How to Get a Russian Visa: Step by Step Guide

Author: waytorussia (on 29 Sep 2022)
If you want to travel to Russia, you need a Russian visa. In order to get the visa, you must first get a visa invitation letter (also known as visa support). After you obtain the invitation, you can submit your Russian visa application to one of the processing centers authorized by your nearest Russian consulate. At the moment, even though there are Covid-19 restrictions, you can still get a Russian visa if you're a citizen of USA, UK, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, Greece, China and other countries — the visa processing offices are opened in those countries. You won't need to quarantine once you arrive if you get a negative test at the airport and there are almost no Covid restrictions in Russia, so it's a perfect place to travel.
Special Military Operation update (09/2022). While we are aware that most people might not want to travel to Russia for personal, moral, political, or security concerns, we believe that ostracism and isolation will lead to further escalation and radicalization. That's why we decided to keep this information available for those who want to travel to Russia for humanitarian purposes, to visit their friends or relatives, or even as a tourist. Obviously, we recommend you to monitor the current security situation and to be aware that there is a law in Russia which criminalizes any public dissent from the official government take on the conflict. However, luckily, Russia is not North Korea yet. At the same time, we also want to bring to your attention to the rumours that the citizens of so-called "unfriendly" nations will have to get special exit visas to leave Russia (most EU countries, USA, Canada, Australia, and others — all the "Western" world, basically). These rumours appeared as the foreign embassies in Russia advised their residents and nationals to leave Russia as soon as possible (29 September 2022). Aggravated by the high prices for the flights out of Russia and land borders being closed down. All this happening in the context of a military operation that has all the chances to escalate. That's why we recommend you to check the current situation and take the precautions necessary and avoid traveling to Russia if you think the situation might escalate and it may be hard for you to leave Russia.

Click Here to Start the Application Process 

While the process of getting a visa to Russia may seem complicated, you can avoid bureaucratic traps and save some money if you follow our step-by-step visa application guide below. It is designed for independent travelers who want to have a flexible itinerary, avoid unnecessary fees, and be free of any hotel commitments. We've been updating this visa guide since 2001 and it has been recommended by Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, BBC and other reputable publications.  



Step 1: Get the Russian Visa Invitation

First, you need an invitation (aka visa support letter) to apply for a visa to Russia.

You can get it online through Way to Russia using 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 (in about 19 years we provide this service, we've never heard of anyone being refused so far, which is quite a good result).

It's the same price and process as when you use them directly, but doing it through our site you support our free travel 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: travel to/from Russia any time within the visa support's validity, flexible: no fixed itinerary lock-in
Accommodation: any hotel, apartment, friends, camping etc.
Processing time: 1 to 24 hours (average time: 3 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 (instant processing)
Option 2: Long-Term (Business) Invitation  
Period of stay: 1 day to 12 months
Entries: Single-, Double or Multiple entry
Purpose: Long 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


Which Type of Visa to Get?

If you're not sure which type of visa you need, there is a simple rule:

• If you are traveling for less than 30 days, a tourist visa is fine.
• If you want to stay longer than 30 days, a business visa is better.
• If you are from the US, you can get a tourist / business visa valid for 3 years, but your first visit should be less than 30 days (you can come back after).
If you are still unsure which visa to get, check out our Russian Visa Types page or tweet us @waytorussia or contact us on Facebook or Instagram

• There are also private and student invitations available. In order to get them, you have to contact your friends or an education institution (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.


Do You Need to Know Your Itinerary?

While you have to specify the cities you are planning to visit when you are applying for visa support, they will not be written in your actual visa. So you can freely change your plans and travel and stay wherever you want.


Can You Stay Where You Want?

You can stay both in hotels and in private apartments (e.g. AirBnB). Your Russian visa invitation document is a confirmation from a travel agency that they will be responsible for you during your trip and it may contain a list of hotels where you might be staying. However, these hotels are not listed in your actual visa and you are not obliged by the law to stay in these hotels.


What about Visa-free Travel and e-Visa?

Also, while nationals of most countries, including the USA, UK, EU, and Australia need a visa to travel to Russia, you might not need a visa for a short visit if you're from a country in South America (check the full list of countries that have visa free travel with Russia). Also, we recommend you to avoid getting your visa support from a hotel, as they "lock" people into a fixed itinerary or limit their visa validity to the period of their reservation.

Also, if you are a EU national (except for UK) and traveling to Kaliningrad or St. Petersburg for maximum up to 8 days, you can apply for the new e-visa to Russia, You will not be able to travel outside of the region you're traveling to (so no visits to Moscow or Trans-Siberian) and this visa type is quite restrictive, but it's perfectly good for a short trip to St. Petersburg.



Step 2: Submit the Russian Visa Application Form

Once you have your invitation (Russian visa support), you need to fill out the application form for a Russian visa on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

This usually takes about an hour and you can then print it out and book an online appointment at one of the Russian visa centers once this step is done.


You will need to prepare the following documents to fill out your Russian visa application:

• 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.
If you are unsure how to fill it out, read our guide that explains how to fill out the Russian visa application form.

• 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 (required for EU and US citizens — you can buy it online here).
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.

If you're applying for a tourist visa in France, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, or Taiwan you will need to present an itinerary that details every day of your stay in Russia. Simply detail your journey using the format here (download doc or pdf document) and send it to your visa support agency, so they get it back to you signed and stamped.



Step 3: Apply for a Russian Visa

Finally, you need to submit all your documents, including your visa invitation (step 1) and the visa application (step 2) to the visa processing center authorized by the Russian consulate in the country you're in. You can either do it by yourself or through a local travel agency.
Option 1: Apply in Person at a Russian Consulate / Russian Visa Processing Center       
Step 1: Print out your Russian visa invtation (that you obtained in Step 1 via the online tourist visa or business visa form). If you are a EU citizen and only traveling to St. Petersbug you might qualify for the e-visa
Step 2: Print out the Russian visa application form and write down its number (you obtained it in Step 2 via
Step 3: Apply through an authorized visa center depending on the country you're in: USA, Europe, Asia, UK (Scotland), Australia (see this list of all Russian visa centers). If you cannot find a visa center in your country, you would probably need to apply directly through the Russian consulate. In this case you can find the right one on our Russian Consulates Worldwide page.
Step 4: After submitting your visa application, you will get your Russian visa within 3 to 14 days (depending on the fee you pay). 
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 and the visa processing fee, which depend on the type of visa, the country where you apply, and your citizenship.
Single-Entry, average processing time 8 - 14 business days:
USA: $160 + $38 (also for 3-year tourist visas)
UK: £63 + £38
EU: €35 + €30
Australia: $120 + $43 AUD
Single-Entry, express processing:
USA: $198 + $50 (also 3-year tourist visas)
UK: £125 + £46
EU: €35 + €30
Australia: $240 + $43 AUD
Multiple-Entry, processing time 8-14 business days:
USA: $198 + $100
UK: £188 + £38
EU: €35 + €30
Multiple-Entry, express processing:
USA: ~$450
UK: £376 + £46
EU: €35 + €30
Option 2: Apply through a travel agency  

If you are a UK citizen, you can apply directly through our partners in UK. In this case they will submit the documents on your behalf for an extra fee. This service is recommended if you want somebody to accompany you along the process. In order to apply, please, proceed to their website.
For the citizens of all other countries, you can check a list of the recommended visa agencies here. The main advantage of applying through an agency is that you can do everything by post and don't have to travel to the visa center yourself. 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: Russian Visa Registration

Once you 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.

This free independent travel guide to Russia exists thanks to the commission we get when you order these hand-picked trusted third-party services or when you buy our book. Please, support us!



Need More Information?

Way to Russia Travel Guide E-Book has a complete Russian visa guide, which explains how you can get a Russian visa with no hotel ties and without fixed itineraries. Order it online today, it will delivered to you immediately via e-mail, and you can take it with you on your travel - there's tons of other useful information that will save your time and money, as well as city guides.
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