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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
New York City, New...
Level Contributor
8 posts
20 reviews
81. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Sorry if I have confused anyone. The correct term is indeed VISA FREE. I should have said "THREE DAY VISA FREE". St. Peter's Line asks to see your hotel booking and a payment confirmation which a hotel calls VISA SUPPORT DOCUMENTS.

Booking St. Peter's Line well in advance will allow you to customize your dates. We booked one way tickets HEL to St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg to HEL eight months in advance of our trip in order to get the timing right and still had to move dates to make sure we didn't over-stay the 72 hour, visa free, time period. Happy to answer any questions while the trip is fresh.


Moscow, Russia
Level Contributor
12,403 posts
223 reviews
82. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

> St. Peter's Line asks to see your hotel booking and a payment confirmation which a hotel calls VISA SUPPORT DOCUMENTS

Not exactly. "Visa support" aka "invitation" aka "voucher and confirmation" is a very formal set of documents of a standard form which you normally submit with your visa application to a Russian consulate in your country when and if you apply for a Russian tourist visa in advance. Some hotels charge extra for these documents. These documents (if you happen to have them) obviously will be accepted by St.Peter Line as a proof of accommodation, but it doesn't HAVE to be that formal:

> If you get your own hotel St. Peter Line ask only for your hotel confirmation showing dates and payment, NOT a formal letter of invitation

So in other words: if your hotel provides you with the "visa support" for free then it can serve as a proof of accommodation, but a simple free-form booking and payment confirmation will do just as well.

New York City, New...
Level Contributor
8 posts
20 reviews
83. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Marrasa, a booking.com confirmation was not enough because it doesn't show pre-paid. That is why the hotel provides what it calls "visa support documents". The hotel doesn't care if you use it for a Three Day Visa Free trip or a full fledged visa.

For clarity:

Travelers should bring a document that shows full pre-payment of private lodging in St. Petersburg to be presented at St. Peter's Line check in at the ferry terminal. I was asked to show mine.

Moscow, Russia
Level Contributor
12,403 posts
223 reviews
84. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

I give up...

Los Angeles...
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258 posts
226 reviews
85. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Svetakoshka - THAN YOU!!!! You are most helpful, as are the majority of folks on this thread. What I didn't do was the search when I came to that screen. I just hit next..It seems like a fairly simple process all the way around, just a bit intimidating. Also..once there, if for any reason you miss the 72 hour visa free time limit by accident of for reasons outside of your control, what do they do? Make you pay a fine or issue you something temporary until you catch the next boat out? I suspect this has come up before and St Peters Line has a way to handle this..especially if you show you had full intent to leave the country in the speciced 72 hour window. .Much thanks!!

Moscow, Russia
Level Contributor
2,676 posts
86. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Have you read this on St Peter line web site?


"7. The duration of stay of members of tourist groups on the territory of Russian Federation without a visa can be extended in case of the delay of ferry in connection with damages to the vessel, natural disasters or other circumstances of insuperable force, as well as in the case of impossibility to participate any further in the group tour in frame of an emergency treatment or serious illness. Departure of such member of tourist group from Russia by other means of transport or through the another border entry point is carried out on the basis of a valid identity document and considered by Russian Legislation as the one, Russian visa, if other order is not established by international agreements of Russian Federation."

San Francisco...
3 posts
1 review
87. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Hi Rasbabbo, Thanks so much for this! Certainly the best post on this topic. One more question, in the St. PeterLine Visa Free definition page, it says that for visitors from non Schengen region countries (which includes us from the USA), one must have a multiple entry Schengen visa to return to Helsinki. However, I will be there for the visa-free less than 90 day visit, so I won't have a Schengen visa in my passport. Was that an issue for you? It doesn't sound like it was.

Powell, Ohio
Level Contributor
57 posts
42 reviews
88. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Just returned (Aug 2014) from the St peter Line Helsinki to St. Petersburg 3 day non visa trip. It went without a hitch. Some comments:

1) The ship is an older cruise ship - much more basic than modern ones, but adequate for the overnight only transit.

2) If you buy the buffet, get a table reservation as soon as on board. Get seat near back or side window. Food is pretty good and lots of selection Free wine and soft drinks.

3) We got on in Helsinki about 4 hours before departure. No lines at all. Only one place to eat or drink until (I think 5pm), but could sit and relax anywhere.

4) Room is small and no safe. Shower better than I expected, hot water and pressure. A/C was just ok. Beds also small, but ok. About 4 bars and some ok shows at main lounge. Buffet and al a carte restaurant and snacks at bars. The Al a carte breakfast was very good with eggs as you like them. The buffet dinner was also good, but more crowded and a bit hectic. A kids room and program.

5) When you board, if you have liquor, a hot water immersion heater, etc. - they take it - but give it back about 20 min before getting off.

6) English spoken by most - no problems there.

7) When getting off at St P., a huge line forms at doorway about 30 min ahead of docking. In true Russian form, people then start standing on the side and "merge" into the line - until it is a crowd. If you want off early to speed thru Russian immigration - get in line 30-40 min before docking.

8) Once off at St. P., few used the white busses into town (the tour). I guess most were Russian and met people. We waited about 10 min until bus got full. (there was another bus anyway). Took 10-15 min to St. Issacs dropoff. If you hotel is near (most are), I think driver would have taken us to hotel for a $20 tip - but we did not ask.

9) Return was also easy. We boarded about 4:30 pm (departure at 7pm). Got documents and on board in 10 minutes. Only needed our Passports, our half of immigration card we completed when we arrived, and the "Return" ticket St Peter Line gave us when we got on in Helsinki. Never asked for hotel reservation paper - even though I always carried it (Just a printout of our email confirmation)

10) Back in Helsinki we slept in, had breakfast as ship was docking, and got bags and departed about 1 hour after docking. Of course, no crowds. They said we could stay on board until 10:30am.

11) Tram right outside ferry terminal. Get ticket at automated box at platform - but only uses Euro COINS. So have some 1 and 2 Euro coins on hand. Goes to (and stops along way) to main train station.

12) Documentation: We have passports, printout of St P hotel confirmation, and printout of our Ferry reservation. They checked passports (and maybe our hotel printout) and gave us a "string" of separate tickets for boarding, meals, Entry to Russia, Exit from Russia, etc. We never had any problems with documents. But probably best to keep on you when sightseeing. Once off bus, you are on your own, but no security issues. Get a city map on the ship if you do not have one.

13) Remember Russia is one hour ahead of Finland.

Basically you get about 68 hours in Russia. St P is a great town, but some great sites are a bit out of the city. A guide (we rarely use) can get you to places and cut in front of lines and save you a lot of precious time. We used Guide Guru as small group (6 max)for their 2 day tour. They really know how to get things done. A bit pushy if you lag around, but they cover a lot for your limited time. In evenings we did our "subway art tour" - very nice just looking at art and cost is one subway ticket. But start after 7:30pm to avoid crowds.

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

A good suggestion, but it seems at a loss of 24 hours in SP. Due to the SPL scheduling routines, the way to get the full 72 hours maybe to use the same port for transit to and from SP. In your example, If a traveler departed from Tallinn, perhaps if that traveler returned to Tallinn and took a ferry back to Helsinki that would allow 72 hours in SP. The ferries from Tallinn take 2-4 hours to Helsinki and are reasonable cost. Personally 48 hours in SP is not nearly enough, let alone 72 hours. Thank for the suggestion. I welcome comments.

Long Island, NY
Level Contributor
6 posts
14 reviews
90. Re: Visa-free trip to St. Petersburg - with private lodging

Hi! It wasn't a problem. As a US citizen, you are allowed to re-enter Schengen (provided you're within the time allowed). That line you read was just to make sure that for people that do need schengen visas, that they should have multiple entries, because if you have a single-entry, they won't let you back in.

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