How To… Get a Russian Visa

This marks a new category of post for me. All of my trips begin with a “Destination” post but those that are longer in duration (i.e. more than a few days) usually get tagged with an “Experience” designation and goes into greater detail. I’ve been traveling enough to know when I don’t know things and as such, I’m creating a “How To” category. My goal here is to break things down into simple, sequential steps so you can learn from all of the hassles I have been through. Note that my “How To” posts will be one potential way to solve a problem or complete a task – please don’t consider them to be the only way!

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My Russian Visa

Ah mother Russia. The land of vodka (though not really), palaces, and the occasional conflict with Germany, Ukraine, or the United States. No matter what your political or historical associations, Russia remains a place of great intrigue and culture. The trick to seeing it all, however, is getting the visa. If you plan on going to Russia, try following this handy checklist in order.

  1. Determine when you want to go (weather being the main concern)
    • Russian winter might make for cheap tickets and no lines, but there’s a reason why tourists don’t flock here in January. May-June is often touted as an excellent time to visit as the tourists begin showing up and the weather is pleasant.
  2. Determine where you want to stay or book a tour
  3. Request a visa invitation from the hotel or the tour operator
    • This is literally as easy as emailing the hotel and asking them for an invitation. I used the following text and made it generic, so feel free to copy and edit:

      Hello. My name is XXX and I am coming to Moscow from XXX to XXX. I am planning on booking a room at your hotel.
      Can you tell me if the Courtyard Moscow City Center hotel is able to send an invitation so I can apply for a visa? Please let me know what would be required. Thank you.
      -Aaron

    • They will send you a form for visa support documents and you should follow their instructions. Note that cancelling your reservation or no-showing may result in a charge from the hotel (our hotel indicated 3000 rubles) – but this is only if you default. It was not an issue for us!
  4. Fill out your official Russian Visa form through the Consulate website
    • Fair warning – the form is long and requires a lot of answers to questions you might find a bit strange and unrelated. Take your time – it may be an hour or two of solid typing to answer all of their questions.
  5. STOP: Decide if you want an agency to help you. This is where you determine if you want to use an agency to actually submit the paperwork for you
    • When I went to Russia, I used Travisa, an agency that happens to have an office in San Francisco. It cost around $330 all in for Travisa to submit the form and ship it to me (this includes the $198 fee for a 3-year visa that the consulate charges). I got the visa back within a couple weeks as well (no rush service needed but they have that for an additional charge).
  6. Submit the application (either through the agency or on your own)
  7. Receive your passport and visa in the mail or go pick it up
  8. Enjoy your trip!

I am on the road a lot so submitting the visa application and picking up my passport was logistically tough. If this applies to you, consider using an agency. Otherwise submit on your own. Good luck!

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