Customs in St. Petersburg

When you arrive in the Russian Federation, you have the option of completing a Customs Declaration (see a sample copy here). Below is an outline of the customs regulations for travelers entering and exiting the Russian Federation. Particular attention should be paid to the regulations on currency, antiques and art, and caviar (travelers may export no more than 250g per person). These are the areas most likely to cause problems. For a full list of regulations and any recent changes, check the official site of the Federal Customs Service here.

While customs officials at airports are almost certain to be honest and fair, there is a small chance that travelers crossing land borders may encounter less reasonable treatment. If you feel that a customs official is unfairly demanding a fine - by claiming your laptop is intended for commercial activity or your flea-market bust of Lenin is an object of cultural importance, say - you should politely ask for someone who speaks English, insist on obtaining a receipt for any fine you have to pay, and generally drag out the process for as long as possible without handing over any money. Nine times of ten, this will be the end of the matter.

Items to declare

The following items should be declared, but do not incur duty or require special permission:

  • Cash over $10000

    You are entitled to import/export unlimited cash into Russia, but sums over $10000 should be declared at customs. This applies to all foreign currencies and to rubles, with the exact quantities varying slightly from currency to currency. The most important reason for doing this (apart from your legal obligation) is to ensure that you will be able to take your money out of the country unimpeded. If you try to leave Russia with more than $10000 in cash and no stamped customs declaration, you are likely to run into difficulties unless you have official documentation proving that the money has legally been earned by you in Russia.
  • Travelers Cheques, stocks and securities

    Regulations require you to declare any stocks or securities you are bringing into the country. This now includes, for some reason, travelers checks to any value. As they are also pretty difficult to change even in major Russian cities, this is yet another reason not to bring travelers checks with you, see our guide for more advice.

Items which incur import/export duty

The following items cannot legally be imported/exported without paying duty, and must therefore be declared:

  • Tobacco

    Individuals (17 years or over) are allowed to import/export up to 100 cigars, 200 cigarillos, 400 cigarettes, or 0.5kg of tobacco undeclared (if you wish to import/export more than one type of tobacco product, those allowances are halved).
  • Alcohol

    Individuals (21 years or over) are allowed to import/export up to two liters of alcoholic drinks undeclared.
  • Caviar

    Individuals are allowed to import/export 250g of caviar (sturgeon roe) undeclared, provided it is packed in a sealed factory tin.
  • Goods intended for production or commercial activity

    This includes anything which you are planning to sell or use in the course of paid employment while in Russia. The regulations are complex, but anything that is obviously not for personal use (particularly several examples of one item in packaging or major technical items such as professional film cameras) should be declared and justified as being for personal use if you do not wish to pay duty. If you do not declare such items, you risk having them seized on departure.

Items which require special permission to import/export

The following items are subject to mandatory declaration and you must obtain permission from particular departments of Russian government if you wish to carry them across Russian borders:

  • Firearms, ammunition and explosives

  • Radioactive substances

  • Endangered species of flora and fauna

    And any goods made from them or their parts. Note that this includes sturgeon and caviar. You are only entitled to take 250g of caviar per person in or out of Russia.
  • Precious metals and precious stones

    Except as part of personal jewelry.
  • Narcotics, psychotropic substances, toxins, and powerful drugs

    If you have any prescription medicines that might fall into this category, make sure you carry a valid prescription with you.
  • Radio technology

    Excepting cellphones, but including GPS systems and any equipment operated at frequencies higher than 9Hz.
  • Extremist film, photography, and publications

    This category covers fascist and racist propaganda; material designed to incite racial, nationalist, or religious hatred; material containing state secrets; and pornography.
  • Objects of cultural significance

    This broad category refers to any item that is of unique importance culturally, artistically, scientifically, or historically. It includes anything manufactured over 50 years ago, rare books (note that any printed material over 50 years old automatically falls into this category), rare stamps, rare scientific specimens, rare musical instruments, rare coins, elements or fragments from historic monuments, and significant artworks and icons. It does not include mass-produced souvenirs or common memorabilia. If you are buying anything that might fall into this category during your stay in Russia, it is recommended that you ask the vendor to complete the necessary paperwork for you.