► Entering Russia
►Most popular borders for Western travellers
To drive in Russia, you will need an International Drivers License, car insurance, your passport and visa and a car. The trip from Helsinki to St. Petersburg is not far but there are often lines on the border so be prepared to wait. Driving in Russia has its risks - especially in terms of being harassed by the GAI/GIBDD /DPS, wonderful examples of the human race (corrupt and stupid traffic cops). Unlike everyone around you, pay attention to the rules, don't exceed the speed limit (from 60 km per hour in major towns, 80 km in villages and 110 km on the open road) and don't do anything stupid.
Entering Russia by car is not any different from entering Russia by bus: the same border control, the same rules and the same frontier guards. Crossing the border through Ukraine and Byelorussia could be a little confusing and might cost some extra money. The frontier guards there are insolent and they like to collect money for nothing. Also they expect to be treated like Gods, so you better be nice and try not to make them angry. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia try to behave themselves like civilized Western countries, so if you are a foreigner trying to enter Russia they probably won't pick any problems with you. Although these guys can still be mean, they really won't cause much of a problem unless you are rude to them or break any small rules or laws. It is very easy to enter Russia through Finland and the frontier guards there are quite relaxed. This is a very busy border and if you are nice and do everything correctly in terms of documents and paperwork you won't have any problems. Basically all the customs rules stress the same idea: you shouldn't bring in anything that could be sold or left here in Russia. So if you are bringing a laptop it is ok, you don't have to declare it or pay any taxes, but if you are bringing two of them this can cause a problem. The frontier guards would consider the possibility that you are planning on selling this item and will make you to pay a tax, which could end up being about 30% of the item's cost. So whatever you bring you have to make sure that it is not questionable.
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Most popular borders for Western travelers
If you take a look at a map of Russia and its borders you can see that the most interesting locations for foreign travelers to visit are Byelorussia, Ukraine and ex-Baltic republics such as Latvia and Lithuania. It is very doubtful that a traveler will enter the country through its southern borders. Southern Russia is contiguous with such countries as Iran and Afghanistan and these countries are far from the main cities in Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) and it is unlikely you will be able to drive there. However, one can enter Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Russia also borders Mongolia and China, but again these countries are probably not the most interesting directions for the Western traveler. So the following will concentrate only on the Western borders and also the northern one with Finland.
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There are two corridors you can walk through when going through customs at the Russian border. The "green corridor" tends to be faster, because this is for people who have nothing to declare. However, if you do have something to declare you must pass through the "red corridor" and fill out a declaration form.
The following items are subject to declaration and limited entry to Russia. These items should be declared and you should pass through the "red corridor". Some of the items that are being brought to Russia permanently, for sale or commercial use, may incur customs tax, which can go up to 30% of the total price (this is usually determined by the customs officials).
- Cash foreign currencies (if equivalent or more than $3000 US) or rubles (if more than 500 minimum salaries, equals approximately 75,000 RUR which is approximately $2500 at today's rate),
- Stocks and securities, including travelers cheques
- Alcohol (if more than 2 liters)
- Cigarettes (if more than 100), tobacco (if more than 250 grams), cigars(if more than 50)
- Caviar (if more than 250 grams), sturgeon(if more than 250 grams),
Items for commercial activity (including advertising materials)
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If you have less than the allowed amount of the items listed above ($2000 US in currency, 100 gm of caviar, 1 bottle of vodka etc.), then you do not need to declare it when you arrive in/leave Russia and you don't have to pay extra money to be able to bring it through. Just go through the "green corridor". You can still bring in between $3000 and $1000 (or an equivalent amount), but if you have more than $3000 you need to declare it, so when you leave the country you can prove you're not taking the money out of Russia. Also, recently traveler's cheques were made subject to declaration. If you want to save time and avoid going through the red corridor, bring credit cards instead.
The following items are necessary to declare and you must have special permission (from Russia) or your doctor's prescription, when bringing in (and out): guns, explosives, ammunition, strong medicines (anesthetics, sleeping pills, etc.), psychotropic medicines, items that have a cultural value in Russia (usually antiques that are more than 70 years old), poisons, strong sedatives, radioactive materials, wild flora & fauna which is rapidly becoming extinct, technical telecommunication devices (radio phones, stations, cable TVs with a frequency of more than 900Ghz (except cell phones), printed materials (of fascist, racial or pornographic content), merchandise for production or commercial activities. If you have any of the above-listed items you need to obtain special permission at the point of sale in Russia or through the appropriate ministry (e.g. Ministry of Culture for items of cultural value).
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