Adopting from Russia - Travel Arrangements, Visa

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On this page:
Travel Arrangements
  General travel planning
    Calling home from Russia
  Getting there -- Airlines
    British Airways
    Northwest/KLM; Amsterdam hotels
  Moscow hotels, transportation
  Travel within Russia
Russian Visa

Travel Arrangements

General Travel Planning

It seems to be part of the lore of international adoption that you will be given very little notice of when you will have to show up in the foreign country. We stressed to our agency and facilitator that we wanted at least two weeks of notice so we could get a better airfare. In each case, we got 15 days notice, which was enough to get a two week advance fare.

Most of the information about airlines is on the Leaving Russia page of the website. Several airlines now have an official adoption policy that reduces rates and waives change fees. Note, however, that the adoption fare is usually about the same as if booking two weeks in advance.

Evacuation Insurance This supposedly gets you out of the country in case of an accident or other emergency. We used International SOS Assistance and don't have any idea how well their service works, because we never used it.

International SOS Assistance, Inc.
(800) 523-8662

[7/99] We have heard that some companies providing this type of insurance coverage have stopped writing policies for Russia because of current events.

Calling home There are three ways to go:

For international calling plans, there are two variations. One is to add international calling to your (home) phone number service. Calls you make from Russia are billed to your home phone number. The other is to use a prepaid phone card. You can either buy them in the US or when you arrive in Russia. In either case, if your hotel doesn't have touch tone phones, you may have to pay a surcharge for involving an operator.

Among international calling plans, we found ATT to be more expensive than MCI.

Some APR contributors say that half-price calling cards from Sam's Club or WalMart can get the price from Russia down as low as $0.50/minute.

You can rent an international cell phone before you leave for Russia. Most companies provide a mailer for returning the phone once you are home. One such company is Travelcell. Their rates from Russia are about $3/minute.

You can rent a cellphone or buy a phone card in Russia from Peace Travel Services.

Calls from Russia are expensive - note that the cheapest plans referred to above are 50/minute. You can cut that cost significantly by calling the US and having someone call you back. now offers phone cards for calling to Russia for as little as 1/minute.

  British Airways
  Northwest/KLM; Amsterdam hotels

Most airlines leave the east cost for Europe in the evening and leave Western Europe in the mid morning for an early afternoon arrival on the east coast.

Northwest and other airlines now have international adoption policies of no cancellation or change penalties and always available discounts from full fare that may make the adoption fare competitive with the currently available deals.

You must buy an infant or child ticket for your child. While infant (under 2) tickets are free in the US, international tickets cost 10% of an adult fare. Your child's ticket will probably be more than 10% of your ticket because it is 10% of an adult one way ticket. We theorize that the 10% is to pay for the extra cost of cleaning the plane after infants have been on it!

The first time, we bought full fare coach tickets (ouch!) with the return date two weeks after the departure. We ended up changing the return because we were ready to come home after one week. The second time, we bought nonrefundable tickets with a return in one week. Even if you buy nonrefundable tickets, the charge to change the return is only about $100/ticket.

The nonrefundable fares were mindbogglingly low in November - $400 (Aeroflot) to $550 (Northwest).

We used an online consolidator to get an idea of what the fares would be. is one.

Make any requests for bassinettes or infant or child meals when you make your reservations.

Airline codes: ATL=Atlanta, BOS=Boston, BWI=Baltimore, IAD=Dulles, IAH=Houston, JFK=New York JFK, ORD=Chicago O'Hare, MSP=Minneapolis St. Paul.

Port of entry: JFK
Non-stop between JFK and SVO in Moscow. Runs a couple of hours earlier than the Delta flights.
Total travel time: about 9 hours.

Notes: Many people think Aeroflot planes are not safe, but for international flights, they have to meet the safety regulations of the countries they fly to (namely, the US). We haven't received any reports of anyone feeling unsafe on an international Aeroflot flight.

Aeroflot is now non-smoking.

British Airways
Ports of Entry: ATL, BOS, BWI, IAD, IAH, JFK, ORD. How many of these connect through JFK?
Connect in London Heathrow (LHR).
Total travel time: (Air) about 10 hours plus overnight in London.
British Airways now flies into a new Moscow airport. I believe you can connect directly to domestic flights without having to go from one airport to another.

For a single overnight, your Russian citizen child can get a transit visa at Heathrow. If you can supply more information about this, please email me. Also email me with any London hotel recommendations.

Port of entry: JFK
Non-stop between JFK and SVO in Moscow. Leaves JFK about 1830 and arrives SVO the next morning about 1100. Return leaves SVO about 1300 and arrives JFK about 1530.
Total travel time: about 9 hours.

Ports of Entry: IAD, ORD.
Connection in: Frankfurt.
Total travel time 7 hours from Dulles to Frankfort; 90 minute connection to Moscow flight (about 3 more hours).
Notes: [5/97] We heard one report about wanting to go to the restaurant during the layover. But getting to the restaurant required going through immigration and the child (with Russian passport) did not have a visa to enter Germany. The immigration official was not pleasant but eventually the child was let through and all could eat together.

Ports of Entry: BOS, MSP, Detroit.
Connect in: Amsterdam Schipol.
Total travel time: (Air) 10 hours plus overnight in Amsterdam.

Notes: [5/97, 11/98] We had gone to Europe and spent the extra night in Amsterdam before and so felt comfortable doing this on both adoption trips. It takes an extra day but the flight is broken up into two legs. The airport hotels in Amsterdam are reasonable - about $150 including a very nice buffet breakfast. We've stayed at the Crowne Plaza 4 times.

The Dutch grant transit visas on the spot - for free, so you don't have to kill a day going to the Dutch embassy in Moscow. The window where you get the transit visa is to the right of immigration (aka passport control).

On our last adoption trip [11/98], on the flight to Moscow, the folks in front of us were also adopting. On the flight from Moscow to Amsterdam we were one of three families with one of four infants and toddlers.

Amsterdam hotels:

Hotel Mercure Tel: (+31)20-6179005 Fax: (+31)20-6159027 Email
Mercure Hotel Schipol Terminal (in the airport) Tel: 20-6041339 Fax: 20-6530438 Email
If you reserve online, you must specify "Schipol Terminal" and not "Airport Hotel" !
Sheraton Amsterdam (in the airport) Tel: 20-3164300 Fax: 20-3164399
Crowne Plaza Amsterdam-Schipol Tel: 23-5650000 Fax: 23-5650521
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport Hilton Tel: 20-6034567 Fax: 20-6480917 Email
Dorint Hotel Schiphol Amsterdam Tel: 20-6588111 Fax: 20-6597101 Email
Golden Tulip Schiphol 800-44-UTELL Tel: 20-6550550 Fax: 20-6534999 Email

Moscow hotels, transportation, travel within Russia

Tourist, business & transit visas, reasonable hotel accomodations, inexpensive domestic tickets, safe airport transfers, laptop & cell phone rentals, cheap phone cards and more. Special discounts available for adoptive parents. Peace Travel Services.

  Often, your agency will make all your arrangements within Russia. Many people who want more control or want to make their own arrangements have had good experiences using Peace Travel Services.

Russian Visa

You must have a visa to enter Russia and you must have an invitation from someone in Russia to get the visa. After you accept the referral, the Ministry of Education in the city your child is from will issue you an invitation. Depending on your agency, the facilitator may or may not mail or fax the invitation directly to the Russian Embassy or Consulate in the US (whichever place you decide to get the visa from). If not, its your responsibility to send the invitation along with the documents you must provide. It is possible to have your agency or a third party apply for the visa for you, at an extra cost. Its not difficult to send in your own application.

Again, it seems to be part of the lore get your visa from the Russian Consulate in San Francisco. If anyone used the embassy in Washington, please tell us on the feedback form.

You will request Business visas. When you apply for the visa, you won't know the exact departure date or the return date. It doesn't matter if the date on the visa is before date you actually arrive in Russia. The folks in the San Francisco consulate will generally make the start date of the visa be the date it is processed.

Instructions for getting the visa from the Russian Consulate in San Francisco.
Instructions for getting the visa from the Russian Embassy in Washington.

More information about Russian visas.

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