Getting a visa to Russia can be quite difficult for many people, even for tourism purposes. This is further complicated by a national tourism agency that seems uninterested in foreign tourism outside of major events like the FIFA World Cup and 2012 Winter Olympic games. Once you have decided that you would like to visit Russia, it is difficult to understand which visa is best, and even then, for some nationalities, longer visas are available, but you must ask for them specifically. We hope that we can clear up much of the confusion around getting a visa to Russia and making it straightforward for those of you who want to visit the wonderful country. 

It is worth noting that thankfully, the visa regime of Russia is liberalizing, but slowly. Recently, Russia made e-visas available for 50 countries. Currently, this is only for travel to certain regions of Russia and short trips. Unfortunately, this is not an option for US, UK, Australian, New Zealand or Canadian citizens, likely due to the current political environment. 

This guide should give you an idea about all of the different types of visas available and how you can maximize your stay in Russia. Even if you do not need a tourist visa to visit Russia, you will need a visa to work or stay longer than 30 days (90 days for some nationalities). 

Types of Visas

There are six Russia visa categories: tourist, business, work, student, private, and transit. Each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages that depend on what you are looking to do in Russia and how long you wish to stay. 

Visa Application 

The visa application can be one of the most difficult parts of the whole visa process. Trying to navigate the website that seems to have been developed in 2003 and hasn’t been updated since leaves much to be desired. There isn’t much you can do, but simply push through it and save often as the site is known to crash. The visa application can be found here

Tourist Visa

The 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, this is the ideal visa to obtain and with a bit of planning, isn’t difficult to obtain. American citizens can obtain a 3-year 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.

In order to apply for a tourist visa, you will need the following: 

  • a tourist invitation
  • a passport photo
  • a signed Russian visa application form 
  • your passport
  • Russian visa fee

The fee for this type of visa depends highly on your citizenship but is usually between $50 and $160 if you apply in person at the consulate. 

As mentioned above, you will need a tourist invitation to apply for a Russian visa. This is quite easy to get and you can purchase them online. There are endless options online, but we personally recommend iVisa

If you live near a consulate, it is very easy to take all of these documents to the consulate yourself and they will check to make sure everything has been filled out correctly and tell you when you can come back to pick up the documents. In the US, you may make an appointment at the consulates in Washington, DC, New York, and Houston. To make an appointment to drop your documents off personally, please see the following links: Washington, DC, New York, and Houston. In other countries, please check with the local consulate as options for applying in person vary widely. In some countries, you must use an official visa center, in others, you may come to the Russian consulate without an appointment. 

If you do not live close to the consulate, there are numerous visa agencies, which will take your documents and submit them to the consulate on your behalf. Our favorite visa agency in the US is VisaHQ and we highly recommend using them if you live far away from any of the consulates. VisaHQ will walk you through the process step by step and while it costs more than dropping the documents off yourself, the price is very competitive, but their customer service is top-notch.

Business Visa

A 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. 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. 

In order to apply for a business visa, you will need the following: 

  • An official business visa invitation
  • a passport photo
  • a signed Russian visa application form 
  • your passport
  • Russian visa fee

The process of obtaining a business visa is very similar to a tourist visa. The only difference is that you need a different type of invitation. The invitation is much more formal and must be obtained by the company sponsoring the visa at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia. There are many companies that will assist in helping you obtain a business visa invitation, but the cost is significantly higher than for a tourist visa invitation. Expect to pay between $200 and $400 for a business visa invitation. iVisa offers business visa invitations and you can be sure that they are legitimate. Many companies will sell business visa invitations that are not legitimate and you will have no way of knowing until you go to the consulate. Therefore, we highly recommend you use iVisa to obtain a business visa invitation.

Once you have the business visa invitation, you may make an appointment at one of the consulates in the United States at the following links: Washington, DC, New York, and Houston. In other countries, please check with the local consulate as options for applying in person vary widely. In some countries, you must use an official visa center, in others, you may come to the Russian consulate without an appointment. 

Work Visa

A 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. 

For the standard work visa, the employer must apply for a limited quota position to be able to offer a job to a foreign citizen. There is a list of professions that are exempt from the quota system but for most jobs, the employer must apply in advance to be able to hire foreign workers. Once the employer has applied for and received permission to hire a foreign worker within the quota system, the process of applying for and receiving a work permit and work visa can take up to 6 months. In addition, standard work visas are issued for 3 months initially and must be extended for a year before it expires. After that, a work visa can be renewed every year. Therefore, this makes many companies nervous about hiring foreigners for most jobs as the bureaucracy is a pain to navigate. 

On the other hand, the HQS visa process has been simplified to make attracting and hiring foreign talent easier for Russian companies. An HQS visa may be applied for if the salary is more than 2 million rubles ($32,000) per year (1 million rubles for certain positions). All HQS visas are exempt from the quota system, so a company can immediately apply for a work permit on your behalf, which is a prerequisite for a work visa. This entire process should take 2-3 weeks from offer to getting your visa. If you are confident that you can command a salary of more than 2 million rubles per year, this is by far the best route to pursue. An HQS visa can also be issued for up to 3 years and does not require annual renewal, which makes it much more convenient for employees and employers.

In order to apply for a work visa, you must have been offered a job and accepted. At that point, the company that is hiring you will have to apply for a work permit on your behalf. The company should walk you through this entire process. 

In order to apply for a work visa, you will need the following: 

  • An official work visa invitation letter from employer
  • a passport photo
  • a signed Russian visa application form
  • HIV (AIDS)  test results  
  • your passport
  • Russian visa fee

If you are abroad, for example, as an English teacher, the school will perform all of the formalities on your behalf and send you a work visa invitation. In which case, you will go to the consulate with all of the documents as you would for either a tourist or business visa to apply for the visa. If you do not live near a consulate, VisaHQ can help deliver your passport and documents on your behalf and forward your passport with visa back to you. 

If you are based in Russia, then the process is a bit different and it can vary. You must have a job offer for your future employer to apply for a work permit on your behalf. Once you have the work permit, you need to apply for a work visa. Because you are already in Russia, you will have to leave the country and get the visa at a consulate. Depending on your citizenship, you may have to go back to your home country to get a work visa. This is the case for most Western nationalities. You may ask your employer to call the consulate in neighboring countries to see if they will process the visa even if officially you must obtain the visa in your home country. This sometimes works.

Fortunately, in almost all cases, your employer will handle all of the formalities and costs associated with your work visa. If you are abroad, you will usually only have to take the documents to the consulate or use a visa agency like VisaHQ.

Student Visa

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 institutions will allow you to study short term on a business visa, but be very careful about not overstaying your visa. Any educational institution should provide you with support for a student visa for the full term of your studies. 

The process for obtaining a student visa can be quite lengthy, so if you are interested in studying in Russia, we recommend getting started as far in advance as possible. Admissions departments in Russia are usually more flexible than in the West. The deadline for applications to begin studying at a university in the fall is usually in May. For Russian courses, you can usually apply anytime and start at the next class period. 

Once you have decided you want to study in Russia and you have applied, you need to wait to be accepted and receive an invitation letter from the university or language school. With the invitation, you can now apply for a student visa. The process is very similar to a work visa. 

In order to apply for a student visa, you will need the following: 

  • An official student visa invitation letter from an educational institution 
  • a passport photo
  • a signed Russian visa application form
  • HIV (AIDS)  test results  
  • your passport
  • Russian visa fee

Once you have the student visa invitation, you may make an appointment at one of the consulates in the United States at the following links: Washington, DC, New York, and Houston. In other countries, please check with the local consulate as options for applying in person vary widely. In some countries, you must use an official visa center, in others, you may come to the Russian consulate without an appointment. 

If you do not live close to the consulate, there are numerous visa agencies, which will take your documents and submit them to the consulate on your behalf. Our favorite visa agency in the US is VisaHQ and we highly recommend using them if you live far away from any of the consulates. VisaHQ will walk you through the process step by step and while it costs more than dropping the documents off yourself, the price is very competitive, but their customer service is top-notch.

For more information about university programs in Russia, check out our Russia Country Guide

Private Visa

A private visa is one of the most burdensome visas available. 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, this is very time consuming 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 $25 and applying for a tourist visa. 

We highly recommend that you do not apply for a private visa as once you have submitted the documents, any number of things may be wrong with the letter and you will be denied a visa. Simply apply for a tourist visa or business visa instead. 

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 with 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. 

In order to apply for a transit visa, you will need the following: 

  • a passport photo
  • a signed Russian visa application form 
  • your passport
  • Russian visa fee
  • ticket/itinerary showing onward travel from Russia

As with the tourist visa, you may either take the documents to the consulate yourself or use a visa agency service. 

To make an appointment to drop your documents off personally, please see the following links: Washington, DC, New York, and Houston.

If you are going to use a visa agency service for your transit visa, we highly recommend VisaHQ and we use them ourselves. 

We hope that we have answered all of your questions about Russian visas. As visa rules are different for every nationality, we tried to point out the procedures that will be most relevant to our visitors. If you have any questions about how to obtain a visa for travel to Russia feel free to leave a comment below and we will try to help you. 

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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