Applying for a visa to travel to Russia from the UK, whether for work, business, study or tourism, is not as complicated a process as it may seems. In this article, I’ll explain how to gather all of the documents you’ll need to apply for a visa from your computer in a way that is quick (less than 1 hour) and cost-effective.
(Originally written in October 2015. Updated February 2017)
I’ve had to apply for tourist visas to Russia for family and friends on several different occasions. The process for obtaining a visa to Russia is an extremely bureaucratic one and thanks to this, many companies have taken advantage of the opportunity to do business related to it.
Hundreds of internet articles explain the process for obtaining a Russian visa, but I haven’t found any that clearly explain each step of the process in detail or explain how to complete the process yourself without relying on outside help or intermediaries.
It’s for this reason that I’d like to explain in detail how a UK citizen can obtain a visa to travel to Russia in an easy and inexpensive way without having to contact intermediary businesses who only add to the overall price of the visa.
- If you will be traveling to Russia on a trip organized by a travel agency, the agency will likely take care of the entire visa process and simply ask you for the necessary documents. If this is the case, the price will be significantly more than if you file for the visa yourself.
- This article gives a step-by-step explanation of how to obtain a visa on your own from the United Kingdom. The process is very similar in other countries:
- USA and Canada. Read this version: How to obtain a Russian Visa in the USA or Canada in an easy and cost-effective way.
- Australia. Read this version: How to obtain a Russian Visa in Australia in an easy and cost-effective way.
1. INTRO QUESTIONS
Before going into detail about the Russian visa application process, it’s important to answer a few questions in order to better understand the procedures.
1.1. What is a visa and who should request one?
A visa is nothing more than authorization for a citizen of a foreign country to enter, stay in, or pass through the territory of the Russian Federation. It is a document that adheres to your passport and looks something like this:
If you are from the United Kingdom, you will need to obtain a visa in order to travel to Russia. However, people from countries that have bilateral agreements with Russia are exempt from needing to obtain a visa. For example, those with passports from ex-USSR states like Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, etc. are allowed to enter Russian territory using ordinary passports from their respective countries.
1.2. What types of visas exist?
Depending on the purpose of the entry you’re making, the Russian Federation issues 7 types of visas:
- Tourist: This is the most common visa and as the name indicates, it is issued for stays that are for tourism purposes. They are issued for a maximum of 30 days.
- Business: This type is for trips to Russia that are professional in nature and have a commercial purpose or are used to do business.
- Student: This is issued to those who are studying in the Russian Federation.
- Work: Visa that permits a person to work in Russia.
- Humanitarian: Issued for stays with for the purpose of cultural exchange, sporting events, scientific/technological, socio-political, religious or humanitarian missions.
- Private Visas: These are issued to guests of Russian Nationals who reside within the territory of the Russian Federation.
- Transit: Used to pass through the Russian Federation in order to reach another country (this is not necessary for foreigners who have a layover in an airport given that they don’t leave the international area or for those who fly over the territory without a layover).
In general, all visas are processed in a similar way. The only difference worth mentioning is the obtaining of the so-called letter of invitation that, in the case of a tourist visa, is issued by the hotel where you are staying or, in the case of a business visa, must be issued by a Russian company that has invited you to visit and in the case of a student visa, the Russian educational institution where the person will be attending.
1.3. Where is the visa processed?
Until not long ago, you could have your visa processed at the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in London or at the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Edinburgh.
However, to meet the increasing demand of Russian Visas, the Embassy of the Russian Federation outsourced its Visa Application Processing to a private company (M/S VF Services UK Ltd). Thus, at present this company manage and process Russian visas through the Russian Visa Application Center in London, Edinburgh, and Manchester.
- Russian Visa Center Application Website: http://ru.vfsglobal.co.uk
The Russian Visa Center Application acts as an intermediary between the applicant and the consular section by receiving documents, verifying they are correct and complete, and sending them to the consular section to have them processed. However, the final decision to approve or deny a visa application still comes from the Consulate.
All other websites that offer Russian visa are NOT AUTHORIZED AGENCIES but simply private companies that act as intermediaries and make the final cost of the visa a lot more.
Note. Holders of foreign diplomatic and service passports intending to visit Russia on an official business have to apply in person at the Embassy.
From 10 December 2014, it is mandatory to visit the Visa application centre in person to apply for Russian Visa, due to the new requirement to collect biometric data (fingerprinting).
You don’t need to make an appointment in advance in the Russia Visa Application Center. In the offices, they offer additional services: photocopy and printing facilities, Photo booth (in London), VIP premium lounge service, etc. Everything is set up so that you don’t have to come back on another day (and of course do business).
1.4. How much does it cost to get a visa?
The cost for processing a visa is divided into three quantities:
- The actual visa processing fee, called consular taxes: £70 for an ordinary visa -single entry- (processed within 5 working days) or £141 for an expedited Visa (processed in 1 day).
- Along with the visa fees, there is a service charge applicable per visa application:
- Normal applications (5 working days service): £38.40 (inclusive of VAT)
- Urgent applications (next working day service): £45.60 (inclusive of VAT)
- In addition to the cost of processing the visa, you must also add the cost of the letter of invitation or visa support, which is also required. In the case of the tourist visa, hotels can provide the letter for free, but this rarely happens and we have always had to pay anyway. The cheapest are around £13 (later I’ll explain how to get one for this price in a PDF format in a few minutes). For business visas, the letter of invitation should be provided for free from the Russian company.
You have the option of having your passport returned, once processed by the Embassy of Russian Federation, via DX Secure at a nominal charge of £9.80 (in addition to the visa fees and service charges) to be paid at the time of submitting your application. The passport will be sent directly to your address as specified by you in a Special Delivery Envelope (SDE).
I recently processed 4 visas for a 10 day trip to Russia through the Russia Visa Application Center and the cost was:
- £108.40 for each of the 4 visas (£70 in consular taxes + £38.40 in service charge)
- £13 for the letter of invitation for each visa (received through iVisa)
- For a total of £121.40 per visa
Note: Double entry visas are slightly more expensive (Visa Fees).
1.5. How to pay?
You have the option of paying their visa fees by cash or Credit/Debit card (except American Express) when applying at the Visa Application Centre. Cheques will not be accepted.
1.6. When should I start applying to get a visa?
Applying for a visa and gathering the necessary documentation can take some time, so I recommend beginning the process about 3 or 4 weeks ahead of time. Although, if you already have a passport and electronic copies of your documents, as I explain in this article, it is possible to get through the process in 10 days (or 1 or 2 days if you use the expedited process).
2. STEPS TO APPLY FOR A RUSSIAN VISA
When applying for a visa, you must provide the following information:
- The electronically completed Visa application form (you must print, sign, and attach a passport-sized photo)
- Passport (must be the original).
- Letter of invitation or visa support (A ‘Tourist voucher’ and a ‘Tourist confirmation’ document stamped and signed by authorized person. They can be obtained through your hotel or an approved travel agent who deals with trips to Russia)
Next I’ll explain the step-by-step process of obtaining your visa. Remember that the visa application form must be filled out with information from your letter of invitation and must clearly state the dates of your visit and which cities you will be staying in. Because of this, it’s better to gather your documents and complete the form once you have all of the information you need for the visa application.
Step 1. Have a valid passport
To apply for a visa, you must have a Passport which should be valid for a minimum of six months after visa’s expiration date and has at least 2 blank pages which do not need to be consecutive.
Remember that you must have an original passport as the visa is an adhesive document that you have to stick inside the pages of your passport.
Step 2. Set your itinerary: Cities and Hotels
Your visa must include your entry and exit dates meaning the first and last date that you will be in the country. This means you will need to know the exact dates of your trip before applying for your visa.
You do not have to buy tickets in order to get a visa but you should take the following into account:
- If you apply for a visa before buying your tickets, it’s possible that you won’t be able to find flights for the exact dates for which you applied or they may be more expensive. Remember that the earlier you book your flights the cheaper they will be.
- It is possible that you will purchase tickets in advance (if you’ve found a great deal or good price) and then not receive your visa (although I don’t know anyone who has been denied).
Once you know your entry and exit dates, you should outline your itinerary and plan out the cities you want to visit and the hotels or apartments where you’ll be staying:
- On the visa application form, you have to include the cities you are going to visit as well as whether you will be making multiple entries. The most common type is an entry visa but you may also want to visit Finland and then return to St. Petersburg or visit a country that borders Russia like China and Mongolia by taking the Trans-Siberian railway. You may also want to visit Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan or Georgia. If so, you need to be very clear about where you will be going and what dates you will be entering or exiting the country.
- There is nothing wrong with asking for a visa that includes days prior to those when you will actually be visiting. Just make sure that your exit and entry dates are included within the date range that is listed on your visa.
- To get a letter of invitation or visa support (later I’ll explain in greater detail what this is), you will need to know which hotels or apartments you will be staying in. However, once you arrive, it doesn’t matter if you end up staying in a different hotel or Airbnb apartment (say you find one that’s cheaper or better quality) as long as you are still staying in the city that you are visiting.
Many people ask me about hotels to stay in Russia. Well, I made a short list of hotels I recommend as value for money is very good.
- Ibis Moscow Centre Bakhrushina (3 stars)
- Novotel Moscow Centre (4 stars)
- Novotel Moscow City (4 stars)
- Radisson Royal Hotel (5 stars)
- Ibis St Petersburg Centre (3 stars)
- Novotel St Petersburg Centre (4 stars)
- Park Inn by Radisson Nevsky (4 stars)
- Radisson Royal Hotel (5 stars)
Note. If you’re going to stay in apartments Airbnb and you sign up on this platform through my personal link, you will automatically have a coupon of £25 for booking accommodation.
More info about accommodations in Rusia in this article: Accommodations in Russia: How to choose and where to make a reservation cheaply.
A typical example itinerary for a trip to Russia:
- Trip Dates: September 21-30, 2015 (10 days)
- Stay in Saint Petersburg from September 21-24
- Travel on the Red Arrow night train from Saint Petersburg to Moscow during the night of September 24 (I recommend that you get tickets for the train electronically through the RZD Russian trains website instead of using a third party).
- Stay in Moscow from September 25-30.
- Another example: Organizing a Trans-Siberian Train Trip
Step 3. Get a letter of invitation or visa support
The letter of invitation (also known as the visa support letter) is the most important document but also the most controversial. The letter of invitation should not be confused for a hotel reservation. They are not the same. It is not necessary to have a hotel reservation in order to get a visa.
This document is needed to apply for a visa and must be issued by a Russian person, institution, hotel, or business who has invited you to visit them. A Russian family member, university you’ll be attending, a business or a hotel where you will be staying can provide you with the letter.
Visa support is the most common support received when getting a tourist visa. This document is issued by the hotel in which you’ll be staying and is printed on an A4 page. It is divided in two separate but similar parts:
- The Tourist Services Contract (tourist voucher) is the document that states that you have hired a Russian hotel service. This part will show your personal information, the cities you will be visiting, as well as the services you will receive from the hotel and the proof that you have paid for a reservation.
- The Foreign Tourist Reception Confirmation (confirmation letter), as the name indicates, confirms you will use the hotel during your visit. It also includes personal information and the accommodations you’ll be provided with during your stay. The visa support includes 4 things that you will need when filling out your visa application form. Take a look at the example of the real visa support shown below to see the 4 things which are marked in red:
- Name of organization: Hotels Pro LLC
- Address: 119034 Russia Moscow Prechistenka st 40 Bld 2
- Reference number: 013725
- Confirmation number: 28101
I included this screenshot of an actual letter of invitation but blurred the personal information so that you can see the important pieces more easily:
How do you get visa support for a tourist trip? There are two options:
Option 1. Ask for it directly from the Hotel, they can either fax or email it to you. While the document should be free in theory, the hotels usually charge a fee. I recommend that you contact the hotel and ask for information about the visa support. They might provide it for free though they will mostly like charge between $20 and $50.
Important Note: Even if you will be staying in more than one hotel, you do not have to ask for a letter of invitation from each one. You only need to ask for the letter from the first hotel and have them list all of the cities and places you’ll be staying. However, it’s possible that the letter from the hotel will only include the period of your stay at that hotel, in which case you should request a letter of invitation from each hotel individually.
Option 2. Getting a letter of invitation on your own. If a hotel asks a large amount or if you simply want to do things more quickly without having to call or email each individual hotel, there are a multitude of businesses that can quickly provide the letter online. Remember that you don’t have to have a hotel reservation in order to get visa support. In fact, the hotel can give it to you regardless of whether you stay with them and if you decide to stay somewhere else, nothing will happen (you may find a cheaper hotel or one that you simply like better than the original hotel; you are not obligated to stay in the hotel that provides you with the visa support).
In the latest letters of invitation that I’ve received online, I put two random hotels (one in St. Petersburg and one in Moscow) and I didn’t end up staying in either hotel. The only important thing is that you include the cities in which you’ll be staying.
The best options that I used to get an invitation letter are two:
- HotelsPro: it costs 1,200 rubles (about £16 at current exchange rates) and can be paid by credit card
- iVisa: a bit cheaper than HotelsPro; it costs about £13 and can be paid by credit card or Paypal.
They are a registered tour operating business and are authorized by the Ministry to provide letters of invitation. A letter of invitation costs 1.200 rubles (about £16 as the exchange rate is currently £1/75 rubles ). Once you have paid they will send you the letter by email in a few minutes. The price is the same for both single and double entry visas and can be much more expensive through other providers.
To get the letter, head to the reservation form on the website:
You’ll see a form that you can fill out in English. It’s divided into one part where you fill out the type of visa (single or multiple), the dates of your visit and your itinerary. If you plan to visit more than one city, just click “Add city”. In the example below, I’ve put the random hotels that I included on the last visas I applied for but you can select whichever ones you’d like (either where you have reservations or different ones).
The second part of the form includes personal information of the travelers. To add additional travelers, just click “Add traveler.” Make sure that you correctly enter your email and then mark that you accept the conditions and click “Get invitation”.
Next, you will have to make the payment with a debit or credit card:
Below you can see the screenshot of the email you’ll receive once you have paid for the invitation. You can download and print your letter of invitation in PDF format. I’ve marked in red the information from the letter of invitation that you will need to include in your visa application form:
The other option previously commented for the invitation letter is the company iVisa. The system of issuing visa support is fully automated. You receive the invitation letter immediately after paying. You can pay by credit card or Paypal. The price is about $16 each visa support (£13).
It is an online system that iVisa offers to hotels and travel agencies using a form that is inserted into the website of the hotel or agency. For this reason I got in contact with this Russian company to allow me to include a form on this website.
The automated process of purchasing the visa support can do it through this link:
The form is simple to fill. Here is an example:
3. Payment: PayPal or credit card
4. Download Invitation
After payment you can download the invitation letter in PDF format. You will also receive the invitation in your email. An example of a visa support:
The information you need to fill out the visa application form:
- Name of organization: Visa Centre, LLC
- Address: 10, Bolshaya Konyushennaya st, 4th floor
- Reference number: 007612
- Confirmation number: in the above example is 3856 but note that it is different for each visa support.
Step 4. Fill out the Visa Application Form
Once you have all of the information you need as far as dates, entries/exits, a current passport, and your letter of invitation, you are ready to fill out the visa application form.
The form can be filled out electronically by visiting this link:
- Also you can go to http://ru.vfsglobal.co.uk/Proceed_To_Online_Application_Form.html
The application should include your personal information, the purpose of your visit (tourism, business, study, etc.), your itinerary and dates, your insurance policy information and other information that I’ll show you here.
When you go to fill out the form for the first time, you should select your country (UK) and the language you would like to continue in. Also mark in the box that you have read the introductory information. Next, click Complete new application form.
You can leave your form incomplete and come back another day but make sure to write down the code you are given in reference to your account since you will need it, along with your last name and answer to your security question, in order to log back in to your account. If you forget your code, you will have to fill out a new application.
The first information they will ask on the application under the “Visa details” section are:
- If you had USSR or Russian nationality at some time
- Purpose of visit and visa category and type
- Number of entries (single or multiple)
- Date of entry into Russia / Date of exit
Once you have filled out this information, click the Next button:
On the next page, you should input your personal information in capital letters as it appears on your passport:
- First name
- If you have ever had other names: maiden names, pseudonym, holy order, etc.
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- You must specify whether you were born in Russia
- Marital status
On the next page, finish entering the information from your passport:
- Type of passport
- Passport number
- Date of issue
- Date of expiry
- The name of the authority your passport was issued by (United Kingdom Identity & Passport Service IPS)
In the section that says Visit details, you should include the following information from your visa support that I mentioned earlier:
- Travel company (in the case of tourist visa)
- Name of organization
- Reference number
- Confirmation number
Note: If you have more than one visa support, you only need to fill out the information for the visa support from the first city that you will be visiting.
You should also include information from your itinerary (cities you’ll visit) as well as the name of your insurance company and policy number if you have travelers insurance. It’s always recommended that you have traveler’s insurance (For example, World Nomads). Be aware that it will not let you include commas or periods in the boxes.
Next, you need to indicate who is paying for the trip to Russian as well as the hotels you will be staying in including the name and address (these should coincide with those listed in your visa support).
To continue, you will need to answer a series of questions, the answer to most o which will be “no” except for the question that asks if you have personally completed the application to which you should answer “yes.”
On the next page, mark whether you have attended any educational institutions, excluding secondary school. Also mark if you have ever changed your place of employment before entering the current job.
Please note that if in your online application form you answered ‘NO’ for questions about previous employment and educational institutions, you need to enclose signed covering letter confirming the same with your application.
On the next page, mark whether or not you have received a Russian visa in the past, if you lost your passport, or if it has been stolen as well as the other countries that you have visited in the last 10 years which will probably take some difficult remembering (I can hardly ever remember them all).
To continue, you will need to enter family information (name of your father and mother, your contact information, and the company where you work or school where you study. The required fields are marked with a red asterisk. If applicable, you should indicate whether your parents are from Russia.
Lastly, select the place where you will be processing your visa application. You can select the Visa Application Center in London, Edinburgh, or Manchester:
Once you have finished entering all of the information, a summary will appear in case you would like to change something. If all of the information looks correct, click the Save button.
On the next page, you’ll see that you can download the completed form as a PDF. Simply click on the A4 Print button.
In this pretend example, that I just finished, the results would look like this:
As you can see in this form, most of the information that you’ve entered will appear. If you would like to see what the PDF will look like, you can download it at this link: Visa Application Example (PDF).
NOTICE. Since April 2016 the PDF form has changed its format but still being filled in the same way:
Step 5. Print the form, sign it, and attach a photo
Print the completed form, write the date, and don’t forget to sign it and attach a photo. It should be an original 2” by 2” photo (not a copy) that is: recent, in color, from the front, against a white background, and without glasses with tinted lenses or hats (photo specifications).
Step 6. Bank statements (self-employed, working from home, unemployed)
Applicants who are self-employed, working from home, company directors or unemployed need to provide bank statements for the last 3 months which have a current balance of a minimum of £100 per day for the duration of the visit (this is not required for students, housewives and retired applicants). If you wish to provide online banking printouts make sure they will be certified and stamped by your bank.
Step 7. Take all of your documents to the Visa Application Center
Once you have of your documents, the final step is to take everything to the Visa Application Center that is nearest your place or residence (London, Edinburgh or Manchester). All applicants must to go in person to apply for the Russian Visa.
Step 8. After submission
Now that you have applied for your visa to the Russian Federation, and waiting for your application to be processed, you can track your application status here.
You will need to present the original receipt given to you during the submission which will be collected from you as a proof of delivery of your passport.
Normal applications take about 5 working days to get processed. If application is submitted on Monday, it would be ready for collection on the following Monday.
Step 9. Travel insurance (optional)
UK citizens are not required to present traveler’s medical insurance in order to receive a visa though it is recommend that you have travel insurance that will cover anything that may happen during your trip (medical expenses, cancellation costs, etc.)
A good option is World Nomads, specializing in travel insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online your travel insurance to Russia, even after you’ve left home.
If you want to apply for a Russian visa on your own the easiest way is to apply through the authorized Visa Application Center. The standard visa will cost you £108.40 which includes the £38.40 administrative fee.
If you already have a passport (remember that you have to take the original passport), the rest of the necessary documents for the visa application can be quickly and easily gathered in less than hour through the Internet:
- The letter of invitation for £13 from iVisa form.
- Complete the visa application form for free through the website https://visa.kdmid.ru/PetitionChoice.aspx, which you can print, sign, and attach a photo to.
Once you have all the documents, take them to a Visa Application Center and in 5 working days your visa for your trip to Russia should be ready (1 day for expedited applications).
3. SUBSEQUENT FORMAL PROCEEDINGS AFTER OBTAINING THE VISA
Once you already have a visa you should bear in mind that there are two additional steps that must be done once you get to Russia: the immigration card and visa registration. The first thing is usually completed by the customs officer and the second the hotel where you will stay.
It is important to always carry both the passport and the immigration card while traveling, and the accreditation of the registry in case it may be required from you on the street by the police (it is rare for them to do so, though).
3.1. Immigration card
Once you enter the territory of the Russian Federation, you must fill out the immigration card, though in practice, at large airports, it is usually the immigration service which takes care of it (either digitally or manually). It is done during passport control.
The immigration card is a paper which consists of two equal parts that are the size of a passport page. One of the parts is kept by the border police and the second will be delivered to you. It is important that you keep this card as they will ask it to you when you leave the country. In addition, you will also need the immigration card to register the visa, as I explain in the next section.
In the following screenshot you can see how the immigration card looks, which usually comes in Russian and English:
More info about inmigration card: Russian airports: immigration card and customs formalities
If you have applied for a tourist visa, you have the obligation to register within the first 7 working days of arrival (excluding weekends and holidays). Before March 2011, the registration must be done within 72 hours, but the new Russian law modified this term. If you are going to stay in Russia less than 7 working days, then you do not need to register.
The purpose of this registry (which comes from the communist era) is to notify immigration authorities of the place where you will stay while you are in Russia. The registration must be done in each of the cities that you are going to visit.
You will need to fill out another registration form. It’s not your obligation to register, but rather the hotel where you are staying or the host of the apartment where you are staying.
If you are staying in a hotel, when you arrive, the hotel itself will register your visa. They will ask you the passport with the visa and immigration card (the one you get at the border when you arrive to the country).
If you will not stay in a hotel, but in a private house, then the Russian host is the one required to register his/her guest at a police station or at the post office. You don’t need to be present in the registry but you must provide your host a copy of the first page of the passport, the visa and the immigration card. You may be charged a small fee for this procedure.
The accreditation registration is not required to leave the country, though the immigration card is required.
In the following screenshot you can see how this form looks. The tourist stays with the bottom part (from the dotted line):
More info about registration: Registration in Russia: What it is and how it is done.
I hope this article has helped you apply for your visa to Russia from the United Kingdom!
If you’ve found it useful, please share. Thank you!