How to get a Russian travel visa

This post is part of my Russia travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery

Everything you need to know from applying to registering a Russian Travel Visa

Getting a Visa for Russia is NOT a straightforward process.

1. Get an invitation

First, you must have an invitation (visa support letter) to visit Russia. This invitation must be from an authorised tourist agent (for travel visa) or a private individual. Private invitations take weeks and will require loads of paperwork for your friend. Messing with the government is something that we (people from erstwhile Socialist states) hesitate to do, so the best way to go is have a tourist agency invite you. Search for invitation agencies on google since I don’t have any recommendations.

First whiff of corruption. The ‘invitation’ will be a fake document. It will basically say that “Priyank will be staying at hotel blah blah from this date until that date. He will travel to these places… Everything has been paid.” There are several websites that will send you an invitation, so will most hostels or hotels that you want to stay with. They will send you an invitation for a fee (upto $60) regardless of whether you are actually staying with them or not. I was baffled at the systematization of this underground market of issuing fake documents.

2. Make documents ready

Surprisingly, they don’t ask you for more than your passport, 3 photographs, the invitation letter and the Visa fee. No flights booking, no bank statement, etc. It is likely that rules at different embassies differ. I applied at the Russian embassy in Toronto.

3. Apply for the Visa

It cost me CAD 75 to process my visa. The website and instructions at the embassy says 10 days, but the guy at the counter told me to come back in 3 weeks. The actual visa application day was very funny actually which I will blog about next.

When I got my Visa, about four weeks before my departure, I heaved a sigh of relief. I my excitement knew no bounds. The Russian visa was a shiny pinkish orange card that said my name: “ПРИЙAНК ТАТТ”

I was going to Russia after all!

4. Register your Visa – once in Russia

This is an archaic law dating back to the Soviet times. It is designed to cause maximum discomfort to the foreigners and a way for the government to track their movements. Thankfully now the purpose is limited to notifying the authorities about the place of your stay in Russia.

1. Every foreigner who comes to Russia must have his/her visa registered within 72 hours upon arrival (excluding holidays and weekends).
2. If the foreign citizen changes the place of stay, s/he must register in the new place within the first 3 working days of arrival. What this means is, if you registered your visa in Moscow, and then traveled to St. Petersburg for over 3 working days, you must register over there too.

The interesting thing is that it is not the foreigner’s obligation to register – the accommodating party must do it. However, I stayed in people’s homes most of the time, and asking them to do this would have been a bureaucratic hassle. So I simply did not register until the last week.

Even nicer thing is that the police who randomly check your passport and migration card on the street are in no position to find if you have registered or not, because there is no stamp or a receipt. I was asked about the registration twice, and I lied both times saying it was done at hotel blah blah. 😉

What if you don’t register? Some people mentioned that acting the dumb foreigner “Я не понимаю порусский” (I don’t understand Russian, या नी पनीमायू पारुस्की) helps – and it helped me indeed. But potentially they could throw you out of the country, penalize you and/or black list you for few years.

More corruption: Since I read many stories online about people taking a chance and not registering, I decided to go ahead and continue unregistered too. However, as my departure neared, I was getting restless and I even had a dream where I was put in a Russian prison. So during my last week in Russia, a hostel in St. Petersburg registered me for RUR 300 (~USD 15), for 21 days straight. I stayed there only for 1 night. Good deal! 🙂

So there you go, Russian tourist visa process, complicated as hell. Good luck!

Thorn Tree forum (Lonely Planet)

This post is part of my Russia travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery