PEr FYI

November 7, 2010

Russian visa…have someone who reads Russian check your visa. Will save you money, stress and time.

I now have something in common with William Browder (CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, the largest foreign investor in the Russian stock market and the adviser to the award-winning Hermitage Fund), Michel Jean Legrand (French Oscar-winning composer, arranger, conductor, and pianist, famous for conducting the music for Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and the Dalai Lama (Tibet’s spiritual leader). We have all been refused entry into Russia.

If you’re traveling to Russia, you will most likely need a Russian visa. Many people think that it’s super complicated but it’s not true. However, when you get your visa it is necessary to check all information….even though everything is in Russian. You can’t imagine how much money, stress and time you can save by doing just that.

I got my Russian visa in the Russian consulate in Singapore. The error they made was they indicated my nationality as “Singaporean” on my Malaysian passport though I had completed the application form correctly.

I was denied entry when I arrived at passport control in Domodedovo airport in Moscow. They brought me to the consular office where the officer cancelled my visa and re-issued me a new one for US$10. The error he made was that he issued me a single-entry visa instead of a double-entry one which I had originally paid for and obtained in Singapore. Double-whammy. Once again, everything was written in  Russian and I couldn’t understand even if I checked.

A week later, when I boarded a  train in Helsinki at 6.30pm heading to Moscow. Four hours into the journey, when we’d passed the Russian border, customs and immigration officials came on board the train and found that my visa was not valid. Being a single-entry visa, meant that my visa had been used up when I left Moscow the week before. I was asked to disembark from the train at Vyborg, a Russian town, 38 kilometers south from the Russian border with Finland at 11.45pm near midnight. There I was instructed to wait for a taxi on the roadside and leave Russia.

I got into a taxi after almost an hour’s wait and was driven to the checkpoint on the Russian-Finnish frontier. I’ve got to be honest…the movie “Hostel” did flashed through my mind at this point as we shuttled down gravely silent, dark and deserted countryside road for over 40 minutes. The Russian officials at the checkpoint stopped a passing car and instructed the lone driver to fetch me to wherever he was going. I climbed into his car and went with him to Lappeenranta – a Finnish city some 25km from the checkpoint. The driver, Vesa is a big blond Finn who drives a Mercedes Benz ASF959, has a heart of gold. He dropped me at a hotel called Cumulus at 3.00am  and offered to pick me up the next day to Helsinki if I needed a ride.

However, I managed to get a flight on Air Baltic flight BT1384 from Lappenranta to Riga, Latvia at 0745hours and then onwards to Frankfurt on Air Baltic flight BT241 at 1305hours.

Those couple of errors on my visa, resulted in denial of my entry and totally screwed up my  plans. Therefore it is helpful to have someone who reads Russian check your visa prior to your departure from your home country.

Oh by the way, there apart from the visa lesson, a few other things I learned from this adventure:

1. Never again shall I train in this Orient Express (not. More like Ordeal Express)  from Helsinki to Moscow. The food is pathetic and the sleeping cabins are fully remote control….that is I can do everything from my bed (see photo)

2. I now know that Lappeenranta’s airport is the oldest airport in Finland.

This is the true truth and I say it as it is…

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