Yes, you need a visa to travel to Russia. But these days, it is a very easy process to get a visa and just about anyone will be given one if they follow the correct procedures.
Please note that this information is intended only as a general guide and to help explain the general issues to do with getting a Russian visa. For detailed information you should check with the nearest Russian consulate, or have us assist you.
There are several different types of visa that visitors to Russia might choose to apply for. The three most common types of visa are as follows :
A business visa requires an invitation from a company in Russia for you to come and visit them. There is little advantage for tourists to get a business visa rather than a regular tourist visa (it can be valid for more than one month is the major advantage), and indeed there can be a disadvantage. Obtaining a Business type Visa requires much more official paperwork than a Tourist visa, so you might want to consider a Tourist Visa if it is at all appropriate for your travels (hint hint.....). If you must have a Business Visa, then we can assist with the official invitation requirements from Russia.
Most people will probably apply for a Tourist Visa. Your travel agency that is booking your trip to Russia may be able to arrange this for you, alternatively we can also assist. The tourist visa - for bona fide tourists - is generally the easiest type of visa to obtain, and allows you to stay for a maximum of one month.
There is also another form of visa called a Visitor Visa. In this case, you need to arrange for someone in Russia to get a special letter of invitation from OVIR that will allow you to travel to Russia (this can be a complex process). You need to be careful to get the invitation from friends that are located in the first city you will visit, because you need to have the company that invited you to Russia to then register your passport and visa within 72 hours of arrival. We really do not recommend this type of visa at all due to the difficulties in arranging it.
Most visas allow you to enter into Russia only once. If you want a multi-entry visa, then different requirements apply. It becomes more complicated - and more expensive!
Getting a visa is really a two step (or longer!) process. The first step is to get the appropriate type of invitation, and this can take anything from a couple of days for a simple tourist visa invitation from a helpful Russian company to weeks or even potentially longer for a Business or Visitor visa.
These days the Russian Consulates are both very helpful and very efficient, but like any other type of government department, they also tend to be busy and so they have structured a series of fees based on the urgency of your need for a Russian visa. While these fees might seem very high, they are in line with what the US Embassy charges Russian citizens to visit the US (and $50 is worth a lot more to a Russian than to us!). The essential bottom line here is that it is very very expensive to get a rush visa, so you really should plan well ahead to get this arranged.
At least in theory, you need to register your visa, no matter whether it is a visitor, tourist, or business visa, within 72hrs of arriving in Russia. Failure to do this may lead to complications if you are asked to produce your documents at any time (eg by the police doing a random inspection of people on the street) and may also lead to complications when you leave the country and have to hand in an unregistered visa. In the last few years, it appears that few officials have bothered at all with unregistered visas, but you are leaving yourself open to potential downside problems, particularly at the airport when trying to leave the country, at a time when you're at your most vulnerable to official extortion.
We always register our visas, and suggest you should do the same. The good news is that most hotels can register your visa for you, and often for free - all the more reason to do so!
We also have a feeling - a premonition, if you will - that there may be some increased enforcement of such procedures in the future, and so just because you know a friend who traveled on an unregistered visa with no problems five years ago, don't necessarily view this as a guarantee that you will be able to safely duplicate their good fortune!
If you are making your travel arrangements through a travel agency, we suggest you have them arrange your visa for you. If you're not using the services of a travel agency, then we admire your courage (!). In such a case, you should directly contact the Russian consulate closest to you for assistance.
Embassy of Russia in the United States
2650 Wisconsin Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20007
Visa Department: 1825 Phelps Place N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
Consulate General in New York
9 East 91 Street
New York, NY 10128
Consulate General in San Francisco
2790 Green Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
Consulate General in Seattle
2323 Westin Building
2001 Sixth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98121
Canada Embassy of Russia in Canada
285 Charlotte Street, Ottawa
Fax (613) 238-6158
Consulate General in Montreal
3655 Ave Du Musee
Montreal, Quebec, H3G2EI
Fax (514) 842-2012
For very helpful and complete information on the visa issuing process, you should visit the Russian Consulate in Seattle's Russian Visa Information pages.
Comments? Suggestions? Send mail to David Rowell firstname.lastname@example.org . This page last edited : May 15, 2010