How to Apply for a Russian Visa in the USA

There are multiple ways to apply for a Russian visa in the USA. You can go through the Russian consulate directly, use their new Russian Visa Center, or apply through the ILS visa center. While you can apply either in person or by post, you need to choose the consulate or the visa center depending on where you have an officially registered address in the US. 

Russian Visa Centers in the USA

You should think this over carefully, depending on whether you want to do it in person or by post, how much time you have, and where you live in the US.

Directly at a Russian Consulate

In general if you want to save money (but not time) and can personally visit the consulate we recommend you to apply directly through the Russian consulate (you cannot apply by post). You will then only pay the consulate fee and no service fee of the visa processing center. Also, the consulate is not going to help you if you made any mistakes on your application, so we would recommend this route if you are very self-confident or if it's not the first time you're applying. 
If you choose to apply at the consulate, you should be aware that there are only 3 consulates in the US: Washington (also serves California), New York, and Houston. Each is responsible for a particular location closest to them. Find the full list of the States served by each consulate on the Russian embassy's website.
In order to apply through the consulate, you need to get your visa invitation letter and then book an appointment on their website. Depending on where you want to apply: Washington, Houston or New York. The one is San-Francisco burned down a few years ago, so if you live in California you have to apply in Washington.

ILS Visa Processing Center in the USA

If you want to save time (but not money), then the best option is ILS. This company is officially authorized to process Russian visa requests and you can use them if you don't want to go directly through the consulate or if you want to apply by post. They charge a hefty extra fee of $50 for standard processing and $100 for express processing, plus they list the consulate fee at $198 even though it's actually $160. So you are effectively overpaying $88 to $138 US.
To apply, get your visa invitation and then go to their website: ILS USA
ILS has their visa centers in Washington, New York, Houston and San Francisco, so it's a good option if you live in California and don't want to travel to Washington to apply. 

The New USA Russian Visa Center

The new Russian Visa Center is somewhere in the middle between the two options above, and even though the Russian consulate claims it was set up to streamline the application process, most likely its main purpose is to take advantage of the lucrative visa business, offering it at a lower price than ILS. In any case, their application process is the least intuitive of all, but it may be worth it if you want to save extra $80 comparing to ILS in total fees. They only charge the consulate fee of $160 plus their own $30 for processing, which seems pretty fair.
To apply, you need to get your visa invitation letter and then visit the one of the Russian Visa Centers depending on your location in the US. They have 5 overall: San-Francisco, New York, Houston, Seattle, Washington. You can also apply by post.

What Documents You Need to Apply for a Russian Visa in the USA

In order to apply for a Russian visa you need to get the Russian visa invitation first. Note, that as a US citizen you can apply for a 3-year tourist visa with a simple tourist invitation, which is first given for a period up to 30 days. Simply get this invitation, specify the same dates as in the invitation for the first visit, however, also specify that you need your visa to be valid for 3 years.
After you get this (usually takes a few hours and can be obtained online), you need to fill out the online visa application form on the Russian ministry of foreign affairs website: Please, specify exactly the same data as in your invitation, including the purpose of your visit ("tourism" for the tourist visa, not "visiting friends" or anything like that — because then you'd need to get a private visa that's much more complicated). You would also need to get a travel insurance for the duration of your first visit. 
Once you collect all these documents, you need to choose where you apply. Let's assume you tried to save money and to go through the Russian consulate directly. You may find out their website for making online appointments doesn't work, so this is not an option. You might also want to visit the website of the Russian visa center, but their application process is so confusing, you probably won't figure out what to do next. So let's assume you'll go through the ILS. By the way, we are not endorsing them in any way, it's just that from the experience of our readers they provide the best possible service out of all the bad options out there :)
The Russian visa processing center in San Francisco, USA (Google Maps)

Russian Visa Processing Times and Fees for the USA

The minimum processing time for a Russian visa is 10 business days. If you want urgent processing, it'll take 3 days. The fees depend on where you apply, but the consular fee ranges from $160 (direct or the new Russian Visa Center) to $198 (ILS). There is also the visa processing fee charged by the visa center you apply through ($38 for the new Russian Visa Center and $50 to $100 if you apply through ILS). If you apply through the consulate, you won't pay the visa processing fee.



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