Crossing world borders still has intrigue for me. It’s the adrenalin buzz and excitement of it all. As a Northern Irish nationalist, I love separatism and I detest land borders like Belgium to Netherlands. Where basically you have no idea which country you are in – you even use the same currency and don’t get your passport checked – horrendous – might as well be one country. But my travels got exciting again in my last week as a backpacker, after trying my best to secure a visa for Kaliningrad. I finally received confirmation that I had a 72 hour Kaliningrad visa approved on my British passport, but I had to collect it at the border.
I took a risk as I hadn’t heard of any other traveller getting their visa on the border, even my Russian based backpacking buddy Nate was convinced I wouldn’t get it. So here is a rough overview of the special Kaliningrad visa procedure and then the border crossing itself. Kaliningrad borders Lithuania and Poland.
Applying for the 72 Hour Kaliningrad Visa in Gdańsk, Poland
First of all I went to the Russian Embassy at Gdańsk Wrzeszcz but when I spoke to them, it became obvious that they only really issue FULL Russian Visas there.
For me, a full Russian visa was a waste of time and money as I only wanted to visit Kaliningrad and because I was hanging around in Poland and studying Polish in Gdańsk. So it then became obvious that I should apply for the visa online. After being rejected at the Embassy for a Kaliningrad only visa, I was then rejected online as I applied with an Irish passport assuming that was the easiest option, given the Russians political issues with the UK.
Then I applied again online using my UK passport and it brought success. I already explained how to get the Kaliningrad visa online on this post in detail. Now that I had confirmation I had the visa, I could collect it on arrival at the Braniewo to Mamonovo border.
Booking the Bus from Gdańsk to Kaliningrad City
Once I had confirmation of this online visa, I was able to sort out my transport across the border but it was on strict terms:
- My online visa was for 3 days (72 hours) only – I later learned it was actually a 4 day (96 hour) visa.
- My online visa could ONLY be collected at the Braniewo to Mamonovo border point (by car/by bus).
- My online visa had to be collected there between Monday and Friday from 9am – 5pm.
- Even more specifically I needed to give an exact time I would be crossing the border. I opted for 4pm on Friday 5th August 2016.
There are a few buses to book, but for me, based at the Cycle on Hostel in Gdańsk, it had to be the 6 am bus on the Friday morning from Gdańsk Glowny Autobus Terminal. This is NOT run by Eurolines – the Eurolines bus does not go to this border. It is run by Avtovagzal 39, this company, their website is here. You can book your bus online there and they email you a PDF ticket. My ticket looked like this, I printed it.
Leaving Gdańsk Autobus Station
I arrived at Gdańsk Autobus Station before 5.30 am. I headed to platform 11 which is where the Kaliningrad bus leaves from.
There I met two Swedish ladies, a German guy and lots of Russians. I was in the right place. The bus had numbered seats and it arrived at 5.50 am for the 6 am departure. It was a small minibus and had some spare seats, including the seat next to me.
We drive east through Gdańsk and pass by the town of Elblag. Then we arrive in Braniewo, we pass through the town itself and then to the border point. The journey to the border takes just over 2 hours and by 8.05 am we are at the Polish departure point just east of Braniewo.
Leaving Poland at Braniewo
There is a short delay on the Poland side. This might be because the Russian side of the border wasn’t opening until 9am, but I am not sure.
On the Polish side, by 8.30 am, a Polish border control guard has got onboard and checked all of our passports. There was no exit stamp for me, as I am an EU citizen. Here. bags are not checked and there are toilets to use.
Arrival into Kaliningrad at Mamonovo
Now we are out of Poland, the entry into Russian territory begins. The first check at the border is by a Russian guard who gets onto the minibus and checks all passports for visas. Luckily there are 3 others who are getting the online visa on arrival and the guard says this is fine. As well as my online visa, I needed my bus booking, hotel booking and a single passport sized photograph.
By 9.15 am we are inside the building and a lady takes our details, photos and passports and comes back with the 72 hour visas within about 10 minutes!
She hands us three things:
– Our passports which have in them a brand new Russian Visa for Kaliningrad only, and it lasts for 4 days rather than 3! It is a 96 hour visa, not a 72 hour visa!
– A travel insurance policy which says I am covered for 30,000 Rubles during my stay in the country.
– A receipt that proves I have paid for and received my Russian Visa.
Once all that is done, I join the immigration queue and assume it will be a quick pasport stamp, bag check and onwards to Kaliningrad city. Not so. Myself and one other tourist (a lady from Kazakhstan) are ushered aside to wait.
We wait for 25 minutes and still nothing has happened. Then, I am ushered by a guy in a t shirt and jeans (not even an officer) into a private room with about 10 Russians. The reason they have singled myself and the Kazakhstan girl out are probably because of passport stamps from Islamic countries.
They ask me loads of unusual questions and I answer them all honestly. Some were:
– Why are you going to Kaliningrad? (Em – did you see my visa – tourism!)
– Why have you been to all these countries recently? (Again – I’m a tourist, I love to travel)
– What were you doing in Ukraine? (Travelling – I’m a tourist)
and so on. The entire time took about an hour of questioning, with the 20+ China visas and stamps being suspicious to them somehow – but I used to work in Hong Kong and my work visa was also inside the passport! Finally they let us free and after all that – they didn’t even check our bags! Yet everyone else on our bus had their bags checked. That felt strange.
We got given our Russian entry stamp from a different booth than the others and by 10.20 am we were on route to the capital city – Kaliningrad City. A stamp is also placed on a piece of paper that we must keep and then surrender on departure (in just under 4 days time).
The journey from Mamonovo to Kaliningrad wasn’t too memorable but I was happy that I had finally been let in to tour this place and write about it.
I used almost all 96 hours I had been given, leaving around 6pm on the fourth day of the visa. I spent my first night in the Ibis Hotel Kaliningrad and then I backpacked it hardcore at the Crazy Dog Hostel.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be my last backpacking trip for a while as I then decided to stay in Gdansk for a while. Yes, I am staying put and I wrote about my top sights in Kaliningrad city my last point on the journey – it was a brilliant city to tour!
Here are some videos from the border crossing from Poland to Kaliningrad: