Everbrite's Russia, Belarus and Ukraine Pages

Belarus Info

Russia General Info

Russian Consulate Information:
A to F
G to J
K to South Africa
Spain to Z

Obtaining a Russian Visa

Money and Other Tips

Tidbits for Tourists:
A to I
K to Z

Rulers of Russia:
From the Beginning to the Time of Troubles
From the Romanovs to Revolution
From Soviet Times to the present

Russia Regional Information:
Irkutsk/Lake Baikal

Moscow Metro Tour

Moscow Metro
Moscow Metro History and Tour

Central Moscow Tour- in four parts with map:
Part 1 Stops 1 through 13. Marriott Royal/Hotel Budapest to Manezh Ploshchad
Part 2 Stops 14 though 22. Around Manezh Ploshchad
Part 3 Stops 23 though 44. Along Tverskaya Street to the area around Pushkin Square
Part 4 Stops 45 though 48. From Pushkinskaya Ploshchad to Upper St. Peter's Monastery and back

Travel to and within Russia
Cars, planes, ferries traveling over land, in the air and on the seas

Trans-Siberian Trains
Trans-Siberian Trains general information to get you started on your journey
Trans-Siberian Stops information about common stops along the way
Notes about Chinese Consulates some informataion about Chinese consulates

Russian Language and Culture
The Alphabet
Books, Tapes and other Resources
Basic Words

Ukraine Info



St. Basil's Cathedral

Page Contents St. Basil's
General information
Indispensable Web Sites
Visa Information
To Obtain a Tourist Visa
Model Cover Letter
Submitting your Visa Application
Notes on Obtaining a Visa
Migration Cards and Registering a Visa
Registering a stay at a private apartment
Extending a Tourist Visa
Notes about St. Basil's Cathedral

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General Information 

Indispensable Web Sites for Russian travel: Although this is a commercial informational site, this may be the best the web has to offer regarding travel to Russia. They don't sell anything. They connect to other companies that actually sell products and services. The benefit is that they check out these services and choose only those that they deem reliable and responsible. Please look it over. You can read about visas, see what one looks like, as well as the visa support documents, the new migration card, etc. You can find out about registration and other important matters regarding Russian visas and travel in Russia. They also have good information about the Trans-Siberian and things to do at the stops along the way.

For the locations of Russian consulates around the world check: OR

MID The main page of the Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs has links to pages in English, French, Spanish and German. The Russian listing of all the embassies and consulates can be found here: list of Russian consulates.

Your Train - CIS Railway Timetable This is probably the easiest site to navigate in English for Russian train information including trains to/from Europe and China. The downside is that it doesn't offer prices, show seat availability or help with connections unless you know the station at which to connect. If you do not know the spelling of the city, try typing the first letter or two and you will have a pull down menu from which you can choose. Their purchase service was new in March 2003 and seems to be quite reasonable in comparison to most travel agencies and the actual price at the station, but requires a Russian credit card, and is limited to delivery in Moscow and perhaps a few other large Russian cities.

RZD site in English is the official Russian Federation Railway web site but the pages in English provide limited information and tickets cannot be purchased here. For more information about Russian trains, seasonal price variations, using the website and train travel in general, please see my pages on Travel in Russia.

Die Bahn, the German Railways site is useful. Their English language page is easy to use though sometimes the spellings can be peculiar. One special advantage of this site is its ability to show directly connecting trains.

These websites list all the organized hostels in Moscow, Petersburg, Irkutsk and Novgorod. There are now hostels in places like Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk but the number of hostels is still quite low.

  2. Hostels in Europe
  3. Russian Youth Hostels
  4. Hostelling International

This site has user ratings for hotels: HotelsRussia.

Though old (2002,2004), this site has reviews and ratings for hotels in Moscow and Petersburg: Hotel Inspector.

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Visa Information 

There are basically five types of Russian visa:

  • tourist visa, which is good for a maximum of 30 days and cannot be extended beyond this or renewed without leaving the country,
  • homestay or visitors visa, which requires an official invitation from a Russian resident and is good for a maximum of 90 days,
  • business visa, which is good for 30 days, 90 days, even up to a year but never more than 90 days in a 180 day period,
  • transit visa, which is only good for a maximum of three days if you fly into Russia, but only one or two nights are permitted in Moscow or ten days if you take the train, but again only a night or at most two in Moscow, and
  • special short term visa, which is good for three days in Kaliningrad or St. Petersburg. For the former, all arrangements must be made in advance and you must enter Kaliningrad at certain borders. See Kaliningrad Special Visa for more information. For the latter, you must be arriving and departing St. Petersburg via ship, remaining overnight on the ship and taking the official sightseeing tours from the ship. Currently these can be long term cruise ship stops or three day two night cruises such as those offered from Helsinki by St. Peter Line.
Actually there are several others for students, or persons with work permits, for persons participating in sports events or educational programs, cultural exchanges, religious persons, diplomats, etc. but these generally aren't useful for most visitors.

The easiest visas to obtain are tourist visas. Some consulates will issue double entry tourist visas. The consulates in the US even charge the same amount for a single entry or a double entry visa, regardless of the length or type. The next easiest are 30 or 90 day business visas that are single or double entry.

Some consulates will tell you that you can only obtain a double entry visa, either tourist or business, IF you are traveling from Russia to another CIS country and then back to Russia. The CIS countries include:
However, there would appear to be nothing on the visa itself that would prohibit a person from using a double entry visa to go to Mongolia, China or one of the Baltic countries.

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Six month or one year multiple entry visas may be difficult to obtain without legitimate reasons and getting business-visa invitations is slower than it used to be. Invitations for multiple-entry six-month business visas now take a minimum of six weeks. Two places that are recommended frequently for their ability to obtain these invitations efficiently and at a reasonable price are: Real Russia or Nevsky88

Multiple entry business visas often require HIV test results in addition to all the other requirements.

Multiple entry business visas no longer permit continuous stay in Russia for the period of validity of the visa. At the present time, multiple entry visas are a lot like Schengen visas, they are good for 90 days in a 180 day period of time. However, a current loophole in the law does appear to permit one to obtain a 90 day Russian business visa, depart the country on or before day 90, obtain a new 90 day Russian business visa and immediately reenter.

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Many embassy website indicate that visas cannot be obtained more than 90, and in some cases 45, days prior to the date of entry. This often has nothing to do with the consulate, but rather with obtaining the necessary visa support documents. And it has been reported that in some cases companies offering visa support refuse to do so more than 90 days before the date of departure from Russia.

Since late 2007 changes have been made in the ability to obtain Russian tourist visas outside of the country of one's passport or official residence. There have also been changes to the way the Ministry of Foreign Affairs allows travel agencies to issue official invitations. As a result, despite what many Russian embassy websites state, in many cases it is now possible to obtain invitations and hence, tourist visas more than 90 days in advance of entry, and sometimes as long as six or even eight months in advance of entry.

Recent reports indicate that it is often possible to get visas up to 180 days in advance from the consulates in New Zealand and Australia. There are even some reports of people getting visas more than 90 days in advance elsewhere, but this would not appear to be common in Europe, particularly within the EU.

Periodically there are reports of hostels and other companies only being willing to issue tourist visa support for 21 days or less. Most recently this was reported to be the case for Travelers Guest House in Moscow.

Once you have a visa, you are free to travel to most places within Russia except for some border regions and towns that are still closed. Some of the closed towns and border regions that require special permits are closed to Russian citizens as well. Obtaining permits for these regions often requires letters to the Ministry of Foreign Affiars months in advance of planned travel.

Also there are some regions (Altai and Tuva) that require registration for the region, not for the town.

Sometimes when obtaining visa support you are asked to list the cities that you plan to visit. The company providing the documents may shorten this list to only two or three places and list accommodations on the voucher only for these two or three places. This is entirely for convenience sake since the accommodation voucher is a sham and no reservations actually have been made. Unless you are hoping to go someplace off the beaten track, do not worry. Once you have the visa and enter the country, you can travel freely with few exceptions.

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To obtain a Russian tourist visa you need: 

  1. A passport valid for at least 30 days after the planned date of arrival in Russia, although in some instances they require a passport valid for 6 months. Usually you will need two facing pages to be blank or at least one page completely blank and part of the facing page. This is for the visa and for the entry and exit stamps.
  2. The completed application form, which can be downloaded from the website of most consulates and embassies. Those with US or UK passports, or others applying at embassies or consulates in the US or UK must use a special website: Online Electronic visa application for their application. Once completed, they should print out the form on two pages and attach the photo as instructed. Canadians must use this website or a two page application which can be downloaded from the website of the Russian Embassy in Canada. All others not mentioned above use a one page application form which can be downloaded from many websites.
  3. One Passport photo, which is glued to the application in the place indicated and must meet certain, specific requirements:
    • The frame size must be 35 mm X 45 mm (1 3/8" X 1 3/4");
    • Photo must be made within the last 6 months before the date of application;
    • The photos must be clear, well defined and taken against a plain white or light colored background;
    • Your face must be square to the camera with a neutral expression, neither frowning nor smiling, and with your mouth closed;
    • Sunglasses are not acceptable;
    • The photos must show the full front view of the head, with the face in the middle of the photo, and include the top of the shoulders.
    • A standard tourist confirmation (also called visa support or invitation) from the authorized hosting Russian travel agency or a hotel, registered with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a housing voucher from your hotel or from the travel agency in Russia. The confirmation must contain the agency's reference number and registration number, which are needed to complete the application.
      1. Remember to make copies of these two documents to carry with you. Though rare, you may have to present them on entry into Russia. Even if you don't have to present the actual forms, some of the information on them is necessary to complete the migration card.
      2. In the past faxed documents were accepted at most consulates. However, the fax cannot be on flimsy thermal paper. If that's what your fax machine uses, then photocopy the pages onto regular paper. Since the new rules have been put into place, you may need original documents at some consulates. Some people have reported success with printing a scanned invitation sent by email and printed on a laser printer. For specific requirements of particular consulates check this page: Russian Consulate Information.
    • A cover letter from a travel agency OR written by you, containing the following information. Note that cover letters aren't always required but if there are two or more people traveling together it is a good idea. Certainly it cannot hurt your application.
      1. Applicant's name or alphabetical list of a group;
      2. Dates and points of arrival and departure in and from Russia and means of transportation;
      3. Itinerary in Russia (do not include places that are not mentioned on your visa support documents);
      4. Index and reference number of the receiving organization (also known as the travel agency or visa service).

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Model Cover Letter Form 

Your Street Address
Your City, Your Country
Your Postal Code

Embassy of the Russian Federation
Consular Division
Street Address of Consulate
City, Country

RE: Tourist Visa

Dear Friends:

The following people are traveling to Russia:
(Alphabetical list of people traveling together)

We are scheduled to arrive at (City Name) airport / train station / bus station / border on (Date of Arrival).

We are scheduled to depart at (City Name) airport / train station / bus station / border on (Date of Departure - this should be the day you cross the border).

We have made our own travel arrangements for flights / trains / buses and have booked our accommodations and arrangements in Russia through (Name of company providing Visa support).

We hope that this information is sufficient for you to authorize tourist visas. Thank you in advance for your assistance in this matter.


(Signature of person writing the letter)

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Submitting your Visa Application 
Increasingly Russian embassies and consulates refuse to accept applications for visas by mail. In some cases this means that one must use a visa service to deliver the application if there is no option to delivering it yourself or have a friend or family member submit it on your behalf. This is the case at the Russian embassy in Washington, DC where the embassy recommends three different services on its website

In other cases, the visa process has been outsourced. In the UK applications must be sent or delivered in person to VFS global. This service charges an additional fee on top of the cost of the visa. The fee is £26.40 (inclusive of VAT) for routine applications and £33.60 (inclusive of VAT) for urgent applications (i.e. next working day service). It is not clear from the website if an application can be delivered in person directly to the embassy or if you use another visa service, if they can deliver it to the embassy.

However, the Russian Embassy in London makes it very clear that "VF Services (UK) Limited will be responsible only for accepting and processing applications. All applications will continue to be assessed by the Embassy of the Russian Federation, London. Timelines and turnaround of visas are as per the discretion of the authority."

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Migration cards and Registering your Visa 
Upon arrival in Russia, you will be given a migration card. This is the equivalent of other countries arrival and departure cards. Please do not lose this document. While it is possible to leave the country without this form, it is also possible that you will be hassled at the border regarding its absence.

The form does ask for the name of the place where you will be staying so it is a good idea to have this information with you. Since no one checks your original invitation and accommodation voucher, you can write the address where you will actually be staying.

Russian law used to require that you register your visa within 72 hours of arrival, excluding weekends and holidays. The Russian Federation changed the law on 20 March 2011. Article 2a specifically states that registration needs to be completed by 7 (seven) business days. Previous changes in the law moved the responsibility to register from the traveler to the host or place where you stay. This means that it is now much easier to travel in Russia and not worry about registration.

Hotels will register you automatically, but hostels may not. There is a small fee for registration, about 125 rubles. Hotels usually fold this cost into the charge for the room, but hostels often do not do this for a variety of reasons. Assuming that you plan to be in one place for more than 7 (seven) business days, it will be important to ask in advance if a hostel will arrange registration and if so, at what cost. Expect to pay 400-700 rubles or more for this service as someone must physically go to the local Post Office to file the forms, pay the fees and obtain the necessary stamps.

Increasingly travelers report that they are not asked for their migration cards at the time of departure. This seems to be true especially for those who are departing by air from one of the many airports in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

Increasingly reports suggest that registration is done electronically in larger cities.

Despite the fact that it is now seven business days before registration is required, it is still possible to be stopped by police or militia and asked to present your documents. It is worthwhile to save copies of your train or plane tickets to prove that you haven't been in any one place more than seven business days. If police threaten to charge you, then contact citizen services at your embassy for assistance.

If you have been in a place for more than seven days without registering and are caught, note that there is a fine which can be significant. But more importantly, you can be deported and blacklisted from obtaining a Russian visa gain for a period of five years or longer.

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Registering a stay at a private apartment 
If you are staying in a private residence, then it is possible to get registered, but the process is a bit more complicated because the actual owner of the residence must agree to submit paperwork in order to register you. While this is possible, it should be noted that for most Russians this will not be ideal as they view dealing with Russian bureaucracy to be like entering Dante's seventh level of hell: to be avoided at all costs.

Basically there are two options. One is dealing with УФМС (UFMS), the Federal Migration Service Organization and the other is visiting the Post Office and local bank.

last revised 16 September 2011 © 2003-2011 Ruth E. Imershein
The information contained on these pages is intended to assist in making travel plans but things change, mistakes can be made.
Please do not depend entirely on this information when making your decisions.

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