Russian Visa Support Application: Step by Step Guide

Author: Dmitry Paranyushkin (on 12 May 2015)
If you want to travel to Russia, you need a Russian visa. In order to get a Russian visa, the first thing you need is an invitation (also known as visa support letter). After that, you can apply for the visa at a Russian consulate either by yourself or through a local travel agent (usually for an extra fee). Be careful, however, because many agents and hotels "lock" people into a fixed itinerary or limit their visa validity to the period they are staying at a particular hotel.
If you want to avoid bureaucratic traps, follow our step-by-step Russian visa application guide below. It is designed for independent travelers who want to have a flexible itinerary and be free of any hotel commitments, and has been recommended by Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, BBC and other reputable publications.


Step 1: Get the Invitation (Visa Support)
First, you need an invitation (aka visa support letter) to apply for a Russian visa. You can get it online on this site through one of our carefully selected providers – they all cater to independent travelers, provide 24-hour support, and guarantee that your visa will be issued by the consulate (we never heard of anyone being refused so far).
It's the same price and process as when you use them directly, but doing it through our site you support our free guide to Russia and get our backup in dealing with the providers.
Option 1: Tourist Invitation         
Period of stay: 1 to 30 days (up to 36 months for US Citizens)
Entries: Single- or Double entry
Purpose: Tourism
Flexibility: You can stay where you want and as long as you want
Processing time: 1 to 24 hours
You will get: A scanned copy (per e-mail) both of the original Reservation confirmation and the Tourist voucher.
These are all the documents needed to get a Russian visa. Originals can be sent by post when required by the consulate (normally the copies are sufficient).
Price:   $30 US (24 hours processing)
$45 US (same day processing)
Option 2: Long-Term (Business) Invitation  
Period of stay: 1 day to 12 months
Entries: Single-, Double or Multiple entry
Purpose: Research trip, exploring business opportunities, business meetings, visiting conferences, etc.
Flexibility: You can stay and travel where you want
Processing time: 3 to 18 working days, 
You will get: Telex (digitally transmitted directly to the consulate), scanned copy over the e-mail, or original of the official paper invitation from the Russian Authorities. Itinerary and cover letter can be provided upon request.
Price:   $80 to $300 US

• If you're not sure which type of visa you need post your question on Way to Russia Travel Forum or Tweet us @waytorussia

• There are also private and student invitations available. In order to get them, you have to contact your friends / education instituation (e.g. language schools) in Russia. Be aware that these invitations usually take about a month to process, require lots of paperwork, and the originals should be presented to the consulate. But with the student visas you get visas with unlimited stay, so it may be an advantage.
Step 2: Get the Passport, Photos, and Visa Application Form
Once you have your invitation (Russian visa support), you need to prepare the following documents to apply for your Russian visa:
• Travel Passport
Should be valid at least 6 months after your Russian visa will expire and contain at least two clear pages - for the visa and the migration card.

• Two Passport-size Photographs
Should be recent and good quality.

• Russian Visa Application Form
Fill it out online and print it out from Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) website – only after you have obtained your visa support documents (tourist or business), which contain the information you'll need to provide in the visa application form. Learn more about Russian visa application form here.

• Consulate-Specific Documents: Health Insurance, Letters of Employer, etc.
You will most likely need to buy a travel insurance for Russia valid for the period of your visa.
Almost all consulates will require an HIV certificate if you are traveling to Russia on a business visa for 3 months or longer or require a multiple-entry visa. 
In case you apply for a business visa, some consulates may require a letter from your employer confirming you work for the company and travel to Russia for business purposes.
Step 3: Apply for a Russian Visa
Finally, you need to submit all your documents, including your visa support, to the Russian consulate. You can either do it by yourself, or through a local travel agency.
Option 1: Apply in Person at a Russian Consulate      
Step 1: Fill out the Russian visa application form on the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) website - 
Step 2: Prepare all the documents above and check with the consulate's website if that is enough.
Step 3: Apply to the consulate in person or by post. You will need to pay the consular fee and present (send) the documents and the invitation (visa support).
Step 4: Get your visa and have a nice trip to Russia!
Timing: The whole process will take you approximately:
1 day (research)
1 day (queue at the consulate - if you apply in person)
1 hour to 15 working days (depending on your visa type and how much you pay)
Consular Fees:   You will need to pay the consular fee, which depends on the type of visa, the country where you apply, and your citizenship.
Single-Entry, processing time 6 - 8 business days:
USA: $160
UK: £30
France: 54 EUR
Single-Entry, same-day processing:
USA: $300
UK: £90
Multiple-Entry, processing time 6 business days:
USA: $160
UK: £100
Multiple-Entry, same-day processing:
USA: $450
UK: £150
Option 2: Apply through a travel agency  
There is really no point applying for a Russian visa through a travel agency, unless you want to do all the processing by post. In this case, you still need to get your visa support (will be delivered by e-mail), and you can then use some of the agencies we recommend worldwide in order to submit your documents to the Russian consulate. They will charge a $50 to $100 US on top of the consular fee, but you will save the time queuing and the agencies normally know all the consulate's requirements.
Important: Visa Registration
So you obtained the Russian visa, finalized your travel arrangements, and now arrived to Russia. You have 7 business days (excluding weekends and holidays) to register your visa (this is a new regulation valid as of 25 March 2011 – before that you had to register in 3 working days, which is not the case anymore).
• If you are staying in a hotel:
The hotel will usually register your visa. The charges are from $0.5 to $20.

• If you are staying in an apartment or with friends:
The landlord of the apartment you're staying in should fill out a special registration form and submit it to any post office or immigration authorities office. It will cost them about $5 and take about an hour of their time, they will need to bring their original passport with registration (propiska) and a copy of your passport. 
Alternatively, the agency that issued your visa support documents can provide the registration for you for about $30 US (30 days maximum).  If you need this service, just ask them to provide it to you when you order your visa support.

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