How to apply for Russian visa: a brief guide.
Updated: Nov 6, 2018
Before you embark on your lifetime Russian experience, do make sure that you have all your paperwork in place. To start with, let's address the visa situation. For many, the need to apply for one before the trip, comes as a big unpleasant surprise... or even an argument against going to Russia at all. And that is for no good reason, as the process is not so scary as it might seem.
After all, it is still possible that you might not need to go through the procedure. However, unless you are a proud owner of a Russian passport, chances are quite slim. Firstly, do check out the list of nationals enjoying visa free regime. If your country is not on it, research for the nearest Russian visa centre or Consulate/Embassy that processes applications. Its website will provide you with the most accurate up-to-date country-specific list of required documents, address where to submit the application, and tons of other important information.
Whereas there are different types of visa you can apply for, depending on the main purpose of travel, like business, student, private (in case you have friends or relatives that could provide you with an official letter of invitation), this post only covers tourist visa application process. This said, I have a small note on the private visas in case you would like to visit a friend in Russia, and are debating which type to choose. From my experience, preparation and processing time-wise and cost-wise, tourist visa is always a winning choice both for inviting party and a traveler. The only advantage of a private visa is that it allows applicant to stay in Russia for a maximum of 90 days against maximum of 30 days on a tourist one. Hence, if your trip duration does not exceed the average holiday length, and is aimed mostly at crossing some of iconic Russian sights off your bucket list, information below might come in handy:
What do I need to submit?
Please do check requirements of the your respective visa centre before applying, as the list of documents might differ depending on where you are applying from. Russian Consulate might request additional documents from you throughout the process if they deem it necessary. Things also might have changed since the date this blog was published. Normally, you will need the following:
original of your passport (must be valid for at least 6 months after visa expiration and have 2 blank pages)
visa application form, filled in and signed
passport size photo
tourist voucher/confirmation (check that the dates indicated in voucher and your application form match!)
medical insurance valid for duration of the trip (check with provider that insurance covers Russia)
proof of sufficient finance to cover expenses during the trip (in some cases)
proof of residence if you are not applying from a country of your citizenship
Where do I get a tourist voucher?
Please bear in mind, that tourist voucher is not your hotel confirmation e-mail from booking.com. It is a document proving that you were invited by organisation, registered with Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The voucher should be stamped, sighed by authorized person and have a reference number which you indicate in the application form. Such authorization is held for example by some big hotel chains. Hence, if you are staying at a hotel, always ask whether they provide visa support. Those who do might issue you with a voucher for free, some might charge around RUB 1000 - 2000 (EUR 15-30).
Tip: In case when your plan is to visit several cities/stay in different hotels, always ask if the first hotel could kindly issue invitation for the whole duration of the stay. This will save you the hassle of getting hold of several vouchers. Surely there is no guarantee they'd do it. But hey, it doesn't hurt to ask, right?
What about those, staying in apartments, hotels and other properties without MFA registration? You can always find a trustworthy travel agency that helps out tourists traveling to Russia. Google away for an agent that holds required registration to issue tourist vouchers, which they will be happy to do for you for a reasonable fee. It is a completely normal practice which most of the visitors to Russia undergo.
How much does a visa cost?
Here is some maths behind Russian visa application:
consular fee approximate EUR 30 - 70 (depending on applicant's country of origin), processing time 5-10 work days. Be ready to part with twice as much cash for an express service if available (processing time 1-3 work days)
if you are applying via visa centre, they would also charge a fee for handling your paperwork, normally around EUR 30
invitation letter fee, in case you are using an agency to issue a tourist voucher - roughly EUR 15-30 per invite
cost of medical insurance, if you don't have one already - check with provider
Upon arrival to Russia
Right, you have successfully undergone a quest of applying for visa and got your passport back with longed for sticker. That should be enough to get you on the flight to a chosen city in Russia. Next piece of paperwork in order is a migration slip (picture on the left). You will receive it from an officer at the immigration control. Keep hold of it, as you will be required to present it on the way back. Officer might also ask to present a hotel booking or your return ticket, so keep them handy.
Only for those staying in Russia for over 7 days! Within 24 hours (7 days if you are staying at a private accommodation) from your arrival you must undergo migration registration. Registering you with migration authorities is the responsibility of the hotel (or yourself in case of private accommodation). Sometimes hotels charge a small administrative fee for that (around EUR 5). Reception staff will take a copy of your passport and migration card to be able to complete the process. And in return you'll get a registration slip. Keep hold of it too.
That covers most of the important points when preparing and applying for a visa to Russia as well as things to remember upon arrival. Have a smooth application process and an unforgettable stay in Russia!
If you are stopping by Moscow during the trip and looking for things to do, check out sample itinerary at Moscow Mate for inspiration.