Getting the Visa : The Russia administration
is a pain before you even get in the country. Just getting a visa was
complicated. I applied in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Like everyone, I needed
an invitation letter, sent by email from a company in Russia for 30
$. Then, I had to find somewhere to print it out in colour, just in
case the consulate would not accept a black and white copy. Then, I
had to cope with the hours of the consulate: only between 14.30 to 15.30
on Tuesdays and Thursdays for visa business. Once there, it was a long
wait outside, elbowing my way in amongst other applicants, at the door
of a big ugly building. As expected, they refused a black and white
copy, asking for the original. So I gave the colour copy, which they
accepted in spite of the stamp "copiya" that the printing
shop insisted to put on the paper. Then it was a matter of filling a
long form, paying 65 $ and waiting for 10 working days before picking
the visa (14.30 to 15.30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays). I actually showed
up on the wrong day, but they accepted to put the visa in my passport
when I said my visa for Kyrgyzstan would then expire.
The border : when I entered in Russia by train from
Kazakhstan, I did not get that very small piece of paper called "immigration
card". And at 5am, I am not awake enough for things like that.
Finding OVIR : I remembered from last time I came to
Russia that I had to register my visa. This is done at an office called
"OVIR". The hotel in Samara was able to give me the address
and to tell me how to get there. I took the minibus to Gagarina Ul.
66. The driver dropped me in front of 68. I thought, how nice, just
next door. I walked in one direction.... ah 64... walked the other way...
70... Where's 66 ? I asked ... no one knew. Someone said "may be
at the back". So I went to have a look. Can't be here... just apartment
blocks. Back on the main street, asked again... don't know... Looked
around at the back... and... what's that small house behind a rusted
crumbling metal fence, where people seemed to be queuing. I checked...
there it was... Whoever decided to hide this OVIR office did a pretty
good job. Of course, no sign in English.
At OVIR : Too bad, it was lunchtime, so I came back
after an hour. I went in from the front door. Inside, many people, a
narrow corridor and just numbers on the many doors. Office staff was
walking from door to door, ignoring questions of locals waiting there,
locking a door, unlocking another. The bored militsia guy at the entrance
told me I had to go to the office at the back. Indeed there was another
office there, with no sign in English, not even "visa registration"
in Russian, just loads of pages of whatever but ... good news... people
with foreign passports.
Dealing with OVIR : Then, having found the right place,
I came to dealing with the unpleasant staff. The woman officer behind
the window kept shutting it in people’s face to talk to another
woman with a kid, apparently visitors or friends of hers. I said I just
wanted to register the visa and they asked for the card. I said I did
not get one. She explained that registering the visa is not essential
if I stay less than 3 working days in one city but that card is very
important and I'd need it anyway. So I asked "please give me one,
then". Obviously they could not give me that card, not their job.
From this point, I got some help from Olya, the Russian girlfriend of
an English man who was also here to register his visa. The woman at
the window explained that we need to go to another address in town.
So off we went (Olya had her car).
Next office : At this office, a little less hard to
find, they said I need photocopies of my train ticket, visa and passport.
Although they had a copy machine in the office, I had to go do the copies
in a shop, which fortunately was just next door. Then we needed to write
a letter following a template. We were now at 4 or 5 A4 pages of paper,
which got stamped in that office. Then we had to go downstairs to another
office to have someone else put his mark on that letter. As there was
no reply, Olya went knocking on another door, and, lucky us, our man
was there. He wrote his own bit on the letter, signed and stamped it.
But he was not the man who gives immigration cards, that would have
been too easy. He made a phone call and said we now had to go to the
airport, and get the card from a man who normally would have finished
work, but had a problem with his car. So he’d wait for us if we
could drive him back to town.
End of the chase: So off we went to the airport, 40
km away. Traffic was heavy, and when we got there, our man was gone.
Someone else could fortunately handle my case. This officer completed
yet another form and finally gave me that little card. The chase was
It took a whole day and 5 or 6 A4 pages to get that small piece of paper,
that stupid immigration card. And I should say only a day thanks
to Olya's help. Throughout the whole process, she was very calm and
patient. Myself and her English boyfriend were looking at each other
“how does she remain so calm in front of such unfriendly office
staff, and so much stupid paperwork…?”. This bureaucratic
stuff is something I saw just that one day, but Russian people have
to face it much more often.
I was talking to a taxi driver in Gelendjik, telling him about problems
traveling in Russia, this stupid bureaucracy and the corrupt police
(see next story) and he said “Russia,
one big problem”.
see the photos from Russia