Russia to introduce free visas for some travellers from Finland

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The new visa status at the Vainikkala border crossing, in southeastern Finland, is still unclear. (Harro Vähäkangas/Yle)
New Russian visa protocol coming into effect in October will no longer require some travellers from Finland to the Saint Petersburg area to purchase visas before their trip.

As of next month, people who are travelling to the area for less than eight days can simply fill in a free visa application available on the Russian foreign ministry website. The online form requires applicant passport and personal information and a recent digital photo. The ministry promises a four-day turnaround time, and once approved, the online visa is valid for one trip within 30 days. It is not necessary to submit specific travel dates or vehicle information.

The free eight-day-maximum visa will only be available to people travelling to destinations in Leningrad Oblast, the region that is home to the metropolis of Saint Petersburg.

“Now that the Russian President has approved the legislation, I think it’s clear that [the change] will take effect as planned,” says the Ministry for Foreign Affairs consular director Pasi Tuominen.

Southeastern crossing points only

According to a draft decision from the Russian transport ministry, the free visa will be accepted at three southern crossing points in the cities of Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa, and Imatra on the eastern Finnish-Russian border. It will apply to car, bus and motorcycle traffic at these three locations.

Air traffic to Pulkovo Airport in Saint Petersburg will be included, meaning that passengers on Finnair flights from Helsinki to Petersburg will also benefit from the free visa option.

In terms of maritime traffic, the new visa protocol will apply to travellers moving through Saint Petersburg ports and Vyborg’s Uuras harbour. It is not yet certain whether the new visa will extend to traffic into the port of Vyborg city, however.

Rail passengers: still uncertain

The Finnish Foreign Ministry says it is still unsure about whether railway passengers will be included in the scope of the new visas.

“We really hope that the new visa would be valid for Allegro train traffic as well. Railway connections are the most popular choice for travel to this area from Finland, and we know that many more people would make the trip if the visa process was made easier,” says Satu Mäntyvaara, a representative of the Kymenmatkat travel agency in the southeast city of Kotka.

At present, the reform is limited to three south-eastern border crossings on the Finnish-Russian border and one crossing from Estonia to Russia through the Estonian city of Narva. Other more northern crossings in Finland are not included, for example, the Niirala border crossing near Joensuu.

Similar new visa requirements have already been taken into use in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. Finnish residents have been able to travel to the area without the purchase of a visa by air, sea or train via Lithuania or Poland for some time.

Russia looking to attract tourists

The change is expected to increase tourism to the area significantly. The Karelian Isthmus that is home to Saint Petersburg and its surroundings was a part of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in the nineteenth century. Many Finns can trace their ancestry to the area and several major conflicts in the Continuation War were also fought in the Isthmus.

Russia has extended the new visas to citizens of 43 countries in a bid to increase tourism and stimulate the economy. Travel authorities in Saint Petersburg predict a 50 percent increase in traveller numbers after the October 1 change, pushing yearly visitor numbers up from eight million to 12 million.

Related stories from around the North:

Finland: Finland to upgrade Arctic border-crossing point to welcome more traffic from northern Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Norway: Barents region leaders dream of visa-free travel, but Schengen Agreement gives little hope, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia to introduce e-visa without invitation in 2021, The Independent Barents Observer

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