Russian Visa Guide
Russia requires almost all foreign visitors to have a visa. Even tourists who want to visit Moscow or St Petersburg for a couple of days need a visa.
The only exceptions are visitors from certain CIS countries(not the Baltic countries) and a few other countries.
Getting a visa isn’t a simple process. The Russian Embassies aren’t very helpful and information on the web is often totally wrong or out of date.
There are a number of different types of visa and choosing the best one for your needs isn’t simple.
When I first started travelling to Russia I used a Russian visa company. They sent the visa invitation to my local Russian Embassy, and then I had to prepare and submit my own documents to get the visa processed. This was a big mistake. My visa was repeatedly returned unprocessed as the Embassy found numerous faults with my paperwork.
Eventually I decided to use the services of a specialist visa agency and within 48 hours the visa was processed and in my hand.
Unless you live very close to a Russian Embassy, and are prepared to spend hours or even days waiting around in long queues then I would recommend using the services of a reputable visa agency in your own country to obtain the invitation and process the visa. These people apply for visas everyday, they know exactly how the Embassy likes the form to be completed and presented and how certain vague and difficult questions should be answered. Visa agencies usually have very close contacts with the Russian Consulate so can offer help and assistance with all of your visa queries. This is the method that I would recommend.
Beware: Travel agencies and visa agencies based only in Russia can offer cheap visa invitations and sometimes claim to offer complete visa services. These agencies might offer good prices for the visa invitation and can be helpful in registering the visa in Russia, but unfortunately, they are completely useless in helping to get the visa processed at your local Russian Consulate. They will obtain the visa invitation, fax it to your local Consulate and after this you are on your own. If the Russian consulate finds any faults with your documents, and believe me they will, then it’s tough luck.
It’s much better to use a visa agency in your own country that also has offices in Russia. This way they can provide the invitation, process the visa and then help you register it. Help at all stages of the process.
Always remember to apply for your visa well in advance, as they take time to process. The first step is for the visa company to obtain an invitation from a company in Russia. The invitation needs to be processed through the Russian authorities, then the invitation is sent or faxed to the Russian Embassy or Consulate in your country. After this your passport, application form and other documents need to be sent or taken to the Embassy for processing. This process can take as long as a month or six weeks depending on the type of visa. Good visa agencies will take take your passport and application forms and check them before submitting them to the Embassy for processing.
Russian Tourist Visa
If you are visiting Russia for a short holiday and only want to stay for a week or two at most then you should get a tourist visa. A Russian tourist visa lasts for a maximum of 30 days and you can choose between single or double entry visas.
Tourist visas are a little easier to get than business visas and don’t require as much documentation. You don’t need to book flights or show accommodation details and the application forms are simpler. You are required to have valid medical travel insurance for the duration of your trip.
You just need to fill in a couple of forms, send a recent passport photograph together with your passport and then sit back and let the visa agency do the rest of the work.
Tourist visas can be obtained and processed within a couple of weeks, or in a day or two if you are willing to pay extra.
Russian Business Visa
If you intend to visit Russia frequently or are visiting for more than 30 days then you will need to get a business visa. It doesn’t matter if you are travelling for business or not, this is the only type of visa that will let you stay in Russia for more than 30 days. Many people use business visas for visiting family, Russia wives or girlfriends or just travelling around Russia. You can even use it to do business in Russia. Russian business visas do require more documents that a tourist visa. You will need to provide a letter from your employer or proof that you are self-employed. A Russian business visa does not allow you to work in Russia though. You can’t get a job or start working for a Russian company on a business visa. This requires a work permit.
So what do you do if you aren’t employed or don’t have your own business ? Well, there are some methods you can use to get around the regulations, and a good visa agency can provide advice on these matters.
Business visas can last for 30 days, 90 days, 6 months and 12 months. You can also choose between single, double and multiple entry.
In the past a 12 month business visa meant you could stay in Russia for a full 12 months, but since around 2006 the law was changed, and now there are time limits stamped into visas.
These basically say that you can only stay in Russia for 90 days out of 180, so a 12 month visa effectively becomes 6 months. After 3 months you will need to go out of Russia for the next 3 months. Not ideal, especially if your family lives in Russia.
There are some creative, but expensive and difficult ways around these regulations. You can leave Russia after 90 days then immediately apply for another 3 months visa. Some people do this process continually, although its expensive to fly in and out of Russia every 30 days and it can take a week or two to get the next 3 months visa.
It used to be possible to do a quick “visa run” to a nearby country such as Finland or the Baltics, but now most Russian consulates have a requirement that you must have been living in the country for more than 90 days in order to apply for a visa there.
If you are moving to Russia with a large company then make sure that they can arrange your work visa, as without assistance from a large company, work visas are very difficult to obtain.
If you enter Russia on a standard business visa, then beware, it’s NOT possible to work with this visa, at least legally. If a Russian company wants to employ you legally then they should provide a Work visa, a business visa isn’t sufficient.
Get a Russian Visa in the UK.
Where is the best place to get a Russian visa in the UK?
If you live in the UK then I would recommend using our partner agency Real Russia for your Russian visa. They are very reliable, reasonably priced and have a great deal of expertise in all matters Russian. They offer a complete visa service with prices starting from £116.
Get a Russian Visa in the US.
Live in the US ? Then trust our US partner agency – VisaHQ for all your visa needs.