Demystifying the Russian Visa – Part I – Introduction to the Russian Visa

Demystifying the Russian Visa – Part I – Introduction to the Russian Visa

So, you’ve decided to outsource or offshor your business, services or department, you’ve chosen your local Russian partner and you’re ready to start outsourcing. You probably need to meet your partner face to face and you need to visit mother Russia. Unless you are one of the lucky few citizens of these former USSR countries: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Ukraine or Uzbekistan, you are required to obtain a visa to travel to Russia.

If you are new to Russian travel or this is your 10th trip to Russia, I believe our new Russian Visa Demystified corner will teach you the process of getting a Russian visa from start to finish. I really think that each of you will learn something new about Russian visas through articles. These will make handy money-saving reads.

Types of Russian visas

If you want to be precise, there are 11 different types of Russian visas:

* diplomatic visa,

* Guest/private visit visa,

* Tourist visa,

* Work visa,

* Visa for business/commercial visit,

* Student/educational visa,

* Government business visa,

* Humanitarian visa,

* Transit visa (valid for up to 72 hours),

* Temporary residence visa,

* Refugee visa.

Each type of visa corresponds to the stated purpose of your visit. During my professional experience, I have noticed that about 90% of all Russian visas issued fall into TWO main visa categories:

Tourist visa:
is your first choice for short, up to 30 days, one-off visits to Russia, even if you are going for reasons other than tourism (eg business meetings, conferences, visiting relatives, etc.) Unfortunately, you will need a business visa, if you intend to stay more than 30 days.

According to the Russian bureaucracy, the TOURIST visa can be obtained with an official invitation/sponsorship/support letter (more on this in the next article) from a hotel or travel agency registered with the Department of Consular Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia (abbreviated as MFA).

The same law states that it is illegal for a qualified travel agency or hotel to provide you with an invitation if they will not be staying at a hotel. Fortunately, this word of the law is broken more often than followed, because almost all travel agencies can provide you with a visa sponsorship document and later register your Russian visa without booking a single hotel night. The same applies to hotels, they will register your visa not only for the nights you stay with them, but also for your entire trip. Just remember to ask! (more on registration in the following articles)

Business visa
gives you much more flexibility: multiple entries and exits from Russia, valid for up to a whole year. The business visa is ideal for people who often work or those who stay in Russia for an extended period of time. Officially, business visas are intended for business travelers traveling to conduct business transactions (eg negotiations, contracts, exhibitions, etc.). But again, this is just an exception to the rule – you don’t need to travel on official company business, it can be a personal trip. No need to plan hotel reservations or an itinerary. Please note that a business visa does not imply a work permit. You must seek a work visa if you are about to receive money for your services.

Since the other types of visas are not as common, I will not cover them.

How and where to get a visa to Russia?

You usually have to apply for a visa at a Russian consulate in your country of residence. If you are currently traveling in a foreign country, in most cases you can apply at the Russian consulate in that country. You need to submit different documents to the Russian consulate depending on the type of visa and the processing time you want:

1. Valid passport: Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after your stated date of departure from Russia. For example, if you plan to leave Russia on February 1st, your passport must be valid until at least August 1st. You should also ensure that you have at least 2 blank visa pages in your passport. If any of these are true, you need to renew/add pages to your passport – contact your country’s embassy/consulate.

2. One passport size photo: I advise you to go to a passport photographer as they are familiar with the passport style photo requirements.

3. Questionnaire/Visa Application. The questionnaire must be signed by you. The question-by-question guide will be published in the upcoming articles.

4. Visa Sponsorship/Invitation Letter from Russia: You must obtain the type of invitation letter that corresponds to the type of visa required. For example tourist invitation letter for tourist visa, business invitation letter for business visa, private invitation letter for private visit visa etc. In most cases, the photocopy of the visa support will be sufficient, but you need an original letter of invitation if:

* you are applying for MULTIPLE entry visas,

* you are applying in one of the following countries: Australia, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Sweden,

* you are a citizen of certain countries with which the Russian government has strained diplomatic relations (eg China, India, Nigeria, to name a few).

5. Visa Processing Fee: All Russian consulates charge a certain visa processing fee. It varies depending on your visa type and processing speed. In general, the longer the visa and the faster you need it, the more you pay. The Russian consulate in each country has different fees. For example, US visa processing fees range from as low as $100 to as high as $450.

6. Self-addressed/prepaid envelope: If you are applying for a Russian visa by post, you must include a prepaid envelope. We recommend using Registered or Confirmed Delivery as the package contains your passport and visa. If you choose to apply in person, you will collect the visa yourself, no need for a return envelope. In some countries you can only apply in person.

7. Additional documents: For some types of Russian visas for citizens of some countries, Russian consulates will require additional documents:

* Compulsory medical/travel insurance is required for citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Luxembourg, Norway, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

* The Human Immunodeficiency (HIV) AIDS certificate is required for multiple entry visas and visas for more than 3 months. You can find a local HIV testing center in the US here.

* Proof of permanent residency (photocopy of green card/residence card if applying from US) is required for citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Palestine, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam. Otherwise, citizens of these countries must apply for a Russian visa in their home countries.

* Proof of sufficient funds for your stay in Russia.

* Any other document deemed necessary by the Russian Consulate.

As you can see, it is possible to arrange a Russian visa yourself. In practice, however, most travelers choose to hire a professional visa travel agency to do the grunt work. For an additional $30-$70, agencies will prepare, correct, and submit your documents to a consulate on your behalf and mail your passport along with your Russian visa. Some companies even take care of registering the visa when you arrive in Russia (more on registration in the following articles). Given that each Russian consulate has different tastes and temperaments in interpreting visa processing requirements, it usually pays to have someone who knows the ins and outs of dealing with bureaucrats.

The only problem with hiring someone to handle your visa is figuring out who to hire. Among hundreds of honest agencies, there are many scammers who seem to disappear as soon as you give them your personal information. Still, this shouldn’t stop you from looking for a professional visa agency, just use a healthy dose of precautions.

What are the processing times and fees for a Russian visa?

Visa processing time:
By now you have noticed that you cannot apply for a visa unless you have a visa invitation ready. Therefore, you should allow enough time to secure a visa support letter. It can range from 1 hour for a tourist invitation to 18 working days for business support to 60 days for private invitations. I will write more about fees and invitation processing time in my next article.

After you receive an invitation letter, you can send the invitation along with other documents to the Russian consulate or a certified visa agency. According to Russian legislation, the visa must be issued for more than 20 working days (excluding weekends and national holidays). Fortunately, most consulates issue visas from 1 to 14 days (depending on how much you pay). It’s good to remember that if you apply for a visa by post, you need to allow at least TWO more working days:
(1) Overnight delivery from your home to the consulate and
(2) Sending documents from the consulate back to you.

Please do not submit your documents to the consulate or visa agency more than 45 days before the scheduled date of departure for BUSINESS TYPE VISAS and 90 days or more for all other TYPES. Consulates do not process such pre-orders – they will return your package and ask to deliver it at a later date.

Deadlines and fees for Russian visa processing vary from country to country. Processing fees are highest in the US because the US government has the highest fees for Russian citizens applying for US visas. As a result, the Russian government imposes the same fees on American citizens applying for Russian visas. Such diplomatic policy, where one country imposes the same travel barriers, fees and procedures for citizens of two countries, is called reciprocity laws.

Unfortunately, Russia follows such policies religiously. Therefore, you may have to pay more or less for your Russian visa depending on your nationality and the location where you are applying for your Russian visa. For example, if you are an Australian citizen and apply for a Russian tourist visa in the UK, you will pay a standard consular fee of £30 (for 7-day processing) and an additional fee of £18 due to reciprocity laws between the Russian and Australian governments.

The Russian government authorizes all its consulates and embassies to issue Russian visas for no more than 20 working days. Therefore, each consulate has leeway in how quickly they issue visas, as long as they don’t break the 20-day limit. Again, this varies from country to country.

If you need to learn more about Russian visa processing fees and time requirements, please call us at 888-470-8472.

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