On Monday I found a St. Petersburg Times, an English language newspaper, that I had forgotten about and read that 5.7 million people will visit this Russian city in 2012. That’s up 200,000 from the previous year. 3.2 million are natives and 2.5 million are foreign tourists like me and Ruth. However, the majority of foreigners arriving in St. Petersburg are from China, Germany, and Turkey. When the Russian Tourism Union rep being interviewed was asked why the numbers are up, she said more direct flights and visa-free arrangements with a number of countries are causing the uptick.
By 2016 the number of tourists is expected to increase to 7 million, and more will be US citizens because the Duma eased the visa-free rules for them, effective September 9, 2012. I wrote about this previously.
When we were making travel arrangements, the only way into Russia visa-free for US citizens was to book St. Peter Line. According to Russian Federation law, its passengers were the only category of tourists who were allowed to stay in the Russian Federation without visas for up to 72 hours. When Ruth & I checked in for the cruise, I asked the Russian line’s rep how the new rules were impacting her company. She said there will soon be other ways to go to St. Petersburg besides St. Peter Line, and she hoped she wouldn’t lose her job.
Some say this is an expensive way to visit Russia, but we figured that the cost of the cruise pretty much equalled the cost of getting visas. Checking in, we were issued so many little cards that I concluded the authorities hoped we’d lose them. I was also handed a visa-free rule document that stated, “…in case of exceeding 72 hours period in Russia without a visa you have to apply for Russian visa which will be issued within 10 days. Costs involve visa 500 euro, penalty 500 euro, all other costs related to the stay have to be paid by applicant.”
I read this in the Oct/Nov, 2012, St. Petersburg inyourpocket, “The police here generally look for any excuse to fine you, so photocopy your passport and visa. Make sure that you always carry a few photocopies; if the police stop you…then show them the photocopy rather than the original.”
So, if you’re shaken down by the police and lose documentation or stay more than 72 hours, you’re out a minimum of $1,273.85, per person I assume, before you even factor in the cost of staying in Russia for at least 10 more days while you wait for your visa.
Makes me wonder how many of the 7 million will be Americans.