Russia Passport and Visas Information
Citizens of most non-CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries must obtain a visa prior to arriving in Russia. Citizens of Croatia (3 months, invitation required), Israel (90 days), Montenegro (90 days), Cuba (30 days), Thailand (30 days), Venezuela (90 days), Argentina (90 days), Hong Kong (14 days), Japan (only for Russian islands in north of Japan) , Serbia (30 days, only biometric passports) , Brazil (90 days from June 7, 2010) do not need a visa. Obtaining a Russian visa is a costly, time-consuming, and often frustrating process. Most visitors should start the process at least two months in advance, but it can be done in a few weeks if you are willing to spend a little extra. There is also a way to get a visa in just a few days, but for citizens of some countries, this will cost a couple hundred dollars. For citizens of EU countries, this will cost ˆ130 (or less, for example USD 100 at the San Francisco consulate [) and take three days (or even the next day), instead of the usual 4-10 days.
Canadian and US Citizens may apply online through Canada or the United States consular offices.
There are number of ways to get a Russian visa, but first of all, you will need an official invitation. The type of visa you receive (see below) depends on the type of invitation that has been issued to you.
The tourist invitation (also called reservation confirmation) is a letter of confirmation of booking and pre-payment of your accommodation and travel arrangements in Russia. You will also need a tourist voucher . These two documents can be obtained from your tour operator if you book a package tour, a government approved hotel in Russia, an on-line hotel booking service or through a Russian travel agency. The sign of government approval is a so called "consular reference," the government registration number with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. Only hotels and travel agencies that have a consular reference can issue the confirmations valid for visa purposes.
Using a local Visa Service to obtain a Russian Visa may streamline the process. They will double check your application and invitation, go to the embassy for you and return your passport to you. This saves a lot of time and frustration.
It should be noted that tricks and work-arounds such as booking one night in a hotel and getting a visa for 30 days with the paper received from the hotel won't work. Hotels only issue invitations for the length of time you are a guest with them, and the visa will be issued to match the dates of the invitation. However, some travel agencies will issue a confirmation for a fee, without actually collecting the accommodation pre-payment. The legality of such actions are in question and there is a bit of controversy about this. The price for this service is usually USD 30 but since hotels tend charge the same amount , it makes sense to obtain the travel voucher and tourist invitation/reservation confirmation directly from the hotel you'll be staying at.
Travelers who plan to stay in more than one hotel would be best advised to seek an invitation through a travel agency rather than a hotel directly to ensure that the invitation will cover the entire length of your stay.
The general steps for obtaining a Russian visa can be found [. However, Russian Embassies and Consulates are inconsistent and unreliable. For example, depending on the embassy, they may or may not issue visas by mail or in-person only and may not accept faxed/e-mailed copies of the invitation in lieu of the original. Check with the embassy in before hand.
If you have friends or relatives in Russia you could ask them to sponsor you for a private/homestay visa. They would need to seek an invitation through their local Passport and Visa Division of the Federal Migration Service (formerly OVIR). The problem with these invitations is their tendancy to take a least a month to process. The inviting individual also becomes solely responsible for all your activities while in Russia and can be penalized heavily if something were to go wrong. Because of this, personal invitations are usually not available for a fee through the net.
A business visa requires an entirely different type of invitation. Business invitations are issued by the government and many Russian consulates require the original hard copy (though some will accept a faxed copy. Again, check with the consulate before applying). Obtaining a business invitation is another time consuming and costly process. Any registered company in Russia can apply for a business invitation for a foreign national at the visa and passport office in Russia. It normally takes 4 to 6 weeks to receive one. Some travel agencies in Russia can help with obtaining a business invitation. Business visas are a lot more flexible than tourist visas as they are usually valid for multiple entries and last for up to 12 months.