We were on the move again after a brief stay in Mongolia. Our next stop was Irkutsk along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Excited about what’s in store for us in the next few days, my friend Choi and I were also a little anxious about our passage to Russia. He noticed the night before our departure that our Russian visa entry date is a day later than our arrival at the border, a small but important detail we missed. We couldn’t re-book our tickets because that required at least three-days advance notice. Despite the mess, we decided to board the train and take our chance at the border.
A few minutes after the train left Ulan-Bator, we asked the Provodnitsa through the help of another passenger who translated for us if we could get off at the Mongolian border and then wait the following day to catch a bus to Naushki, in the Russian border. The Provodnitsa said we can stay on the train but we might need to pay a penalty upon entering Russia. With that option we became less anxious, however there was the cost of the penalty to consider. Still, we managed to find humor in our situation and surprisingly, slept soundly that evening.
By early next day, we were at the Mongolian border where immigration procedures went without a hitch.
The border crossing
It was a fierce looking female immigration officer who first inspected our passports. Thank goodness she didn’t speak any English that she had two colleagues take over. “Why did you come early?” the tall and younger immigration officer inquired. Choi was about to respond jokingly, but I interrupted and simply said “I don’t know, our agent provided the entry date to the embassy” as I handed over our itinerary and visa invitation letter. A minute later we were off the train and inside the bright yellow yet bleak station where our fingerprints were taken. There were many questions and we were made to sign documents in Russian which made Choi say to me “Do you realize that everything printed in this document is in Russian? What if it says we brought something illegal like drugs” we signed them anyway.
“This paper means you entered Russia illegally but it is not your fault. You will keep a copy” The immigration officer said afterwards. “Do you understand your violation?” he added as he directed our attention to a large board indicating the of list immigration violations and penalties. “Yes. We do and we’re sorry.” We uttered in unison.
After instructing us to pay the lowest fine of $40.00 each at any bank in Russia and to mail the proof of payment (or else we will never ever be able to enter Russia again), the immigration officers smiled and wished us a good trip. In retrospect, our experience at the Russian border crossing was more pleasant compared to the one at the China-Mongolia crossing that was a pain even under normal circumstances.
We were back on the train after an hour much to the relief of the Australian couple who were so nice to mind our bags while we were away. Our passage cleared, everyone including the Provodnista was in high spirits.
By eight in the morning of the following day, we arrived at Irkutsk.