Russia is a vastly beautiful land with an ancient culture and pristine nature, but unfortunately we cannot just walk right in. Westerners are not used to the idea of getting a visa and mostly prefer to travel visa-free. However, despite the need for a visa, Russia is still number 10 in the world for tourism, meaning that visas are not holding people back.
Credit: Visa House
If you have ever checked out travel agency deals for Europe, you would have noticed that not a single one offers a stop in the Russian Federation. This is because even for professional travel agents the procedure of obtaining a visa may be long and arduous, especially if they are used to booking trips in countries that are visa-free (Schengen Countries).
One of the reasons why Russia is such a mystery is because the walls are still somewhat up, and figuring out visa rules can be too much of a hassle for some people. However, this isn’t the Russian government’s attempt to keep people out. The extremely successful World Cup Championship this year, and the lenient visa rules for fans that followed, have proven that Russia is ready for tourism.
Credit: African Football
If you believe that the entire ordeal of registering for a visa is too much, remember that it is not exactly Russia’s intent to make it difficult for you. For example, tourists from Thailand can come to Russia visa-free for 30 days, and in turn Russians can go to Thailand for 30 days. Russians still need a visa to go pretty much anywhere, as seen below, and therefore the rules are reciprocated for foreigners. But Russia still wants tourists to come, so the processing fees for visas are usually much lower than other huge tourist destinations, like Brazil or the Republic of Congo.
So how do we get into Russia? The overall process is not as tough as you may think. Starting off with a simplistic TOURIST VISA, which is the easiest and fastest way to get into Russia. This visa legally allows you to travel Russia for up to 3 months.
How to get a Tourist Visa in 5 steps.
1) Make sure you have a valid Passport with at least 6 months left before expiration and 2 blank pages for stamps.
2) Fill out the visa application form online at — https://visa.kdmid.ru/ . You will need to pick the country where you will apply for the visa (NOTE: It is not asking you about your nationality, only which Russian consulate you will be using. You can find the closest Russian consulate to you here — www.russianconsulate.info). There are also 21 languages to choose from to complete the form.
This form takes some time to complete, so be sure not to rush and save your progress if you want to come back to it later. After you have completed the form, print off a copy. All documents will need to be handed into or posted to the consulate, not emailed.
3) Get a visa photo. Keep in mind that this is not a Passport Photo. A visa photo is a bit smaller, 3.5×4.5cm. The photo must be of your face without obstructions (i.e glasses, messy hair), with a white background. You can get this photo taken at your local post office or shopping center. Professionals usually understand that the photo needs to be perfect, if you try to do it yourself it may not live up to the parameters the consulate requires. It seems like a small mistake, but even a bad photo can get your application rejected.
4. Processing fees. Prices differ around the world and are often dictated by the consulate itself. Once you know what consulate you are going to use, send an email asking what their prices are exactly, or check out their website. The consulate may not accept cash, so it is important to find out first what they are asking for specifically. Americans can pay a ballpark estimate of $90 with a waiting period of up to 20 days, whereas Europeans from Schengen Countries pay up to €35 and the entire process can be completed in just a few days.
5. The final step can sometimes be the most annoying to obtain. You will need a Russian support document. For tourists this is generally a piece of paper issued by a hotel or hostel in Russia. This lets Russian authorities know that you have a place to stay once you arrive. If you know where you are going to stay, you will need to ask that establishment to sponsor your arrival. This request is usually free and the form is easy to complete. Either check out their website or ask them to email this form directly. Once you complete it, send it back to them and wait for the invitation. (NOTE: each consulate has their own rules, ask your consulate if they require the original invitation copy or just a print-out. If they require the original, your hotel can send it to you, but you will need to wait).
After you have all these documents together, you will need to send them to the consulate. If you are lucky enough to live close to one, you can simply walk in and drop them off. However, if you live far away, you will need to post everything by mail. Remember that you are posting your passport and money, so use a protected envelope and a trusted delivery service. (NOTE: remember to post a return envelope as well, otherwise they will hold onto your passport at the consulate and wait for you to come get it). Also, some consulates will refuse to answer your questions about the visa processing once it has begun, so be sure to use a mailing service that lets you track your documents and with a signature-on-delivery.
Although this process may seem long and unnecessary, do not forget that once everything is done and you have your visa, an entire new world has just opened up for you. By putting in a little bit of effort you have obtained the key to one of the world’s oldest and most genuine cultures.
If you are thinking of starting to plan your trip now, check out our page of ‘What to see’ in Russia. https://radrussia.com/what-to-see/
By Bennett Kerr