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Russian Visa Demystified. Part I. “INTRO TO RUSSIAN VISA”.

You’ve decided to outsource or offshore your business, services, or department, you’ve picked the local Russian partner, you need to meet your partner face-to-face and have to visit mother Russia. You need a VISA!

By Kestutis Gregeris, Russian Visa Guide
Dec 10, 2006
So, you’ve decided to outsource or offshore your business, services, or department, you’ve picked the local Russian partner, and are ready to start outsourcing. You, probably, need to meet your partner face-to-face and have to visit mother Russia. Unless you’re one of those lucky few citizens of these former USSR countries: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldavia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, or Uzbekistan, you’re required to obtain a visa to travel to Russia.
If you’re novice in Russian travel or it is your 10th something trip to Russia, I believe that our new Russian Visa Demystified corner will teach you the process of getting Russian visa from start to finish. I truly think that each of you will learn something new about Russian visas through articles. They will become handy money-saving readings.

Types of Russian Visa

If you want to be precise, there are 11 different Russian visa types:
  • Diplomatic visa,
  • Guest/Private Visit visa,
  • Tourism visa,
  • Work visa,
  • Business/Commercial Visit visa,
  • Student/Education visa,
  • Government Business visa,
  • Humanitarian visa,
  • Transit visa (valid up to 72 hours),
  • Temporary Stay visa,
  • Refugee visa.
Each visa type corresponds to the stated purpose of your visit. During my professional experience I’ve noticed that around 90% of all issued Russian visas fall under TWO major visa categories:
Tourist Visa: is your first pick for short, up to 30 day, one-time visits to Russia even if you go for reasons other than tourism (e.g. business meetings, conferences, visiting relatives, etc.) Unfortunately, you will need a Business Visa, if you intend to stay beyond 30 days.
According to Russian bureaucracy TOURIST visa can be obtained with an official invitation/sponsorship/support letter (more on this in the next article) from a hotel or a travel agency, registered with the Department of Consular Service at Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (abbreviated as MFA).
The same law says it is illegal for a qualified travel agency or a hotel to provide you with an invitation if are not going to stay in a hotel. Luckily, this word of law is broken more often than followed because virtually all travel agencies can get you a visa sponsorship document and later register your Russian visa without you booking a single night in a hotel. Same holds true for hotels, they will register your visa not just for the nights you stay with them, but for your entire trip. Just don’t forget to ask! (more about registration in upcoming articles)
Business Visa provides you with much more flexibility: multiple entries to and out of Russia, validity for up to an entire year. Business visa is ideal for frequent business persons or those, who are staying in Russia for prolonged time. Officially, business visas are intended for business travelers, who travel to conduct business transactions (e.g. negotiations, contracts, exhibitions, etc.). But again, it is merely exception than a rule - you do not need to travel on an official company’s business, it might be a personal trip. You do not need to plan a hotel reservations or your itinerary, either. Please be aware that business visa does not imply an employment permit. You need to seek Work Visa if you’re about to receive money for your services.
As other types of visas are not so prevalent, I will not cover them.

How & Where to Get Visa to Russia?

Normally, you should apply for a visa at a Russian consulate at the country you reside (find the closest). If you’re currently traveling in a foreign country, you can apply at Russian consulate in that country in most cases. You need to submit to a Russian consulate various documents, depending on the type of visa and processing time you want:
  1. A valid Passport: Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months after your stated date of exit from Russia. For example, if you plan to depart from Russia on February 1st, your passport should be valid at least until August 1st. Also, you should make sure you have at least 2 blank pages for visas in your passport. If any of these is true you need to renew/add pages to your passport - contact your country’s embassy/consulate.
  2. One Passport size photo: I advice to go to a passport photographer since he is familiar with passport style photograph requirements.
  3. Visa Questionnaire/Application. The questionnaire has to be signed by you. Ŕ question-by-question guide will be published in the upcoming articles.
  4. Visa Sponsorship/Invitation Letter from Russia: You should get the type of invitation letter that corresponds to required type of visa. For example, tourist invitation letter for tourism visa, business invitation letter for business visa, private invitation letter for private visit visa, and so forth. In most cases, the photocopy of visa support will suffice, but you need original letter of invitation if:
    • you apply for MULTIPLE entry visas,
    • you apply in one these countries: Australia, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and Sweden,
    • you’re a citizen of certain countries with which Russian government has tense diplomatic relations (e.g. China, India Nigeria to name a few).
  5. Visa Processing Fee: All Russian consulates charge a certain visa processing fee. It varies depending on the type of your visa and the speed of processing. In general, the longer visa and the faster you need it, the more you pay. Russian consulate in each country has different fees. For example, the visa processing fees in the U.S. range from the lowest $100 to as much as $450.
  6. Self-Addressed/Prepaid Envelope: If you apply for a Russian visa via mail, you have to include prepaid envelope. We recommend using a registered or confirmation delivery since the package has your passport and visa. If you decide to apply in person, you’ll collect visa yourself, no need for return envelope. In some countries you can apply in person only.
  7. Additional Documents: For certain types of Russian visas for citizens of some countries Russian consulates will demand additional documents:
    • Mandatory Medical/Travel Insurance is required for the citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Luxembourg, Norway, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.
    • Human Immune Deficit (HIV) AIDS Certificate is required for Multiple entry and longer than 3 months visas. You can find local HIV testing center in U.S. here.
    • Proof of Permanent Residency (photocopy of Green/Residency Card, if applying from the U.S.) are required for the citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, N. Korea, Pakistan, Palestine, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri-Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam. Otherwise, the citizens of these countries should apply for Russian visa at their home countries.
    • Proof of sufficient funds for your stay in Russia.
    • Any Other Document that is deemed necessary by Russian consulate.
As you see, it is possible to arrange your own Russian visa. In practice, however, most travelers choose to hire a professional visa travel agency to do the groundwork. For an extra $30-$70, agencies will prepare, proofread, and submit your paperwork to a consulate on your behalf and mail your passport along with Russian visa back. Some firms even take care of registering the visa when you arrive in Russia (more about registration in upcoming articles). Given that each Russian consulate has different tastes and temperaments in interpreting visa processing requirements, it's usually worth to have somebody who knows the ropes of dealing with bureaucrats.
The only problem with hiring somebody to handle your visa is figuring out who to hire. Amid hundreds of honest agencies there are plenty scammers who seem to vanish as soon as you give them your personal information. Yet, that shouldn't stop you from seeking a professional visa agency, just use healthy dose of precautions.

What are Russian Visa Processing Times and Fees?

Visa Processing Times: By now, you’ve noticed that you cannot apply for a visa unless you have your visa invitation ready. Therefore, you should allocate enough time to secure a visa support letter. It may range anywhere from 1 hour for tourist invitation to 18 business days for business supports to 60 days for private invitations. I will write more on fees and processing times of invitation letters in my next article.
Once you have a letter of invitation, you can mail the invitation along other paperwork to Russian consulate or a certified visa agency. According to Russian law, visa should be issued in now longer than 20 business (excludes weekends and national holidays) days. Fortunately, most consulates issue visas from 1 to 14 days (depends on how much you pay). It is good to remember that if you apply for visa via mail, you should allot at least TWO more business days: (1) Shipping overnight from your house to the consulate and (2) Shipping paperwork from the consulate back to you.
Please refrain from sending your paperwork to the consulate or visa agency more than 45 days before your intended departure date for BUSINESS TYPE VISAS and 90 or more days for all other TYPES. Consulates do not process such advanced orders – they will return your package and ask to submit it at a later date.
Russian visa processing times and fees vary from country to country. Processing fees are the highest in the U.S. because U.S. government has the highest fees for Russian citizens applying for U.S. visas. As a result, Russia government imposes the same fees for U.S. citizens applying for Russian visas. Such diplomatic politics when one country puts the same traveling barriers, fees, and procedures for citizens of two countries are referred as reciprocity laws.
Unfortunately, Russia follows such policies religiously. Therefore, you may have to pay more or less for your Russian visa depending on your citizenship and location where you apply for your Russian visa. For example, if you are an Australian citizen applying for Russian tourist visa in United Kingdom, you’ll pay standard consulate fee £30 (for 7 day processing) and additional £18 surcharge due to reciprocity laws between Russia and Australian governments.
Russian government mandates all of its consulates and embassies to issue Russian visas in no more than 20 business days. Therefore, each consulate has a leeway of how quickly to issue visas as long as they do not violate the 20 day limit. Once again, it varies country by country.
If you need to find out more about Russian visa Processing Fees and Times Requirements in other countries click here.

About the author.

Kestutis Gregeris is always hungry for responsibility. While he was managing 100+ corporate travel accounts with previous employer, he completed his MBA curriculum at Georgia State University. Kestutis wears multiple hats at www.RussianVisaGuide.com – handles accounting, financing, marketing, and legal functions. Basically, you name it - he probably knows.
Contact him by e-mail kestutis@TravelVisaPro.com, or call 888-470-VISA.