If Russia is on your travel bucketlist you’re probably keen to begin mapping out your journey to this incredible country! We’ve already written up posts to help you book your Trans-Siberian railway journey, as well as what to expect once you’re on the train, but what about getting into the country to do these exciting things in the first place?
Getting a visa is one of the more tedious aspects of travel, but it’s not something you can avoid if you’re really keen to visit Russia. The good news is, the visa process doesn’t have to be a complicated one! We’re here to help you through it, so read on for a guide on everything you need to get your Russian visa.
Visas with Indian vs. American passport (and most other Western countries)
Gaurav and I often have very different visa experiences when we travel together. He has an Indian passport while mine is American. This means that most of the time it’s Gaurav who has to jump through a lot more hoops to get a visa! Hence I was a bit surprised to discover that the visa application for Russia is pretty much the same for both American and Indian passport-holders. It was a good reminder of what a privilege it is to have a passport that makes it so easy to travel to a lot of countries around the world.
Because we live in London, we had to submit all our paperwork through the local Russian Visa Application Centre—just keep in mind that this process might change depending on what country you’re applying from.
Step 1: Getting your invitation letter
First things first, before any visa application, you’ll need an “invitation letter”. This is required for most nationalities including UK, US and Indian passport-holders. There are a fair few tourist agencies online which can help you with this. An invitation letter can only be issued by official tour operators or agencies approved by the Ministry of Tourism in Russia. After doing some research, we settled on visatoruss.com. They were reasonably priced – £8.99/$11.99USD for single-entry for US/UK citizens and 20USD for Indian citizens – and once we gave our hotel details and made the payment, we received the invitation letter with the registration number within an hour on the same day.
To get started with the invitation letter you’ll need to fill out an online registration form for the agency you choose. And you’ll also need two important details in advance: your accommodation details for the entire trip, and the booking details of a hotel in whatever city you’re flying into. For the first item, we reserved hotels with free cancellations on booking.com. This offered us a safety net in the unlikely scenario that our visa application would be rejected. No one wants to end up paying for a hotel they’re not using, right?
Below is our invitation letter (we’ve blocked out some sensitive info) so you can see the details you need and what it should look like.
Step 2: Getting your documents together
Here is a list of the documents we each submitted:
- Completed visa application form
- 1 recent passport-sized photo
- Hotel booking form
- Russian National Tourism Office invitation letter
Step 3: Submitting your documents
Once you have all your documents together, you’ll need to head to the visa office in person to submit them. Here in London you don’t make appointments, you simply show up, take a number, and wait your turn.
The office is open from 8:30am – 3pm Monday thru Friday.
We went early on a weekday right when the office opened in order to avoid a long wait. It’s hard to know if it gets busier later in the day, but when we were there we got through the entire process within thirty minutes, which was great! Keep in mind that the closer you get to high tourist season (May-August), the likelier it is that the visa office will be busier.
Step 4: Fees and processing
You’ll make a payment for your visa right after submitting your documents. The cost for a single-entry 30-day visa is £145. Because it’s so pricey we recommend making it count by spending at least 2 weeks in Russia, or use up the entire 30 days if you can!
This standard visa takes 21 working days (around 4 weeks) to process, but if you’re in a rush there is a fast track option too. This one costs £245 and takes just 3 working days.
Step 5: Picking up your visa
Depending on which visa processing service you request, you’ll receive a slip of paper telling you the date on which your visa will be ready. Bring this with you on that day. Your passport will be given back to you in an envelope. Your Russian visa will take up an entire page of your passport and will include your photo and all your information as well as the dates for which the visa is valid.
Your visa can only be used for the specified dates.
This means you aren’t free to use the visa whenever, you have to stick to the travel dates you provided to the Ministry of Tourism when requesting your invitation letter. For us, the visa was for exactly 15 days—from April 13 to April 27—because those were the travel dates we provided.
Step 6: Get ready to have fun!
Phew! The hard part is over and now comes the fun bit: planning out the details of your trip. Check out our tour of Moscow’s beautiful metros for something to do in the vibrant Russian capital, and stay tuned for more articles with tips for visiting Russia!
Hopefully this simplifies somewhat the Russian visa process, but if you have any questions please leave us a comment below and we’ll do our best to answer them. Good luck and happy travels!