As American citizens we are lucky in the fact that of the 196 countries in world we do not need visas in advance of our arrival for 174 of them. That means there are only 22 countries in the entire world that American’s need visas before they set off for that country. This is fantastic news, but unfortunately one of those countries is Russia where I will be in September.
The process to get a Russian visa is straight forward, but you do need patience and I highly recommend using the services of Travisa. The total cost for my visa was $420.
The first step is to get an invitation letter from a hotel or travel group in Russia. This is actually much easier than it sounds. In fact you can order one through Travisa for only $51. One thing you will need is an idea of what your itinerary will be and the address and phone number of the hotels you will be staying at in up to five different Russian cities.
The second thing you need to do is fill out the Russian application form on line. This form will ask you many thing including your personal info, work, charities, military service, ect. It will also ask you where your intended hotels are. This is where the invitation letter above is required, because the hotel names and addresses must match. I applied for the 3 year multi entry visa, since it was the same price as the 2 entry visa and gives me flexibility in the future. The three things that gave me issues were first I put that my passport was official because it was officially issue from the US government. WRONG. We actually have tourist passports as official passports are for diplomats. Whoops. Second, with the three year visa your exit date will not match your invitation letter, but will be your entry date plus three year minus one day (ex entry of 28/9/16 (internationally they use the format of day/month/year) and exit of 27/9/19). Finally, when they ask for a reference number for your tour company they want the official Russian number the company that issued the invitation letter is given by the government.
The final step is to have your application taken to the Russian consulate. This is where Travisa really helps, because after you fill out an order form and send in your application and passport they will walk it to the consulate. This service plus the amount the Russian government will charge you to process your visa was $330. I also paid an additional $39 to have Travisa look over the visa application before they took it to see if there where an issues, which of course they found some I needed to address.
The hard part for me was the fact the Russian consulate needed to have my passport in their possession for 8 business days as they processed my application and affixed the visa into my passport. Add this to the overnight shipping there and another day back, I had to give up my passport for a minimum of 10 business days. This is not an issue for most people, but given that most of my charters go to the BVI I need to have my passport each week for my business and could only send it in once the season was over. This gave me three weeks and was tight, but in the end was not an issue.
I hope this blog helps you if you ever want to apply for a Russian visa. The last piece of advice I can give you is when you get to a frustrating spot, take a breath, and work through it. It will all get completed in the end. 🙂