Can Americans Fly To Russia?

credit: Tom Baker

While Russia has always been a prime tourist destination, the country’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in widespread international condemnation, including US sanctions against Russia. So, with that in mind, it is only logical to wonder whether Americans can travel to Russia and if it is safe to do so.

Americans can travel to Russia if they have a passport valid for six months, a visa, and proof that they had a PCR test less than 48 hours before their arrival. However, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs advises against traveling to Russia as Russian authorities have tormented Americans.

Related: Can Americans Travel To Cuba? | Can Americans Travel To Iran?

Can I travel to Russia from the United States?

The United States is currently on a list of 80 countries that are permitted to travel to Russia. However, there are two conditions, travelers must either be citizens or have permanent residence papers and may only enter the country by plane.

However, as Russia invaded Ukraine, numerous countries have banned flights in and out of Russia. Moreover, several airports neighboring the southern part of Russia have closed as the airspace in that region is currently restricted.

So, Americans planning to depart for Russia will have limited commercial airline options to choose from and should make their travel arrangements as a matter of urgency.

Is It Safe To Travel To Russia As An American?

The US Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently advising against non-essential travel to Russia with a level 4 travel warning as several US private citizens, including military and government personnel, have been threatened and interrogated by Russian officials.

Furthermore, several US citizens have been arrested on spurious charges, denied legal counsel in secret trials, and have been imprisoned without a shred of evidence.

Russian authorities often delay consular assistance to detained US citizens, including US and Russian dual citizens, who may not be permitted to leave the country. Furthermore, US religious and non-governmental organizations are often prosecuted for transgressing local laws.

Other neighboring regions that Americans should not travel to include Crimea, Mount Elbrus, and Chechnya due to the threat of kidnappings, civil unrest, and terrorism.

What Should Americans Do Before Traveling To Russia?

Russia is a high-risk travel destination for American visitors, so it’s essential to have a travel action plan in place should there be an emergency before departure.

The following risk mitigating actions are advised for all Americans:

  • Awareness of what the US Government’s consulate in Russia can and can’t assist with if there is a crisis or a travel emergency.
  • All US travelers should have a contingency plan in place that ideally does not involve the US government’s assistance.
  • Monitor international media concerning their travel to Russia and be prepared to make alternative arrangements.
  • Have copies on hand of all essential travel documents and emergency contact details
  • Register on the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program for travel alerts so that they can be in a travel emergency.
  • Monitor the Department of State on social media like Twitter and Facebook for additional information.
  • Scrutinize Russia’s Country Security Report on the Department of State’s website.

What Type Of Visa Do Americans Need To Travel To Russia?

Visas upon arrival are not issued to US citizens, so they need to apply for a visa 30-90 days before departure at a Russian consulate in Washington DC, New York, or Houston or through a visa application center that can make the necessary arrangements.

US travelers can apply for either a tourist, business, work, or private visa and will need the following documents to process their visas:

  • Recent photo
  • Completed visa application form that provides a comprehensive overview of the visitor’s past travel
  • Passport (valid for six months following the departure date from Russia)
  • One empty passport page for the Russian entry stamp
  • Invitation letter (from a hotel/host in Russia)
  • Comprehensive travel insurance

Regrettably, convenient electronic visas that take four days to process without supporting documentation are not available at present. However, that might change.

It’s also essential to note that even Americans with valid Russian visas may be denied entry into the country due to the current frosty relationship between the countries.

Do American Travelers Have COVID Restrictions In Russia?

While Russia’s COVID-19 restrictions are continuously becoming more lenient, and Americans no longer must prove that they have been vaccinated, certain restrictions remain in place.

All foreign visitors must provide proof that they had a PCR test less than 48 hours before they arrived in Russia, and the negative COVID test results must be written in Russian and English.

Fortunately, Americans no longer must remain in quarantine once they arrive in Russia, although they will need to stay in quarantine at their own expense for seven days should they fall ill during their stay.

Although wearing masks in Russia is no longer compulsory, they may be required in certain areas like pharmacies or shopping malls.

Can I Use My American Credit Card In Russia?

Americans traveling to Russia should be aware that they can no longer use their American Express, Visa, Mastercard cards, or Google and Apple Pay to make payments. Visitors can also not transfer funds electronically, as Russian banks have been excluded from the international Swift payment system.

So, the easiest way for US citizens to get cash in Russia is to travel there with US dollars and exchange them for Roubles at a local bank, exchange bureau, or hotel.

However, it is essential to note that it is illegal to exchange US dollars for Russia’s local currency from street vendors or to pay for any goods and services in a foreign currency.

Furthermore, there have also been numerous recent reports that there is a cash shortage in Russia at present, so visitors might have to shop around to exchange adequate amounts of cash.

Are There Any US Food Chains Left In Russia?

McDonald’s was one of the first US food chains to launch a business in the Soviet Union roughly 30 years ago. As a result, the closure of its 847 stores and several other leading food chains following US sanctions was keenly felt across the country.

Although it’s interesting to note that there have been several US fast-food chain imitations in Russia this year, like the new Russian version of McDonald’s, ironically called “Tasty and That’s It.” However, sadly, Big Macs are no longer available.

Furthermore, several global French fries manufacturers have refused to export their products to Russia, so most knock-off US food chains serve burgers without fries.

What Should Americans Avoid Doing In Russia?

Americans visiting Russia should be aware of the stringent censorship laws that have been promulgated this year to criminalize the dissemination of “false” information about the Russian Armed forces or any war crimes in Ukraine.

And anyone who is found guilty of wearing blue and yellow clothing (in support of Ukraine), displaying blank pieces of cardboard or the word ‘self-censorship’ in public squares, or speaking out against the war on social media can be fined or imprisoned for up to 15 years.

So, the US Department of State cautions US citizens against discussing local politics with anyone in Russia and to refrain from voicing their opinions about the current war in Ukraine.