How to Get a Russian Visa
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Filling out the Russian Visa form isn’t a simple task. We spent about 15 hours combing the internet before we felt comfortable that we’d done everything correctly. We googled “get a visa to Russia,” “how to get a Russian Visa,” “Russian Visa requirements for American citizens,” “How to get into Russia,” and a whole bunch of other more ridiculous things before we felt like we knew what we were doing. The cost, over $200, made us super nervous. It seems like most of the blogs and other how-to articles we found were for the old system, before Russia required the process to be online and before they outsourced their visa processing to ILS. So, here is a step by step guide to what we Americans did. We can’t guarantee that it will work for you, but it did work for us in July 2012.
Note! As of September 2012, Russia and the USA now have a new agreement allowing for US citizens to get a 3 year, multiple-entry visa. Click here: http://www.russianembassy.org/page/important-visa-information
What you need for the Russian Visa Application:
- $200 per person (more if you don’t live in a city with a Russian Consul, sorry!)
- 2 hours per person
- At least two weeks prior to departure
- An American passport valid for 6 months after you exit Russia
Pick a hotel or hostel. You should book this first or at least feel confident that if you wait, you’ll still be able to book it after you receive your visa. The reason is that when you order your official invite, you will be asked where you are staying, and then when you fill out your visa application, you’ll need to put it in again. Having them match is a good idea, but not required, so if you put down a place on your invitation document that you won’t actually go, don’t panic.
If you are staying with friends, there are other requirements. We didn’t do this so we can’t help you.
Get (buy) an official “Letter of Invitation” (LOI) to Russia. We bought ours from Real Russia. It was emailed to us as soon as the ~$25 payment was processed. Quick and painless. You’ll need this document before you can finish your Visa App in step 3.
Fill out the super long, job-application-like online Russian Visa Application. This must be done online and printed. They are no longer accepting handwritten documents. And you must have the LOI already issued. We found a handy guide to filling this out, from A Brigg’s Travel company: Guide to Filling out the Russian Visa Form.
Other helpful things to know if you’re stuck while filling it out:
- “Date of Entry/Exit” Make sure your dates are accurate, because you will not be allowed to enter or exit Russia before or after these dates. It is OK to ask for extra days on your visa, but NOT ok to overstay. Google “Overstaying your Russian Visa” if you don’t believe it.
- “Category and type of visa” is probably Common/Tourist unless you are some fancypants person or want to stay in Russia longer than 30 days. In which case you’re probably not on our website. If you’re not sure what you want, check out the different types here.
- Passport “Issued by”… we’re not sure what we were supposed to put here, but we put “United States Department of State” and successfully received visas.
- “Russian Institution or Organization to be visited” can be found in English on the stamp portion of your LOI.
- Medical Insurance: USA citizens aren’t required to have this. We checked “no.”
- “Who will pay”… type “SELF” unless someone else is, in which case describe that person or organization.
- “Patrinomial name” wasn’t actually required. We couldn’t figure out what it meant (probably maiden name?) so we left it blank.
Print the form and sign it.
Attach a passport photo to the form.
As of April 1st 2012, the Russian Consulate says you should apply for your visa at an ILS-USA location. If you do live near an ILS office (which are in the same cities as the Consulates), Hurray! you can skip the next paragraph and save yourself some money. We live in Seattle, which happens to have ILS-Seattle. The other cities are San Francisco, Houston, Washington DC, and New York. If you have a friend in one of these cities (that you trust) they can walk your paperwork in. You do not have to be physically present to apply, but you’ll need to mail your friend your passport… hence the trust.
If you don’t live in one of the mentioned cities, you will need to hire an agency to walk your passport and documents into the Russian Visa office for you. this will mean you have to mail your passport and other documents to the agency ahead of time. We didn’t need to do this, but did look at the option. We found A Briggs agency to be helpful and legit. But there are others out there that will work just as well.
We live in Seattle so once we filled out all the forms, we made an appointment at the ILS-Seattle, which we discovered later, you don’t actually need. But we think it ensures that you will not get turned away because of too long a line. We made the first two appointments of the morning, and when we walked in the door there was no wait. So we were in and out of the ILS-Seattle within 25 minutes.
Wait 7 business days… then go get your visa! Then do a happy dance. We did.