Some friends and I are planning a trip this summer to take our motorbikes from Wakkanai on Hokkaido, Japan, to Korsakov on Sakhalin Island, Russia via the ferry that runs between them. Our idea is to ride around the countryside for a few days, then head back on the ferry.
Two possible problems, though:
I've read that in 2008 Sakhalin was designated a Special Border Region of Russia. This means there is now some sort of travel permit that foreigners need, besides an ordinary Russian tourist visa, to be allowed to travel freely around Sakhalin outside certain designated city areas:
Sakhalin travel guide - Wikitravel
Obviously being stuck in the cities would not be good for adventure touring.
So I'm wondering, do we need to get this special permit before we leave somehow? Or do we just get a tourist visa, then show up in Korsakov and find some sort of border patrol officials who can sell us the special travel permit?
I have checked HUBB, Lonely Planet, and some Japanese sites, and the info is either not clear, conflicting, or out of date (i.e., from before Sakhalin became a Special Border Region in 2008).
Do we need to pay up big money for carnets du passage
, heading with Japan-registered bikes from Japan into Russia? Word on HUBB on this point seems to be no, we don't; we just get some sort of "Temporary Import Certificate" and buy a few day's worth of Russian bike insurance coverage. However, the HUBB threads are a few years old and a buddy of mine says we do
need carnets; it would be nice to know for sure either way.
We do have a Japan-based travel agent looking into the details for us, but she has no experience with this particular situation of bringing bikes to Sakhalin. So, any advice on either of these two points from people who have actually taken their bikes to Sakhalin would be much appreciated.
Or, if you're a Russian who lives on Sakhalin, maybe you could even help us figure out what to do and smooth out the paperwork? We would be eternally grateful! (BTW, none of us speaks Russian or has ever been to Russia!)