It is a popular (mis)conception that border guards the world over can be officious, cold and unfeeling. This is particularly true of Russia and other states who have, historically, been quite closed off to the rest of the world. No doubt this has left more than one traveller a little concerned when the time came to interact with these guards. I certainly felt this way; particularly as I always seem to be the passenger who is randomly searched/checked!
So, how was my experience?
Remarkably good is the answer. Completely painless.
The ticket check shortly after leaving Helsinki was quick, easy and hassle free. I simply remained at my seat as a gentleman came and scanned my passport before offering me my migration card to fill in while we travelled.
The migration card, for those who do not know, comes in two parts. One that you offer to the Russian border guards on entering the country, and one that you will hand to the border guards when leaving. Both parts require your personal details, your passport number and who your sponsor is (the company from whom you received your invitation).
At Kouvola customs officials boarded the train and a black dog surprised me by running past my seat! While I am not 100% sure on why it was present – it could have been taking a short journey home – I imagine it was there to sniff out any illegal substances. The officials then proceeded to check everyone’s passport at their seats.
There is a customs declaration form that must be filled in while en-route if you have anything to declare. These are available in Finnish, Russian, Swedish and English from a leaflet rack within the carriage. A helpful guide as to what must be declared is also provided, and while the English translation was not perfect in places, it is very clear as to what items must be declared.
At Vainikkala, the Finnish border station, the train stopped for around five minutes allowing the Finnish border guards to disembark. The train then got underway for the Russian border!
Next came the process I feared most, the Russian border guards.
After crossing the border, the train stops at a small town called Vyborg where the Russian passport and customs officers are collected. From Vyborg to Saint Petersburg, the train is in a ‘customs control zone’. After a few minutes the officials started their checks along the train, with some checking what luggage passengers were transporting and the others checking passports, visas and the migration card that was issued earlier in the trip. The officials take the entry section of the migration card and then move on.
This whole process was much easier than I had expected. I did not have to leave my seat, or even open my bags. It was quick and very efficient. I feel slightly silly for being worried about the process.
At the beginning, I mentioned that I had concerns about this process. Many based on preconceived ideas (and some prior experience) of border guards. I am pleased to say I could not have been more wrong. I also saw no other passenger searched. Questions were asked of a few people, but nothing more involved or complicated than that.
So when crossing the border from Finland, sit back, relax, and take in the view!
P.S. One more thing, something I noticed while travelling through the Finnish countryside; there is a distinct lack of fences anywhere! I do not remember seeing any. In place of fences there just seemed to be ditches. Lots of ditches. It gave the small villages along the route a much more pleasant, open-plan feel than you would find many settlements in Europe!
Have you crossed the border on the Allegro? Have you crossed going in the other direction? Have you entered Russia via any other land border? Share your experience below or on Facebook.
Over the last two weeks, I have had the pleasure of travelling through Finland and Russia, experiencing the people, places, food, culture and, importantly, the trains first hand. Over the next few weeks, I shall be trying to sum up my experiences into a series of blogs in order to give you a brief ‘insider view’ into the good, the bad, and the ugly, of travelling in this region.
Before finding out what I thought, or felt, it may help to have some context. What did I expect to find in Finland and Russia? How did I expect to feel?
Russia ‘is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’. The words of Winston Churchill in 1939 hold just as true today as they did 75 years ago. It is unique. Both in the sheer size of the country, and in everything that is within those borders.
What I am trying to say is this, that even though I have been working with Real Russia for 10 months now, I still did not know what to expect. Particularly after the events of 2014.
All of the above?
To find out how I got on, and whether any worries I had were necessary, stay tuned to our social media and follow my blog posts over the next few weeks.
Spoiler Alert: Generally, Russia has been very kind to me, particularly the colleagues that I have met for the first time in our Russian offices, and any worries I may have had were unfounded.
From January 23rd 2013 Russian Railways (RZD) has announced the closure of bookings for the Lev Tolstoi train, an overnight train from Moscow to Helsinki.
In addition, from February 1st 2013 RZD have announced the closure of bookings for Allegro, high speed trains between St Petersburg and Helsinki.
There has been no further information at the current time to confirm when they will be made available again. We will update our blogs when we have any further news.
If you have any questions or require any further information please contact our travel team who will be happy to assist you. Alternatively access our train schedules page to book train tickets.
Update: RZD have confirmed that they are now taking bookings for the above trains and the planned closures are not now taking place.