How to Get a Russian Visa

When you’re finished with this, don’t forget to leave a comment!

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

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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.

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.

Step 4

Print the form and sign it.
Attach a passport photo to the form.

Step 5

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.

Step 6

Wait 7 business days… then go get your visa! Then do a happy dance. We did.

Oh, and if this helps you out, please leave a comment! It will make us very happy.

Oh, and thanks to a couple of folks’ webpages who helped us get through this process: Katie Going Global and aBriggs’ Guide to the Visa App.

Author: Katy

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  • “Patrinomial name” is the name of your father. In Russia, the local people have them. For example, my name is Ele, and my father is Leonardas, so in Russia they would address me politely Elena Leonardovna. I think some Scandinavian countries also have such practice. But that’s for Russian citizens only, so don’t worry.

  • Matt

    Thanks Ele! I’m reading Crime and Punishment right now and now I get why so many names end in “ovna,” like “Alexandrovna.”

  • Thanks Ele! I am reading Crime and Punishment right now, and was wondering why so many names end in “ovna.”

  • I bet male names end in “itsh” 🙂

  • Come to think of it, Scottish surname McDonald means Son of Donald, Irish surname O’Brian means Son of Brian, etc.

  • Lissa

    Taryn Bakker sent us to this page – THANK YOU! It was super helpful, especially the part about the invite letter. Although its pretty hilarious that you have to “buy” an invite, but it was the first thing they asked us for! We also paid a little extra $$ and got it expedited…went on Wednesday, should be ready on Friday! Fun times. Thanks for the info!

  • Great! What cities are you visiting and when are you going?

  • Lissa

    We leave this Sunday…flying to the Ukraine (Kiev, then Kharkov) for my husband’s work, then back to Kiev, then train to Moscow and 3 days there, then back to Kiev, then to Amsterdam for 3 days, then home.

    Also when we went to the place to get our Visas today, we thought this sign was funny: “As of June 15th 2012 to all citizens of Australia applying for any Russian visa are required to write a biography about themselves in Russian language on the basis of reciprocity.” (grammar mistakes theirs) 🙂 Apparently if a country makes it hard for Russians to get in, they will return the favor. 🙂

  • jorama

    extremely helpful. I now have my invitation letter. off to the San Francisco visa office tomorrow. hopefully this all works. Thanks.

  • How did it go?

  • Hey Lissa, I forgot to ask, what did you think of Russia?

  • Erin Bouma

    Actually, male patronymic names end in “itch”, i.e. Vladimir Vladimirovitch” and female names in “ovna”

  • Erin Bouma

    In November, 2012, I applied for the new 3-year visa (agreed to by Russia and the U.S.) at the Russian Consulate in New York City. Unfortunately, it was the Friday after the big Hurricane, and the Visa Application Center in lower Manhattan was closed due to flooding or electrical outage.
    I was totally shocked when the head of the Russian Visa Department at the Consulate personally rejected my application (for a business visa, as I work and teach English in Moscow) for 3 silly, trivial reasons (and maybe she was in a bad mood?). NOTE: I have gotten over 30 Russian visas during my 23 years in the country.
    I was forced to contact my visa agent in Moscow for a 3-month replacement invitation which took a week to process then send to me by e-mail.
    The good news was the ILS Center was open the day after Thanksgiving and when I again submitted my application, they were helpful and polite. Still, I was told that I had to produce the original of my new invitation (which required it to be express mailed from Russia to me) and wait another week.
    As a result, I returned to Moscow 3 weeks after I had planned to, for an ordinary “visa run” that ran into 6 weeks. That meant that 3-months later, I had to leave once more to get a new visa.
    This time my agent suggested I fly to Lithuania to get the long-term visa. My invitation and application were sent two weeks ahead of my arrival, so the procedure only required an overnight stay in Vilnius. The visa procedure was handled in Vilnius through a travel agency there.
    Yes, mine was a business visa, but anyone working with the Russian Consulate should prepare themselves for unexpected shocks and setbacks at any point in the procedure. Russia is still well-worth visiting, rich in history with a world-class culture, lovely natural beauty and wonderful citizens, but don’t expect travel to the country to be easy or problem-free. The more intrepid and determined you are (especially as an independent traveler), the more you will be rewarded with an unforgettable experience.

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