The notorious Russian visa probably turns most travelers away, but at the same time it provides a little taste of the former Soviet Union’s uptight ways. But to me, jumping through all the hoops to gain entry into Russia makes the trip more satisfying and it’s all part of the unique travel experience of Russia.
After sifting through countless of books and online guides, I’ve realized that it’s actually a very simple process to obtain a visa. In fact, there’s so many ways you can go about obtaining one, you’ll find that different sources will tell you differently. It soon becomes confusing and frustrating, and you finally give in and decide to pay double the price for a travel agency to handle it for you. A surprisingly large number of people do this.
So let me just simplify for you the best way to obtain a visa:
1. Getting the Required Documents
First, before applying for the visa, you’ll need an official invitation and a tourist voucher. In short: Just buy them.
Now, the longer version: Most guides will tell you to obtain the documents free from your hotel or a travel agency, which is possible, of course. But some hotels will only issue to you the invitation covering the days you’re staying with them. This is fine if you’re planning to just stay with them in one place for your entire time in Russia, but becomes a problem if you’re traveling to other cities and finding accommodation on the go.
Instead, save your all the trouble and just pay a travel agency to provide the documents. It’s not expensive, and it’s probably worth the time saved. They’re not concerned with your itinerary and plans, and will happily produce the invitation and vouchers for the duration you tell them. I’ve found waytorussia.net, visatorussia.com and gotorussia.com recommended for this purpose. It’s about US$30 for a 30 days tourist visa. They’ll fax or email you the documents by the next working day, and that’s it!
2. Prepare the Other Stuffs
Usually just your passport, some passport-sized photos and the completed visa application form. You can find it easily online.
3. Apply for the Visa
Since October 2007, you can only apply for the visa in your country of residence. So, in short: Go to your local Russian embassy.
Some guides may be outdated on this, or perhaps have encountered exceptions, but as far as possible, avoid traveling to another country and getting your visa there. It’s possible since consulates in different places have different standards, but you can never be sure.
However, anyone may pick up a 10-days transit visa in Beijing if you’re doing the Trans-Siberian route into Russia. Just barely enough to cross the country on a train, but you don’t have time to look around and enjoy yourself much.
4. Collect your visa in a week or so, and you’re done!