The Definite Guide to How to Get a Visa to Travel to Russia

One of the most annoying things about traveling to or living in Russia is that most foreigners will need to get a visa. If you’re asking yourself how to get a visa to travel to Moscow, then my Definite Guide to How to Get a Visa to Travel to Russia is a must-read for you.

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In this guide you will find out:

  • Which countries need a visa for Russia
  • What visa do I need to travel to Russia
  • Where do I get a visa for Russia
  • How much does it cost to get a visa to Russia
  • How long does it take to get a visa to Russia
  • What you need for the visa and how to get a tourist voucher – A step-by-step guide
  • What is the immigration card in Russia
  • How to register in Russia

Which countries need a visa for Russia?

If you want to travel to Russia, you will most probably need a visa. These are the lucky few countries that can come to Russia without one:

Former Soviet Republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Georgia, etc. (but NOT the Baltic countries)

South American and Central American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela

Israel, Cuba, Montenegro, Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia, Mongolia, Thailand, Seychelles, Hong Kong and Macao

Most Western and Asian countries will need a visa, which looks like this: 

What visa do I need to travel to Russia?

There is a whole list of potential visa you can get. These are the most common ones:

Tourist: you are coming as a tourist and can stay on that visa up to 30 days max.

Business: you are coming for business reasons and can stay on that visa up to 90 days max. It's also the type of visa that you can use if you want to stay longer than 30 days as a tourist. The "business" part is only a word, this visa can be requested by anyone.

Student: you are coming to Russia to study,

Work: you are coming to Russia to work, permanently or temporarily.

Transit: you pass Russia on your way to another destination and exit the airport. For a layover, this visa is not necessary.

Do I need a visa for the World Cup in Russia?

NO! Holders of tickets to the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia do not need a visa.

Stay tuned for more info on this in an extra guide on the World Cup 2018.

Where do I get a visa for Russia?

There's two options for you. Most European countries, the US and China have Russian visa centers that will process your application. The easiest way to find them is to simply google for "russian visa center + your country". Most of them are called something like VHS, VFS or IFS. This is the more convenient option.

If there's no such thing in your country or you cannot go there for some reason, then you will need to apply for it at a Russian consulate. Again, Google will help you to find the nearest one. Usually these will require a bit more time and nerves. 

Note that you can only apply for a visa from a country where you are a legal resident

How much does it cost to get a visa for Russia?

The cost of your visa will depend on the type, duration and days it takes for the visa to be processed.

For my native Germany for example, the cheapest tourist visa comes at 79€ (~100$), or 89€ (~110$) if you include the invitation letter that the application center offers. It is valid for 30 days and takes up to 10 working days processment. 

Business visa can be from 89€ (~110$) (no invitation included, long processment) to 269€ (~325$) (with invitation and 1 day delivery). 

I don't know whether visa centers in other countries offer the same kind of service to include the invitation letter. A ballpark number for your visa regardless of your location will be somewhere around 100€ (~120$) for the application + 50€ (~60$) for the invitation letter

How long does it take to get a visa for Russia?

You can get a Russian visa as fast as within 1 working day but that is going to be the most expensive option. If you aim for the cheapest option with long delivery times on the invitation letter and the visa, you could be looking at 3-4 weeks.

Usually it should take no longer than two weeks if you get an invitation letter from your hotel or from a fast online resource.

What you need for the visa and how to get the tourist voucher - A step-by-step guide

Getting a visa to Russia can seem like a big and intimidating task but it really is much easier than it looks. In this step-by-step instruction I will walk you through everything that you need to do to.

Step 1: get your passport

Most people should have a passport but if you don't, you need to get one. The only requirement here is that it's 6 months valid after the expiration of your visa and that it has minimum 2 consecutive free pages

Step 2: get your accomodation

You need to know the dates when you are going to be in Russia because your visa will have an entry and an exit date. These are the first and the last possible dates you can be in the country.

Buying flight tickets or accomodation is not mandatory to get a visa.

You can book a flight or a place to stay first and the take care of the visa that includes these dates. Or you can get a visa first and only then decide when and where you want to go.

However, when you fill out the application later, you need to indicate which cities you're going to visit and how often you intend to enter Russia. So you should have an idea of at least one city that you're going to travel to and whether you'll need to cross the border more than once.

Step 3: get medical insurance

Most countries need proof of travel insurance to get a Russian visa. The company that I'm using myself and that I can recommend is STA Travel. You can get travel insurance for as little as a few bucks there.

Step 4: get a letter of invitation

The letter of invitation is the most confusing part for most people, including me when I went to Russia for the first time.

To clear things up:

You need to get a letter of invitation to apply for a visa (most common case: you buy it)

Your hotel reservation is not a letter of invitation

Your hotel reservation is not necessary to get a letter of invitation

A letter of invitation is an extra piece of paper or PDF that states that, well, you're invited to come to Russia. You can be invited by a hotel, a company, an educational institution or whatever is written on your letter. As long as you get it from a legitimate source, it doesn't matter who the inviting party is. It is more a pro forma thing to get your the visa. 

Where can you get the letter of invitation?

There's two options. Assuming you're a tourist, option one is to ask the hotel that you booked to send you one. In theory this should work fine but in practice it seems it does not. The hotel might charge extra or the process is too complicated. I've never had to deal with this case, this is just the experience I've heard from other people.

Option two is to simply buy the letter of invitation. This is what most people do. The cleanest and most reliable source online that I found is iVisa.com. You do not have to include the actual hotel that you're staying at. Just put in any hotel if you don't have yours yet, for your visa it is irrelevant. That also applies if you're going to use Airbnb for example. You also only have to include one hotel if you don't know your final itinerary yet.

If you're travelling on a business visa, you will need to indicate the address of your stay. Again, any address in the city you're going to be in is fine. 

The German visa center for example also offers the option to take care of this for you and include the invitation letter in their service at extra cost. You have to check if the visa center in your country offers a similar option, in case you don't want to deal with this. Getting one yourself will be cheaper though.

Step 5: fill out and print the form

This video will run you through the process of filling out the application better than I could ever explain it. 

When you're done, print the form and don't forget the passport photo to go with it. 

Step 6: go to the consulate or visa center and hand in the application

Some visa centers offer postal service as well, I have no experience with consulates. What you'll need is the following:

  • Your passport
  • The application+photo
  • Proof of your medical insurance
  • The letter of invitation (printed out, if not the original)
  • Proof of funds, like an account statement, that indicate you'll return home and not stay in Russa

As I said, cost and duration of the application depends on the option you choose. You can get the necessary info on the pages of your visa center or consulate. 

Step 7: collect passport

You'll get a call when the passport is ready or find it in your letterbox if you opted for mail delivery. On to Russia with your fresh visa, congratulations!

What is the migration card in Russia

Upon entering Russia, border control will check your visa thoroughly and hand you this little beauty in return. 

You'll need to return it when leaving the country again, so be sure not to lose it. You also need the migration card to get registered. Carry it with your passport. I'm not sure whether it has any actual purpose besides making your life more difficult but thats Russia for you. 

How to register in Russia

Registration is another of these processes that only exists to be an annoyance for you.

You need to register within 7 working days of arriving to Russia, so not including weekends and holidays.

If you're staying at a hotel, then your hotel will most probably do this for you. If you're staying at a private accomodation, then technically your host should do this for you. In practice, they might not give a damn and you'll have to do it yourself. Try to find out before arriving whether your host is willing to do this.

The worst-case scenario is that you have to find someone yourself, even though it is the responsibility of your host (the one on the invitation letter) to do so. Because that will mean that you will have to fill this out:

You keep the bottom part and have to carry it with you. It's a very burdensome process that involves going to the post office and filling out two of those, including lots of running around and making copies. Avoid unless absolutely necessary!

You only need to register at your first stay, even if you stay at multiple places. If you stay in a new city longer than 7 working days, technically you need to register anew. In practice, no one will care.

Here's some cold hard truth that you will not read on any other site:

Since your registration is not needed to leave the country, technically you can live perfectly fine without doing that. The only problem arises when you get stopped by the police or for some other reason you need to present it and you're unregistered. In this case you'll pay a fine. Chances to get stopped are rather low if you look European.

Note that I am not advocating not registering! By all means try to do it but it's not as big of a deal as it seems.

Also be aware that during the World Cup 2018, you must register within one day if you're staying in one of the participating cities.

When this rule was in practice during the Confederations Cup 2017, I registered 2 weeks late and still did not have to pay a fine. So a common-sense approach here will do. 

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