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. Once you have it, you will think, wow, that wasn’t so bad.
So if you are on a time crunch, and you are frantically asking yourself everyday ‘How long does it take to get a Russian visa?’ you can relax about that too.
Getting a Russian visa is super easy if you approach it in these 5 quick steps!
1 – Book your flight.
First things first: book your flight.
You will need proof of your flight arrival and departure dates for almost every step after this one.
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.
This is what a December morning in Moscow looks like, just before 8 a.m. I am so glad I survived the visa process and got to experience this!
2 – Book an accommodation that offers visa support and get your Russian visa invitation online at the same time.
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 hotel with visa support” or “Sochi hostel visa support.” Many results will pop up.
Websites like Booking, Hotels, Tripadvisor and Hostelworld are great places to find an accommodation because the accommodations that have visa support will mention it in their descriptions. When you search for the dates that you need, you can skim through descriptions that mention visa support or use the search tool on your computer to quickly find any mentions of “visa support.”
Once I booked my accommodation, 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 1130 Russian Rubles ($18 USD). You will most-likely have to pay anywhere between 940-1880 Russian Rubles ($15-$30 USD) depending on the accommodation.
Within one hour of completing the form and payment, I had a PDF of my confirmation and voucher to print out.
Now, before we get to step 3….
If you are traveling to Moscow, check out my blog post 15 Moscow Hotels with Russian Visa Support — all of these hotels offer visa support and are a 5-20 minute walk from the Red Square, GUM and the Kremlin.
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 exiting the airport when you land in Russia, even on a layover that is less than 24 hours as I did on my first trip to Moscow, then you are a tourist and will most likely need a tourist visa to Russia. Simple.
But if there is some further confusion about this, my advice is do not rely on asking people in the TripAdvisor message boards or any other message boards. They often having conflicting and inconsistent answers, which will make you more confused. Contact your nearest Russian embassy or consulate and get official advice. 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.
Hopefully one day, Russia offers a digital nomad visa for us. But… haha, yeah right. One day Russia, one day!
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!