Obtaining the correct visa for a trip to Russia can be confusing, as there are many options to choose from. Our guide to the process will answer all your questions.
Who Needs A Visa
People from countries that have bilateral and multilateral agreements with Russia such as Ukraine and Belarus do not require a visa. Visa-exempt countries are listed here, although many will only allow a visit of a certain number of days before a visa is required. People from all other countries are required to apply for a visa, including citizens from the USA, UK, EU and Australia. The 2016 changes to regulations now state that citizens from Turkey also require a visa.There are certain instances where foreign nationals do not require a visa to enter the country. Cruise ship passengers or ferry passengers traveling on the St. Peter Line may be exempt. More information is available here. Those traveling to the country for the 2018 FIFA World Cup do not require a visa. However, they must have their FAN ID document and ticket/confirmation of ticket to the event to enter. Registration is available here.
Letters Of Invitation
Before an individual can apply for a visa, they require a letter of invitation, which is also known as a Russian support visa document. Invitations differ slightly in process and price depending on the type of visa for which they are applying. Some can be filled out and paid for online through official providers such as waytorussia.net. Once the applicant has received their invitation, they can submit it to the nearest Russian Consulate alongside their completed visa application form.
This invitation consists of two documents, a reservation confirmation and a tourist voucher. It is intended for individuals who plan to travel to Russia for sightseeing and staying in hotels or hostels, and is easy to obtain. A tourist invitation can be applied for by a hotel or a Russian tourist agency registered with the department of consular services of Russian ministry of foreign affairs. Note that a tourist visa should not be used if you intend on staying with friends. Each invitation lasts no more than 30 days and can be in a single-entry or double-entry format. Processing time varies, but around 24 hours is normal for a tourist visa. The cost depends on the application route, whether via a Russian travel agency or hotel. Fees may range from $50 US to $150 US. However, it may be possible to get one for free if you book other travel services with the agency you are dealing with.
This invitation can be valid for one day, three, six, or 12 months. Depending on the requirements, it can be single, double or multiple entry. Such an invitation can only be obtained from the Russian Federal Migration Department (UFMS). Invitations are applied for either via a travel agency or a business registered in the UFMS. It is common for Russian businesses to invite international workers for business reasons through a UFMA registered travel agency, which handles the invitation on their behalf. Once processed, the invitation is sent to the applicant. The processing fee will range from $80 US to $300 US and can take up to 18 days. Those applying for a long stay business visa need to provide their original invitation in order for it to be processed.
This invitation is for a stay of up to three months, with a single entry. The invitation must come in the form of a personal invitation certificate from someone living in Russia. It may take 45 days from the application for clearance to proceed. Usually, the cost is around $30 US, but this can change.
Educational institutions should send student invitations, which are valid for 90 days. The processing time varies, but usually falls between 7 and 10 days. The institution should take care of the invitation on behalf of the student. To be able to apply, a contract between institution and applicant must exist to prove the applicant is set to study there.
How To Apply For A Visa
Individuals applying for a Russian visa should visit their consulate of the Russian Embassy in their home country. Alternatively, there are a number of Russian Visa Centres worldwide listed here. As of 2014, biometric data is taken, so applications must be in person. It is possible to have the visa process taken care of by a UFMS affiliated travel agency, but fees may be higher as a result.
Types Of Visa
The type of visa you need will be determined by the purpose and duration of your stay in Russia. The main visa categories are: tourist, business, work, private, student, transit, humanitarian and cultural. Visa applications vary in price depending whether you require single, double or multiple entry, as well as according to processing times and duration of your stay. Consequently, applicants should check with their Embassy or Consulate for exact costs.
Only citizens who intend to travel to Russia for the purpose of tourism may use this visa. The time granted can range from one to 30 days, with US citizens now being able to apply for a one-year multiple entry visa, with stays of no more than 90 days per 180 days. A tourist visa is fairly inexpensive and easy to obtain.
US citizens looking to apply for three-year long, multiple-entry tourist visas still need a 30-day tourist invitation. As of 2012, US citizens holding a three-year multiple entry visa may enter the country for no more than six months per year.
Business or commercial visas
People who need to travel to Russia to buy a property for their business, attend meetings, negotiations, exhibitions or auctions, conduct market research or deal with imported equipment such as repair, maintenance or installations require this visa. Both single and double-entry business visas are valid for up to three months. Twelve-month visas for multiple-entry are also available, but no more than 90 days should be spent in the country within a 180-day period.
For US citizens who frequently travel to Russia, a three-year multiple-entry visa can be applied for. Details about this are listed here. It is not possible to apply for this visa if it is the applicant’s first time traveling to Russia. This visa is more expensive than the single and double-entry versions.
This visa is issued to individuals coming to the country to work within a Russian company. Such persons must also receive a work permit through their prospective employers. These visas are issued for one to three years. Once you arrive on a work visa, a number of medical tests must be taken.
Private or homestay visas
Private visas are issued to guests of Russian Federation Russian nationals. This visa commonly allows foreign citizens to visit family or friends in Russia. Such visas are issued for up to 90 days and can be single or double-entry. The processing time is perhaps the longest of all visas, and the cost varies according to what entry type it is.
Student or academic visas
Such visas allow students to come and study in an accredited Russian educational institution. Student visas last up to 12 months but can then be extended. If a student visa is granted, applicants can enjoy unlimited stay in the country, thus avoiding the need to go through the invitation process again.
If a citizen needs to travel through Russia to reach a different country, they require a transit visa. This does not apply to those who have layovers for under 24 hours, providing they do not depart the international area at the airport. Transit visas are usually granted for up to 72 hours and are either single or double-entry. The price is inexpensive. Applications can be made directly to travelers’ home Consulate or Embassy.
Such visas are issued for citizens to stay in Russia for reasons such as sporting events, cultural exchanges, religious, socio-political, scientific/technological or humanitarian mission purposes. This is a very specific visa that requires a letter of invitation from an organisation or host, and should be issued by the MFA.
Preparing For Visa Applications
Begin gathering your documentation – including making electronic copies of your documents – at least three weeks before you apply. All citizens planning to travel to Russia must have an original passport with at least two pages left blank, as well as a minimum of six months left on the passport until after the visa expires. A letter of invitation, also known as the visa support document should also be obtained before application for a visa. Lastly, applicants should complete the online electronic entry visa application form, then print, sign the bottom and attach one passport-size photo.
Further documentation may be required by the embassy or consulate depending on the visa type, circumstances or your status. This documentation may include:
– A statement from the employer of the applicant confirming the salary of the applicant
– Certificates of familial membership such as birth certificates and marriage certificates
– A bank statement from the applicant
– Details of medical insurance for the applicant’s stay in Russia
– Documents associated with property ownership in the U.S.
Processing times vary depending on your home country’s consulate or embassy. For Russian Consulates in the EU, it can be three to 10 business days, but check with your local embassy for specific times.