Returning to Russia: It’s Complicated!

For most people in the U.S., preparing to visit Russia isn’t overly complicated. You need a valid U.S. passport and a tourist visa. The visa isn’t cheap ($160 if you apply yourself, more if you use an agency), but it isn’t too hard to get.

For my family, it’s not that easy. Some of you may remember that we adopted our two sons from Russia. They have dual U.S. and Russian citizenship.

We have always planned to bring them back to Russia to visit when they are “older”. We want to show them their birthplace and give them the opportunity to experience their heritage first-hand.

Now that my boys are getting older, we have started to think about the timing and feasibility of a trip back to Russia. There are several complications we must consider.

Returning to Russia: It's Complicated!

Photo by Nikolay Vorobyev on Unsplash

Military Conscription

If we visit Russia when my boys are too old, we may run into issues. The U.S. Department of State warns those with dual citizenship that they may be required to serve in Russia’s military if they visit Russia:

“Males of conscript age (18 – 27 years old) who are deemed to be Russian citizens may experience problems if they have not satisfied their military service requirement.”

When we visited the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok for both adoptions, the government employees also verbally informed us of that important fact. Do not visit after they turn 18!

Of course, we don’t want our boys to have to join the Russian military. So we need to visit before our oldest turns 18.

Some parents in the adoption community and a few Russians I spoke to don’t believe our kids will be conscripted. After all, they don’t live in Russia and most of them don’t speak Russian. There are no known cases of an adopted boy actually being conscripted during a visit to Russia.

However, I’m just not willing to take that risk. No way.

Our sons have the option to renounce their Russian citizenship when they turn 18. However, from my research, that is very costly. And, we don’t know of anyone who has successfully done that.

So, to be safe, we will visit before they turn 18.

Passport/Visa Issues

Russia will not give visas to dual citizens born in Russia. Our kids must travel to Russia on their Russian passports and return on their U.S. passports. (The only exception to this rule is if you visit Russia on a closed-loop cruise and do a chaperoned excursion).

So, we have to renew their Russian passports in the U.S. Up until a few years ago, it was possible to use an agency with a courier who would do everything at the Russian Consulate for you. Now, the rules have changed. One parent and the children must go in person to a Russian Consulate. All of the forms must be completed in Russian. And of course, adopted kiddos have additional paperwork requirements.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Russian government during our adoptions, it’s this: The government is extremely picky about paperwork. No abbreviations. No creases in papers. Notaries must not expire within 6 months. No staples. No stray marks. The list goes on and on. Trust me, we’ve had paperwork sent back to us numerous times due to slight imperfections.

With that in mind, we will be working with an agency to ensure we don’t run into any hiccups. If we are going to travel to a Russian Consulate, I don’t want to be rejected for faulty paperwork.

U.S. Relations with North Korea and Russia

The city my boys are from, Vladivostok, is very close to the border of North Korea. For our adoption trips, we flew to South Korea and then flew around North Korea to get to Vladivostok. At the time, political relations between the U.S. and North Korea were not as heated as they are now.

It’s impossible to predict what will happen with North Korea, but it does make me nervous that we would be so close.

In addition, the U.S.’s relationship with Russia seems to have deteriorated since we traveled there in 2007 and 2009. Again, it’s tough to say if or when things will become too dangerous to travel to that region.

Adoption Emotions

Out of respect for our sons’ privacy, I will not reveal much information about their circumstances before their adoptions. However, I will say that when children find their birth families, reunions aren’t always picture perfect. Addiction, neglect, health issues and criminal activity come into play.

The culture of adoption in Russia is totally different than it is here. In the U.S., open adoptions are encouraged. Adoptees search for their birth parents, and many find people eager to meet up. Not so in Russia. Open adoption is almost unheard of. Many families never even reveal that their kids were adopted. Maybe that will change over time.

Soon after we adopted, we hired a searcher in Russia to find out information about our boys’ birth families. We wanted photos and family information that we could pass on to our boys when they were ready. The family members we found were quite shocked to hear from us and they were suspicious of our motives. It’s just not done that way in Russia.

One of my sons is “meh” about visiting Russia. The other one would visit tomorrow if he could! As their mom, I worry about their expectations for this trip. I am fairly confident that we will be able to tour their old orphanages. I am much less confident that any biological relatives will agree to meet with us in person. And that could be heartbreaking.

Potential Trip

On one of our adoption trips to Vladivostok, the temperature was -18 degree Fahrenheit. Even with two pairs of gloves on, we could barely stand it outside. We were miserable.

Returning to Russia: It's Complicated!

Siberia in the winter? No, thanks. Photo by Alexander Popov on Unsplash

Therefore, we’d really like to visit Russia in the summer. Our summer plans are already packed for this summer, so that leaves us three more summers for a potential trip before our oldest son turns 18.

Unlike most adoptive families, we never went to Moscow on any of our trips. Since Vladivostok has a U.S. Consulate, we could do all of our adoption paperwork there. So, we would really love to visit Moscow on our next trip. If we could also swing a trip to St. Petersburg, that would be bonus.

Vladivostok is still an 8 ½ hour flight from Moscow. We would need at least four days in the city.

We are considering combining a trip to Russia with the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Vladivostok is just a 2 ½ hour flight from Japan.

I hope to get our sons’ Russian passports updated by the end of this year. That way, if we see any great airfare deals to either Russia or Japan, we can jump on them.

So that’s the scoop! Have you visited Russia? What were your impressions?

Author: Nancy

Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.

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8 thoughts on “Returning to Russia: It’s Complicated!

  1. I really appreciate the info on military draft. My kids are dual citizens as well, and this is something I never really considered. Belarus has the same laws as Russia, and if we go when my son turns 18, it could spell trouble. Definitely something to keep in mind. Like you, I’m not willing to take a chance.
    Fortunately, my family can meet us in Poland or other neighboring countries.

  2. At 20 years of age, I lived in the USA, worked, and attended college. I was also a citizen of a European country with mandatory military conscription. In order to prepare for my visit after turning 18, I had to contact the consulate in LA, and provide them with proof that I was enrolled in college. That was necessary in order to “delay” military conscription. The consulate took that info, and then typed up an official letter for me in case the government tried to force me into the military. I did that for the next three Summers, traveling and partying in Europe. Nobody ever asked, but in case, I had the official letter from the government (which was legit, and in line with the law). But I digress – perhaps there’s something similar in Russia that would “delay” military conscription for your kids if they were to attend college. Maybe something to look into as Russia is an incredible country to visit and party in! 🙂
    Take them to St. Petersburg. It’s a pretty amazing city. I’ve heard nothing good about Vladivostok – in the Summer or the Winter. Apparently the people are bitter, and the air is really polluted with heavy metals from the nearby industry. Moscow is cool, but the people are cold. Really cold.

    • @J. Grant Thank you for the info! That college letter is something I will look into. Sounds like you really enjoyed visiting Russia! And I agree that Vladivostok is very polluted.

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