Moscow & Russian Visas October 21 2011

September 15th 2011 Moscow:   It is always a relief to make it onto the plane and depart the airport. 27 hours after arriving at Moscow's Domodolovich airport we would have been happy to be on any plane leaving Russia that day. However we were even more fortunate as to still be heading to our intended destination: Frankfurt DE. At 9am on Sept 14th the check in lady for the airline looks at our travel documents and passports and simply holds her arms up in front of her symboliizing an X. Much talking in Russia insues. Finally she points to our Visas (a sticker page taped into your passport indicating approval to travel in the specified country) and identifies that our Visas expired on Sept 13th (yesterday). Thus, without a valid visa to travel in the country, you may also not leave the country. Also, with out a valid visa, you can not rent a hotel room or travel in the country. The lady shoes us away from her checkstand.  3 hours later our flight leaves without us; exhausted- we sit in the airport, drink tea ($4 per cup), and acknowledged that we still do not know how to solve the problem. To get issued a Russian travel Visa, one must find a Russian sponsor who will write a letter of recomendation requesting permission to enter the country. Then there is a form/questionaire that you must fill out which included questions including: 25. List all countries you have visited in the last ten years by year 30. do you have any specialized skills, training or experience related to fire-arms and explosives or to nuclear matters, biological or chemical substance? 32. have you ever been involved in armed conflicts? 33. have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offense? Finally, with all proper forms, ones Passport must be submiitted to a Russian Consulate to issue the visa. Websites specify that it will take no less than 3 days to issue a Visa, and up to 20 days. Another website mentions: "getting a Russian Visa is possibly one of the hardest things to do... Second to getting a Russian Exit visa after over-staying your Visa." Eek! Reading this information I question whether it is wise to tell Megan what I have read... it is not the kind of information that inspires confidence in the situation.   Searching the airport for the Russian Consulate, we eventually give up and make camp outside of the closest resembling office. It is the office of migration and imigration. We have found this office by entering an unmarked small door, and wandering through small whitewashed hallways within the inner belly of the airport... these are the types of hallways I imagine I'd be getting dragged down with a hood over my head to the 'non-violent and humane' interigation room by the US Department of Homeland Security if this was an airport in the US... never to be seen again. But, here in Russia we are deperate and any office where someone might help us is worth the risk. Its not the right office to help us, but a number of smart looking people enter and exit the office and look over our passports and speak to us in Russian. I imagine they are asking questions like: "Why do you want to immigrate to Russia?" With a quiet work space, free WIFI, and money in our skype account we begin to make progress: The US consolate can help us: but first we need reserved seats on a plane leaving Russia. The Airline can issue us new tickets (for a steep fee) as soon as we get our Visas extended... Yes this is a circular problem. So, with some desperate pleading we get things in motion so that we can call it a night. At this point, we believe it is possible to have the Exit Visa issued at the airport in the morning before our flight. The crux of the issue now is that if we actually pay to reserve our seats on the plane, we don't know that we will get the Visas. Secondly, If we get the Visas extended but are not given seats on the plane, we will have to repeat the process and pay to get the Visa extended another day (they don't want to extend it more than one day at a time of course). So, really- any destination outside of Russia is now an ideal place to continue our trip. In the mean time, I am researching a few things:
  • Requirements and criteria for deportation
  • Our distance from the Polish border
The deportation process seems OK- but we wouldn't be able to return to Russia for at least 5 years, and it might take up to 20 days to process. The border is a 10hour train ride away, then I need to find some sort of Sound of Music trail that will take us up through the mountains to freedom whilst we sing 'The Hills are Alive'. However, Megan is not sold on this idea and I'm concerned about getting train tickets with our expired Visas. After a good nights sleep in the landing of the stairway, its time for breakfast and to prepare for the day. Fortunately we are carrying a 48hr supply of food to survive this type of emergency crisis. At 9 am we make our first call to the US embassy to check our process status. We just need a few small things still: proof of regestration upon entering the country and receipts from all of our hotels during the our stay. With these things we will be able to get the extensions issued... panic ensues, as these documents are all safely back, in Dallas, Texas. But, with great fortune, we get a scanned copy of the registration and print it at the airport. The Russian Consulate meets us at 10:30 am infront of the information booth near the airport entrance. I imagine his actual office location is kept secret so that people like us don't bother him all day. Our contact with the Consulate thus far has been to call him, explain the problem, then have him hang up on us... he was not our favorite person. In a sharp looking pen stripe suit and black hair slicked straight back with gel- the consulate is a man of business. In person, he holds a straight face and speaks fluent english. We talk for a bit, he asks the obvious questions, and he gives us directions. Timing is tight this morning: we need to get the visa extension, pay for our airline ticket, and check in for our flight before 11:30 am. After that, we will still need to surpass security, customs, and make it to the gate before our flight leaves. Timing is tight, and Megan & I divide tasks: I go to make a deposit to the consulate via the airport bank whilst Megan goes to get our tickets. Then we'll all meet back with the consulate to give him the receipt and get the visa extensions... we hope. We do at least have one back up plan if we don't make the checkin: a 3PM flight is going to Northern Germany. In 1/2 hours time, the payment, Visas, tickets, and check-in are all sorted. Megan snakes us through nearly 1000 people waiting to clear custom in 10 minutes. After security and waiting at the gate, we breath a big sigh of releif when our plane finally leaves the ground.