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Regulations and paperwork.


1. Russian Visa

To travel to Russia, most foreign nationals are required to have an Entry Visa to Russia. To obtain visa one have to apply for visa in local Russian Consulate or Embassy.
Visa is a kind of sticker in passport. One has to show the passport with this sticker at passport control gates when he comes to Russia.

2. Russian Visa requirements, Tourist Visa.

There are some sorts of visa. Most people come with Tourist Visa.
Requirements for tourist visa:
- Your original passport with at least 2 blank visa-designated pages (passport must be valid for at least 6 months after intended departure date from Russia).
- Two copies of Russian visa application form (Consulate Questionnaire), completed and signed.
- Passport-size photo signed on the back.
- Invitation (aka 'visa support' aka 'confirmation+voucher').

Normally a foreign citizen should apply for visa to Russia in the country of his/her citizenship. The rule is not very strict and the final decision is left up to the Consulates. We recommend that you get in touch with the Russian Consulate in the country of your current location and make sure that your application will be accepted. The Consulate may wish to see any paper which shows your position in this country and/or explains the necessity of applying there.

Tourist visa has period of stay - from date to date. One can come to Russia and leave on any date within that period but not outside of that period.
There are no places mentioned on tourist visa sticker. If you have visa you can travel everywhere in Russia within visa period without any limitation or obligation.
Maximal period for tourist visa is 30 days but it may also be 15 days or even 4 days. You will not be allowed to come before the starting day. Leaving later than ending date considered to be violation of migration rules. You may be delayed at the passport control gates. Penalty (fee) for overstay is not very serious but you may miss your flight or even may be forced to stay for some days for finalizing bureaucratic procedures. Of course this also will cause problems if you apply for Russian visa again in future.

3. Invitation (Visa Support) for Tourist Visa

To have a 'tourist visa' issued, an Invitation also known as 'Visa Support' or 'Confirmation+Voucher' is necessary.
This is not a specially issued permit or something but just confirmation of hotel arrangements from Russian travel company or directly from the Russian hotel. The confirmation must contain the dates of reservation, names of hotels and places, special reference number and confirmation number.
Consulates demand that ALL days of the visa must be reserved in hotel(s). If you book 10 nights in a hotel in Russia, Russian travel company states these 10 nights in their invitation and finally you have visa with exactly 10 night period.

Formally invitation (visa support) may not have any cost because this is just a kind of Confirmation of reservation. Issuing an invitation without actual service means preparing false confirmation of reservation and therefore is illegal. However selling visa support without reservation is common business, this works good worldwide and one can find many offers from visa agencies on the Internet.

Normally tourist companies and visa agencies send visa support (invitation) by email. This is *.pdf attachment to print out and pass to the Consulate along with other papers (passport, photos, Consulate questionnaire). Email copy is sufficient in most Consulates but in some countries the Consulate may ask for the original page. In this case visa support (invitation) must be sent by post service or a courier delivery.

Russian Consulates in different countries and even within one country may have different demands for visa processing. The demands of the Consulate depends only on this Consulate (country). The demands do not depend on nationality of applicant. They depend only on the place where he applies for visa. Please contact the exact Consulate where you intend to apply for correct information for obtaining a 'tourist visa'.

Consulate may reject too far in advance applications.

Visa support (invitation) must contain ALL the names/surnames which are in your passport. If there is 'Mary Ann Smith' in the passport there must be same in the visa support. Not 'Mary Smith', not 'Mary A. Smith', not 'Mary "Snake" Smith' but exactly 'Mary Ann Smith'.

4. Border zone permit.

There is a border line with another country (Georgia country) in the Elbrus area.
Areas nearby the border line are the Border Zone. It is not allowed to travel within the border zone without a special permission. The border zone permit is a paper which allows to visit places (border zone) close to border line. The permit has the dates for visit (not a problem to apply for any period) and names of geographical places to visit. For Elbrus area border zone these names are the names of valleys. If you intend to visit a specific place make sure it is included in the list.

The main valley in the area is Baksan valley (Baksan river).
Areas to the South from the Baksan valley are mostly within the border zone.
The Baksan valley itself and all areas to the North from the Baksan valley are not the border zone and everybody can travel and stay there without the border zone permit.

Mt.Elbrus and all the routes are not within the border zone and the border permit is not necessary.
However approaching from the West side to climb West routes of Elbrus requires the border zone permit. West side routes are not popular and just a few groups climb it within a season.
Most common route is from the South, less common is from the North. Some people climb from the East side. These routes do not require border zone permit.

It is not a problem to apply and receive border zone permit. It has no cost. However the procedure officially takes 2 months for foreigners so they must apply far in advance. If a foreigner does not stay in Russia for 2 month before the date the only solution is to have somebody in Russia who applies on behalf of the foreigner. A tourist company or any private person can do this. The application must be passed to any local border guard office. The permit itself may be picked up only at regional border guard office in Nalchik. The person who picks up the permit must show the passport with visa.

5. Migration registration (OVIR/UVIR). Migration card.

Migration regulation says that one must be 'registered' in Russia within 5 business days upon arrival.
Visa obtaining procedure assumes that one has reservation in hotel (or at least stay at somebody's home, not under bridge) when he comes. The hotel or the host person is responsible to register a guest. Most hotels do not do this automatically so you have to request this specially at the reception desk. Some hotels (and most hostels) may do not want to register you because this exposes them to taxes.

Registration has no connection with visa. Visa is a permit to come which was made by Consulate basing on the invitation from an authorized company. Registration is not receiving a permit or something but just sending information to authorities that you are here. It has special layout with your current address (that is why a hotel or a host person is necessary) but after the page is filled out correctly one can send it by ordinary post even personally and forget about this.

Migration Card is a piece of paper which may be received from a stewardess before landing or found on tables before the passport control gates. A foreigner have to fill out the form and show it a passport control gates. Half of paper will be retained by officer and half of the page stay with the person. Keep your part of the page carefully. You will need it when you go back through the passport control gates when you leave Russia. Absence of the Migration card is not vital but is a really big problem. You can not be registered correctly, you will be delayed at the gates for some procedures for hours or even days.

6. National Park permit.

This is a kind of ticket and may be purchased easily. Because at the moment there is no special office for purchasing the permit there is no need to do anything. Park officers may meet you somewhere and ask for the permit. If you do not have it already you just purchase it on the spot. There is no penalty for not having it and if you do not meet an officer then you can avoid payment. Of course this works only if you come independently. If you come through a travel company (local tour operator) they must follow the rules and buy the permit for you.

The permit is for visiting the Elbrus area but may have different areas with different costs. The permit for Elbrus climb is the most common and most expensive. It gives the permission for Elbrus and all other places. If you do not intend to climb Elbrus you can buy the permit for staying in the valley or visiting side valleys. Such partial permit is cheaper. The permit was first introduced 10 years ago. After 2 years it was canceled for 4-5 years and in the middle of 2016 it was introduced again. Probably this may change in future again.

7. Papers for visiting Russia, Elbrus area and for Mt. Elbrus climb.

Common information about papers related to travel.

Papers that must be prepared beforehand:
- Visa if you need it to come to Russia. Obtained from Russian Consulate in your country.
- Border zone permit. Required for visiting some places nearby the border. Obtained from local Border Guard office and contains the names of these places.

Papers that must be arranged upon arrival:

- OVIR/UVIR registration.
- Elbrus National Park permit.

Papers for places:

Travel in Russia in common:
- Visa.
- OVIR/UVIR registration.

Elbrus climb itself (just come and climb without trekking around).
- Visa.
- OVIR/UVIR registration.
- National Park permit.

Trekking around in Elbrus area:
- Visa.
- OVIR/UVIR registration.
- National Park permit.
- Border zone permit (for side valleys South from the main Baksan valley)

8. Travel Insurance

An insurance is necessary to apply for visa. This is the demand of Consulates. They do not check papers but there is such field in their Questionnaire. There are no requirements regarding the insurance. This may be any insurance even the cheapest one. There is no need to have special insurance for mountaineering. Rescue service, first aid and initial hospitalization are free and same for all in Russia regardless of insurance.

9. I can not get an insurance because our Foreign Office is advising strongly against travel in the North Caucasus.

If you can not have insurance in your country because of Foreign Office warning the solution may be to have an insurance from a non-UK based company. A sample: Austrian Alpine Club with a branch in UK.

10. Payments in Russia. Can I pay by card?

Russian Rubles is the only currency to pay in shops, ticket-boxes, cafes and for any public service. Foreign currency is not prohibited but just not in use and may be used in a private deal if both sides agree. You can withdraw cash (Rubles) from ATM's (Visa, Master cards). Currency exchange is possible at bank offices.

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