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Obtaining a Russian Visa

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Russian Language and Culture
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Ukraine Info


Russian Visas

Page Contents
What to Consider
What kind of visa?
Personal or Private
Where to get Visa Support (and why you need to consider the issue of visa registration)
Companies selling Visa Support
How long a visa should I get?
Extending or changing the dates on your visa
Can I get two Russian visas on my passport?
Do I need copies of visa support documents?
Where to go to get a Russian visa quickly and easily?
Residency requirements
Do you need health insurance?
Do you need present train/plane or bus tickets?

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What to Consider 

What kind of visa should I get? 
Business  visas can be 30 days or 90 days, single or double entry, 6 or 12 month multiple entry. The latter two are harder to obtain now. The necessary support documents are more costly, the documents takes longer to obtain and except for US passport holders, the visa itself is more costly. Also Business visas for longer than 90 days may require that you present an HIV test result at the time that the application is submitted. This test must have been done within 6 months of the date of the application.

In addition, the previous advantage of a using a business visa to stay in Russia for more than 90 days has changed as Russian business visas are now only valid for 90 days period within 180 day period of time. Thus the options to remain in Russia longer than 90 days generally are limited to those who can obtain a work permit (increasingly limited in number), those studying at Russian schools which certify student status, diplomats and other government officials.

There is a loophole to this law. It still is possible to get a 90 day business visa, leave Russia at the end of 90 days, and immediately apply for a new 90 day visa. Of course, this is not practical if you are not near a border or the country you are near requires an expensive visa.

Personal  visas are those which are granted based on an invitation that a person living in Russia obtains specifically on behalf of the person visiting. In some countries these are called "visitor" or "private" visas.

While this might seem like an easy way to visit a friend living in Russia, in reality it is a nightmare for several reasons. First, the friend must obtain the necessary documents. This often requires several visits to their local government office. Then the original documents must be delivered to you in order to obtain the visa. And finally, in order to register, the official resident of the apartment or flat where you are staying must accompany you to the local post office, then to the bank to make a small payment and finally back to the post office again with the bank receipt in order to get officially registered. Needless to say, unless your friend has lots of time and patience, this is not recommended.

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Transit  visas are available if you can prove onward travel either by visa for another country or train/plane tickets out of Russia. They are available for a maximum of 10 days. This maximum is granted at the discretion of the consulate. Generally speaking transit visas only permit one night in Moscow though if plane tickets show two nights they can be granted for this amount. Transit visas are useful if you are spending a night or less in Moscow between flights to some other part of the world or if you are taking the train straight through without making any stops along the way.

Transit visas are an alternative if you are stuck in China or Mongolia without a Russian visa and want to travel back to Europe overland. You can buy a ticket for travel from Beijing or Ulan Bator to Moscow from an agency (or at the train station in Ulan Bator) and then order a bus ticket from Moscow to Riga getting online confirmation of the ticket purchase. While this won't permit much time in Moscow, it does permit overland travel that otherwise might not be possible.

There are occasional reports of people getting transit visas for travel from UB to Moscow, two nights, then Moscow to Petersburg, one night and then an onward bus to someplace in the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland) for a total of 9 nights or 10 days in Russia.

There are infrequent reports of people getting double entry transit visas particularly for air travel to and from the Central Asian capitals.

Generally speaking, there isn't much cost savings for a transit visa except for the cost for the invitation. The visa itself usually costs the same as or only slightly less than a tourist visa. And often the need to purchase in advance the train tickets which must be done through an agency cancels any savings in the cost of the visa.

Tourist  visas are by far the most commonly obtained for travelers. Theoretically, you need not book your entire trip in advance, but you should know that legally with a tourist visa you are required to book both accommodations and travel arrangements for your entire trip prior to obtaining the visa. Most of hostels and internet providers of visa support will provide you with a hotel accommodation voucher or vouchers that make it "appear" that you have booked your whole trip. These sham documents including the official invitation often are collectively referred to as "visa support".

While I understand that many people would like to travel "as independently as they can," I do NOT recommend that one plan to arrive in Moscow or Petersburg (or Vladivostok during summer) without prearranged housing. These cities have a shortage of inexpensive housing and chasing around town looking for a place to sleep is not a great way to spend ones holiday.

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Other  types of visas should be mentioned. One is the 72 hours visa for Kaliningrad. For more information on this restricted visa, please see my Kaliningrad travel page.

Cruise ship passengers can currently visit Russia on visa-waiver scheme provided the stop in the port of call doesn't exceed 72 hours, the tourists stay overnight on board the cruise ship and all tours one shore are arranged through the cruise ship. In addition to cruise ships, the company St. Peter Line offers special two night, three day packages from Helsinki to visit St. P

An major limitation of this visa is that cruise passengers may disembark from the ship only if they participate in tours organized by cruise companies prior to arrival. That means that passengers not participating in these tours and wishing to disembark will need to obtain a Russia tourist visa. Such tourist visa must be obtained prior to arrival since tourist visas are not be issued by the port at the time of arrival.

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Where to get visa support? (and why you may need to consider the issue of visa registration) 
Visa support for tourist visas is a set of two documents for which you will pay about 35-50$ USD to obtain. One is the actual official invitation and the other is an accommodations voucher. The invitation will be entirely in Russian and will have an official seal with a number in it. The accommodations voucher will list cities, hotels and dates of accommodation. Visa support can be obtained from many travel agencies as well as some hostels and hotels in Russia.

Visa support may or may not include a fee for registering your visa. It is important to ask before purchasing visa support whether registration is included in the fee paid for the visa support. Some companies note on their website that they provide registration, but they fail to indicate that there is an additional fee for this service. Check to see if the consulate where you intend to apply requires original documents or if they accept print outs or copies. Remember you will need to pay an additional fee, if the original documents must be sent to you via courier.

As of March 2011 Russian law now requires that your visa be registered within 7 business days of arrival, excluding weekends and holidays. This means both arrival in the country and arrival in a new location. This is two changes from long standing practice. The first occurred in 2007 when the responsibility to register was shifted from the traveler to the place where one stayed. The second occurred in 2011 when the length of stay increased from three business days to seven (7) business days. For most travelers, this effectively eliminates the need to get registered if you spend less than 6 business nights in any one place.

Please note that while it is the responsibility of the host to arrange registration, it is the traveler who suffers if it is necessary and not completed properly or in a timely fashion. Therefore, IF you are going to stay any one place MORE than seven (7) business days, it behooves you to consider in advance where and how you will resolve the issue of registration.

Hotels usually fold the cost of this process into the charge for the room, but hostels often do not do this for a variety of reasons. As a result if you plan to stay someplace other than a hotel you need 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 government office or Post Office to complete the forms and pay the fees. For more information about these matters, see Migration cards and Registering your Visa.

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If you plan to stay in a private residence, then it is possible to get registered, but it may be a bit more complicated because the actual owner of the residence must agree to provide and submit the paperwork in order to register you. While this is possible, it should be noted that dealing with Russian bureaucracy is like entering Dante's seventh level of hell: best to be avoided at all costs. If you are couchsurfing and intend to stay more than 7 business days, please ask your host about this since many would consider the process a huge imposition. For more information about what is required, see Registering a stay at a private apartment.

Personally, to be on the safe side, I recommend that people get themselves registered at the first possible opportunity and then again in every location in which they remain for 7 days or longer. If you cannot register within 7 days because you are on the train or not staying someplace long enough to arrange this or some other reason, be sure to keep your train/plane tickets to show that you have been traveling.

If you are male and between the ages of 18 and 30 or you are not "white," it is extremely important that your papers be in order, which includes getting yourself registered or something to show why you didn't need to be registered. The reason is that this is the population which seems most likely to be targeted by the police for harassment. If you meet these criteria and plan to travel outside of the major metropolitan areas of Moscow and St. Petersburg, it might be worth carrying with you a copy in Russian of the new federal regulation showing the change to seven days. See Article 2a.

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Companies Selling Visa Support 

All or almost all hostels offer tourist visa support through an associated travel agency. Check out these links for hostels in Russia:

Hostelling International
Hostels Worldwide
Russian Youth Hostels
There are also travel agencies and visa support companies, which can provide these services. Contact me if you want a more comprehensive list of these, but to name a few:
Sokol Tours - A Russian tour company whose site has lots of good information about travel in Russia.
StudyRussian - A company that specializes in studying Russian at MGU and travel on the trans-siberian route.
Svezhy Veter - Another Russian tour company, although not specializing in travel on the trans-siberian, their site has lots of useful information about travel in Russia and their staff are very helpful.

Both VisaToRussia and GoToRussia use the same agency: IntelService Center. IntelService also operates as well. Theoretically, and reportedly, the service is the same for all of these companies.

Also there is, which is a travel information service. They do not sell anything themselves, but rather connect to other companies which do provide services. In this case, they provide visa support documents through VisaToRussia. Way to Russia tries very hard to provide the most accurate and up to date information on their website and to monitor the services and quality of their providers. is another visa service that comes highly recommended by fellow travelers. They are located in the US and Moscow, but will fax your documents anywhere.

If you are located in the UK or Europe and concerned about the cost and timing of having documents sent via courier from the US or Russia, consider Andrews Consulting, also known as Andrews Travel House. They have a London location and offer all sorts of visa services, can assist with flights and other travel matters. They also have locations in Petersburg and Moscow. Another UK based company that comes highly recommended is Real Russia.

Two companies have been suggested specifically for business visas although they also provide support for tourist visas. Nevksy88, which is based in Petersburg, claims to have the lowest price for business visa support documents. In addition this company has apartments for rent in Petersburg and Moscow, and can arrange registration in both places. The other place recommended by several expat forums in Moscow is Liga Consultant, a business travel company located in Moscow.

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How long a visa should I get? 
You can always enter Russia after the date on your visa, but not before. You can always depart Russia before the date on your visa, but not after. Things happen and plans change. The cost of a tourist visa is the same whether it is for four days or four weeks. The cost of the support documents is the same whether your stay is three days or thirty days. Therefore, it makes sense get the longest possible time period for your tourist visa.

Tourist visas are good for only 30 days, and they cannot be renewed or extended beyond that once you are in Russia. In fact, if you didn't get the full 30 days initially, they are extremely difficult to extend so it makes sense to request the maximum 30 days or close to it from the beginning. This way if you plans do change, hopefully you won't be in the country illegally. Overstaying your visa can be costly. You could miss your departure connections, be forced to travel to the location of the company that issued your visa support and/or have to pay substantial fines.

Thirty days is not the same as one month. Thirty days includes the day of arrival and the day of departure. It means that a visa is issued from the May 1 to May 30 and not to June 1 which would actually be 32 days. There are always exceptions and on occasion someone will report getting a tourist visa good from May 1 to June 1, but this would appear to be the exception, not the rule.

It is far easier to pad your original request for visa support. It should be noted that when issuing your visa, some consulates routinely add a day to the beginning and a day or two to the end of the requested dates if you do not request the full 30 days. Be sure when you pick up your visa to look carefully at the dates for entry and exit. If there is an error, bring it to their attention immediately.

If your plans change while you are traveling, and your visa dates will not work any more, then you must apply for a new visa which means getting new visa support documents and finding a place away from home that will issue a new Russian tourist visa to a non resident. One is costly and the other can be both costly and frustratingly complicated to locate. Therefore, chose your dates carefully.

And finally, if you are entering or exiting Russia by train, be sure to check the train schedule. Two things to take into consideration, one, the schedule always shows times as Moscow time and not as local time, but the borders operate at local time and two, many train departures pass the Russian borders after midnight. Thus, even though you think you are departing in the evening from Moscow or Petersburg or elsewhere, in fact, you might not cross the border until early the next morning.

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Extending or changing the dates on your visa 
Extending a tourist visa beyond 30 days from date of entry to date of departure is IMPOSSIBLE. If you are injured or hospitalized and there is any chance that you will not be able to depart on or before the end date of your visa, then immediately contact citizen services at your embassy for assistance.

If you have a tourist visa for less than 30 days and decide in country that you want or need to extend a tourist visa, please note that it is NOT a simple process, but here's the story. First, you must contact the company that originally issued your visa support documents. Hopefully, you are still in the same city. The reason is that Russian law requires that SPONSORS -- not the foreign visa holder -- apply to replace, extend or change visas. Without the support of your sponsor, replacement of a lost or stolen visa can be difficult and time consuming; extensions or changes to your visa may be impossible.

If you discover before you depart that your visa dates are not correct, if the consulate made the error, they will make changes provided you have a copy of the support documents to show that the error is theirs. If you discover that the dates you provided were incorrect because the documents you provided were not sufficient to cover the dates or some other problem existed, you need to get new documents and start the process over. You cannot simply add a new visa with new dates to extend your time.

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Can I get two Russians visas on my passport? 
It is NOT possible to have two different Russian visas on your passport at one time. The consulate will invalidate the first visa in order to authorize the new, second one. That said, there is always the rare exception to every rule and in this case there is the occasional report of someone getting a tourist visa and a transit visa issued at the same time. This appears to happen when the individual takes the train to Mongolia or China and then flies back to Europe, stopping in Moscow to make connections. Again, there are no guarantees and one should not count on this happening.

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Do I need copies of visa support documents? 
YES. It is recommended that you make copies of all visa support documents before submitting them to the consulate for your visa. The consulate will NOT always return your documents. In fact, in most cases they do not. All you get back are your passport with a full page visa. Again, you should check the dates on your visa against this paperwork before departing the consulate (if you pick up your visa) or immediately upon receiving your passport in the mail. If there is a discrepancy, bring it to the attention of the consulate immediately. If the error is theirs, they should correct it without problems, without additional cost and with minimal delay.

Copies of your visa support documents should also be carried with you when you enter Russia. Some of the information on these documents is asked for on the migration card that you will be given on arrival into Russia. In addition, although this is highly uncommon, you can be asked by the immigration officials to produce this paperwork.

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Where to go to get a Russian visa quickly and easily? 
Without question, the easiest, most convenient place to get a Russian tourist visa is at home in the country of your passport or the country of your official residence. It may not be the cheapest, but there is little reason for the consular officials to refuse to accept your application or to deny a properly completed application. Besides, do you really want to spend your holiday filling out the forms, standing in line to drop off the application, returning to retrieve your passport and visa? Personally I don't consider visiting Russian consulates a fun way to spend my holidays.

Prior to October 2007, repeatedly Vilnius was the favorite for getting a Russian visa quickly and easily, but things have changed and this is no longer the case unless you hold a passport from an EU country. See my Notes about Russian Consulates for specific information. Since then it is not clear than it is still easy for nonEU passport holders to obtain a Russian tourist visa quickly in Vilnius. Visas may be available at the other capitol cities in the region, but either are more costly or have longer processing times. The only exception to this seems to be Narva, Estonia assuming that you already have your visa support documents.

If you are not in Western Russia, there are no easy solutions. Popping into Mongolia is NOT recommended. It is not so easy to get a Kazakh visa, but if your are there, it is possible to get a Russian visa (Note that the consulate in Almaty requires original documents.) Generally, Central Asia and Asia are not felt to be the best places to get Russian visas. Recent reports suggest that the Caucasus, other than Georgia which since the dispute of 2008 is an exception, are not the place as it is costly and time consuming. The relationship between Russia and Georgia is terrible; in fact, there is no longer an embassy in Tbilisi. That between Russia and Azerbaijan isn'ft great either. I have no current (2010-2011) information on obtaining a Russian visa quickly in Ukraine or Belarus, although there are some reports that getting a 90 day business visa in Ukraine may be reasonably quick and easy.

In Asia Phnom Penh used to be a great place but the consul there has changed and the situation is no longer good unless you enter Cambodia on a 90 day business visa. No positive reports from Bangkok either. Now the only place consistently mentioned as possible is Hong Kong, although more recently even this might not be the case for certain passport holders (Finland, France, Germany). More recently Kuala Lumpur seems to be a possibility for those who can enter Malaysia visa free for 90 days.

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Residency Requirements 
While the European Union permits its members to live in any country within the Union without necessarily requiring a specific residency permit, the Russian consulates may ask for proof of residency in order for one to apply for a visa. That means if you hold a German passport and want to apply in London, you should expect to have to prove that you have resided in the UK for more than 90 days. Acceptable proof would include such documents as either of the following:

  • A copy of your last 3 months' bank or utility statements with your UK address OR
  • A letter from your employer / educational establishment on headed paper stating that you are in full time employment / education, the date that you started and that your employment / education will be effective for more than 90 days.

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Do you need health insurance? 

Proof of valid travelers health insurance is required for citizens of the certain countries. Citizen of the countries listed below are required to include a copy of travel/medical insurance valid in Russia for the whole period of their stay. Note that this coverage must either mention Russia by name or provide worldwide cover that will be acceptable to the Russian consulate. Ideally the address listed on the insurance document should be within the country in which you are applying for the visa. There should be a separate certificate of insurance, not just a policy confirmation in the body of an email. Citizens of the following countries are required to show insurance:
Czech Republic
Slovak Republic

Be sure to check that your travelers' health insurance policy covers Russia and is acceptable to the Russian consulate. If you hold a passport from a country on the above list, the Russian consulate will accept insurance only from certain companies. Insurance that comes from buying your tickets on a credit card is NOT sufficient. Also it is not enough to simply check the box, yes. In many cases the consular staff will demand to see the particular policy not just am email confirmation of coverage. If you are going to the consulate, be sure to bring the original policy. If you are mailing your application, be sure to send a copy of the policy and not just the face sheet.

Sometimes if application is made in a country other than your own, this requirement is ignored. There is no way to predict this although in some instances travelers reports are useful.

This requirement to show proof of health insurance is required for citizens of countries with national health insurance programs that do not have reciprocity agreements with Russia. Countries like Australia, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom have such arrangements. If your country is not on the above list, you can leave this question on the application empty or answer no. In the past, there was no box for "not applicable".

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Do you need to present plane/train or bus tickets? 
Generally speaking, assuming that you are not from a third world country, despite what it might say on the embassy or consulate website, you are not required to present copies or your plane, train or bus tickets at the time that you submit the paperwork for your Russian visa.

Many, many people enter Russia by plane, train or bus and depart by train or bus either into Europe or out through Mongolia or China or via ferry to Japan. The Russian consulates recognize that it is pretty much impossible to obtain train, bus or ferry tickets for departure from Russia prior to arrival in Russia. OTOH it will be necessary to indicate this information on the application and in the cover letter which must accompany the application.

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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