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Customs and border in Russia

Customs and border in Russia

This section details features of the Russian border control on arrival in and departure from Russia, the formal responsibilities of foreign tourists during their stay in the country as well as our recommendations on handling documents during your stay.

Customs rules and restrictions on arrival in Russia

You go through customs at an airport after you have collected your baggage and while passing through the so-called “green” or “red” channels. When crossing the Russian border by train or car, you pass through customs. You should pay attention to the colour signs (green and red arrows or signs). Passing through the green channel is equivalent to stating that you have nothing to declare, so if you accidentally take the green channel and items to be declared are found in your baggage during a random check, it will be categorized as a proven administrative violation for which you will face severe penalties.

The following items are subject to mandatory declaration on arrival:

  1. Cash foreign currencies and cash equivalents (e.g., traveller’s cheques and certificated stocks and securities) exceeding $ 10,000 USD.
  2. Precious metals, precious stones, and objects of cultural interest.
  3. Commercial goods for resale (if their total value exceeds 65,000 rubles and (or) their gross weight exceeds 35 kg).
  4. Alcohol (if more than 3 litres). Tobacco products (if more than 50 cigars or cigarillos, 200 cigarettes, and 0.25 kg of tobacco).
  5. Animals. You must be able to present an electronic chip, the passport of the animal, and a veterinary certificate.
  6. Items for personal use:
    – Imported by air transport, customs value of which exceeds the equivalent of 10,000 euros and a total weight exceeding 50 kilograms;
    – Imported by other transport, customs value of which exceeds the equivalent of EUR 1,500 and the total weight of which exceeds 50 kilograms.
  7. The standard list of items prohibited for import or requiring special permission to import: drugs, firearms and ammunition, powerful medications, toxic and explosive materials, rare animals and their products, special high-precision electronic equipment, etc.

Additional information for point 6. Foreign nationals may temporarily import without paying customs duties the items they need for personal use in the Russian Federation throughout the period of their temporary stay (excluding vehicles). Only those temporarily imported goods that have been declared can be re-exported without paying duties. If you fail to re-export the goods declared on arrival in the country, duties will be levied on them that can amount to 30% of the cost of an item. The full list of Russian customs restrictions can be found on the website of the Customs Service of Russia: eng.customs.ru/index.php

Customs restrictions on departure from Russia

You go through customs at an airport after you have checked in for your flight and handed in your luggage and before passing through passport control (the “green” or “red” channel). When crossing the border by train or car you go through customs on the border.

The following items are subject to mandatory declaration on departure:

  1. Cash foreign currencies exceeding $ 3,000 USD and cash equivalents (traveller’s cheques) exceeding $ 10,000 USD. Any certificated stocks and securities.
  2. Precious metals, precious stones, objects of cultural interest, and state awards of the Russian Federation.
  3. Animals. You must be able to present an electronic chip, the passport of the animal, and a veterinary certificate.
  4. The standard list of items prohibited for export or requiring special permission to export: drugs, firearms and ammunition, powerful medications, toxic and explosive materials, rare animals and their products (including sturgeon caviar and salmon roe in the amount of over 250 g per person), special high-precision electronic equipment, etc.

In particular, an export permit is required to export icons, paintings (even if they were painted a day before by amateur artist), carpets, and non-electric samovars. Most galleries will assist you in obtaining this permit if you make a purchase. You can also apply for an export permit on your own to the Department of Conservation of Cultural Heritage of the Russian Ministry of Culture or an intermediary agency. Please note that the Ministry of Culture is not obligated to issue such a permit. You will be refused an export permit for objects of over 100 years old as their export is prohibited by law.

The full list of customs restrictions can be found on the website of the Customs Service of Russia: eng.customs.ru/index.php

Customs declaration form

A customs declaration form in English can be downloaded here: http://eng.customs.ru/images/stories/site_content/files/english.pdf. This form, instructions on completing it and other legal information can be found on the website of the Customs Service of Russia (in English): eng.customs.ru/index.php

Make sure that your copy of the declaration has been stamped and dated by a customs official. Otherwise, the document will be treated as invalid on departure from the country.

Recommendations on passing through customs

  1. Even if on arrival in Russia a customs official finds your oral explanation satisfying, do not forget to declare temporary import of valuable items in writing. Otherwise, you risk being charged customs duties on them on departure from the country.
  2. There is no clear-cut division into personal use items and commercial goods. Therefore, if you have the habit of taking five or six luxury bags and the same number of luxury Swiss watches with you while travelling, we recommend declaring them both on arrival and on departure and proving that they are intended for personal use (not for sale or as a gift) .
  3. When buying in Russia and subsequently exporting items that must be declared, it is recommended that you retain proof of purchase and the cost of the goods you declare (e.g., invoices and receipts) to avoid the risk of being charged excessive duties. This is particularly relevant for antiquated souvenirs which might be mistakenly categorised as objects of cultural interest.
  4. When planning to travel with an animal, make sure you check the regulations for animal transportation and stay. Some vaccination or certificates might lose their validity during your trip and will have to be renewed while in Russia.
  5. It is advisable to remove the packaging of all items so they do not look like commercial goods.
  6. Do not attempt to export caviar purchased outside duty-free shops. Even if a tin has a weight of less than 250 grams, you might be required to present a veterinary certificate and a number of other documents, and there is a risk that the valuable purchase will be seized.
  7. You are strongly recommended to study the import restrictions in the country of your permanent residence. They might be even more stringent than the restrictions on export from Russia. In particular, it may concern food, alcohol, and tobacco.

Passport control on the Russian border

On arrival

You must have a valid passport and a Russian visa. Another mandatory document is a migration card. It has to be completed using Russian or Latin letters for each person arriving, including children regardless of age. Migration card forms are handed out free of charge by airlines employees, train crew members, and border control officials. Below is a sample migration card:3

Part A is kept by a border control official on arrival in Russia while you will have to show Part B on the border on departure from the country which is why it is recommended to keep it with your passport. After you go through passport control on arrival in Russia, you will have a stamp in your passport signifying crossing the border and Part B of the migration card also bearing a stamp (check that the stamps have been put).

The third mandatory document is your health insurance – make sure you are prepared to show it.

On departure

Similarly to the procedure on arrival, you are required to show a valid passport with a Russian visa. The other mandatory document is detachable Part B of your migration card. The passport control officer will keep it and stamp the departure date onto your passport.

Registration during stay

During your stay in Russia the host party (i.e., a hotel, a landlord, or your friends who provide accommodation for you) is required to register you with the FMS (Federal Migration Service). It is not your responsibility. However, the law stipulates that in all cases the host party must hand you the document confirming your registration, i.e. the detachable part of the notification of a foreign citizen’s arrival. If you do not have one, it is seen as a violation which might give the police a cause to investigate your circumstances: “If you are not staying at a hotel, where are you staying?” Therefore, if you are going to stay in a rented apartment or with your friends for a few weeks, it is advisable to resolve this issue beforehand. An exception could be made if you are living in your own flat or in the flat of your friends who are away from Russia: in this case 7 business days after the date of your arrival to Russia the duty of registering with the FMS passes onto you personally.

A sample of the detachable part of the notification of a foreign citizen’s arrival.4

Recommendations on handling documents during your stay

  1. While in Russia, you must carry your passport (original only) with a valid visa and the detachable part of the migration card at all times. The Russian police will not accept a copy of your passport as a valid document. Nevertheless, you should carefully assess the risk of losing your passport. For instance. If you are going to have a good time in nightclub, it could be wiser to leave your documents in the safe in your hotel room and take copies of them and the hotel business card with you.
  2. It is advisable to keep the bills from the hotels where you stayed in Russia until you return to your home country.
  3. Do not sign any documents in Russian without translation.
  4. Do not carry documents together with cash and credit cards.
  5. If your passport should be lost or stolen, you must report the incident to the police. To do this, you need to come in person to the police station at the place where you lost your passport or your place of accommodation. You will get confirmation of loss of the documents there. Next, to obtain the document called ‘Certificate of Return to Home Country’ you should contact the consulate of your country and submit the confirmation of loss of the documents issued by the police.
  6. If you should lose the detachable Part B of the migration card, you are obligated to report it within three days to the local office of the Federal Migration Service at the place of your temporary accommodation, where a duplicate will be issued for you. If you happen not to have Part B of the migration card with you while passing through passport control on departure from the Russian Federation, a blank migration card will have to be offered to you and you are obligated to fill it in.
  7. There are no fines as such for the loss of a migration card. However, if you have arrived in Russia without a visa from a country which has signed an agreement on a visa-free travel regime with Russia and failed to restore a lost migration card, you will have to pay a fine of up to 7,000 rubles, and this incident will be categorised as violation of the rules of stay. If you have entered Russia with a visa, you are under no risk of being fined.
  8. For rules of interaction with the Russian police see Section Safety And Health.
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