There are always a few tough beasts to crack in the visa world as we backpack it hardcore. Russia is a tough enough one to get, and with the 2018 World Cup looming, many more people will be heading there come June. I have been to Russia years ago (2007) as well as two transits and a trip to Kaliningrad so at least have experienced some of Russia and I will be back, maybe this year. And I don’t just mean for the World Cup – there are other options – visiting St. Petersburg, the Trans-Siberian Railway and Russian River Cruises in 2018.
This time, based in the stunning city of Gdańsk in Poland, I was after a Kaliningrad only visa. I didn’t want to visit the main part of Russia – I just wanted to dip in and out of this unique region, Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad has a crazy history. It was once the Polish city of Królewiec, later the German city of Königsberg until 1945. From 1945 – 1991 it was part of the Soviet Union, Kaliningrad SSR. After 1991, it became an autonomous part of Russia. If you have followed some of my zany adventures to these places, you will know why Kaliningrad is right up my street and on my list!! Ten from the growing archive or mayhem:
- Wacaday Adventure to Nukus, Karakalpakstan
- First ever tourist in Austenasia
- My homestay in Transnistria
- Touring the Kingdom of Lovely
- Backpacking in Nagorno Karabakh
- Day Tour of a Druze Village
- Top Sights in the capital of Podjistan
- Getting to the Republic of Uzupis
- Touring Nimis in Ladonia
- Touring Gorno Badakhshan
Kaliningrad is basically “the European version” of Russia. Of course there are many online visa companies that can sort these things out, but at short notice and while based in Gdańsk, I looked a lots of options, starting by going to the Russian Embassy, their website is here.
Getting to the Russian Embassy in Gdańsk
To get to the Russian Embassy in Gdańsk, head on a train and go to this address:
|Address:||15, Stefana Batorego st., Gdansk, 80-251, Poland|
|Phone:||+48 58 341-1088, 341-4092|
|Fax:||+48 58 341-6200|
It’s easiest to get a train to Gdańsk Wrzeszcz and walk. It’s about a 7-8 minute walk to the Russian Embassy.
The Embassy has strict opening hours, I took a photo of the opening hours there in July 2016 on my visit, subject to change and don’t trust the website – go for yourself. They speak Russian and Polish there, and a bit of English. Learning Polish definitely helps you!
After my visit to the Russian Embassy, it appeared I now had two options:
1.Get a full Russian visa from this embassy (or even from London) which would have meant a full application and a higher cost just to visit Kaliningrad.
2.Get a special 72 hour Kaliningrad only visa, which you organise ONLINE without the need to visit this embassy. You must cross the specific border you choose, at an exact time on an exact date – for me – bus from Gdańsk.
So as I was only visiting Kaliningrad, it made sense for me just to do the 72 hour visa and try for it online. There was some conference on in Krakow during July 2016 and this meant refusals the first two times I applied. The refusals were also related to some confusion. As a Northern Irish nationalist, I always say I am Northern Irish. This caused confusion of course. The Kaliningrad Visa allows British people to get a 72 hour land border visa, but not Irish. Even though Northern Ireland is not part of the island of Britain, due to having a United Kingdom passport, at the third time of asking, they realised I was applying as British. I should have just put British from the start and on a UK address without the words “Northern Ireland”.
Which Countries Can Get the 72 Hour Kaliningrad Visa?
The 72-hour visa for Kaliningrad only is given to citizens of United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, England and British Nationals abroad), Japan and Schengen countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Liechtenstein). This visa is valid only for the Kaliningrad region and nowhere else in Russia. This is pretty unfair on Irish, Bulgarians etc. as they are not included in it. Bulgaria is a particularly odd exclusion given the close links between Bulgaria and the Soviet Union back in the day.
Location of Kaliningrad
Kaliningrad is an autonomous region of Russia on the European mainland. It has a coastline on the Baltic Sea and it borders Lithuania and Poland by land. Belarus shares no border with Kaliningrad. If you have a valid Russian visa, you can also visit Kaliningrad of course (as long as the Russian entries on your visa are not exceeded). On my travels before, in 2015 I was damn close to Kaliningrad when I backpacked through Kaunas, Lithuania. However, Gdansk is closer to Kaliningrad city itself (the capital of the Oblast).
Applying for the Kaliningrad Visa
To apply for the Kaliningrad visa, go to this website, fill in the form and await email confirmation. My email reply came within 24 hours. Once you have this email, do exactly what they tell you. Get your accommodation booked, all the documents you need and send it back to them. All of this is done by email, in Russian or in English. You must apply at least 10 days before your planned visit. That is important!
Documents You Need:
To apply for the 72-hour visa you will need the following (all of this will also be explained on the website and by email):
- A scanned copy of your passport (you must have at least 3 months left before your passport expires)
- Your working address, name of the company, position, phone number
- Your home address, phone number
- A hotel reservation (a copy)
- On arrival to the border you have to hand in a 3*4 cm color photo
Payment for the Kaliningrad Visa
The visa costs 70 Euro per person. The visa is made only after the payment has been confirmed. After they receive your documents, they’ll send you the account number for the payment. It takes 4-5 days to make the visa starting from the moment we have all the documents and payment on hand. Overall allow 10 working days to be sure of it.
Bank transfer fees are at your expense. European banks often split the fee between the sender and the recipient, thus, they don’t receive the whole payment. Please, make sure when you make the payment, that you take the fee fully to your expense. In my case, the visa cost 72.338 Euros including the PayPal fee – this was 5,350 Russian Roubles.
If you don’t have much time left you can pay via Western Union or PayPal as a bank transfer takes 3-4 days. Then send them a copy of the payment receipt. I paid mine on PayPal for ease and speed.
Getting Your Visa at the Border
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs prepairs the 72-hour visa and the MFA officer delivers it to the border to meet you. They need to know the place where you’ll be crossing the border (Mamonovo-Branevo, Bagrationovsk-Bezledy or an Khrabrovo airport), your transport info and the exact date and time of your arrival. If you arrive by car/motorcycle we need to know its type and number. It is pretty strict. You can enter only workdays from Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 6 pm. The best way is by bus #802 from Gdansk at 6.30 am. The recommended time for your arrival at the border is before 4 pm.
You can’t take a flight from Minsk, Belarus, you can arrive only from the Schengen countries. The officer of Ministry of Foreign Affairs prepares the 72-hour visa and delivers it to the border. She/he will meet you at the Kaliningrad – Russian border (they know about your arriving time) and they will put the visa in your passport at the border. If you do not arrive at the appointed date and time, you will not be able to get a visa. It is a strict process.
The visa collection on the way in is a strict one off border, but you can leave Kaliningrad region through any border checkpoint, just make sure you don’t exceed your 72 hour allowance.
I was able to collect my 96 hour Kaliningrad visa (yes I got an extra day!) when crossing the border from Poland to Kaliningrad. In Kaliningrad city I stayed at the Ibis Kaliningrad and then at the Crazy Dog Hostel while touring the sights of Kaliningrad city. Keep tabs on the Don’t Stop Living Facebook page to follow my real life travel story.