Getting a visa to Russia might sound like complete nightmare if you read some of the travelers’ accounts online – they are not always accurate. Russia is not North Korea, and you do not necessarily need to go with an organized tour group and fit all your travel plans within a specific time limit.
Tourist visas to Russia are valid for up to 30 days, and can be issued with single or double entry. If you want to stay longer, consider applying for a business visa, which can be used by people attending conferences, exploring business opportunities, or going on a research trip. This visa takes longer to process, but will allow you to stay as long as 6 or 12 months, with single, double, or multiple entry.
First of all, you need a Visa Invitation. If you know somebody in Russia, they can provide you with a private invitation, which they must obtain as a notarized copy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is a bit of a cumbersome process that can take up to one month, and your consulate will require original documents for the application. So instead, you can get the invitation from a certified agency. It will cost you around $50, and within a few hours scanned copies of a tourist voucher and reservation confirmation will be sent to you by email. When applying for the invitation, you will be prompted to indicate the cities you are planning to visit and hotels you are planning to stay at. If you do not have any fixed plans, staying with friends, via airbnb, or in a hostel, simply pick any hotel on the list and make sure to write it down on the visa application form as well. If you are taking the Transsiberian train, pre-booked tickets may be a good substitute for a hotel reservation.
Secondly, prepare your passport, photos, and visa application form. The passport must be valid for 6 months after your planned departure from Russia, photos must be recent and good quality, and the application form can be filled in and printed out here: http://visa.kdmid.ru/
Finally, you will require a travel insurance for the duration of your stay. Choose your company wisely, and mind that ordinary travel insurances do not normally include special types of activities and extreme sports… in case if you are looking for some thrilling skydiving experience or cross-country skiing in taiga in the middle of January.
Find your local Russian consulate and apply. You can always use services of our agency to avoid queueing at the consulate by yourself, and send all the documents by post. Along with the above mentioned documents, there is a visa processing fee that starts at $255 depending on your type of visa and how fast you want it to be issued.
Final note: upon arrival to Russia, you are required to register your visa within 7 business days. Your hotel can do it for you for a small fee (depends on the hotel), or the agency that issued your invitation can provide you a hassle-free registration for additional fee – ask them when applying for invitation. If you are staying with friends, or via airbnb, the owner of the property can register your visa at any local post office: they will need to bring $5, a copy of your passport, and their Russian ID with registration (propiska).
Make sure to carry your passport with the visa and registration with you at all times, and know the phone number of your embassy in Russia, as the police are known to be interested in tourists, especially in popular locations around Moscow and St Petersburg.