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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Former Republics Tighten Visa Rules

Travelers who assume they can buy visas at the borders of former Soviet republics may be in for an unwelcome surprise: a police escort to jail and a forced return to Moscow.

A Dutch businessman en route to Ukraine recently found out through bitter experience.

"We thought, 'let's just go, and if we need a visa we'll get it there'", said Jacco Ter Veen, 25, who works for a Moscow shipping joint venture.

"I was taken outside the train at the first big city", he said. "I was an illegal alien. They put me in some sort of jail not far from the station" where he was held for five hours before being put on the next train to Moscow.

Planning a trip to the former Soviet republics these days can involve a guessing game about how to gain entry. With the former republics less than two years into independence, regulations sometimes change month to month.

The application process and the fees vary according to each republic and based on the nationality of the applicant. Embassies recommend that travelers phone their Moscow offices to find out what is necessary.

Travelers are generally required to show up in person with a passport, and in some cases, photographs. The process can be tedious: It often involves standing in line, and some offices only keep morning hours, while others close temporarily in the afternoon for the daily lunch break. Fees must be paid in cash, and are getting expensive, ranging from $10 to $300.

Requirements vary as widely for Russian citizens as they do for foreign residents -- most nations in the Commonwealth of Independent States do not require visas from other CIS nationals. However Estonia, which is not a CIS nation, requires CIS citizens to have both an invitation and a visa.

Ukrainian and Latvian officials said visa regulations for train travel are being enforced more rigorously than for flights.

"On the train it is a problem, because illegal immigrants and narcotics traffickers prefer traveling this way, so some strict practices are being enforced", said Nikolai Lyubchenko, consul general at the Ukrainian Embassy. He blamed the strictness for Ter Veen's difficult trip. "It is unfortunate. In this case we are sorry".

Visas have also become expensive as the former Soviet states seek hard currency. A one-year, multiple-entry visa to Belarus, for example, now costs $300 cash. Lithuania charges $40 for visas, although the price may increase soon. Ukraine charges $50 for single-entry visas, $200 for multiple-entry, and Estonia charges 250 rubles for CIS nationals, $10 for others.

It can take anywhere from a day to one week for a visa to be issued, but for a fee, the process can be speeded up.

In Estonia, as of June 1, no visa is required of citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Morocco, San Marino and the Vatican.

"It's more or less like an experiment to favor visits from these citizens -- to favor trade, business relations, tourism", said Ehtel Halliste, the Estonian press attache. More nations may be added to the list, she said.

"Visas can no longer be bought at the border -- at the embassy only", she said. "If they don't have a visa and it's required, they will be sent back".

Belarus and Moldova also specify that visas be purchased in Moscow. Lithuania, meanwhile, still issues a visa at the border, but charges $40 extra for the service.