Georgia-Russia by land / by sea : Crossing the uncrossable border

The 15th of July 2017. I crossed the uncrossable border between Georgia and Russia by land. When I started my trip, I had the idea that I really wanted to go to Georgia on the way east before getting to Russia. But when you read official government websites (at least the french ones) they tell you that the land border is closed and that foreigners cannot cross it and that you have to take a plane… About taking a boat from Georgia to Russia it also seems to be difficult… Well my trip is precisely not taking any plane… Hell! Well, I went to have a look by myself and see what was happening here for real.

My new motto is : “Closer to where you want to go you will be, better informations you will have”.

The Verkhny Lars Checkpoint (land border)

There is a road between Tbilisi (the Georgian capital) and Vladikavkaz called the “Georgian Military Road”. This road is going through the Verkhny Lars checkpoint. This is the only option to go by land from Georgia to Russia or reverse.

This road and checkpoint used to be closed to foreigners, but it was years ago…

The only thing I knew for sure is that you cannot cross the border walking. You have to be in a vehicle (car, truck, bus… whatever).

By boat from Georgia to Russia?

Well… There is absolutely no information about an existent route by boat from Georgia to Russia on internet… At least I haven’t found any information…

That also means that I will have to check by myself when I’ll be there. And I found something for you 🙂

All the stories around this supposedly closed land border

What the French government says

The relations between Georgia and Russia is pretty bad. There are conflicts and some regions are even for real completely closed (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and you can be arrested if you try to go there.

When we see the security map made by the French government here is what we can see.

Carte Géorgie
Carte Géorgie (http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs/conseils-par-pays/georgie/#securite)

Well, you can also see that all the border is in red… the legend saying that we shouldn’t even try to get close to these territories.

This is the map of Russia :

Carte de Russie
Carte de Russie (http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs/conseils-par-pays/russie/#securite)

That is a bad start to cross the border… But more than this! Here is what we can read in the french government pages about Russia security advices :

“Les frontières terrestres de la Fédération de Russie avec l’Azerbaïdjan et la Géorgie sont fermées aux étrangers.” (http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs/conseils-par-pays/russie/#securite)

Which means : “The land borders of the Russian Federation with Azerbaïdjan and Georgia are closed to foreigners”.

To follow the motto (the one I wrote at the beginning of the article), I decided even if I wasn’t physically close to the border to send an e-mail to the French embassy in Tbilisi in Georgia, asking if it was possible to cross the border and where.

The answer was clearly that the all border is in “red zone” so I have to take the plane.

Well so if not by land… By the sea maybe??

The answer was once again that “considering the present situation between the countries and the actual state of the maritime links… you should take the plane.

What other people say

Well apparently the French government isn’t the only one warning about the fact that the border is closed to foreigners. I talked with other travellers who wanted also going through this border, and they also find the same kind of informations.

So this question about going from Georgia to Russia or reverse was coming back often recently in some forums/websites, and no-one with who I had talked about it at that point had never met someone who actually tried or crossed.

My only hope was this post from Nick in his blog Pineapple Explorer : http://pineappleexplorer.com/2016/08/12/georgia-russia-verkhniy-lars-border-crossing/

This Australian crossed the border 1 year before me, in mid-july 2016.

How did I cross the border myself

As there is not so many information about it, I decided to write you here my all experience and informations I found to help other travelers.

First of all, today I can officially answer 2 questions :

  • Can we go from Georgia to Russia by boat? The answer is YES! There is a boat per week from Batumi to Sochi
  • Can we cross the border by land through the Verkhny Lars checkpoint? The answer is also YES! I did it myself the 15th of July 2017. The border is opened for foreigners!

 

From Georgia to Russia by boat

When I arrived in Batumi, I started directly to look in the city for information about boats going to Russia. Going by boat was for me a potential back up plan.

So I can tell you officially that it exists one ferry going from Batumi to Sochi per week. The duration of the trip is 5h and it costs 100$.

To go to Sochi you can buy the tickets only on Monday and the ferry is leaving every Thursday at 10:30 am.

You can only buy the tickets at the special office which located at the Batumi Port Passenger Terminal, exactly here : http://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=19/41.65212/41.64377

I talked with an iranian guy who came from Sochi to Batumi with this boat (but I don’t have informations about schedule for this way only from Georgia to Russia).

From Georgia to Russia by land (Tbilisi – Vladikavkaz)

My actual situation

So that you have all informations. I’m french, and have a french passport. I applied in France for a russian visa.

About my visa. I have a unknown visa which is called “Working-Holiday Visa”. This visa basically allows me to go to Russia for 4 months, I can work in Russia with it to finance my trip and if I find a job I can even stay for 1 year. The fact that it’s not really known is also not helping me to cross the border. Only an average of 15 french citizens are using this visa per year. And when you cross a russian border with a visa where it’s written “WORK” close to “Holiday”… well let’s say that you have to prepare yourself for some questions and you will spend more time than others at any border…

Before crossing

Since I arrived in Georgia, I started questionning as many people as I could about crossing the border for foreigners. No one could answer to me, no one had already met a foreigner who crossed the border.

When I arrived in Tbilisi, I finally met a french guy who was living here during the last 6 months. When he heard about my plan to cross the border, he told me that from last news the border was closed that he knew someone who tried several times and didn’t succeed to cross, and that’s why he was going to take the plane for his next trip to Russia… (not good news)…

I had already planned to go to the Russian Consulate (they don’t have an embassy in Georgia cause of the conflicts) to ask directly myself. Because more than just crossing I also have this special Working-Holiday Visa which doesn’t help my case. I went, I showed my visa and asked… They told me basocally “Yes of course you can!”. They were even looking surprised that someone could ask this question. Till you have a russian visa, you can cross the border.

A real emotional thrill ride!!!

Vladikavkaz taxi pannel

As again I didn’t know how long it could take me to cross the border and if I could actually cross it, I decided not to hitchhike but to take a taxi/bus. As it’s there job, I decided to ask directly to different drivers if they thought it was possible for me to cross the border.

They told me : “you have a valid russian visa?”

Me : “Yes”

Them : “Well no problem you can cross the border”

But when I asked if they had already bring foreigners across the border… They all said no…

I decided to get a try the next day.

Crossing the border D-Day

I was at 8:30 at the “bus/taxi station” Didube in Tbilisi. I found the ones with written Vladikavkaz and Moscow. The way to Vladikavkaz is 60 GEL and to Moscow is 100 GEL. I can’t explain these prices… 60 GEL for 200km from Tbilisi to Vladikavkaz and 40 more GEL for the last 1750km to go from Vladikavkaz to Moscow… Don’t need to be good in mathematics to see that it’s weird… Well I didn’t wanted to argue…

The thing to know is that if you can’t cross the border for any reason, you lose the price of the ride.

So I decided to take a ride to Vladikavkaz…

Again, I took one of this bus/taxi ride to Vladikavkaz and didn’t wanted to hitchhike because a foreigner might be a problem close to the border for the drivers even more if you cannot cross finally… And I heard that cars are often full at this border and so it’s hard to find a place in a car anyway.

Departure at 9:00 am from Tbilisi.

At 11:20 we arrived at the checkpoint. All passengers have to leave the car without luggages and get inside the building to cross the Georgian border patrol and officially leave Georgia. The driver stay with the car and cross by the gates.

I left Georgia without any questions about my visa. I heard that usually if the georgian patrol knows that if some ways you won’t be able to get in Russia, they usually don’t let you go through the check point till the russian border. So that was good for me!

I 11:30 am I was out of Georgia.

Verkhny Lars Checkpoint
Verkhny Lars Checkpoint

At 12:00 I presented my passport and visa to the russian border patrol… Well… At the first sight of my visa, I saw questions coming into the first guard’s mind… “Rabota?” (means work)… In my poor russian I tried to answer “Niet rabota… Tourism”… I don’t speak russian… Hopefully the second guards was speaking some english. I tried to explain simply that it’s a rare visa and that I didn’t wanted to stay in Russia to work. Just crossing and traveling from Vladikavkaz to Vladivostok, and then go to Japan.

He asked me to stay on the side, the time the other passengers and the car was checked. They all passed… The driver parked the car just after le checkpoint in the dedicated space. I was a bit scared about the fact that if I could not cross how could I get back my backpack?

Well I was staying on the side waiting. I couldn’t see what the guard was doing. He probably tried to call someone but not sure he had the answers to his questions. I went back to the desk. I saw him stamped my emigration card and then he suspended his hand with the stamp over my passport. I could see his brain boiling. His hand stayed suspended in the air like this few long seconds. I was yelling inside me “Yes do it, but this stamp on my passport, let me get in Russia!!!”… Long seconds… And it didn’t do it… He asked me again to wait on the side. They checked another car and there passengers. 15min later he called me. He opened my passport, and finally stamped it, but still he didn’t seem that sure of what he was doing… But it was done… My passport was stamped. I could enter Russia.

The second guard came to me giving me a plastic card, telling me to give that to my driver. I discovered that this plastic card was the driving licence of the taxi driver. So at least, that way, a driver cannot leave with your luggages or without his passengers.

I entered Russia at 12:25.

I think that what helped me was that I showed that I had a 1 year visa in Japan starting after the Russian visa.

So probably if you have a normal Russian tourist visa you won’t have to wait like this and you will cross the border quickly.

When you meet the people you needed to meet after

I arrived in Vladikavkaz in early afternoon. The driver dropped me off at the train station. As I didn’t know if I was going to be able to cross the border, I hadn’t plan anything… With my visa, I don’t need invitations, and so I didn’t had to prove that I had booked a hotel or whatever (I think it’s the case for other tourist visas).

As I was at the train station I decided that I could so just take a train to go somewhere else…

On the train I was sitting close to a Russian family. And guess what? The guy was working as a border patrol at the Verkhny Lars checkpoint… I told him about the fact that many embassies are telling that the border is closed for foreigners. He was surprised to hear that and told me that it was desinformation and we were all very welcomed across this checkpoint to Russia till we have a valid visa.

SO WELCOME TO RUSSIA!!

2 comments

  • CADIN

    Merci de m’envoyer la traduction en français…
    J’attends avec impatience le récit du voyage en Russie, mais j’ai du mal à lire l’anglais.
    Bonne continuation, Catherine

    Reply
    • Lois

      Bonjour Catherine!
      Je n’ai pas la traduction en français car je l’ai directement écrit en anglais. La traduction arrivera plus tard quand j’aurai le temps de la faire. Cet article bien que pouvant aussi faire l’usage de récit est aussi spécifiquement dédié aux personnes voulant franchir la frontière entre la Géorgie et la Russie par voie terrestre car il y a très peu d’informations sur internet à ce sujet. Du coup je l’a écrit en priorité en anglais pour que l’information profite à un maximum de monde.

      Reply
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