Unlike some countries where government approval for filming is illusive, filming in Russia is relatively straight forward, though not necessarily easy, and can be quite expensive. The application process is very similar to applying for business or tourist visas to Russia. However, the appropriate type of visa is generally a Humanitarian- Cultural Exchange visa. Invitations for this type of visa must come from the Russian government, and take weeks to obtain, so plan ahead. The invitations are generally provided by your Russian production support, or fixer, who obtains them from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Be sure you trust your fixer to charge a fair price, and that the cost of the invitations are included in your preliminary budget. Also, confirm how long the invitations will take, as quotes can vary greatly. Alternatively, Travel Visa Pro can provide its trusted film clients with invitation vouchers from the Russian Ministry in 2-3 weeks, and often at a better price. Once you have invitations for your crew, visa applications must be filled out online on the Russian government website (visa.kdmid.ru). They are submitted just like other types of Russian visas, with similar fees and processing times. When filling out the application, you should write down your Application ID number and the security answer you choose, as it will become your password to edit or change your application. Be sure to put Humanitarian as visa type, and Cultural Exchange as purpose. The rest of the application form should be filled out completely, and will ask for lots of detailed personal information. As such, it is recommended, where possible, to have each crew member fill out their own application. Have them fill out the applications completely to avoid delays or rejections. Once you’ve conquered the visa hurdle, make sure your Russian contacts obtain any necessary film permits and customs clearances. Both processes have a history of corruption that may require last-minute cash incentives to ensure a smooth filming process. It is not recommended to attempt to enter Russia with professional audio and video gear with a tourist or business visa, as this may cause additional delays, or costs, at Russian customs.
If you want to be precise, there are 11 different Russian visa types: (1) Diplomatic visa, (2) Guest/Private Visit visa, (3) Tourism visa, (4) Work visa, (5) Business/Commercial Visit visa, (6) Student/Education visa, (7) Government Business visa, (8) Humanitarian visa, (9) Transit visa (valid up to 72 hours), (10) Temporary Stay visa, and (11) Refugee visa. Each visa type corresponds to the stated purpose of your visit.
The days of Soviet era queues and shortages are long gone. Moscow is a modern city, full of shops, and just about everything that is available in the West is available here. The Arbat and Tverskaya are the main shopping drags, and are filled with shoppers visiting chic boutiques and other meccas of consumerism. However, high import duties, transportation costs and the relative lack of competition can make some consumer goods more expensive than in the West. The colourful Russian arts and crafts available at many locations throughout the city are popular with visitors as are exotic goods from the ex-Soviet Republics of Central Asia and memorabilia from the Soviet era.
If you visited a Russian consular website, you noticed that they were requiring tourist voucher and reservation confirmation for visa processing. In this section, we will try to explain what tourist voucher and confirmation, sometimes referred to as letter of invitation, is; how and where to obtain it, and how much it will cost. Each type of visa has a corresponding invitation type: Tourist VISA calls for tourist invitation, Business VISA – for business one, private – for private, and so forth. The invitation, visa support, travel voucher, travel confirmation, or any other name it might be called is a standardized document issued by the part which invites you to Russia. This is a mandatory document to get your visa processed!
Moscow is not as difficult for visitors to find as it may seem at first. Certainly, the city is vast, street names and signs are in Cyrillic, and the traffic can be formidably heavy, especially in the centre. On the other hand, there is an excellent metro system, and passers-by and people working in hotels, restaurants and shops will usually help foreigners. However, it is a good idea for visitors to familiarize themselves with the Cyrillic alphabet in order to decipher signs. With tourism still a fledgling industry in Moscow, some tourist facilities, such as information services, are fairly basic. The first port of call for visitors wanting information about events and practicalities should be their hotel. Surprisingly, Moscow can be one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit. While public transport is cheap, hotels, restaurants and theatre tickets can cost more than their Western equivalents. It is always worth enquiring about the price before booking something.
Under the Communist regime, Moscow’s nightlife was practically non-existent and those clubs and bars that did exist were for a privileged elite. Today, nightlife in Moscow is booming. Foreign bands, DJs and performers of all types now visit the city regularly, while the quality of the domestic scene has improved markedly. The variety of venues is similarly impressive and ranges from bars where you can see local rock bands to glitzy casinos and late-night clubs playing the latest techno music. The Russian take on modern dance music is noteworthy, as Russians like to party hard and long into the night. Venues can be packed and prices high, but it is an experience not to be missed.
From June until late September most of Moscow’s concert halls and theatres close and the city’s orchestras, theatre and ballet companies perform elsewhere in Russia and abroad. However, for the rest of the year the city has a rich and varied cultural scene. The Bolshoy Theatre, Moscow’s oldest and most famous opera and ballet house, offers an impressive repertoire. Numerous drama theatres put on a variety of plays in Russian, ranging from the conventional to the avant-garde. For non-Russian speakers there is a wide choice of events, ranging from folk dance and gypsy music to classical concerts by top international musicians. Evening performances at most venues begin at 7pm or 7:30pm, while matinees generally start around midday.
Moscow offers many forms of entertainment, from great theatre productions, operas and ballets to a wide choice of lively nightlife venues. Attending a performance at the Bolshoy remains a must for opera and ballet buffs, although the main stage is closed while undergoing refurbishment. Other theatres put on an enormous range of productions, including musicals and shows for children. Moscow has several cinemas screening foreign-language films. They usually show the latest releases only a few weeks after they are premiered in the West. The city also has over 300 nightclubs and many late-night bars, some of which have live bands. In addition, there is plenty of free entertainment from street performers, especially on ulitsa Arbat.
It is easy to find interesting and beautiful souvenirs in Moscow. Traditional crafts were encouraged by the State in the old Soviet Union, so many age-old skills were kept alive. Artisans today continue to produce items ranging from small, low-cost, enamelled badges through to more expensive hand-painted Palekh boxes, samovars and worked semi-precious stones. Other popular items are lacquered trays and bowls, chess sets, wooden toys and matryosbka dolls. Memorabilia from the Soviet era also make good souvenirs and Russia is definitely the best place to buy the national specialities, vodka and caviar.
Russia’s appetite for Western goods means that Moscow now offers most of the shopping facilities of a large, modern Western city. There are supermarkets, department stores stocking imported goods and exclusive boutiques with French and Italian designer clothes and shoes for the new rich. Moscow’s most interesting shopping districts are located within the Garden Ring. The main department stores are clustered around the city centre near Red Square, while the best souvenir and antique shops can be found along ulitsa Arbat, a charming old pedestrian street. For the more adventurous a trip to the weekend flea market at Izmaylovo Park is a must. Here it is possible to buy everything from Russian dolls and Soviet memorabilia to handmade rugs from Central Asia and antique jewellery.