Ooooh. The big, bad, scary Russian visa.
It seems that’s how people feel when researching how to get a Russian visa for their first trip to the country.
But obtaining a transit or tourist visa to Russia is really not that much work. I think it just sounds like a lot of work because Western travelers never have to actually work for a visa!
In reality, most countries in the world have to deal with an exhaustive visa process to enter Western countries like the USA or England. For that reason, traveling to Russia and getting a visa was very humbling for me. And now I can proudly say I have been to Russia while some of my most hardcore world traveler friends haven’t been because they are visa averse.
To them I say, dude, it’s not that hard. If you too are worrying and frantically asking yourself how long does it take to get a Russian visa because you are on a time crunch, you can relax about that too. Basically, getting a Russian visa is super easy if you approach it in these 5 quick steps!
1 – Book your flight.
You will need proof of your flight arrival and depart dates for almost all of the other steps after this one. So, the first thing to do is book your flight. You could technically book your accommodation first. But once your flight is booked, you are officially going to Russia via plane tickets that you probably spent a lot of money on. You can’t really undo that, which will make you more committed to getting that visa and seeing the process through.
2 – Book an accommodation that offers visa support and get your Russian visa invitation online at the same time.
This is what a dark morning in Moscow looks like, just before 8 a.m. I am so glad I survived the visa process and got to experience this!
It will make your life so much easier if the accommodation you book offers visa support because they should be able to provide you with your Russian visa invitation online very quickly. My accommodation provided me with it in one hour.
Your Russian tourist invitation will consist of two separate A4-sized documents that represent your tourist voucher and your accommodation confirmation. In order to receive them quickly, you just have to search for hotels and hostels that offer visa support.
Literally! Type into google: “Moscow hotels with visa support” or “Sochi bed and breakfast with visa support.” Many results will pop up.
For all you hostel people like me, Hostelworld.com is a great place to find an accommodation because the hostels that have visa support will mention it in their descriptions. When you search for the dates that you need a hostel, you can skim through descriptions that mention visa support or use the search tool on your computer to find any hostel with the words “visa support” in their description.
I went with Vagabond Hostel because it offered visa support, it was super cheap, and it was a 10-minute walk from the Red Square. Once it was booked I simply emailed the hostel asking them to provide me with the invitation.
They emailed me back with a link to the visa support page of their website where I had to fill out some information and make an online payment of 15-20 euros. I do not remember the exact amount. Within one hour of completing the form and payment, I had a PDF of my confirmation and voucher to print out.
3 – Get passport photos taken.
You will need to take a passport photo for your visa. I would get a copy of the photo just in case something happens to one of them. You never know. Maybe you will stick it in your back pocket and then it falls down the toilet. It’s always good to have a copy.
As an American who needed a visa to Russia from USA, I got mine done at a Walgreens near my house and it cost about $5. You can also take a passport photo yourself. Just make sure to print the photo on glossy paper, not regular paper.
4 – Decide which visa you need.
I think this is the area of the visa process that trips people up the most because it can be confusing trying figure out if you need a tourist or transit visa. But this is the best way to look at it: if you are leaving the airport when you land in Russia, then you are a tourist and you need a tourist visa to Russia.
It does not matter how long you will be there. You need a tourist visa if you will be a tourist in Russia–simple. I was in Moscow for less than 24 hours, so I thought I would need a transit visa. But I called two different Russian embassies and they both confirmed that I needed a tourist visa.
5 – Apply for your visa.
Not all countries operate the same. To get a visa to Russia from USA, you have to apply online through the ILS Russian visa processing center. Then you have to take your application and all your supporting documents to the physical location of the nearest processing center to you, or mail in your application. Make sure you check the guidelines for your country.
So how long does it take to get a Russian visa and how fast is the Russian visa processing time once everything is done? After booking my flight, I took care of steps 2-5 in one week and received my Russian visa and passport in the mail within two weeks. The Russian visa processing time was faster than I had anticipated.
Bonus: How to get an extended visa for 3 years.
You can get a multi entry visa valid for three years or until you passport expires before three years. You do this by writing a letter to go along with your visa application requesting one and why you want one. I got approved for one, and in my letter, I stated that I would most-likely be re-entering Russia in the near future, and so a multi-entry visa would be more convenient for me.
And that’s it guys! It’s really not that hard. I have seen some other websites say that you have to have a cover letter and all this other crazy stuff. I don’t know what is up with that. Everything I did above got me to Russia just fine.
Heading to Russia anytime sooon? Still confused about how to get a Russian visa, or the process of receiving your Russian tourist invitation? If anything is unclear, please leave a comment below and I’ll see if I can help! Also, feel free to message me on Facebook or Instagram! I’m happy to help!