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Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Seattle, Washington
Level Contributor
15 posts
39 reviews
Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Because I had a lot of questions about this before I went, I thought I would share my experience:

I booked the Helsinki-St. Pete-Helsinki ferry trip on St. Peter Line, leaving Wednesday May 22 in the evening, and departing STP Friday evening May 25.

- I booked via website a B-class private cabin for myself, both ways, at a total cost of $363 (including the mandatory city tour). The cabin was fine and I was even impressed with the pressure and temperature of the shower. Be sure to immediately turn the air-conditioning up to full blast upon check-in, because I think they turn it off when room is cleaned. Without, the room got stuffy.

For my three days and two nights in St. Petersburg (your stay must be less than 72 hours), I arranged accommodation privately via airbnb.com. This was partly because hotels are expensive there and partly because I prefer a bnb-type experience.

Now, I believe the visa-free program is set up so that ferry passengers book both tours and accommodation via St. Peter Line. But this is not entirely necessary. The only real requirement is that you book the "City Tour" on the St. Peter site at the same time as you book your ferry trip. This city tour is actually no more than a shuttle from the ferry terminal into the center of historic St. Petersburg. Along with times for you to catch the return shuttle two days later. It just so happened that one of the shuttle stops was a hotel no more than 5 minutes walk from the guesthouse I booked.

What I wasn't sure about before I left was whether an official tourist "invitation" -- showing payment of hotel -- would be required at any point in the trip. To be safe, I asked my guesthouse host about it, and he arranged for an invitation to be emailed to me by a travel agency (at a cost of $15).

It turns out the only place where they asked for this was when I checked in at the ferry terminal in Helsinki with St. Peter Line. I'm not sure what they would have done if I didn't have the letter. Upon arrival in St. Petersburg at immigration/passport check, they did not ask for anything accept the departure/arrival cards provided by St. Peter Line. My advice would be for people booking this kind of accommodation independently: get the letter from a travel agency as insurance. It's only 15 bucks.

Meantime, St. Petersburg was fantastic. I figure the $363 paid for the ferry trip is less than the $200 visa costs plus two nights of hotel (since the ferry trip includes essentially two nights 'hotel' in your cabin), so economically it made sense for me. Not to mention all of the hassle I avoided by not having to wrangle all the paperwork for the visa from back home, plus hoping it would arrive in time.

On the other hand, spending what amounts to about 54 hours in St. Petersburg is a bit of a crime: I barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do in that wonderful city. Now I will have to go back!

212 replies to this topic
Moscow, Russia
Level Contributor
12,353 posts
223 reviews
1. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Interesting - thank you!

> It turns out the only place where they asked for this was when I checked in at the ferry terminal in Helsinki with St. Peter Line. I'm not sure what they would have done if I didn't have the letter.

Probably the same thing an airline would do if you try boarding their plane with a valid ticket but no visa required for the destination country: deny you the boarding as otherwise they'll have to deport you at their own expense.

St. Petersburg...
Level Contributor
2,438 posts
20 reviews
2. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Rasbobbo, thank you for taking time and writing this detailed report! Many people have questions about how this "visa-free" rule actually works and if they can book hotels on their own. And with your grateful help they have first-hand information now. Thank you!

New Delhi, India
Level Contributor
122 posts
98 reviews
3. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Thanks Rasbobbo. We're taking an exact same trip, ferry +shuttle bus trip, including B&B, and that clears a lot of doubts. This link was given in the one of the answers to my queries.

I also wanted to ask, did you take a conducted tour of the city or could you do it on your own? What I mean is were you free to roam around or did you have to be a part of any authorized tour at all times, including shopping or ballet performance, etc in the 72 hours that you spent there?

Thanks.

Colorado Springs...
Level Contributor
9 posts
22 reviews
4. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Thanks Rasbobbo. This was so helpful to know, as the official documents are not clear. I'm making the exact same trip in May this year. I was wondering if you could recommend the place you stayed or a link to the website. It always seems better to take an apartment in Europe.

Thanks.

Seattle, Washington
Level Contributor
15 posts
39 reviews
5. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Hello Nomad - Glad to help or answer any other questions. I highly recommend the place I stayed. The link is here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/434046

It was around $100 a night then, which in St. Petersburg is a steal. It appears to have gone up in price now (although this is one of the nicer rooms - there are cheaper ones at the same place). The location is fantastic though, and as I said in my post, it is around the corner from a stop on the so-called "Tour" from St. Peter line. And there's a great public market around the corner as well.

I'm jealous of your trip: I want to go again sometime!

Colorado Springs...
Level Contributor
9 posts
22 reviews
6. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Thank you Rasbobobbo. I am sure you will make it there again. One last question is what site did you use for booking St. Pete Line. The SPL website refers to travel agency Nordic Ferry Center (www.ferrycenter.fi). However, not easy to follow and feel confident of booking. Any suggestions appreciated.

Seattle, Washington
Level Contributor
15 posts
39 reviews
7. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

I did it via the St. Peter Line site - I still get their promo email newsletters! Go to: https:/…SearchJourney

I would register as a customer first. Then, on the booking form, click 'return'. No travel agency required.

Singapore, Singapore
Level Contributor
38 posts
2 reviews
8. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Hi, thanks for your informative review! I just wanted to ask about your booking experience. You suggested to book the City Tour at the same time as the ferry ticket -- I can see on the booking form two options: one under Helsinki-SPB, and the other from SPB-Helsinki. Do I have to book two tours so that I can get from the ferry to the city, and from the city back to the ferry? (ie 25 x2 euros worth?)

Also, onboard the ship, did you have to buy the buffet meal vouchers or are there cheaper dining options available on the ferry?

Lastly, did you book a 'cruise' or was it a 'return' trip?

Thanks :)

Seattle, Washington
Level Contributor
15 posts
39 reviews
9. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

I only booked the one City Tour, and it included drop-off and then pickup two days later for a total of 25. That's strange that it gives the option to purchase it for both legs. Just book the arrival version, then if you run into question on the return part, simply grab a cab - the dock is not that far away.

I did not book any meal coupons on the ship - You can either just walk up to the buffet, or there's a snack bar on one of the lower decks, with sandwiches and so forth. I just packed some food onto the boat and ate in my room - because I'm a cheapskate! There's no fridge in the room though. Plenty of places to get a cold, reasonably priced draft beer out on the decks though.

Just book the return trip, not the cruise. Also, there are different discount options in the dropdown list on the booking form - such as early booking. Try different ones and see what price you get.

I booked an inside B class room (two bunks - but it was just for me) for the privacy, and it really wasn't that unreasonable a price -- worked out to something like $140 a night for the two nights on the boat, which is cheap when you factor in the cost of the transportation to and from St. Petersburg, plus the savings on not having to get a visa.

Singapore, Singapore
Level Contributor
38 posts
2 reviews
10. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Rashbobbo - thanks for the very helpful reply! I've managed to book my trip in the end, and am looking forward to it. What I realised is that the the form is quite misleading -- past the page with the dual options for the "so-called city tour", I got to another page where they automatically added a city tour onto my cart-- meaning the earlier page's city tour meant something else. Thanks!

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