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Applying for a Russian visa doesn’t have to be difficult. In recent years, the Russian embassies have made it easier to get a visa to Russia for most nationalities. Russian tourist visas for US citizens are even issued for 3 years, whereas most other countries can only apply for Russian tourist visas for up to 30 days.

As of January 2021, citizens from many countries won’t need a physical visa at all and will be able to apply for a Russian e-visa. Unfortunately, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States will not be eligible for the Russian e-visa. Most European citizens will find it much easier to enter Russia starting in 2021.

At Expatriant, we have applied for Russian visas directly at the Russian embassy, used third-party visa agencies, and used the official Russian visa center. We are going to look at every aspect of getting a Russian visa in 2020 so you can decide whether to get help, go through the process yourself, or hire a company to assist you. 

Filling out the application for a Russian visa and collecting the required documents doesn’t have to be difficult, but you must be careful. This guide will examine each step of the Russian visa process. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below. 

As most of our readers are from the United States, we are going to primarily look at how to get a Russian Visa as a US citizen. The process is similar for other nationalities, so we will include links that are relevant for other nationalities as well. 

Unfortunately, rules can vary by country and each Russian embassy can have different procedures if you are applying in person. Feel free to reach out to us at contact@expatriant.com if you have questions and we will point you in the right direction.

Introduction to Russian Visas

Obtaining a Russian tourist visa is required for almost everyone from a Western country and the United States is no exception. We have applied for a Russian visa more than 10 times personally and helped others at least 100 times, and we want to make the process as clear as possible. 

If you look around the web, you will find many guides with the official legal requirements to get a Russian tourist visa, but all of these guides lack practical information. It seems getting a Russian visa is straightforward, but why do many people think that it is a difficult process? Quite simply, the guides are written by Russians who, by law, have never needed to apply for a Russian visa themselves. 

Therefore, they understand Russian bureaucracy and you likely don’t. So the guide may seem clear to someone who is from Russia, but if you are from the United States, it is very unclear what the exact process is for applying for a Russian visa. 

Expatriant was designed to help expats living in Russia navigate Russian bureaucracy. That being said, usually, a person ends up in Russia for the first time as a tourist or a business traveler. Thankfully, if you are traveling to Russia for business, your employer will likely handle your visa. But what about if you just want to go to Russia on your own? Read on to find out!

Who Needs a Russian Visa

As mentioned above, just about everyone from a Western country requires a visa to enter Russia. Most citizens of the world need a visa to visit Russia. Only the citizens of the following countries do NOT need a visa to visit Russia as a tourist. 

  • Argentina 
  • Armenia 
  • Azerbaijan 
  • Belarus 
  • Bolivia 
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina 
  • Brazil 
  • Brunei 
  • Chile 
  • Colombia 
  • Cuba 
  • Croatia 
  • Hong Kong 
  • Israel 
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan

  • Macedonia 
  • Moldova
  • Montenegro 
  • Mozambique 
  • Nicaragua 
  • Peru 
  • Panama 
  • Paraguay 
  • Serbia 
  • The Republic of South Africa 
  • Thailand 
  • Tajikistan
  • Ukraine
  • Uruguay 
  • Uzbekistan
  • Venezuela 

As you can see, the list is not very large. If you hold a passport from any other country, you will need a visa to visit Russia for any reason. There are some visa-free areas in Russia for European citizens, but it is only for 5 days and there are strict requirements for entry and exit to and from Russia (i.e., only by cruise ship, etc.), therefore, we will not mention those here as it will be irrelevant to 99% of our readers.

Why do I need a Russian Visa?

A Russian visa is essentially formal authorization from the Russian government to be able to enter Russia for a specific period. There are 6 main types of Russian visas, tourist, personal, business, student, work, and transit visas. 

In this guide, we will focus specifically on Russian tourist visas and Russian business visas as the vast majority of people apply for these visa types. We will also note the other types of visas and who might need to apply for them. 

Essentially, if the Russian government requires you to have a visa to enter Russia, you have to apply for a Russian visa. It is a pain, but hopefully, after reading this guide, you will see that it only takes a little planning to make sure you get your Russian visa in time for travel. 

If you are from the United States, you NEED a Russian visa for any purpose of travel to Russia. 

Types of Russian Visas

As we mentioned above, there are 6 types of Russian visas, let’s look at each one so you can determine which Russian visa you will need to apply for to enter Russia. Almost all of our readers will be best suited by a Russian tourist visa or Russian business visa. For Americans looking to know which visa you need based on your trip length, check out Let’s Russia’s visa tool

Russian Tourist Visa

The Russian tourist visa is by far the most common type of visa for anyone coming to Russia to visit for less than 30 days. If you are planning to come to Russia for 30 days or less, a tourist visa is ideal to obtain and with a bit of planning, isn’t difficult. 

US citizens can obtain a 3-year Russian tourist visa. Each time you cross the Russian border you may stay for 6 months. Effectively, as long as you are not working, you can stay in Russia for 3 years on this visa. Unfortunately, for other nationalities, you are limited to 30 days.

Russian Private Visa

A Russian private visa can be one of the most burdensome visas available or quite easy depending on your citizenship. It seems quite straight forward and is very similar to the tourist visa. The only difference is that you do not need a tourist visa invitation, but a private invitation from a friend or relative in Russia. 

Unfortunately, a Russian private visa invitation is very time consuming for non-US citizens to obtain in Russia and must be approved by the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. 

Depending on the visa duration requested, it may need to be notarized as well. Then, the original copy must be sent to you and you must deliver it to the Russian consulate. You will spend significantly more money on organizing this type of visa than just purchasing a tourist voucher for $20 and applying for a tourist visa. 

For American citizens, the private visa invitation letter is a short, one-page document filled out by a Russian located in Russia OR the USA and then notarized. No additional documents are required and there are zero wait times. You can even email a copy of the notarized private letter to act as your invitation letter for a private visa. It is just as easy to get as a 3-year tourist visa for US citizens.

You must apply for a 3-year Russian private visa otherwise, the simplified invitation does not work. American citizens, for a 90-day private visa, need the same type of invitation as the rest of the world done in Russia. 

Russian Business Visa

A Russian business visa is typically requested for 2 reasons, either you are traveling to Russia on business, or you wish to stay more than 30 days and are not a US citizen. A Russian business visa will allow you to stay in Russia for up to 90 days in a 180 period making it much better for those of you looking for a longer stay in Russia. 

In the past, many people have used business visas to live in Russia, leaving the country every 90 days and getting a new visa, but the Russian authorities have cracked down on this. 

We do not recommend doing this if you have any intention of staying in Russia long term or visiting multiple times.

For US citizens, you can get two types of business visas:

  • The same as everyone else, i.e., valid for a 90 day stay within a 180 day period, which we never recommend 
  • A 3-year business visa years that allows stays of 6 months and no minimum period between stays (the same as the 3-year tourist visa)

Russian Work Visa

A Russian work visa is required if you are going to work in Russia and there are two different types of work visas that are available to foreign citizens depending on your salary. 

The first type of work visa is the standard work visa and the second is the highly qualified specialist (HQS) work visa, which is granted to anyone with a salary of more than 2 million rubles ($32,000) per year.  

Standard work visas are initially granted for a single entry for 3 months and extended by your company once you get to Russia. HQS work visas are initially granted for 3 years.

Russian Student Visa

Russian student visas are issued to anyone who is formally studying in Russia. The program of study can be language courses or a full university degree program. 

If you are planning to formally study in Russia, you must be on a student visa or a work visa. Some language schools will allow you to study short term on a business visa, but be very careful about not overstaying your visa. Any reputable educational institution should provide you with visa support for a student visa for the full term of your studies. 

Russian student visas are also granted single entry for 3 months until the inviting organization extends it after you arrive in  Russia.

A Russian student visa is the next best option for staying in Russia long-term if you’re a non-US passport holder. You can sign up for a Russian language course at an accredited university for a commitment of about 10-15 hours per week. 

You can get a one-year multiple entry visa and have time to apply for residency or find a job. A student visa allows you to work legally in Russia as a student for up to 20 hours a week as well. So, if your goal is to learn Russian AND gain experience, then a student visa is a great option.

Russian Transit Visa

If you are simply transiting through Russia you may stay in the airport for up to 24 hours in the international terminal only. You do not need a visa if you have a layover in Russia and you arrive at and depart from the same airport within 24 hours. 

If you want to leave the airport and see Moscow for a longer layover, you can easily apply for a transit visa in advance of your trip, which will allow stays of up to 72 hours in Russia. 

The transit visa procedure is just like the tourist visa, except you don’t need a tourist invitation, your plane ticket itinerary will suffice. The transit visa is also a bit cheaper than a tourist visa. 

For most people, a Russian transit visa makes no sense because it costs the same as any other visa but is limited to 3 days if traveling by plane and 10 days if traveling by car. 

For US passport holders, it’s almost ALWAYS better to get a three-year tourist visa instead because you could potentially use it in the future and the only cost difference is $20 for the tourist invitation letter.

What does a Russian Visa Look Like? 

A Russian visa is simply a sticker in your passport. 

Here is a Russian work visa

What Documents are Needed for a Russian Visa

If you are applying for either a Russian tourist visa or a Russian business visa, you will need the same documents. There is a different invitation required for each visa type, so you must have the right Russian visa invitation when applying. 

To apply for a Russian tourist visa, you will need the following documents: 

  • a tourist invitation (any Russian tourist agency can provide this) 
  • a passport photo
  • a signed Russian visa application form 
  • your passport
  • Russian visa fee

To apply for a Russian business visa, you will need the following: 

  • An official business visa invitation (this must be applied for by a Russian company)
  • a passport photo
  • a signed Russian visa application form 
  • your passport
  • Russian visa fee

What is a Russian Tourist Invitation?

A Russian tourist invitation is a document issued by a Russian tourist agency that is officially registered with the Russian department of tourism. A Russian tourist invitation is required if you are applying for a Russian tourist visa. 

Here is a Russian tourist visa invitation

You can find many services on the internet that offer Russian tourist visa invitations, but iVisa has the best service, price, and turn around time. 

Many companies potentially offer fake tourist invitations and iVisa is by far the best option for legitimate tourist invitations at the cheapest price. We have used them every time and can’t recommend them enough.

It is important to note that you NEED a Russian visa invitation for a Russian tourist visa regardless of whether you apply yourself in person at a Russian consulate or use a third-party visa agency like Let’s Russia. If you are applying through a third-party agency, many of them have packages where the Russian tourist visa invitation is included, so double check before buying a Russian tourist visa invitation on your own. 

Before you purchase a Russian tourist visa invitation, you will need to know the cities you plan to visit. 

What to Watch out for When Buying a Russian Tourist Visa Invitation

The problem with ordering your invitation letter online and downloading it immediately is that it often contains mistakes. The Russian consulate will reject your invitation if there are mistakes. Common errors include:

  • not adding your middle name
  • a missing apostrophe 
  • passport number entered wrong
  • entry date on Russian tourist visa invitation doesn’t match the proposed entry date on the Russian visa application 

You’d be surprised how often mistakes happen. When it says, “exactly as stated in the passport,” people still miss something. If you don’t notice the mistake and go to the consulate, they will reject your Russian tourist visa invitation and it will be hard to get ahold of the company who issued it to get a revised version. 

Typically, the company is in Russia many hours ahead of you and outside business hours, therefore, you are forced to return at a later time to the Russian consulate.

Where to get a Russian Tourist Visa Invitation

There are a few different ways you can get a Russian tourist visa invitation. The most common and by far the easiest is using a Russian visa service provider like Let’s Russia. They will ensure that there are no mistakes. Another option is buying one online from a site like iVisa yourself. The other way to get a Russian tourist visa invitation is to get it from the hotel where you have made a reservation. 

The first option for getting a Russian tourist visa invitation is if you use a visa service provider like Let’s Russia or buy a package tour to Russia. Depending on package options and the visa service provider, they will include a Russian tourist visa invitation, so make sure to ask in advance. 

If you are going to the Russian embassy yourself or a tourist visa invitation is not included by the visa service provider you have chosen to work with, you can get a Russian tourist visa invitation online from iVisa. The process is very straightforward and you can find a walkthrough below. 

If you have a hotel reservation in Russia, the hotel may provide a Russian tourist visa invitation for you to use when applying for a Russian visa. Many hotels charge for this service, but nicer hotels often include this free of charge. If you have booked a hotel, it is worth inquiring whether they can provide you with a Russian tourist visa invitation. 

Issues Getting Russian Tourist Visa Invitation from a Hotel

Please be aware that if you are staying at multiple hotels in multiple cities, each hotel will only issue a Russian tourist visa invitation for the period you are staying at that hotel. If you’re staying at more than one, you need to get an invitation from each hotel and your visa can only be valid for the dates the hotel indicates. 

Unless you are staying at one hotel for your entire trip, it is best to get an invitation from an agency like Let’s Russia or iVisa so the Russian tourist invitation is valid for the whole time you plan to be in Russia. You also won’t need to mess with multiple documents and you eliminate the potential for mistakes.

Issues Getting a Russian Tourist Visa Invitation from Airbnb or Private Apartment Rental

If you are planning to rent an Airbnb or other private rentals, these places will not provide a Russian tourist invitation. It’s best to go through Let’s Russia or iVisa to purchase the Russian tourist visa invitation for the entire duration of your stay, especially if you’re staying in multiple apartments.

Issues getting a Russian Tourist Visa from a Tour Company 

Before we get into how to apply for a Russian visa, it is important to know that if you are taking a tour of Russia and you have purchased a tour package, the tour operator may either get the visa for you or help you through the process. 

However, keep in mind that if you book a tour package directly with a Russian company, they typically have limited assistance in the visa process. International tour companies are usually more likely to offer Russian visa assistance. When purchasing a tour to Russia, ask about this in the beginning. It will add a few hundred dollars to the price of a tour if this service isn’t included. 

At the very least, a reputable tour company, Russian or international, should provide you with a Russian tourist visa invitation. 

Complete Walkthrough Step-by-Step to Fill Out and Purchase Russian Tourist Visa Invitation from iVisa

As we mentioned above, iVisa is the best provider for Russian tourist visa invitations. Let’s walk through the entire process of purchasing a Russian tourist or business visa invitation on iVisa.

On iVisa, you need to enter your country of citizenship and Russia as the place where you are going to start the process. 

You will need to scroll down until you see the visa calculator tool. Here you need to enter the number of travelers, the visa type, Americans should select “Tourist Invitation Letter – 30 days, Single-Entry” for all Russian tourist visas. 

The Russian consulate WILL provide you with a 3-year Russian tourist visa based on one 30-day Russian tourist visa invitation. We will show you how to correctly request a 3-year Russian tourist or business visa in the Russian visa application form below. 

Standard processing is 1-day and it should arrive in about an hour. There is NO NEED to select Rush or Super Rush processing. It will only cost you more money. Then select “Apply Now.”

On the next screen, you need to enter your information EXACTLY as it is written in your passport. We cannot stress this enough. This is the most common mistake when applying for a Russian visa. The Russian consulates are very particular about this. If you fill this form out with a mistake, the information on the Russian tourist visa invitation will be incorrect and you will encounter issues with your visa. 

At this stage, you need to enter the information for other travelers with you if you like and apply and pay for all of the Russian tourist visa invitations at once. Once you have entered the information, click Revision and Payment. 

iVisa offers Travel Safety options, but we do not feel that you need them. If you like, you are welcome to select any of them. 

Before entering your card number and payment information, be sure that all of your information is entered EXACTLY as on your passport. Fortunately, if you do make a mistake, you should be able to contact iVisa to have them correct it on your tourist invitation, they have done this for us before. It does take a few days though. 

What is a Russian Business Visa Invitation?

If you are applying for a Russian business visa invitation, it must be issued by a business in Russia. It requires more liability than a tourist organization, and therefore, costs more. Unless you are traveling to Russia for a legitimate business trip, in which case, your company will arrange the invitation, we suggest you apply for a tourist visa. The average price for a business visa invitation, if you need one, is about $200. If you need a business visa but can’t get an invitation, this is an option. Again, we highly recommend iVisa for Russian business visa invitations as well. 

How to Purchase a Russian Business Visa Invitation

The steps are the same as for a Russian tourist visa invitation above from iVisa, but you need to select “Business Visa Invitation Letter – 3 Years, Multiple Entry” for American citizens. The processing time is 5 days because a Russian company must apply for an invitation for you and get approval. That is why it costs $200 instead of $20. 

That Russian company, in this case, iVisa also takes some legal responsibility for the Russian business visa issued to you. Unless you have a real reason for a Russian business visa, again we recommend you apply for a Russian tourist visa. You can travel to Russia for short business trips on a Russian tourist visa. 

iVisa does not provide Russian business visa invitations for all nationalities. If you need a Russian business visa invitation and iVisa does not provide them for your nationality, please reach out to us at contact@expatriant.com and we can assist. 

Passport Photo for Russian Visa

You must provide one passport-style photograph with your visa application that is sized 3.5cm x 4.5cm. In the US, any passport photo will do. Typically, they call them 2in x 2in, and this is acceptable.  

You can get these taken anywhere passport photos are taken or use an app to do it yourself at home. 

How much does it cost to apply for a Russian visa? 

The Russian consulate fee varies significantly depending on your citizenship. Most European citizens pay about 35 EUR for the visa and 30 EUR for the visa center fee. 

Due to the US charging Russian citizens $160 for US tourist visas, unfortunately, the price for US citizens applying for Russian tourist and business visas is $160. The visa center will charge an additional $38 service fee and if you mail it to them, they will charge an additional $45. If you mail your application, you usually have to provide a FedEx return label or the cost for one, which is between $20 and $30. 

This means the total fees for most Europeans is 30 EUR at the consulate, or 65 EUR if they use the visa center. There is also a fee for mail-in service but this varies by country.

The total fees for Americans are a bit more complicated so we decided to put it all in a table so you can compare the options.

ILSRussian
Visa Centre
Let’s Russia
No Hassle
Let’s Russia
Standard
Going to
Consulate
Consulate Fee$198$198$198$198$160
Handling Fee$50$0$189$99$0
Mail-in Service$70$85IncludedIncluded N/A
Visa Invitation$20$20Included $20$20
Return Shipping$35$35Included IncludedN/A
Passport Photo$10$10Included $10$10
Total$383$348$387$327$190

Let’s Russia Standard and No Hassle Packages

Let’s Russia is the official visa provider for Expatriant. They are our partners and provide the best customer service on the market for getting Russian visas. There are two options for visa support from Let’s Russia, the Standard Package and the No Hassle Package. 

The Standard Package costs $99 per visa and includes the following:

  • Step-by-step instructions
  • Delivery and submission of your documents to the Russian consulate
  • Status updates via SMS or email
  • Email consultations on your trip
  • Discounts for more than 1 application
  • FedEx 2-day return shipping
  • Processing time is 10-15 days

The No Hassle Package costs $189 per visa and includes the following:

  • All benefits of standard Package 
  • Personalized concierge service
  • Tourist visa invitation included
  • Assitance filling out visa application 
  • Printed passport photo
  • Minimal effort required
  • Print, sign & mail application w/ passport 

If it is your first time applying for a Russian visa, we highly recommend that you use Let’s Russia to ensure that everything is done properly. If you encounter issues applying for your Russian visa, it can ruin your trip. 

How to Fill out the Russian Visa Application

Once you have your passport, the tourist visa invitation, and your passport photo, it is time to fill out the Russian visa application form on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation website. You must fill out the application completely and sign it. Do not forget to sign the application

Complete Walkthrough Step-by-Step to Fill out Russian Visa Application

If you prefer a video walkthrough, Marcus from Let’s Russia has prepared one.

For everyone else, let’s walk through every step of the Russian visa application. It will take between 30 and 60 minutes to complete.

First, you need to select the country where you will be applying for your visa, the language, accept the terms and conditions, and select “Complete new application form.”

Next, write down your Application ID in the top right of the page, create a password, and fill in the captcha. You need to remember your Application ID and password to return to your Russian tourist visa application if you do not finish it in one sitting. Then click “submit.”

Now, you need to fill in the details for which type of visa you are applying for. Let’s take it step-by-step. First, enter your nationality. If you have had USSR or Russian citizenship, check yes, but for almost all of you, the answer will be no.

For a Russian tourist visa, the purpose of the visit will be “Tourism” for both boxes. For the visa category and type, select “Common Tourist.”

If you are a US Citizen, by default the Russian consulate will issue a 3-year multiple-entry tourist visa, therefore, select “Multi” under Number of Entries and enter your date of entry into Russia that is no more than 6 months in advance and the date of exit from Russia as one day before that same day in 3 years. For example, if your date of entry into Russia is 10 January 2021, enter 9 January 2024.

The next section of the visa application is where you need to enter your personal details. The information must be entered EXACTLY as in your passport. Again, be very careful about entering your information here.

The next section continues to ask about passport details. The information must be entered EXACTLY as in your passport. 

Now, you need the information from your tourist or business invitation to fill out the next section. If you haven’t obtained a Russian visa invitation, now is the time to do it. 

Thankfully, you can get a Russian tourist visa invitation almost instantly online. As we mentioned above in our walkthrough, iVisa is the best place to get your Russian tourist visa invitation or Russian business visa invitation. They have provided them for a long time and you can be certain to get a legitimate invitation that is registered with the Russian tourism authority. 

The invitation from iVisa costs only $20. You can of course save a couple of bucks and use one of the other sites that provide them, but there is a risk that it isn’t authentic. In our experience, it is not worth the hassle of saving $5 to run the risk of not getting your visa the first time. You will spend significantly more money on shipping your passport multiple times to a visa agency or going to the Russian consulate more than required.

Depending on whether you are applying for a tourist visa or a business visa, you need to select the relevant option on the page under “Which institution are you going to visit?”

For a Russian tourist visa application, select “Travel company.”

Next, take a look at your tourist visa invitation that you received from iVisa. You need to identify the following pieces of information:

  • Name of Organization
  • Address
  • Reference Number
  • Confirmation Number

Unfortunately, these sections are found in different spots on each company’s visa invitation. Let’s take a look at two different tourist invitations so you can see how the information is typically displayed. 

iVisa Russian Tourist Visa Invitation
OstWest.com Russian Tourist Visa Invitation

Once you have entered the name of the organization, address, reference number, and confirmation number, you need to enter the cities that you will visit exactly as they are displayed on your Russian tourist visa application. iVisa no longer requires that you select the cities where you will stay so just enter the cities on the tourist visa invitation. 

Then you need to select whether you have an insurance policy valid in Russia. For US citizens, it is NOT required that you have an insurance policy valid in Russia. You can select no. 

Next, select who will pay for your trip.

Finally, enter the hotel details as they appear on your Russian tourist visa invitation.

The next section is a bunch of “required” questions that you should simply answer truthfully. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us at contact@expatriant.com.

The following section of the Russian visa application requires that you enter information about your education and employment.

You only need to enter your university education. There is no need to enter information about any education before university. If you don’t have a university degree, simply answer “no” to “Have you ever attended any educational institutions, excluding secondary school?”

If you had any work before your current job, select yes, and you will need to add a maximum of two places of work (not including your current job). On the next page, you will add your current job.  

Here you need to enter your parents’ names, your current address, and your current place of work. Lastly, you need to say whether or not you have relatives in Russia. 

You have made it to the last step! You just need to select where you will be applying for your visa. If you are taking the visa to the Russian consulate yourself, then choose the correct one from the drop-down box. 

The final step is to print out the application and sign it. 

Where do I apply for a Russian Visa? 

So you now have all of the documents needed to apply for a Russian visa, but where do you submit them?

All Russian visas are ultimately processed at the Russian consulates. That being said, multiple agencies and intermediaries will offer to help you in applying for a Russian visa if you do not live near a consulate. Let’s Russia is our preferred provider of this service.

In the United States, there are 3 Russian consulates in Washington, DC, New York, and Houston. In some countries, there is only one Russian consulate inside the Russian embassy. It is best to check the website of the Russian embassy in your country to see where the Russian consulates are located. 

The cheapest option is to apply for a Russian visa directly at the Russian embassy or consulate, you will need to make an appointment at the respective consulate. In the United States, an appointment must be made on a different site – Washington, DC, New York, and Houston. We will walk you through this in the step-by-step section below.

If you do not live near a Russian consulate, you may also apply through the official visa center affiliated with the Russian government, Russia Visa Centre. You can deliver your passport to one of their offices and they will apply on your behalf or you can pay an extra $45 and send it to them. 

In our experience, customer service is poor and they do not always speak English well. If you live near an embassy and use the Russia Visa Centre, they will take an additional fee to deliver your passport to the Russian consulate. Our official partner, Let’s Russia, provides much better service and is cheaper than using the Russia Visa Centre. 

It is much better to apply for the visa on your own, there is no sense in adding a middle man. If you do not live near a consulate, the mail-in service can be more expensive than using one of the third-party companies mentioned in the next section. Customer service is also practically non-existent. Therefore, we highly recommend using our partner service, Let’s Russia.

In addition to being able to apply for a Russian visa directly at the Russian consulate and using Russian Visa Centre, you can also use a third-party company that will act as an intermediary to deliver your passport to a Russian consulate where they will put the visa in your passport. Let’s Russia is the official partner of Expatriant and the best option for applying for a visa. We work very closely with them, and together we provide the best customer service in the United States for Russian visas. 

Applying for a Russian Visa at a Russian Consulate

The process of applying for a Russian visa at a Russian consulate is mostly straightforward if you live near one. 

Once you have all of your documents, you need to make an appointment at the Russian consulate to go and deliver all of your documents. Again, the system used to make appointments is not the most developed and the English is poor so we will walk you through step-by-step how to do it. 

Here is the portal for the Russian consulate in Houston. Most of the online appointment systems are the same. 

To get started, you need to click “Initial appointment.”

Next, you need to accept the conditions and click “continue.”

On the next page, you need to enter your personal information, enter the captcha, and click, “Continue.”

On the next page, click “Visas.”

Select the visas checkbox and click “Get an appointment.”

On this final page, you need to select a date and time at the consulate. Currently, due to world events, you cannot make an appointment at the Russian consulate. As soon as this changes, we will update you.

When you get to the Russian consulate to drop off your documents, they will tell you the date when your passport will be ready for pick up. It depends on so many different factors like the specific consulate where you are applying, current demand, etc. Typically, the process takes 10-14 days for the Russian consulate to issue your visa. 

You do not need an appointment to return to the Russian consulate to pick up your Russian visa. 

Applying for a Visa Through Let’s Russia

If you don’t live near a Russian consulate, the best option is to use a visa service provider. Our partner site, Let’s Russia is the best option for visas to Russia. Together with Expatriant, they offer a level of customer service in the United States and Germany that no other company can match. 

In addition to fantastic customer service, the prices are better than most other options on the market thanks to multiple options. Do you want to fill all the paperwork out and just have Let’s Russia handle the work at the consulate? You can pay less. Do you want to let Let’s Russia handle everything on your behalf? It still only costs marginally more than other Russian service providers in the US. 

Russian Visa Requirements Once You Have Arrived in Russia 

There are several things that you need to keep in mind once you have arrived in Russia on a tourist, business, or work visa. 

Russian Immigration Card

The immigration card looks like this.

First, when you land in Russia, you will either fill out a Russian immigration card or the immigration officers will give one to you already filled out. This depends on where you enter Russia. 

You need to keep track of the second half of the Russian immigration card, which will be taken when you exit Russia. 

If you lose your Russian immigration card, it is not the end of the world. You can go to the local police station and they will make a new one for you. In recent years, you can just tell the immigration officers that you lost it. Many times, they do not ask for your immigration card, and sometimes, they even forget to take it when you are leaving Russia. 

Registration in Russia

The most important aspect of your visa that applies after arriving in Russia is registration with the local authorities. Unfortunately, this is a piece of bureaucracy that remains from the Soviet Union. Essentially, once you arrive you need to register if you will be in any Russian city for more than 7 business days (Monday – Friday).

This means that if you arrive in Moscow and spend 5 days there before leaving for St. Petersburg for 5 days and then return to Moscow for 2 days and leave Russia, you DO NOT need to register. Russian law requires that you register if you will be present in any Russian city for 7 business days or more. Just in case, you should keep your domestic tickets on you to show anyone who may ask for your documents that you were not in any city for 7 days or more, and, therefore, do not have registration. 

If you will be spending more than 7 days in multiple cities, you must register in each of them. 

If you are staying at a hotel in Russia, they must register you by law. That means you don’t have to worry about registration if your stay in Russia will be in hotels. When you check-in, just make sure that they will give you your registration once they have done it. 

If you are not staying in a hotel, things are a bit more tricky. Technically, if you stay in an apartment rental, for example, the owner must register you. Unfortunately, it is impossible to register yourself in Russia and so your host should go and register you as a guest in their apartment. Many people do not know how this works, and as such, you may face some difficulties in actually getting your host to register you. 

Travel Insurance in Russia

Fortunately, for US citizens, travel insurance is not required to visit Russia. As we mentioned above, you can just leave this section of the Russian visa application blank. 

For those that are interested in travel insurance in Russia, there are many providers. Some of our favorites are below. 

Cherehapa – Russian travel insurance provider that is cheaper than international options, but works well in Russia

Frequently Asked Questions about Russian Visas with Marcus from Let’s Russia

To provide you an even more comprehensive guide to Russian visas, we invited Marcus Hudson from Let’s Russia, a Russian visa agency to help with this article and answer some of your frequently asked questions. Marcus has over 10 years of experience in Russia and has been helping people get Russian visas of all types for many years. 

Below, he shares some of the secrets getting a Russian visa, including pitfalls to avoid and how to save money along the way. His secret is that many times, paying a little more upfront to have a company like Let’s Russia help is much cheaper in the end than trying to save a few dollars doing it yourself.  

Here are Marcus’s answers to your most frequent questions. 

What is a Russian visa?

Marcus: A Russian visa is a physical document issued by a Russian consulate in your country inserted in your passport. It takes up the size of one passport page. It allows a person to enter Russia for the purpose stated on the visa.

Who and why would someone need a visa?

Marcus: Depending on your nationality, you may or may not need a visa to Russia. Almost all European citizens need a visa. All citizens from the US, UK, Canada, and Australia also need a visa to enter Russia. Each visa type corresponds to the purpose of someone’s visit. Some are more general and some are very specific. There are currently six types of Russian visas and some have subtypes. There are tourist, business, private, humanitarian, student, work, and transit visas.

How do I know which visa I need?

Marcus: This is easier than it sounds. As a general rule of thumb, the type of visa you should get needs to match the purpose of your visit. For example, you are going to study in Russia, you need a student visa.

The problem is that there are many more reasons someone might visit Russia than there are visa types and many people visit for multiple reasons. If a person wants to visit for tourism and establish business contacts, then we generally recommend a tourist visa. 

Sometimes citizens with a non-US passport want to take the Trans-Siberian railway and plan to spend more than 30 days, which is what a typical tourist visa allows. In this case, we would recommend a business or private visa for 90 days. So it’s not always straightforward. Most visa types will work for multiple reasons except if you plan to work or study, you need to get a work or student visa. You can study full time on a work visa and work part-time on a study visa though. 

How do I get a Russian visa?

Marcus: So after you decide you want to travel to Russia, you’ll need to get what’s called a Russian tourist invitation. You cannot get a Russian visa without an invitation from a Russian organization or individual in Russia. The visa invitation is always the first step except for a transit visa for which an invitation is not needed.

If you want to travel to Russia as a tourist, you’ll need a Russian tourist invitation, sometimes called a Russian tourist voucher.

Pro tip: You can buy a Russian tourist voucher/Russian visa invitation letter online directly from registered Russian travel companies for around $20. This is only the FIRST step. You still need to gather a few more documents before applying at a Russian consulate where you are physically located or use a Russian visa agency like Let’s Russia.

What documents do I need to prepare for a Russian visa?

Marcus: The exact list of documents depends on several factors like visa type, length of stay, the applicant’s citizenship, and others.

Americans will need:

1. A Russian visa invitation letter (tourist/private/business)
2. A completed, SIGNED visa application
3. A valid US passport with 2 free visa pages and at least 6 months’ validity before the END of your Russian visa.
4. One recent passport photo
5. Payment for the Russian consulate fees

Where can I submit my visa application and documents?

Marcus: You can submit your documents at either a Russian consulate or Russian embassy, the officially recognized visa center, or a third party visa agency. For Americans, that means Washington D.C., New York City, or Houston. There are official visa centers in San Francisco and Seattle as well, but the Russian consulates no longer exist.

Do I need to submit my documents in person?

Marcus: No. For most people, that is a huge relief! Even if you do live near a Russian consulate or visa center, you will have to travel there at least 2 times, one to submit, and one to pick up your passport and visa. It’s just not worth it for most people. You can submit your documents at the Russian consulate in person but only for your application, not for anyone else.

What is the difference between the Russian visa center and a Russian visa agency?

Marcus: The biggest difference between a third-party visa agency and the official visa center is customer service and speed of visa processing. The visa center is essentially an extension of the Russian consulate that helps process applications but does not offer quality assistance to visa applicants. They do not issue Russian tourist visa invitations either.

A good visa agency can help determine which visa is best in a specific situation, get a Russian tourist or business visa invitation letter, and handle the process quickly. I would highly recommend going through a reputable visa agency, especially for first-time applicants.

What are some common mistakes applicants make that end in delays or denials?

Marcus: Most people make minor mistakes on the visa application itself. They omit information like past work experiences, fail to include previous travel when their passports have travel stamps or even typos in a passport number or name.

Also, the visa invitation and visa application need to match. If there are discrepancies, the consulate or visa center will not accept the documents and you just wasted a trip.

Other common mistakes include:

  • the visa invitation letter has mistakes in the applicant’s personal information
  • not having an invitation letter at all
  • poor quality passport photo
  • passport photo is not recent (within last 6 months)
  • passport is damaged
  • passport doesn’t have 2 free pages designated for visas
  • passport expires within 6 months of the visa end date
  • requesting the wrong visa type
  • missing additional documents like letter or arrest, proof of travel, proof of income, etc.

How long does it take on average to complete the visa documents?

Marcus: To complete all the documents correctly, the average person spends at least 3 hours or more gathering all documents for a Russian visa, and that’s AFTER you have an invitation letter. 

The reason it takes so long is not that the process is necessarily difficult but rather the applicant must pay close attention to each question in the visa application and not every question is stated in proper English. This leads to confusion and wrong answers. For example, the visa application asks for your arrival/departure (entry/exit) dates, but an applicant needs to put the visa start date and visa end date. For single entry visas, this may be the same, but for long-term visas like three-year tourist visas, this is three years minus one day. May 25, 2020, to May 24, 2023, for instance.

Then, you need to go get your passport photo taken, stop by the bank for a cashier’s check or money order for the consulate fee. By the time you’re done, you’re second-guessing whether you want to go on your trip.

How long does it take to get a Russian visa?

Marcus: Once all the documents are ready, a Russian visa takes 10 business days to process. This is the average time across the world. Some consulates may offer a bit shorter or a bit longer times. Let’s Russia processes visas inside of two weeks for expedited processing and up to three weeks for regular processing including 2-day return shipping back to the applicant.

How far in advance can I apply for a Russian visa?

Marcus: Most Russian consulates allow you to apply within 90 days of your trip to Russia or your visa start date. In the USA, you can apply up to 6 months before your visa start date. This gives Americans plenty of time, especially if they are planning to visit multiple countries and get multiple visas.

Which visa is best to get?

Marcus: For Americans, the three-year multiple-entry visa that started in 2012 is hands down the best visa that has ever been offered for general purpose visits besides for working and studying. 

You can get a three-year visa for tourism, business, private and humanitarian visits. Not only does this allow US citizens to stay up to six months consecutively, but it has no limit on how long you have to spend outside of Russia before visits. 

You can exit and re-enter Russia on the same day, unlike passport holders of other countries. In this regard, Americans have a huge advantage with Russian visas.

Can I get a Russian visa outside of my home country while traveling?

Marcus: Yes, but not everywhere. Unfortunately, citizens of some countries are restricted in getting a Russian visa in their home country. However, Americans are fortunate because there are multiple places to get a Russian visa abroad without needing residency in the country where they are applying. 

US citizens can apply in some EU countries like Finland, Germany, the Baltics, Poland, as well as the UK, Turkey, Ukraine, and others. Theoretically, many Russian consulates abroad allow US citizens to get Russian visas, however, in practice, it’s not so simple. 

Individual consulates can require additional documents. Many of our customers have just mailed in their applications to our office in the USA or Germany from places that were difficult like Egypt, Mexico, Romania, and Australia. It is sometimes much easier to send us the documents from abroad instead of navigating the process in a third country.

What are some important limitations in getting Russian visas people should know about?

Marcus:

  1. You can only have one valid Russian visa at a time. If you go to Russia on a tourist or business visa and find work, you’ll need to leave Russia and apply for a work visa at a Russian consulate. Generally, tourist, business, and private visas are flexible but they do not allow you to work or study.
  2. The process of getting a visa invitation differs on the type of visa. Most tourist and business visa invitations can be processed within one day, but private, work and student visa invitations can take up to 20 business days. The exception is tourist, business, and private invitations for US citizens. So, if you don’t have an invitation yet, you’ll need to consider that extra processing time in addition to the Russian consulate visa processing time.
  3. There are single, double, and multiple entry visas for most types of visas. This limits the number of times you can cross into Russia. If time allows, I usually recommend applying for the visa that allows the most number of entries and is valid for the longest period of CONSECUTIVE time if you plan to stay in Russia as long as possible.
  4. Be careful of overstaying a visa or the allowed period of stay. Non-US passports holders can get long-term business visas such as a one-year multiple-entry business visa. However, this type of visa is limited to staying 90 days in Russia out of every 180 days. That means you cannot effectively live in Russia consecutively unless you leave Russia every 90 days and get a new visa. The better option would be to apply for a work or student visa that allows at least one year of continuous stay or apply for residency if you can.

What are some clever tips and tricks you have learned regarding Russian visas?

Marcus: Get a second passport if your country allows. The US allows Americans to apply for a second American passport that is valid for two to four years. If you’re traveling outside the USA for long periods, this will come in handy when applying for visas. 

You can enter Russia on one visa in your limited passport. When it comes time to get a new visa, mail your second passport to our office and we’ll process the new visa. You can then effectively leave Russia, pick up your second passport with the new visa, and re-enter right away.

Get a second passport from another country. If you have parents from Europe, South America, or elsewhere, apply for a passport from that country. You’ll have double the flexibility when you travel. A passport from many South American countries allows you to stay in Russia for up to 30 or 90 days without a visa. If you decide you’d like to stay in Russia longer, use the passport easiest to get a visa for your purposes.

Apply in advance even if you don’t know your exact travel dates. For US citizens, in particular, you just need to know your earliest possible visa start date. Let’s say you’re not sure when you want to go to Russia but you know it won’t be before June 1, 2021, because your sister is getting married. Put June 1, 2021, as the visa start date and apply as early as December 1, 2020. You’ll have a full three years to use your multiple-entry visa. This will save you money, time, and stress.

Don’t rely on the inviting organization in Russia to give you clarity throughout the visa process. This is because they are familiar with the visa invitation letter and that’s typically where their support ends. That is only the first step of the visa process though. Since the Russian organization inviting you most likely invites people from various countries, they can’t know all the requirements and documents the Russian consulate near you needs.

Conclusion

We are tired of the stereotypes about getting a Russian visa. We created Expatriant to make your life easier. This guide is one of the most extensive out there. It doesn’t stop there. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us at contact@expatriant.com or write in the comments below and we will help you if you are stuck. 

Let us know in the comments below if you have had difficulties getting a Russian visa in the past. 

I lived in Russia for 5 years. Over those 5 years, I started a few companies, worked as an English teacher, worked at a large Russian tech company, and worked at an international law firm. I want to share my experience living and working abroad so you can do the same!

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