Entering the Russian Federation Visa-Free for the World Cup

6:30 PM

How many of your friends have listed down Russia as one of the countries they are planning to visit? Probably, Russia is not on their list. Post-communism and past World War details continue to put the Russian Federation as one of the most difficult countries to visit. 

Currently, there are only about 50 countries and independent states whose citizens are allowed to enter Russia visa-free. Mind you, these are under many conditions. Even the former members of the USSR (United Soviet Socialist Republics) like Armenia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine are limited only to 90 days of no-visa entry. Almost all of South America are allowed for non-commercial visits which are under a limited timeframe. If you are from a G8-member country (USA, UK, Italy, France, Germany, Canada and Japan), don't be elated either. No ordinary citizen from these "powerful" countries can get in Russia sans the hassle of a visa. 

So how did I, a Philippine passport holder, enter Russia visa-free? 

All thanks to the FIFA World Cup

Russia World Cup 2018

From June 4 to July 25, 2018, or a period 10 days before the start and 10 days after the final match of the FIFA World Cup 2018, citizens from all over the world can enter the host country visa-free. This is provided that they get a Fan ID from the FIFA website. The only requirement to get a FAN ID is to purchase a valid ticket to any of the World Cup matches in any Russian host city. And I tell you that the process of purchasing a match ticket isn't that straightforward. 

The first challenge is how fast the tickets are sold out. The first phase of ticket selling opened online in September 2017. The first batch of tickets offered for the group play, or the segment of the World Cup where qualified teams are bracketed in competitive groups to play against each other and decide who advances to the knockout stage, were sold out in the first 48 hours. I reserved mine in April 2018 during the second phase of ticket selling. You can imagine which matches were left available. No more seats for matches that involve the favorites Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Germany, England, Brazil, Mexico and host Russia. I was lucky to get a seat for the Sweden versus Korea match. 

The second challenge are the ticket prices. They can go as "cheap" as 6,000 in pesos for outer boxes to PHP56,000 for matches with the most "bids" or the matches that are receiving the most requests. I paid for my Sweden versus Korea ticket for almost PhP12,000. That's a lot of money for a 90-minute football match. That's fine, I said to myself. The goal was to enter Russia with the least paperwork. 

Russia FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia World Cup 2018 Russia FIFA World Cup 2018
Finally, a live World Cup match in the most unexpected of places. Fans from all over the world gather in Russia for the FIFA World Cup 2018. Here we are enjoying Korea versus Sweden in Nizhny Novgorod. 

The least paperwork may not be entirely true. The third challenge is the complexity of the ticket purchasing. Even if you are lucky to be among the first few hundreds to be on queue during the sales phase, you will still need to undergo a bidding. This is a way for the organizers to "price" the tickets appropriately. The next part is they will notify you that a seat has been successfully reserved for you and you need to enter your payment details like credit card. Next, they will validate the payment details before they will send a note that your tickets are successfully purchased. Some countries have ticket deliveries. For the Philippines, there's none. I got my ticket after lining up at the ticketing center when I arrived in Moscow. 

Back to ticket purchasing, I requested for my FIFA FAN ID after receiving my match ticket request number. I entered this on the official FIFA website. I'd like to say again, you will only be admitted to the Russian Federation if you have a Fan ID. They won't take your match ticket request email from FIFA as a valid entry document. If the delivery won't make it on time, FIFA will send you an electronic Fan ID which you have to print before going to the airport. That electronic ID will only allow you to enter the country. Departure from Russia is going to be a different story. You still have to get the laminated hard copy when you arrive in Russia. Lucky for me, my laminated Fan ID arrived the last business day before I flew to Europe. This was exactly two months after I successfully requested for it online. 

You must be tired already just reading this. Those are a lot of conditions and situations to take in. So, let's go now to the good stuff. There are a lot of rewards if you are able to process everything carefully. 

Russia World Cup 2018 Want to experience Visa-free access to the Kremlin? 

First, entering Russia was a breeze. After I showed my passport and the laminated ID, I was immediately given a stamp. There was no question from the immigration officer whatsoever. I was anticipating that they would ask why I entered in Moscow when my match was to be held in Nizhny Novgorod, a city 3-hours east of the capital. Lucky me again, there was not a single question. Some situations maybe different so I would still advise you to have all accommodation and return tickets printed. Just know your details by heart. 

Second, World Cup volunteers took care of me. They were all so nice and welcoming! English have been an issue but the volunteers know a little of the language. As for me, translation apps were useful. In times when they see you staring at the train map, for example, looking lost, they will just come to you and offer help. Just wear your FAN ID all the times as much as possible. It's like your subtle SOS banner. 

Third, commuter trains between host cities of the World Cup are FREE for Fan ID holders. You can use this option by booking online or at the train stations. They ran out of seats fast though and not all football fans can be accommodated. You will only get free train rides coming to and from the cities were you are watching the World Cup. They will ask for the match ticket details to validate that. For me, for example, I was not eligible to get a free train pass from Moscow to St. Petersburg since my match was scheduled in Nizhny Novgorod. I was eligible for a free train ride from St. Petersburg to Nizhny but I was too late in reserving a seat. Nevertheless, I was able to use my FAN ID free train access after the match, in taking the next day train from Nizhny back to Moscow. 

Russia FIFA World Cup 2018
Russia FIFA World Cup 2018 FAN IDs and free entertainment and live viewing with crazy fans from all over the world at the FIFA Fan Fest. Fan Fests are being held in all host cities of the World Cup. 

There you go with my first visit to the Russian Federation. It wasn't the easiest route but it has been the most fun of all my out-of-the-country trips so far. 

You still have until July 15 to catch up with the World Cup and watch it live. Check for available tickets for the quarterfinals, semis and, who knows, even the most anticipated final match, at www.fifa.com

My last note is to not judge a country based on its geopolitics. Russia is very beautiful and so are its people. Aside from the World Cup, seeing the country is already a treat in itself! Spasiba! 

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