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Maybe Possible, For a Fee

In many of the countries we've just recently travelled, there have been varying entry and exit requirements.

When we travelled Europe, we didn't have any issues because we were on European passports.

But obviously throughout Asia, we needed special permissions etc to enter certain countries.

Some visas are simple to acquire. Our Australian visa was done online, without us having to send out passports anywhere or get a photo of us looking very deer-in-headlights. It was a multi-entry as well, which made it very simple for us to come back after two weeks in New Zealand.

Vietnam wasn't that bad. We were able to leave our passports with a travel agency and they came back with the visas the next day. No hassel really. And we didn't have to waste anytime heading to an embassy and filling out forms.

China wasn't as stringent as we thought it would be. We were able to get the visa when we were in Australia and it only took 4 days. The more time consuming part of the Chinese process is probably the entry-exit forms. There is so much paperwork to fill out, you begin to understand how they keep 1.5 billion people employed.

For the most part, this visa stuff just seems to be a way to make more money. Sure, it can be cloaked with the desire to register travellers coming in and out, keeping a close eye on who wants to visit the country before they even arrive, getting up-to-date statistics for random government agencies across various countries. Happy to be just another number.

I can certainly say, the country that has been the most difficult, confusing and of course money making has been Russia.

Even before we arrived, we were beginning to realise that the 'transition' from communism to capaitalism is paved with a road of visa money.

You need an invitation to get into the country. If you decide it's worth planning your trip, spending money on a reservation and having a hotel invite you BEFORE you have even been given entry into the country, by all means, go ahead. The hotel will probably keep your deposit if you are denyed AND also the fee that you are charged for the invitation in the first place.

You can go online to an organisation that can get you an invitation which, essentially, you will probably never use. For a fee. But, nonetheless, at least it's only a fee and you don't have to decide right away where you want to travel.

So, now you have this invitation. Great. You're on your way to getting your visa.

Out you go, to get your photos (for a fee), download the forms (for free!) and off to find the best embassy to apply to.

This can be an interesting experience because besides all of the embassies have completely different guidelines and forms, they also have, you guessed it DIFFERENT FEES. So, the amount you spend on your visa can vary depending on where you live.

Once those costs are sent, you're on your way to a Russian visa! You can pick it up for free or, for a fee, (self-addressed envelope) have it delivered to a home address.

I suppose I shouldn't be unfair. Apart from the invitation, Vietnam and China were the same costs, same fees. And if it just ended there, well, then I probably wouldn't have even blinked an eye.

But there is something far more confusing, complex and budget-busting once you enter the country.

It is known as REGISTRATION.

As immigration lets you in to the country, you're given an entry card, which you must surrender when you leave the country. On this card it states that any foreigner must register themselves at an immigration office within 72 hours.

This registration is usually done by your hotel or hostel...wait for it....FOR. A. FEE. So, not only have you paid to be invited, paid to have your picture taken and paid to have documents to let you in, you are now being asked to pay BECAUSE YOU ARE HERE.

And that's not all folks. Somewhere amongst the murky law, there is something clear, that states what needs to happen next.

The immigration office told a nice Russian lady that was helping us that if you are in a city for more than 3 business days, you must register. In order to register, you must, (okay, not even going to type it again as you all know where this is going).

If you are just doing a whistle top tour through Russia - St. Petersburg, Moscow, train for 4 days, Irkutsk - you may only need to do the first registration. If not, you may have to do it in every city. And trust me, they add up.

But what will also burn a hole in your budget is the fact that if you DO NOT get these registrations, you can probably face a fine (another fancy word for fee) at the border or even better, a dodgy cop who's looking to make a few extra bucks of his own after he sees that you card carries no stamps.

So far, we have been as diligent as we can, if only to protect our travel karma for the length of time we have left. It seems to be the law. We're in another country. Let's obey.

But it certainly bears the question, why make it so complex and difficult for people to see your country?

I'm sure if I could take some time to speak to a Russian about the situation, they might be able to shed some light. I'd just be afraid I'd be charged a fee for their time.

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