Russian Visas Made Easy
There’s no denying that the very idea of the dreaded Russian visa puts off a lot of would-be travelers to this country…
Both the formality and unfamiliarity of Russian bureaucracy can seem daunting – but it needn’t! When you break it down, all you have to do is fill out a form and drop it off at the embassy.
Still, if you’re from a country which doesn’t generally need visas, it can seem much more complicated, especially as the official website can be so confusing. Below is a simple guide to getting a Russian visa. Please note, this refers to single-entry tourist visa for UK citizens. Obviously the specifications are different for each type of visa and different country, (Liden & Denz has a handy guide, here). The basic steps will be the same however.
Step One: Get an invitation
Perhaps the single most concerning aspect of the visa application. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve met who have been convinced they can’t travel to Russia unless they are formally ‘invited’. It sounds so bureaucratic and conditional when in actual fact it couldn’t be more straightforward – as a student, Liden & Denz will issue you an invitation and all you have to do is print it. That’s it.
(If you have friends coming to visit you, they can also easily get an invitation online. I’ve used Way to Russia, which will send you one within 24 hours (although each time I’ve applied its come through immediately) for £23 or $30).
Step Two: Complete the Application Form
Simply fill out, print and sign the embassy visa application form here.
Some common problems with the form include the worryingly extensive section in which you have to list every single country you’ve been to in the past ten years. In my experience, I’ve always chosen to interpret this as ‘try to list at least 60% of the stamps in your passport’.
Another cause for concern is the ‘Hotel and Itinerary’ section. So you don’t know where you’re going to stay or where you’re going to yet? Don’t worry – you will not be tied to any specific hotels or itinerary. Even though you need to have a preliminary itinerary to get a visa, there is no law or regulation that says you cannot change this once you arrive here. The hotels and cities you are going to visit will not be listed on your visa, so you are free to travel and stay where you want within the time span of your visa validity.
In general, don’t worry too much if you have mistakes on the form – you will have a chance to correct these and re-print the form at the embassy. In fact, I’ve applied three times and each time I make a mistake on some trivial detail, its not an issue to re-print it, (as long as you don’t mind some daylight will your robbery, that is – they will charge you £6 for two A4 sheets of paper).
Step Three: Go to the embassy
Assemble all the documents you need. These will always include:
- Passport (valid for at least next 6 months)
- Printed out and signed application form
- Tourist Invitation
- Passport photo (there’s also an (extremely overpriced!) photo booth at the embassy though so don’t worry if you’re in a pinch)
You may need more documents, depending on your nationality and visa type. Go here and click on ‘documents required’ to check what you need. Common ones are;
- Proof of residence (i.e. utility bill, bank statement)
- Copy of your travel insurance policy/card
For UK citizens you can visit the Russian Visa Application Centre in London (15 – 27 Gee Street, London, EC1V 3RD) or Edinburgh (62/4 Albion Rd, Edinburgh EH7 5QZ). Don’t live in either of these cities? Sorry – you still have to travel to them. All visa applications need to be dropped off in person as you need to submit some biometric data (i.e. electronic fingerprints) once there. Luckily you don’t need an appointment. If you have all your documents in order you can just walk in, drop them off and pay in about five minutes (assuming there’s no queue of course…). Do bear in mind the opening times though, which you can find here.
Step Four: Pick up your visa
You can pick up your passport and visa within a week. Once again no appointment needed to pick up, just check the opening times and drop in, (collection times in London and Edinburgh are from Monday to Friday between 16.00 and 17.30, except declared holidays). As ever, if you’re willing to pay more you can buy the convenience of having your visa processed the next working day or mailed out to you securely.
Really the only downside is the price, as the visa admittedly is expensive. My total cost was £88 for an English citizen. You can check your prices here.
But that’s it – it sounds like a lot, but it actually doesn’t take that long to fill out a form and bring it to the visa centre. In fact, technically you could turn around the whole process in 24 hours!
All the updated information is on the website where you can also track your application if you wish.
Kamila, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz St. Petersburg