Ahead of the World Cup in Russia this summer your Free Lions team have been feverishly beavering away getting the lowdown on all the potential venues England fans could end up in. In what could be described at best as a tense political climate, it's arguably more important than ever that fans are informed before they follow England to this summer's tournament.
As with previous World Cups we will be producing our indispensible (in our eyes) guidebook to the tournament, which will feature the low-down on all the host cities, key information on safety and security, travel and the latest advice from our extensive pre-tournament visits to Russia. These will be available in May in both print and digital formats - keep an eye on the website in the coming weeks for news on how to acquire yours.
But in the spirit of helping fans to be as prepared as possible, we'll be sharing some of the key information we've gleaned throughout April and May on the blog, covering England's group stage host city guides, safety and security information, and some information on the Russian language among others.
In this first of these blogs, it seems logical to cover the process of actually getting to Russia, with some information on visas and Fan-IDs, travel arrangements and how you might make your way to this year's tournament.
Getting to Russia
Typically speaking the greatest hurdle to entering Russia is the procurement of a visa, however as with last year's Confederations Cup FIFA are running their FAN ID system. This allows those who are registered ticket-holders entry throughout the tournament.
With a FAN ID you’ll be entitled to a multi-entry and exit visa to and from Russia for the period 1 June to 17 July 2018. In order to access any of the stadiums during the FIFA World Cup, you’ll need to have a valid match ticket, FAN ID, and your passport.
The FAN-ID can be applied for after receiving ticket confirmation or obtaining a ticket for a World Cup match. It is also very important to remember that whilst the FAN ID is essential for entry it is also required to leave Russia, so keep it safe.
However if your FAN-ID is lost or stolen, you can get a duplicate from one of the Fan ID distribution centres. You can also replace your Fan ID at one of the distribution centres if it has a technical error.
Further details if required and to arrange a FAN ID can be found at www.fan-id.ru
If you haven’t bought an official ticket in advance of your trip, you’ll need to apply for a visa to enter Russia.
Make sure you apply for the correct type of visa, and that it lasts for the length of your stay. For further information on the visa process, see the Russian Embassy website and the website of VFS Global who manage visa applications on behalf of the Russian Embassy.
Before you travel to Russia, make sure that you’re aware of the terms and conditions attached to your visa. Overstaying can result in a delay to your departure, fines, a court hearing, or possible deportation. If you need a visa extension, you should ask about this before your visa expires.
Arrival and customs
When you arrive in Russia you will be issued with a migration card at border control. One half will be surrendered on entry, whilst the other half must remain with your passport until exiting Russia. A lost migration card can result in a fine. It is often printed in English as well as in Russian.
Moreover for those of you who are likely to enter Russia in possession of valuable electronics, antiques, musical instruments, large values of currency and other such items, you are required to declare these on your customs entry card. This card must then be stamped. Even if the customs officer suggests this is not necessary you must insist on your stamp of declaration.
This may seem trivial but this stamp could prevent issues upon leaving Russia, should it be then decided that an item in your possession should have been declared upon entry.
As for your Passport, do not forget this and ensure it is valid for a minimum of six months after the expiry of your all important FAN ID or visa. Also be sure to sign your passport, it has been known for people to be denied entry into Russia due to an unsigned passport.
If you lose your passport, you’ll need to get an Emergency Travel Document from either the British Embassy in Moscow or the British Consulate General in St Petersburg. The fee for an Emergency Travel Document is £100. You’ll need to apply separately for an exit visa from the Russian Government at an additional cost.The Embassy can advise you on the process.
If you lose your original passport during the World Cup, this will affect your ability to use your match ticket and Fan ID as your passport details are interlinked, so be sure to take good care of it.
Getting to Russia - by air
British Airways offer non-stop flights between London and Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Aeroflot also run scheduled flights from both Gatwick and Heathrow to Moscow. Easyjet previously offered flights to Moscow, but this service was cancelled in 2015
As with Brazil four years ago, flying is the most popular method of transport to reach Russia. The three Moscow airports of Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, and Vnukovo as well as the Puklovo International Airport in Saint Petersburg operate the majority of Russia’s international flights, and so will form the point of entry for the vast majority of fans from England.
It is worth noting, however, that some other hosts cities also have direct international connections, albeit not from the UK, so check out routes through contintental Europe.
All Moscow airports are now connected to the city thanks to the Aeroexpress trains. These depart hourly from Vnukovo, and every half hour from Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo, with the fare around RUB500.
As for Saint Petersburg buses run to from 05:30-01:30 Any of the 39, 39Ex and minibus K39 can be used, from which the metro at Moskovskaya metro station is then required to reach the city centre.
Further details of all transport connections from airports will be explained further within the city guides.
Getting to Russia - by train
Given Russia’s numerous land borders, 14 countries to be precise, and connections to both land-masses of Europe and Asia, train possibilities are endless. They are often straightforward, but can prove time consuming given the number of Passport and visa checks.
Many trains both in and out of Russia can be booked through the Russian Railways website - eng.rzd.ru.
RZhD Russian Railways offer reliable services across eye-watering distances, although with the exception of carriages on the Moscow-Paris-Nice train, the compartment's quality may resemble that of domestic trains.
Immediate neighbours Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine offer daily connections, whilst from Finland four high-speed services run daily to Saint Petersburg with one overnight train running to Moscow. A short connection is available from Poland to Kaliningrad.
Note - trains departing from Berlin, Prague and Warsaw all travel through Belarus which requires an additional visa. Obtaining one is not troublesome, but adds to the ‘to-do-list’ when planning. A visa must be applied for in advance at your nearest Belarusian consulate and can not be arranged at the border crossing.
Journeys can be made from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to Moscow, with scheduled trains a minimum of two to three times a week. But be warned, the trips are long and can take upto five days.
Other services see Moscow linked with Baku in Azerbaijan, whilst the trans-Siberian railway connects to Beijing. However only those with a CIS passport can pass between Azerbaijan and Russia.
There are no direct trains from the UK to Russia, with any possible indirect journeys taking at least two days and two nights. Many of these also run through Belarus, encountering the additional visa requirement, so you may prefer to travel from Vilnius to Saint Petersburg.
Getting to Russia - by road
Russia has an array of neighbours so there are plenty of entry points, but be sure to fully check the visa and entry requirements before travelling.
Entering Russia from any of Estonia, Finland and Latvia is most practical due to their EU membership, reducing hassle. From the above there are many tourists doing the same, allowing for relatively painless customs regulations on roads with good infrastructure. Although queues at these crossing points can be prove lengthy due to their popularity.
Belarus - Highway crossings cannot be used by those without possession of a Russian or Belarusian passport
Estonia - Narva is the nearest to Tallinn of three border crossings. You can even book a timeslot by visiting www.estonianborder.eu - but only when leaving the country
Finland - Nuijamaa and Vaalimaa both mark border points into Russia and often provide swift entry
Georgia - No border permit is required and can be accessed from Tbilisi using the Georgian Military Highway
Latvia - Checks are renowned to be slow but driving the M9 is a direct highway from Riga to Moscow
Lithuania - Any of Chernyshevskoye–Kibartay, Sovetsk–Panemune, Pogranichny–Ramoniškių and Morskoe–Nida can be used to pass into Kaliningrad
Norway - A complicated border crossing at Storskog/Borisoglebsk on the Kirkenes–Murmansk road. Non-Russian registered vehicles are forbidden on the Nikel–Zapolyarnye section of the M18 highway between 11pm and 7am and any time on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. This leads to a lengthy diversion via Prirechniy with crumbling roads.
Poland - Passing from Bezledy/Bagrationovsk on the A195 highway involves lengthy queuing when reaching Kaliningrad.
Eurolines, along with a selection of other bus companies, operate international services.
Belarus - a number of daily buses travel from Minsk to Moscow, but visa implications still apply
Finland - there are daily buses aplenty between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg
Latvia - All from Riga; heading to Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Kaliningrad
Lithuania - Vilnius to Kaliningrad
Poland - Regular daily buses go from Gdansk to Kaliningrad, as well as from Warsaw, although the latter takes nine hours.
Another option to reach Russia is by boat, as you voyage the surrounding seas. A summer ferry travels to Sochi from Trabzon in Turkey, whilst in the north a boat can be taken from Lappeenranta in Finland which is then less than two hours from Saint Petersburg by train.
More popular is the daily overnight connection between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg, whilst passenger ferries also follow routes from both Stockholm and Tallinn to Saint Petersburg.
Thanks to Curtis Simmons for the image used in this blog. Reproduced here under Creative Commons license.