If you are traveling to Russia independently and want to save money on obtaining your Russian Visa, just follow the stages below to get a Russian Visa with minimal stress and hassle.
- Decide on the dates
Before you try to apply for a Russian Visa, you should decide exactly when you are going to be traveling and which cities you are going to visit. This information must be included on your visa application.
- Check your passport
Make sure your passport is valid for the dates you are planning to travel. Most consular departments will require that your passport is valid for at least six months after your planned departure date from Russia. You also need to ensure that you have the required number of clear pages in your passport (this also varies at different consular departments, but two is normally enough).
- Decide what type of visa you need
The type of visa you will apply for depends on the purpose of your trip and the length of your stay. Most visitors to Russia require only the easily obtainable single-entry Tourist Visa, valid for one month. If you are planning to stay for longer, or need to enter Russia more than once during your trip, then you will need a Business Visa even if you're traveling for pleasure. Finally, if you're going to visit Russian friends, you may want to try getting a Private Visa - although this is only really worth it if you are visiting the provinces and are having difficulty finding a professional visa sponsor.
- Find someone to sponsor your visa
Once you've decided on the type of visa you need, you will then need to find a person or company who will supply you with the documents required by Russian consular departments to process your visa application. These documents are usually referred to as visa support documents. If you are pre-booking accommodation in Russia, then nearly all hotels and most travel agencies will be able to issue you with the necessary documents to apply for a one-month Tourist Visa.
If you applying for a Tourist Visa you require the following relevant documents:
- Tourist Voucher
- Tourist Confirmation
These documents should be provided by a travel company or a hotel. These companies are referred to as visa sponsors. There are many travel companies who will, for a fee, act as visa sponsors and provide you with these documents without pre-booked accommodation. Both documents can be fitted on to one A4 sheet of paper if necessary, and they can be presented to most Russian consular departments as a faxed copy. Check with your nearest consular department to ensure that a fax is acceptable.
For Business Visas and Private Visas, you will require a Business Visa Invitation or Private Visa Invitation, issued by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (for Business Invitations) or the Russian Ministry of the Interior (for Private Invitations) at the request of the company or individual who is sponsoring your visa application. Many travel companies are able to obtain such invitations for a fee, and can arrange to have them couriered to you if your consulate requires an original copy.
- Find your nearest Russian Embassy or Consulate
Now you have all the documents you need to apply for a Russian Visa. The next step is to find the nearest Russian consular department which will accept your visa application. If you are unsure where that is, check the Russian Consular Locator. You will need to check the processing times, application rules and visa tariffs for each consular department separately.
- Get an HIV test
If you are applying for a visa for longer than three months, you will need to provide, along with your application, a document certifying that you are HIV negative. Check with your nearest consular department concerning validity of HIV tests.
- Get health insurance
Most Russian consular departments will require you to have health insurance covering the dates of your proposed trip and valid in Russia. If you already have travel health insurance, you will need to confirm that it covers the Russian Federation. You may also have to fill in an Insurance Card, noting the number and validity of your insurance policy.
- Get your picture taken
Your visa application must be accompanied by a recent photo of yourself. In most cases, you will need to submit one passport-size color photograph taken against a white background. You must remember to sign the back of the photograph.
- Fill in the application form
Along with your passport and your visa support documents, you will need to submit a completed Visa Application Form. You can download a blank form and find an example of a completed form with explanations here. Check with your nearest consular department that this form is valid with them before submitting your application. US, UK, Australian and Canadian citizens are required to fill in a longer and more detailed form (two pages) than the one for other nationalities.
- Submit your application
Now you have everything ready, you can submit your documents to the nearest Russian Consular Department. If you have the time, we strongly recommend that you submit your application by post. It's cheaper and considerably easier than applying in person. However, the process can take up to one month and, as a rule, consular departments do not issue urgent visas by post. If you need a visa urgently, then check the opening hours of your nearest consular department, turn up as early as possible and, in many places, expect to queue. Don't forget that your application must be accompanied by the following documents:
- Your passport
- A completed Visa Application Form
- Relevant visa support documents
- Details of health insurance
- One color photograph
- HIV test results (if applying for a six-month or longer visa)
- A postal or money order for the cost of your visa (if applying by post)
- A self-addressed envelope with pre-paid postage (if applying by post)
- Obtain your visa
Now all you can do is wait until your visa is issued. There is little point in trying to contact most Russian Consular Departments before the date you have been told your visa will be ready. In most cases, they will not answer any queries about the status of applications.
- Obtain a Migration Card
Along with your Russian Visa, you will need to obtain a Migration Card at your point of entry into Russia. This is a form in English and Russian which you must complete and present at passport control. Half will be stamped and returned to you, and you must keep it with your visa until your departure.
- Register your visa
Once you're inside the Russian Federation, the party that provides you with accommodation is obliged to register your visa within seven working days of entry. If you are traveling on a Tourist Visa and staying in a hotel, then it is almost certain will be able to register your visa at reception. In this case, the hotel will issue you with proof of registration, which you will be required to submit at passport control when you leave Russia.
If you are traveling on a Business or Private Visa, then you will be registered with a local department of the Federal Migration Service. The responsibility to register you lies with the person or company who is providing your accommodation or who has sponsored your visa, and they can now do this at any post office. To register you, they will need to show your passport there. They will then be issued with proof of registration, which you should carry until the end of your stay. Check with whoever is providing your visa support documents beforehand to ensure that they can take care of the registration process.
- Make copies
We strongly recommend that you make photocopies of all your travel documents, including the main pages of your passport, your Russian Visa, and both sides of your migration card. Should you lose your passport or migration card during your stay, copies are almost certain to make things easier. They can also be carried with you instead of the original documents in case the Russian police wish to check your identity.