

Posted by
1914 posts

Last May we were on a cruise with 2 days in St. Petersburg. We were very happy with the private 2 day tour we arranged through ToursByLocals.com. I called and spoke at length with the folks at HQ and emailed the tour guide several times in advance to share our thoughts. The guide arranged the visas.
It was excellent. He had emailed us documents which we printed, but were never required to present to the Russian authorities...we assume it was already in the system as they reviewed our passports. It was a moderately better deal than the ship excursion, but it was just us 2, not a group, so much more value for dollar. You might look into this company. Our guide was Nikolai. Obtaining our own visas appeared to be a complicated and costly effort, and held no appeal as we aren't looking at a return visit anytime too soon. Good luck.

Posted by
28 posts

Thanks, folks. Appreciate the tip re: ToursByLocals.com.

Cruise excursions are fine except they are often with 40 people per bus and that really slows the entire process. Prefer smaller groups. Cheers, Peter

Posted by
145 posts

I've been researching private tour companies for our 2-day St. Petersburg stop next August. For reassurance... I've noticed on several of the private tour sites that they claim to guarantee that you won't miss your ship and if that did happen, they guarantee to get you to the next port. In our case that would be Tallin.

Posted by
6914 posts

We did private tours with Tours by Locals in both Petersburg and Moscow -- the cruise ship tours are horrible and I would not do any that were optional. We however had visas as you must when you do a Russian river cruise. I believe that you can use local tours like that from the short cruise ships stops as well.

Posted by
7205 posts

We were quite happy with our guide from toursbylocals.com for St Petersburg for our trip to Catherine's Palace in Pushkin. We've used TBL all over Europe and have never been met with a problem. Some guides are obviously better than others so be sure to read the reviews on TBL left by previous travelers before you book.