Norma Garca’s dream vacation, an extended jaunt with her adult daughter through erstwhile empires in Europe and the Middle East, was nearly dashed before it even began by Vladimir Putin’s machinery of state.
The two Mexicans didn’t even need visas for France, and Garca quickly got the ones required for Turkey using her home computer in Aguascalientes. But for Russia, she had to hire a courier to hand-deliver their passports to the embassy in Mexico City, about 500 kilometers south, along with proof of prepaid airline tickets and hotel reservations. After a hand-wringing few weeks—and $160 in fees—they finally got their dark-green travel booklets back, freshly thickened with full-page stamps of approval.
“My nerves were on edge because they just wouldn’t tell me what was happening with our passports,” Garca said in the lobby of the five-star Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg one recent morning, as her excited daughter negotiated the day’s itinerary with their Russian guide. “It took a day for Turkey—one day!”
If only the duo had waited just a little longer, Russia’s president would have made their visit to his hometown a whole lot easier, not to mention cheaper.
On Oct. 1, this former czarist capital switched to a free, e-visa regime that includes a pledged 96-hour turnaround time for citizens of 53 countries. The rest of the Russian Federation, which stretches from the watery edges of Alaska and Japan to its nuclear-armed exclave inside the borders of the EU, will follow suit on Jan. 1, 2021, when a special app will make the process even simpler. The fee won’t exceed $50.