Russia Budget Report – Travel Expenditures on our Road Trip

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Originally published in August 2018 / updated January 2019.

For overlanders who spent two years in Brazil and one year in India, getting a visa that allows only six months in Russia is of course way too short. Unsurprisingly we didn’t see the whole country. In fact, we never left Siberia. That means, one day, we will be back.

For now, our budget report and expenditures related to our first visits to Russia.

Enjoy. Let us know if you have questions. We’ll be happy to help you where we can.

Note:

This budget report covers our overland journey in the eastern part of Russia: from Vladivostok in the east to Novosibirsk in the south, and from Kazakstan/Mongolia in the south to Yakutsk in the north. So please don’t read this as a report on the whole of Russia.

Index for our Russia Budget Report

  1. Money Matters
  2. Travel Budget
  3. Budget – Documentation
  4. Budget – Land Cruiser Maintenance
  5. Budget – Fuel and Gas Stations
  6. Budget – Public Transport
  7. Budget – Sightseeing
  8. Budget – Accommodation & Overland Camping
  9. Budget – Other Expenditures
  10. A Note on Drinking Water

1. Money Matters – General Issues

  • The Russian currency is rouble (RUB, or ₽).
  • In December 2018 the rate was 76 rouble to a euro.
  • Getting money from ATMs was easy. We mostly used Sberbank (Сбербанк) ATMs, which we found in all towns.
  • In supermarkets and at gas stations we paid cash or with our debit card.
  • Visa cards are widely accepted.

2. Our Travel Budget

  • Total days traveled in Russia: 180
  • When:
    • October 2017 (5 days)
    • March – June 2018 (90 days)
    • late September – late December (85 days)
  • Average distance covered: 85 kms/day
  • Average expenditure: €40 / day (2 persons)

Not included: health insurance, electronics, ferry crossing South Korea – Russia.

Read More: Windshield Views from the Far East

Notes on the budget:

  • We have never had such a high average of kilometers/day. Especially during the first stage, from Vladivostok to Ulan Ude we covered enormous distances (averaging 200 kms/day).
  • We had some unexpected expenses on the Land Cruiser such as household batteries giving up. For more on this (see #4).
  • ‘Documents’ ate a big part of the pie, mostly due to visas that need letters of invitations (see #3).
  • To get a business visa, we needed to travel to Russia on a tourist visa first. Hence we flew from Seoul to Vladivostok for 5 days. This explains the high costs of public transportation. Additionally there was an expensive cargo boat to take us from Ust Kut to Lensk (see #6).
  • Food is very affordable (compared to Korea and Japan). Cheap places to eat along the way as well as in cities are the stolovayas, a kind of canteen that serves food from buffets.
  • Russia is a meat-and-cream eating country and because we don’t eat animal products, we cooked most of our meals ourselves.
Stolovaya
Food for sale along the side of the road.

3. Budget – Documentation

Visa

We first bought a tourist visa (in order to comply with the business visa regulations) and subsequently a business visa for a year (allowing us to be in the country for two times 90 days over a period of 180 days).

Both times the processing took about 10 days and paid about €65 for the visa and processing charges. However, there are more costs such as getting a letter of invitation.

All costs totaled a whopping €570. This has made Russia our most expensive country in terms of documents.

Because there is so much to say about this, I dedicated a separate blog to the topic.

Read More: Organizing your Visa for Russia

Temporary Import Document (TID)

When you get your vehicle off the ferry in Vladivostok, you will get a one-year Temporary Import Document. For details about the ferry crossing, see #6 – Public Transportation.

Yuri is the man you need to get all that organized. You pay for Yuri’s service, of course ($150) but the TID itself is free of charge.

Yuri Melnikov:

Note that the TID is valid for one year and that this includes Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Read More: What is a Temporary Import Document

Car insurance

  • Vehicle insurance is mandatory in Russia. We got one with the help of Yuri (see above). Getting a car insurance make take some time, so plan ahead.
  • At the time of of our arrival, Yuri said it was especially a pain in the ass to get insurance for foreign motorcycles so plan even more ahead.
  • We paid $215 for a one-year insurance (RUB 13500). Yuri paid for us and we paid him back in cash. You can get insurance for a shorter period of time but this is relatively more expensive (quote via Yuri: around $175 for 3 months).

 

4. Budget – Land Cruiser Maintenance

Regular Maintenance

Of course, there was the regular oil change maintenance and such, but that costs very little. Actually the first oil change and check up was complimentary by our Instagram friend Roma.

Fixing the rear lights once and for all.
We’re so grateful to have the original workshop manuals for our Land Cruiser. So when the speedo cable broke we could fairly easily get a replacement.

Dead Household Batteries

The Land Cruiser, however, was in for a bit of a rough start. One of the household batteries gave up, which means we had to replace both (24-volt system). They were expensive AGM batteries that we bought only 2,5 years earlier, so this got us annoyed a lot, to say the least.

In Ulan Ude we replaced them with a slightly smaller Chinese version for a total of €225.

Read More: Tips on Buying Starter Batteries for Your Overland Journey

Bodywork Issues

The second issue was that the box holding those household batteries (under the bodywork behind the driver’s seat) almost crashed on the ground. It had been bolted to the wheel arch.

Fortunately, we had heard of the Nomados 4×4 group in Ulan Ude and one of the guys was kind enough to cut us a plate of steel that we glued on it with Sikaflex. Thank you NOMADOS!

The Nomados 4×4 have a clubhouse full of tools and materials. Some members are volunteers and their hobby is to tool around their cars. Here they help us with some basic repairs.

Broken Crossbar of the Chassis

However, the third issue couldn’t be solved by these guys as it was too much work, and they work on their cars only as a hobby – they don’t have a commercial workshop. Nonetheless, it was thanks to one of them, Bantor, to get us introduced to the Hyundai Dealership.

What does a Land Cruiser do there, you may ask? Well, they have a workshop and the mechanics can weld. That was all we needed to get the serious problem fixed: the crossbar of the chassis on the right-front side had totally rusted away. The repairs cost €150.

Read More: Stories on Car Maintenance & Workshops

Winter Issues

Then winter set in and we were not properly prepared (long story but blame the restricted visa and our interpretation of it). So we faced a whole set of challenges: worn winter tires, a heater, and a Land Cruiser no longer wanting to start were among them.

Many of these were solved thanks to the kindness and generosity of local people and foreigners who are following our journey. Thank you all so much.

Read More: The Magic-number Car Tires for Overlanding

Watch the flying stones on unpaved roads!

We greatly appreciate the many constructive suggestions on our continuous stream of car-challenge questions we pose on Facebook and Instagram. They have been incredibly helpful in so many ways. Your ideas and supportive remarks are sometimes exactly what we need to feel invigorated and confident again that we will be all right. And often the comments have helped solve the problems we and the Land Cruiser faced.

Special thanks to our host in Novosibirsk, Vitaliy, where we stayed for a week during -35C (-31F) and the Land Cruiser no longer started. He took the Land Cruiser to the right workshop to get things fixed.

Second window being installed.

A great help was Ruslan in Yakutsk who helped us to get a second windscreen and plastic screens on the side windows installed. In this region this apparently is common to do starting in November. It has made a tremendous difference in keeping the cold out / heat in!

Also huge thanks to Martin from Tigerexped, who so kindly and spontaneously offered to send us a Planar Heater free of charge. We only paid for the installation. At the time we wondered if it was really necessary, a heater, but now – two months later, we are more grateful than ever!

Read More: How to Prepare Your Overland Vehicle for Winter

Planar heater.

5. Budget – Fuel & Gas Stations

Useful to know:

  • Gas stations are all over the place. The tricky part is that at many gas stations you have to specify how much fuel you want to buy (either an amount an volume) and pay before you fill up. If you ask the cashier to get a full tank, it is not unlikely to they want to see that you can pay for it before they release any fuel. So either overestimate and get reimbursed, or leave a large deposit and run outside to fill up your vehicle.
  • In the Far East and Eastern Siberia, say up to Ulan Ude/Irkutsk, don’t expect toilets at gas stations. If they do have one, it’s probably an overflowing, stinking hole in the ground in a shed that is about to fall apart. The forest is your friend! (but watch out for ticks, see more on this in the Russia Travel Guide). West from Irkutsk this facility greatly improves.
  • Prices for diesel varied around 44-46 rouble per liter (€0,61).
  • In winter you will see a diesel price with * in front of it (see feature image). This is winterized diesel to prevent gelling.
  • Everything related to road conditions, road maps and such are covered in the Russia Travel Guide.

Read More: Russia Travel Guide – Roads, Maps, Traffic Rules, Shipping, Ticks, and More

As we move westwards, the gas stations get better.
Pit toilets can also be very cold 🙂

6. Public Transportation

1- Flight

We flew from Seoul to Vladivostok on our tourist visa so we could apply for a business visa (see above, #3).

2- Boat Trip on the Lena River (Ust-Kut to Lensk)

We wanted to drive from Irkutsk to Yakutsk. This requires a boat trip unless you’re here in the heart of winter and the river is frozen (roughly Nov-March). In Ust Kut you can take a cargo boat used by trucks. The trip took three days and was very relaxed and beautiful. It is, however, ridiculously expensive.

Costs:

  • RUB 9000 per meter of your vehicle.
  • RUB 5000 for registration and to camp on the harbor terrain. It has a disgusting pit toilet but a good and clean banya. There is a small shop right along the corner or stock up on groceries in the supermarket across the bridge.
  • RUB 2000 on board for use of facilities of toilet and shower (both were kept clean).

You can pay ONLY in cash. There are ATMs in Ust Kut.

Ust Kut harbor
On the Lena River.
Good company on the cargo boat.

3- The BAM Train

With all of the fame that Russia has for its railway system, we figured a train ride should be part of our adventure. We left the car in Tynda and took a round trip to Komsomoslk-on-Amur. The train is cheap, comfortable (well, at least this one was), and fun.

Read More: Riding Siberia’s BAM to Komsomolsk-on-Amur

BAM train station in Tynda.
Lots of transportation of coal by train.

4- Ferry from South Korea

Shipping fees for the international ferry from South Korea to Russia are NOT included here, see more on that in our blog post on the subject.

Read More: The Ferry Crossing from South Korea to Russia

Train Station in Vladivostok – endpoint for the Trans Siberian Express.

7. Budget – Sightseeing

While we spent next to nothing on sightseeing, that doesn’t mean we didn’t see anything. We greatly enjoyed the downtown areas of Vladivostok and Khabarovsk with some amazing architecture, massive war monuments, and beautiful Orthodox Churches.

Totally surprising where the Buddhist monasteries in the Republic of Buryatia (read here).

Read More: Sightseeing in Vladivostok

War Monument in Khabarovsk

Buddhist Monasteries in the Republic of Buryatia (©Coen Wubbels)
Old Car Museum in Vladivostok
Reminders of the Soviet Era.
Burial mounds, Valley of Kings.
Mammoth museum Yakutsk.
Old diamond mine in Mirny.
Church Irkutsk.

8. Budget – Accommodation & Overland Camping

We stayed with local people using Couchsurfing (find us under ‘Coen Wubbels) and rough camped a lot. We shared all this and more, including GPS Waypoints and a map, in a separate blog post.

Or, if you prefer staying at a paid accommodation, no worries. You will find hotels and hostels along the way.

Find Accommodation

Read More: Accommodation & Overland Camping in Russia

Staying with a wonderful family in Khabarovsk.

Great homestay at Svetlana’s and in the good company of her friends Dimitri and Svetlana.
Rough Camp near Mirny.
Great game times in Novosibirsk.

9. Budget – Other Expenditures

Our total expenditures minus the above-mentioned things under #3 – #8 is what we call Other Expenditures. This can be groceries, books, and, in this case, includes a 20-hour private course to learn a bit of Russian.

Read More: Country Travel Guides (on numerous destinations)

Buying food along the road.
borsh, beet soup

10. A Note on Drinking Water

While water may be safe to drink from the tap for bacterial reasons, the pipes are often old and water may contain too many minerals and heavy metals, especially the water from the hot-water pipes. Some people have a filter system in their home.

Outside city centers, a lot of people don’t have access to running water. You will see them walking in the street with water containers. Sometimes they take it from wells, sometimes there is a delivery station in the village where you pay a few cents to fill up on water. Those were the places we filled our water tank as well.

Don’t forget to check out our Russia Travel Guide as well with lots of additional information!

I hope you found this Russia Budget Report useful. Do you have any questions? Fire away in the comment section below.

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