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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Route to a Russian Driver's License

When Simon Crofts' driver went to buy license plates for his office car, the dealer offered him an unexpected bonus: the udostovereniye, or driver's license, as well.


Crofts, a lawyer working for the British firm Linklaters & Paines, did not yet have a license from his native Scotland, so upon reflecting on the offer, he thought better of it.


"I knew I probably could have bought a license first and then taken the test second, but I wanted to do it the right way," he said. So he signed up at a local automobile school for lessons which, he hopes, will result in his receiving a legal Russian driving permit.


It was a decision that relatively few in the foreign community are prepared to take. Deterred by the prospect of bureaucratic hassles and rumors of obscure requirements like medical exams and tests of mechanical knowledge, many foreign residents reject the process entirely.


Officially, Russian law permits foreign motorists to drive under an international license for their first six months here, but after that point they are required to have a Russian one. Licenses from home countries are not considered valid by law, but foreign motorists say they are often accepted by traffic police.


The apparent ease with which the Russian document can be purchased, and widely varying interpretations of the law, have tempted even those who already possess a license from their own country to drive on the edges of legality.


"I drive totally illegally," said Deirdre White, assistant director of IREX, the International Research and Exchange Board. White said that she offers her American driver's license whenever she is pulled over by the GAI traffic police, an event which occurs with some frequency, and it is often accepted.


A representative of a Western foundation added that although she has been driving for nearly a year, she had never found the time to apply for a Russian permit. Instead she, too, continues to use her license from her home country. She argues regularly with the GAI, but came up with a convincing excuse after returning from a trip abroad.


"I said, listen, my luggage was stolen and I think my Russian license was in it," she said. When the officer asked her for a report of the theft, she claimed that officials at Sheremetyevo II had failed to give her the necessary form, a bureaucratic likelihood that brought sympathetic nods from the officer.


The basic process for foreigners wishing to obtain a Russian driving permit is "no different from that for Russian citizens," said Viktor Fomichev, a spokesman at the GAI Department for Foreign Citizens at 8 Stary Tolmachyovsky Pereulok. He said that Russian driving permits were issued to 2,978 foreign residents in 1993.


All applicants must bring two photographs, a payment receipt from a Sberbank for the fees, and a medical certificate. Foreigners must also present an application from an accredited firm or organization for the driving exam, written in Russian on official letterhead, and a copy of the driver's current license, Fomichev said.


According to Vladimir Kamensky, a GAI officer, national licenses are not normally acceptable on their own because they "do not conform to international conventions," he said.


The fee for the written exam, Kamensky said, is 877 rubles, while the translation fee is up to 3,947. Those applicants who have only a license from their home country may be required to take a road test, at an additional fee of 1,754 rubles, Kamensky said. The fee for the permit itself is 2,245 rubles.


A particular point of contention among foreigners is the medical certificate required for all applicants. The U.S. Embassy, in its five-page pamphlet of instructions for citizens who are interested in obtaining a Russian driver's license, stipulates that the certificate is only available from one of three listed polyclinics.


Fomichev said that the GAI would accept a medical certificate from any polyclinic. This was disputed by Crofts, who said that many polyclinics do not have the specific form that GAI requires.


Those applicants who do not already have a license and have learned to drive without lessons from an accredited driving school must pay a surcharge of 116,960 rubles in addition to taking both the written and the road tests.


For beginners like Crofts, who ultimately paid $400 to a local driving school for 40 hours of theory and road lessons, the steep price was preferable to the difficulties of navigating the entire process by himself.


"The most important thing for me was as little hassle as possible," he said.


Crofts said that his driving instructors came to his apartment to give him private theory lessons, helped him fill out the applications for his license, accompanied him to the polyclinic, and were on friendly terms with the staff at GAI, a factor which he said had probably helped expedite the process.


He compared his road lessons in Russia favorably with those he had taken in Britain.


"The driving instructor is more relaxed," he said. "He doesn't bother you all the time about things like looking in the mirror."