Russian Visa Unraveled – Part I – Introduction to Russian Visa

So you have decided to outsource or offshore your company, services or department, you have chosen the local Russian partner and you are ready to start outsourcing. You should probably meet your partner in person and 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 need a visa to travel to Russia.

If you are a beginner in Russia travel or if it 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 you all will learn something new about Russian visa through articles. They become convenient, money-saving measurements.

Types of Russian Visa

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

* Diplomatic visa,

* Guest/private visit visa,

* Tourism visa,

* Work visa,

* Business/Commercial Visit Visa,

* Student/education visa,

* Government Business Visa,

* Humanitarian visa,

* Transit visa (valid up to 72 hours),

* Temporary stay 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 issued Russian visas fall under TWO major visa categories:

Tourist Visa:

is your first choice for short, up to 30 days, one-time visits to Russia, even if you are going for reasons other than tourism (e.g. business meetings, conferences, family visit, etc.) Unfortunately, if you plan to, you will need a business visa to stay longer than 30 days.

According to the Russian bureaucracy, a 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 Consular Service Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (abbreviated as MFA).

The same law says it is illegal for a qualified travel agent or hotel to send you an invitation if you are not going to stay at a hotel. Fortunately, this law is more often violated than followed, as almost all travel agencies can provide you with a visa sponsor document and later register your Russian visa without having to book a single night in a hotel. The same goes for hotels, they register your visa not just for the nights you stay with them, but for your entire trip. Just don’t forget to ask! (more about registering in upcoming articles)

Business Visa

offers you much more flexibility: multiple entries into and out of Russia, validity up to a whole year. A business visa is ideal for frequent business people or those who are staying in Russia for an extended period of time. Officially, business visas are for business travelers who travel to conduct business transactions (e.g., negotiations, contracts, exhibitions, etc.). But again, it’s only the exception rather than the rule – you don’t have to travel on official company business, it can be a personal trip. You also don’t need to plan hotel reservations or your itinerary. Please note that a business visa does not imply a work permit. You must apply for a work visa when you are about to receive money for your services.

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

How and where to get a visa for Russia?

Normally, you need to apply for a visa at a Russian consulate in the country where you live. In most cases, if you are currently traveling abroad, you can apply to the Russian consulate in that country. You have to submit several documents to a Russian consulate, depending on the type of visa and the processing time you want:

1. A valid passport: Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after the stated date of departure from Russia. For example, if you plan to leave Russia on February 1, your passport must be valid at least until August 1. Also make sure you have at least 2 blank pages for visa in your passport. If any of these are true, you will need to renew/add pages to your passport – check with your country’s embassy/consulate.

2. One passport photo: I recommend going to a passport photographer as he is familiar with passport photo requirements.

3. Visa questionnaire/application. The questionnaire must be signed by you. À question-by-question guide will be published in upcoming articles.

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4. Visa Sponsorship/Invitation Letter from Russia: You must get the invitation letter type corresponding to the visa type required. For example, a tourist invitation letter for a tourist visa, a business invitation letter for a business visa, a private invitation letter for a private visa, and so on. In most cases, a photocopy of the visa support will suffice, but you will need an original letter of invitation if:

* you apply for MULTIPLE entry visas,

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

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

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

6. Self Addressed/Prepaid Envelope: If you are applying for a Russian visa by mail, you must include a prepaid envelope. We recommend using registered or confirmation delivery as the package includes your passport and visa. If you decide 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 certain types of Russian visas for citizens of some countries, Russian consulates will require additional documents:

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

*Human Immune Deficit (HIV) AIDS Certificate is required for multiple entry visas longer than 3 months. You can find the local HIV testing center in the US here.

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

* Proof of sufficient balance for your stay in Russia.

* Any other document deemed necessary by the Russian Consulate.

As you can see, it is possible to arrange your Russian visa yourself. In practice, however, most travelers choose to hire a professional visa travel agency to do the groundwork. For an additional $30-$70, agencies will prepare, proofread and submit your paperwork on your behalf to a consulate and return your passport along with the Russian visa. Some companies even take care of the registration of the visa when you arrive in Russia (more on registration in coming articles). Since each Russian consulate has different tastes and temperaments when interpreting visa processing requirements, it is usually worth having someone who knows the ropes of dealing with bureaucrats.

The only problem with hiring someone to handle your visa is figuring out who to hire. Amid hundreds of honest agencies, there are plenty of scammers that seem to disappear once you give them your personal information. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from looking for a professional visa agency, just take a healthy dose of precaution.

What are the processing times and costs of Russian visas?

Visa Processing Times:

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

Once you have an invitation letter, you can send the invitation along with other paperwork to the Russian consulate or a certified visa agency. According to Russian law, a visa must be issued within 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 is good to remember that if you are applying for a visa by post, you will need to allow at least TWO extra working days:

(1) Shipping overnight from your home to the consulate and

(2) Consulate shipping paper back to you.

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Please send your paperwork to the consulate or visa office for BUSINESS VISAS no more than 45 days before your intended departure date and 90 or more days for all other TYPES. Consulates do not process such advanced orders – they will return your package and ask to submit it at a later date.

Processing times and fees for Russian visas differ from country to country. The processing fees are the highest in the US because the US government has the highest fees for Russian citizens applying for a US visa. As a result, the Russian government imposes the same fees on US citizens applying for a Russian visa. Such diplomatic politics when a country imposes the same travel barriers, fees and procedures on citizens of two countries is called reciprocity laws.

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

The Russian government requires all its consulates and embassies to issue Russian visas within 20 working days. Therefore, every consulate has a leeway to quickly issue visas, as long as they do not exceed the 20-day limit. Again, it varies by country.

If you would like to know more about Russian visa processing fees and times, please call us at 888-470-8472.