How much does it cost per day to travel in Russia?
This Hub is in response to a request from fellow Hubber and HubPages staff member PiaC asking How much does it cost per day to travel in Russia?
The request indicated that it was prompted by my recent Hub entitled Touring St. Petersburg.
While I have enjoyed both of my visits to Russia, I must confess that my most recent trip to Russia was eight years ago, in July of 2002.
A planned trip this past summer had to be put off until next year when the demands of my regular job forced me to postpone my vacation until the end of the year when the weather is not inviting in northern Russia.
In Front of St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow
My first trip to Russia was during my senior year of college when I signed up for a course on Russian history and culture that included a ten day tour of the Soviet Union of which Russia proper constituted a major part. The trip was a packaged tour put together by the then nine Wisconsin State University colleges for our group of students and teachers.
On that trip we visited St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad), Novgorod, Kiev (the capital of Ukraine which is now an independent nation) and Moscow.
My second trip was eight years ago when I flew to Russia to visit my then fiancée (now my wife), Bella, who lived in Ryazan, an industrial city located about 271 kilometers (about 169 miles) southeast of Moscow.
We had met via an Internet dating site and after some months of exchanging emails, telephone calls and snail mail we had fallen in love.
As I explained in my Hub Bringing Your Foreign Fiancée to the U.S., the first part of the process of obtaining a visa and bringing one’s fiancée to the U.S. at that time was to visit the fiancée in her own country and provide proof of the trip (with pictures, copies of plane and hotel receipts, etc. to the U.S. Customs and Naturalization Service) as proof of having met your fiancée in person).
Old House in Ryazan, Russia
First Step is to Obtain a Visa for Russia
As of this writing, visas are required for most foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, to visit Russia. For U.S. citizens applying for a visa from the Russian Embassy or consulate (or private visa service handling the paperwork with the embassy or consulate in the United States) the process is basically as noted below.
The process and fees may also be different for non-citizen legal residents of the U.S. or U.S. and citizens of other nations applying to Russian Embassies or consulates located in other nations outside the U.S.
Fees and requirements vary depending upon the type of visa (business, personal, single-entry, multiple-entry, etc.) and the speed in which you want it processed. U.S. citizens applying to Russian consulates or embassy in the U.S. can do so by mail.
For specific information on the process I suggest that you do an Internet search for Russian visa information and then go to the visa page at the Russian Embassy or consulate in they country you are applying from. Here is a link to the visa section of the Russian Embassy in Washington, D. C. russianembassy.org/page/visas
The first thing one will need with the visa application is an invitation to visit Russia. If you are using a travel agent they will probably procure the invitation from the tour group you are with or from the hotel or resort where you will be staying. Working through a travel agent or hotel is probably the easiest way to both secure the invitation as well as handle the internal registration process when you arrive.
Since I was using neither a travel agent (other than for my flight arrangements) or hotel for my accommodations, I had Bella, my fiancée, send me an invitation.
As I recall, there was a $100 fee (which I sent to her) for the paperwork she needed to obtain to prepare the invitation (again, a hotel or travel agent would have handled this, and added the fee into their bill, if I had gone this route).
I then downloaded the visa application and sent the completed application along with the invitation, my passport and a check for the fee (it is currently $100 for a single entry tourist visa and this is about what I paid in 2002) via registered mail to the Russian Consulate in Los Angeles.
St. George Monastery, Veliky Novgorod, Russia
Summer is the Only Time To Visit Russia
The fastest and easiest way to get to Russia, especially from the United States, is by air.
Most of Russia is relatively far north with Moscow being 55° 45' North latitude which is about the same as Glasgow, Scotland or Dawson Creek in northern British Columbia, Canada (see map).
St. Petersburg is even further north at 59° 56' N which is about the same as Oslo, Norway or Seward, Alaska. (See Maps below)
Palace of Emperor Paul I in St. Petersburg, Russia
Major Russian Cities are in the Far North
Because much of Russia lies so far north, winters are not only very cold but, like other locations close to the Arctic, winter nights tend to be very long and days very short. My first trip to Russia while in college took place in mid-March when the weather was beginning to warm up to the point where one was comfortable being outside while wearing a warm coat.
However, in addition to the days being short with the sun rising in mid-morning and setting in early afternoon, days were also always gloomy. Even on cloudless days, mid-day light was more like dawn with the sun never rising more than about 45° or less above the horizon in St. Petersburg (which was known as Leningrad in those days).
Moscow in Relation to Other Cities in World
Moscow, capital of Russia located at 55° 45' north latitude.
Glasgow, Scotland located at 55° 53' N latitude
Dawson Creek in northern British Columbia, Canada which is 55° 44' N latitude
Vladivostok, located on the eastern coast of Russia in Siberia is located at 43°10'N latitude or 12°35' latitude further south than Moscow..
Russia is Sunny and Warm in Summer
Summertime, on the other hand, is a great time to travel to Russia as the weather is comfortably warm to hot and the days long and bright. On my 2002 trip I remember sitting at an outdoor cafe on the banks of the Neva River in St. Petersburg while it was still daylight at eleven o’clock in the evening with Bella watching the ships heading out to sea.
Despite the fact that it was late July, over a month after the first day of summer in June when the days were so long that the sun didn’t set, it was still light enough that the street lights were not turned on and the light from the setting sun was still sufficient to read a book if I had wanted.
The point is that summer is the best, actually only, time to visit Russia and this is the time that tourists and visitors flock to airports to fly to Russia. Like any other market, the air travel market is subject to the laws of supply and demand which means that ticket prices to fly to Russia are highest in the summer months and lowest in the winter months.
St. Petersburg Russia in Relation to Other Cities in the World
St Petersburg Russia located at 59° 56' north latitude
Oslo, Norway 59° 57' north latitude
Seward, Alaska 60° 7' north latitude
Nuuk, capital of Greenland located at 64° 11' north latitude
Views of Moscow
Buying Airline Tickets for Flights to Russia
A quick check of the cost of round trip flights from Los Angles International Airport (LAX) to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO) at the time of this writing (November 2010) starts at $800. Moving the dates out eight months to July 2011, the prices for the same flights start at $1,025. As we get closer to the summer of 2011 I expect the prices to rise.
When I was planning my trip to Russia in July of 2002 the lowest prices I found for flights from Los Angeles to Moscow ranged between $1,250 to about $2,500. Fortunately, a co-worker whose wife was from Russia and who traveled with his wife to Moscow every year or so to visit her family, gave me the phone number for Gabriel Travel in Sacramento, California (5111 College Oak Dr, Ste G, Sacramento CA, 95841, 888-505-4196) which he used.
I called them and was able to book a round trip flight from the Russian Airline Aeroflot from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo (SVO) for a little over $800.
I used the same travel agency a year later in September 2003 when I brought tickets for Bella and her two children to come to the U.S. to marry her and got the same savings on those flights. A check of the Internet at the time of this writing indicated that Gabriel Travel is still in business.
Whether they can still get good deals on flights to Russia I don’t know as I did not call them for this Hub (however, I will be checking with them next summer when Bella and I will be going back to Russia to visit her family).
Aeroflot itself is an excellent world class airline today and I found the aircraft and service on my flight on Aeroflot in 2002 to be as good as any other airline I have flown. This was different from the old Soviet owned Aeroflot on which I flew during my college trip from Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) to Kiev.
That plane was best described as a military troop transport with windows, cushioned seats and a couple of flight attendants whose main job was to hand out chewing gum on takeoff and landing to help people cope with the effect on their ears of changes in the cabin air pressure.
Today, Aeroflot serves most major cities in the world and has an excellent web site (aeroflot.ru) with information in both Russian and English where travelers can get information, book flights and even join their frequent flyer program.
Poshupovo Monastery Near Ryazan, Russia
Like other nations, Russia has its own currency, the Ruble, which is a decimal based currency in which the standard unit, the Ruble, is divided into smaller decimal units called Kopeks. One ruble is equal to100 kopeks.
At the time of my 2002 trip the exchange rate averaged 30 rubles to the dollar (it fluctuated between 29 and some change and 31 rubles to the dollar) and, as of this writing the current rate is 31.3883 to the dollar.
The best rates can be obtained at major banks in major cities while smaller banks and exchange services along with banks and exchange centers in smaller cities will give a slightly less favorable rate as they try to hedge against rate changes to protect themselves.
This currency is the same as that of the old Soviet Union with one major exception and that is that the ruble is now convertible meaning it can be freely exchanged for any other convertible currency based on exchange rates determined in international currency markets.
Despite the fact that the ruble today is freely convertible at market determined rates, there were a couple of interesting quirks when I was there in 2002 and I imagine that these probably still exist.
The first has to do with dirty money. Normally the term dirty, as applied to money refers to money obtained through illegal activities such as drug dealing. However, here we are talking about money that is physically soiled, wrinkled and worn from use.
I was warned by my friend with the Russian wife that the exchange rate is less for dirty bills than for newer, fresher and crisper looking bills. While not a lot, the kopeks worth of difference can add up to a few rubles difference when you are exchanging a couple of hundred dollars or so worth of well worn bills.
The second thing to keep in mind when exchanging money is the timing of the exchanges. With memories of Soviet era financial, travel and other controls still in mind coupled with fears of political and/or economic uncertainty, many Russians today have a practice of exchanging excess rubles for dollars or euros on Friday and then converting the funds back to rubles on Monday.
Banks in Russia, like their counterparts in the rest of the world, are closed on weekends. I think the fear is that a sudden internal or external political or economic crisis will occur on the weekend causing the value of the ruble to plummet or, worse still, fear the government will react by imposing currency controls and not allow rubles to be converted to dollars or euros. People then believe that having dollars or euros provides a margin of economic safety and even a means of escape if necessary.
As a result, the best time to exchange dollars or euros for rubles is on Fridays when all the locals are doing the reverse as both the demand for dollars/euros and supply of rubles are both high which means that the value of dollars will be up while the value of rubles somewhat depressed. Basically, the tourist can get more rubles per dollar/euro than at other times which means that one will have more rubles to spend on the weekend.
Of course the best time to convert back to dollars or euros should one have the need is on Mondays when the locals are exchanging their dollars and euros for rubles.
St. Petersburg Views
Credit Cards, ATM Machines and Travelers Cheques
My trip to Russia in 2002 was my first trip abroad in twenty years or more. When I was younger I traveled abroad frequently but the expense of children and family had temporarily ended such travel.
On my previous trips I had always used travelers checks, however, things had changed since I had last traveled abroad namely credit cards and ATM machines were now common world wide. Also, I had not seen any ads, even in banks where both American Express and CitiBank both used to have signs advertising their checks next to each teller.
However, I considered buying some travelers checks until my co-worker with the Russian wife told me that travelers checks were not common in Russia and would not be accepted most places. As a result I not only did not take any travelers checks but also did not see any evidence of them in use during my trip.
I did check the Internet and verified that, as expected, ATM machines were relatively plentiful in Moscow where I was scheduled to land and assumed we would visit. My search also revealed that there were two ATM machines in Ryazan where Bella lived and where I expected to spend most of my visit.
I had two ATM cards - one a MasterCard ATM/Credit/Debit card from my bank and the second a Visa ATM/Credit/Debit from my credit union. I checked the back of each card and verified that at least one of the systems that each belonged to was listed on the Internet as a member service that the two ATM machines in Ryazan belonged to.
I tried the bank card with the MasterCard service in the local bank in Ryazan and not only had the machine keep my card but the card actually caused the ATM to shut down completely resulting in it having to be restarted by one of the bank employees.
It then took Bella and me about two hours worth of answering questions and filling out paperwork to get my card back (they also processed my transaction manually and gave me the money I was trying to withdraw). I tried the Visa ATM card from the credit union at the same bank a couple of days later and it ran through perfectly.
I later tried my ATM MasterCard in Moscow and got my money without a problem and presume that I could have used either one in St. Petersburg as well without problem. Basically, you probably should not have a problem using most ATM cards in larger cities such as Moscow or St. Petersburg or in areas frequented by foreign tourists. In cities like Ryazan, which is not frequented by tourists, you may have problems like the one I encountered.
Like any foreign country the ATM machines dispense the local currency and your bank deducts cash from your account at the exchange rate in effect at the time the transaction reaches the your U.S. bank. As for ATM fees, I don’t know if I was lucky but the fee for the transaction at the Russian end was minimal and my credit union only charged their regular small fee (I had the same experience on a trip to Spain and Italy earlier this month - my ATM fees for withdrawals in Spain and Italy were minimal).
Learn some Russian
Not knowing what to expect, I planned on using cash rather than my credit cards for that trip and, because I had sufficient cash both on hand and accessible via the ATM, I only used my credit card a couple of times.
In Ryazan there were very few places that had signs indicating they accepted credit cards. I am sure that the larger hotels and restaurants (although I didn’t notice any large restaurants in Ryazan) probably accepted credit cards.
In both Moscow and St. Petersburg there were numerous places which had signs indicating that they took credit cards.
However, like the ATM machines, when you charge an item while abroad using a credit card the charge is in the local currency and your credit card company bills you at the exchange rate in effect when the charge arrives at the U.S. bank handling your card (some card companies sometimes also charge a small fee for the currency exchange which shows up as a separate item on your credit card bill).
Ancient Kremlin in Ryazan, Russia
Since I stayed with friends rather than in a hotel on my 2002 trip I don’t have first hand information on hotel costs.
However, like everywhere else, one will find a range of hotel accommodations with prices varying based on both type of hotel - with a room in a Motel 6 type establishment costing less, other things being equal, than a room in a five star resort hotel - and time of year.
In Russia time of year is important. In a search for this Hub on Hotels.com I found a place called STN Apartments in St. Petersburg where a room with private bath for one person was listed as going for $140 per night next July (2011) but could be had now (November 2010) for $69 per night.
Like hotels elsewhere, many Russian hotels have their own websites and/or are featured on sites like Hotels.com and other travel sites. Prices vary and one can sometimes save considerable money by comparison shopping on the Internet before traveling.
There are also numerous websites with traveler reviews and comments. While one can find a lot of good information from these reviews most have to be read carefully while keeping in mind the fact that people who are dissatisfied with a hotel's service are more likely to write a review than are people who had a good experience. Like other areas of life, we are quick to complain and slow to take time to praise.
Good experiences frequently are not reviewed while those with complaints are quick to post them. So I always make sure that what the person is complaining about is something that concerns me before making a judgment.
A Restaurant in Veliky Novgorod, Russia
Even though you are traveling you still have to eat. My experience has been that dining while traveling whether done on a budget or not is generally a little more expensive than dining at home. Russia is no exception except that I found food costs to be quite reasonable on my 2002 trip.
Inside Small Restaurant in Veliky Novgorod, Russia
A friend of Bella’s had planned to be out of town on vacation at the time of my visit and had offered her apartment, which was both larger and more centrally located than Bella’s to us while she was away. Because of this I brought food and we made breakfast and occasionally lunch at the apartment.
We then ate dinner in restaurants. The exception was a 4 day, 3 night trip to St. Petersburg. which I described in my Hub Saving a Lot of Bucks by Keeping My Mouth Shut, in which our hotel and meals (except lunch) were included in the the price of the tour package we purchased for that side trip.
Morning Coffee in Veliky Novgorod, Russia
Post communist Russia is very entrepreneurial with small businesses popping up all over the place. In Ryazan there were numerous small restaurants all over town and the same in St. Petersburg (I remember passing one where a person had converted their first floor apartment into an outdoor cafe by cutting door in the outside wall and serving food on tables set up on the sidewalk).
In Ryazan we ate at two or three different small restaurants and then settled on a cozy basement restaurant where Bella’s daughter worked as a waitress. As I recall the most I ever paid for one of these meals in Ryazan was about 420 rubles (about $14) which included a generous tip for my step-daughter to be and a dinner which consisted of a beer for each of us and a meal of broiled salmon with potatoes and vegetable.
In Moscow and St. Petersburg prices are probably higher but both have an abundance of places like McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, etc. In St. Petersburg I treated Bella to lunch at McDonalds which she loved.
We took a day trip to Moscow and had lunch at a local McDonalds style restaurant in what was once the Gum Department Store and is now an upscale indoor shopping mall on Red Square opposite Lenin’s tomb. In both cases prices were about what one pays in the U.S. at similar fast food restaurants.
Breakfast in Veliky Novgorod,Russia
It is possible to rent cars in Russia but I wouldn’t do this myself. Cities are congested with traffic and have few places to park.
In Ryazan, and I presume other places, people often end up renting garages on the edge of town for their cars and then use the local bus system to get from their apartment to their cars.
Electric Trolley in Veliky Novgorod, Russia
Outside of the cities main roads between are mostly two lane paved roads with most roads leading away from them being simple dirt roads on which many rural residents still operate horse drawn carts. I recall what looked like a multi-lane freeway leading out of the airport in Moscow. There are also some wide boulevards in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Like many places where cars are a new experience for the average person, accidents are frequent and help is often slow to arrive in the case of injuries.
Inside the cities buses and street cars are both frequent (with service every 5 to 10 minutes in some places) and cheap. I don’t recall the exact price but it was only a few rubles per trip.
Modern Freeway in St Petersburg, Russia
We took a train from Ryazan to Moscow. It was about a 3 hour trip and didn’t cost that much. For St. Petersburg we signed up for a package tour which included a 14 hour bus ride each way.
That all inclusive, four day package was a great deal at 2,700 rubles each (about $90 each - this was a special local deal that Bella obtained and involved me traveling under an assumed, Russian sounding, name) but in the future I would use a train or plane for such a trip.
Catherine the Great's Hermitage Palace in St. Petersburg
Seeing the Sights
Like many old, historic cities, the cities I have visited in Russia have numerous palaces, museums and other points of interest such as the vast art museum complex known as the Hermitage in St. Petersberg. Many parks and monuments are free and open to the public.
Since the fall of communism there has been a religious revival which has taken the form of a re-opening of churches and monasteries and you can usually visit these for free (although many have donation boxes).
Many old palaces, especially in St. Petersburg, have been restored and opened to the public.
In addition to the usual rate schedules for museums and historic places which list one rate for adults and lower rates for students and children, Russian museums and historic places usually have a fourth rate, much higher than the adult rate, for foreigners. However, despite being higher, these rates for foreigners are generally the same or less than rates for similar sites in the U.S. or Western Europe.
In addition to palaces and museums, Bella and I took local river boat tours in both St. Petersburg and Ryazan as well as a bus tour in Moscow. In all three cases these were well done and informative but not that expensive.
Enjoying the Great Outdoors in Russia
Overall Visiting Russia Does Not Have to be That Expensive
Over all, our touring activities in Russia were as extensive as recent shore excursions on cruises to Alaska, the Mediterranean and Caribbean but somewhat less expensive than our recent excursions.
Part of this was due to price increases in the seven or eight years since the Russian trip but overall, I don’t think we would find the cost or repeating that trip much more if we took it again now.
Of course the biggest savings on that trip was the fact that we only had to pay for my flight as Bella already lived there - today she would need a plane ticket as well and that would add at least an additional $800 plus the the cost of flying her from Tucson to Los Angeles (my flight from Tucson to Los Angeles to connect to the Moscow flight cost an additional $128 in 2002).
We would also need a hotel (as she no longer has her apartment in Russia and her friend has now married and moved to the U.S.) which would add a minimum of $100 per night or more depending upon what kind of deal we could find.
Russian Cities I Have Visited and Shared Photos in This Hub
Moscow, capital of Russia where my flight arrived from Los Angeles and where Bella and I spent a day visiting.
Ryazan, Russia an industrial city southeast of Moscow where my fiancee lived and where I spent most of the time on my 2002 trip.
St. Petersburg, a city north of Moscow where we spent four days visiting.
Veliky Novgorod - an ancient city in north eastern Russia
© 2010 Chuck Nugent