Applying for a visa to travel to Russia from the United States or Canada, 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. I also explain the additional requirements for Covid-19. Despite the the war in Ukraine, consulates issue visas to travel to Russia.
Updated in November 2022
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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 US citizen can obtain a visa to travel to Russia in an easy and inexpensive way.
- 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 States. The process is very similar in other countries:
- Canada. Read this step by step guide: How to Get a Russian Visa in Canada. In Canada differs at just a few points: You need to present and introductory letter from yourself giving full details of the travel, destinations, terms and purpose of the visit. Also, in case of applying for a double entry tourist visa, it is also required to provide a copy of airplane or ground transportation tickets showing the full travel route from the Russian Federation to the neighboring state and back to the Russian Federation.
- United Kingdom. Read this step by step guide: How to obtain a Russian Visa in the UK .
- Australia. Read this step by step guide: How to obtain a Russian Visa in Australia.
- India. How to obtain a Russian Visa in India.
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 an 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:
Below you can see what the different sections of a Russian tourist visa mean:
If you are from USA or Canada, you will need to obtain a visa in order to travel to Russia.
However, people from about 40 countries that have bilateral agreements with Russia are exempt from needing to obtain a visa (see map). 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.
- Most South American and Central American countries are exempt from needing to obtain a Russian visa.
Source: Visa policy of Russia – Wikipedia
Also, note that tourists from all over the world on board large cruise ships have the right to stay in the Russian Federation without a visa for up to 72 hours provided living on board of a ferry or within a territory defined by the group tour program. They have the right to leave the ship and come back on board of the ship only as part of an organized tourist group and within the defined program.
- All the information about Russian visa exemptions in this article: Is it possible to travel to Russia without a visa?
1.2. What types of visas exist?
Depending on the purpose of the entry, 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. Regular tourist visas are either Single or Double entry, for a period of no more than 30 days. You will need a letter of invitation from a Russian Licensed Tour Operator. It can be obtained in 5 minutes (below I explain how). Double-entry tourist visas are only issued when the second country is of the ‘near-abroad’ (CIS states, Baltics) or those that require return transit through Russian territory, such as China and Mongolia, etc.
- Important. In accordance with the simplified visa formalities agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States, from 2012 US citizens are able to obtain either a 3-year Multi-Entry Tourist visa upon request which exceed the 30 day stay limit. The easiest way is to obtain a standard visa support letter (single or double entry) for 30 days from one of the services mentioned in this article (for example, iVisa), but then specify a 3 year long period in your visa application form. The starting date of your visa would be on the day your visa support starts, but the end date would be not in 30 days, but in 3 years (ex. Date of Entry 25/10/2019 until Date of Departure 24/10/2022-minus one day).
- PRIVATE VISA. These are issued to guests of Russian Nationals who reside within the territory of the Russian Federation. If you are staying in a private apartment with a Russian friend or family member, you can process a private visa, although the process is slower and more complicated:
- If your stay is for a maximum of 30 days, it is easier to process a tourist visa. Simply include random hotels in the invitation letter and once obtained the visa you can stay where you want.
- If your stay is more than 30 days (and 90 days maximum), then you must ask your Russian friend or relative to get you a private invitation letter to process a private visa. It may take 2-3 weeks. It must be requested through the Ministry of the Interior of the Russian Federation.
- BUSINESS. This type is for trips to Russia that are professional in nature and have a commercial purpose or are used to do business. The period of validity of the business visa can be 30, 90, 180 or 365 days (even more in certain cases).
- It is a kind of visa that is also usually requested by people who do not have business in Russia but want to visit the country for a period of more than 30 days (maximum allowed by the tourist visa). It must be kept in mind that in essence the business visa is not addressed to these travelers, but the Russian authorities have always been permissive with this practice (maybe one day it will change).
- 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.
- TRANSIT. Used to pass through the Russian Federation in order to reach another country.
- This visa 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. More info about transit visa in this article.
Latest Russian visa statistics:
- 53,2% of visas issued in 2016 were for tourism, 26.1% for business, 7.2% for humanitarian reasons, 5.6% for private visas, 4.2% for work and 1.4% for studies.
- Germany, China, France, Finland, Italy, the United States and Great Britain accounted for 53% of visas issued by Russia.
- Behind these countries stand out by number of visas issued: Estonia, Latvia, Spain, Japan, Lithuania, Poland, Switzerland, India, Netherlands, Turkey, Austria, Czech Republic, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Belgium, Vietnam, Sweden and Iran.
Source: Visa statistics 2016 – Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia
In general, all types of visa 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 a Russian tour operator 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, must be issued by the Russian educational institution where the person will be attending.
1.3. Where is the visa processed?
As an individual, you can have your visa processed at any consulate of the Russian Embassy in the United States (which can be found in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Houston, and Seattle) as well as at the Russian Visa Center in USA, an independent business that is subcontracted by the Russian Embassy in the USA which also has delegations in these same cities.
If you are Canadian or reside in Canada, you can process your visa at any consulate of the Russian Embassy in Canada (located in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal) as well as in the Russian Visa Center in Canada, whose offices are also in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal).
Let’s talk about the advantages and inconveniences of processing a visa at each of these sites.
Option 1: Consulates of the Russian Federation in the USA
In the USA, you can visit a consulate of the Russian Federation depending on which state you live in:
Embassy of the Russian Federation in Washington (Consular Section)
Consulate General of Russia in New York
Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco (Closed since September 2017)
Consulate General of Russia in Houston
Consulate General of Russia in Seattle
- The only advantage of applying for your visa in one of these consulate offices is that it is a little bit cheaper. The normal processing of a visa costs $160 (same price for expedited processing). You do not have to pay the $38 administrative cost that is applied at the Russian Visa Centers.
- You must request an appointment in advance and it is likely that it will take a while to get one
- Customer service is not a strong suit of the consulates
- The application must be done through an interview process (it cannot be done through the mail or courier service).
- If you are missing a single document or something is done poorly, you will have to return on another day as the consulates do not provide additional services like completion or correction of forms, photocopying, or photo and mailing services.
- Not all consulates give appointments in advance for tourist visas and instead recommend that these be processed at the Russian Visa Center.
Option 2: Russian Visa Centers
During the last few years, the number of visas to Russia from the USA and Canada has greatly increased. Because of this, and to streamline the process, authorization to manage and process Russian visas was given to the Russian Visa Center, an entity managed since January 2020 by the private company, Russia Visa Centre which handles visas for the residents of the USA and Canada (before January 2020 was managed by VFS Global and before April 2019, by Invisa Logistic Services ILS).
Since then, the Russian Visa Center has been allowed to process visas used to travel to Russia. They are available in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Houston, and Seattle, as well as the Canadian cities of Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal.
The Russian Visa Center 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.
The individual consular sections recommend on their websites that you apply for a visa at the Russian Visa Center, as this significantly lightens their workload.
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.
- The visa process can be complete either face-to-face or at a distance through the Visa Center courier service.
- Better Hours of Business: Monday through Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm (closed on Saturday and Sunday)
- You can easily make an appointment in advance, although you can also just take them your documents without having to make an appointment.
- In the offices, they offer additional services for purchase that are not available at the consulates: completion of application forms, photocopying, visa photos, mail service processing, etc. Everything is set up so that you don’t have to come back on another day (and of course do business).
- In exchange for better service, the price of the visa is greater since applying requires additional management and a cost of $38 per visa is added (and $85 if applying through the mail).
I have always applied for visas through the Russian Visa Center since it is the most effective and fastest place to apply to get a visa. Even more, if you forget a copy or haven’t filled out the form correctly or need a photo, the Visa Center can provide any of these services so that you don’t have to come back on a different day.
In contrast, at the consulate sections, you often have to wait a long time for them to give you an appointment. In addition, in the case of a tourist visa, some consulate offices don’t even accept applications directly and refer you to the Russian Visa Central anyway.
Option 3: Private agencies
One last option is to use the services of a private agency, which will be in charge of carrying out the whole process of managing the visa. The main advantage is the comfort (you give them your data and they take care of everything). The main drawback is that the price will be higher.
For example, the VisaHQ agency offers visa processing services, for which you must complete your form and make the payment. You can check the requirements (for tourist, business or private visa) through this form:
1.4. How much does it cost to get a visa?
The cost for processing a visa is divided into two quantities:
- The actual visa processing fee, called consular taxes, which at the consular sections cost $160 for a regular or expedited visa (processed within 10 calendar days from the date of delivery of the documentation). At the Russian Visa Center the cost will include the additional $38 dollars in administrative fees (+$85 if completed by postal mail).
- 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 proved the letter for free, but this rarely happens and we have always had to pay anyway. The cheapest are around $18-$20 (later I’ll explain how to get one for this price in a PDF format in a few minutes).
The cost of a tourist visa at the Russian Visa Center is as follows:
- $198: $160 in consular taxes + $38 in administrative fees
- $18: letter of invitation
- TOTAL: $216 per visa
Important: you need to pay extra 45 $ (including tax) per each application if you are submitting documents in Visa Centre in Seattle or San Francisco, because Russian Consulate in Seattle does not process visas and Russian Consulate in San Francisco is closed, so the Russian visa centres in Seattle and San Francisco have to send the documents to another consulate.
If you do the procedure through a private agency you must add at least $ 50 (also note that if you request the invitation letter through a private agency the cost will be higher).
Note: In Canada, the consular taxes for each visa are usually 112 CAD (single entry) and the administrative cost could be up to 50 CAD. A step-by-step guide on how to obtain a Russian visa in Canada in this link.
1.5. When should I start applying to get a visa?
You can apply up to 90 days prior to their date of travel. The Embassy recommends that you apply at least 3 weeks prior to your date of travel to accommodate any unforeseen processing delays.
However, applying for a visa and gathering the necessary documentation can take some time, so I recommend beginning the process about 4 or 5 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 2 weeks (or 3 or 4 days if you use the expedited process).
2. STEPS TO APPLY FOR A TOURIST RUSSIAN VISA
When applying for a visa, you must provide the following information:
- The electronically completed Visa application form (you must print, sign, and glue a passport-sized photo)
- Passport (must be the original). In some Visa Centers they will also ask you a photocopy of your passport identity page.
- Letter of invitation or visa support (“Сonfirmation from a Russian hosting travel agency or hotel registered with the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism”)
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.
- In accordance with the Agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on the simplification of visa formalities for nationals of the Russian Federation and nationals of the United States of America, the US citizens shall as a rule be issued multiple-entry business, private, humanitarian and tourist visas that are valid for three years (36 months) from the date of issue of the visa.
- In order to apply for a 3-year multiple-entry Tourist visa, the easiest way is to obtain a standard visa support letter (single or double entry) for 30 days from one of the services mentioned in this article (for example, iVisa), but then specify a 3 year long period in your visa application form. The starting date of your visa would be on the day your visa support starts, but the end date would be not in 30 days, but in 3 years (ex. Date of Entry 25/10/2019 until Date of Departure 24/10/2022-minus one day).
- When filling out the electronic visa application form at: http://visa.kdmid.ru choose «multiple» from the drop-down menu and indicate a 3-year period of stay starting from the date of entry in your visa support documents (invitation).
- A multiple-entry visa allows subsequent trips with a purpose other than what was initially indicated in the visa. Thus, the new purpose of each trip and information on the new hosting organization must be indicated in the Migration Card form in order to clear Russian customs and border control.
Step 1. Have a valid passport
To apply for a visa, you must have a Passport that is valid for at least six months after your visa expires. You should also have at least two blank pages available.
To apply for the visa you must submit your original passport, which will remain in the hands of the Consulate or Russian Visa Center for a few days. This is because the visa will be attached to one of the pages of your passport.
You must also submit a photocopy of your passport identity page.
Your passport must not present any type of deterioration such as being torn on the cover, be stained or having broken pages. In these cases it is better to renew the passport before applying for the visa, since in the consulate they are usually very strict and they won’t approve the visa if the passport is damaged.
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 dates of your trip before applying for your visa.
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 one or two entries. The most common type is single entry visa but you may also want to visit St. Petersburg, then go to Finland and return to St. Petersburg (double entry). You may also want to visit Latvia, 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.
To book accommodation I always use Ostrovok, a Russian booking platform in which you can find wide variety of accommodation and very good deals. Other good option is Booking.com. I recommend you use hotels with free cancellation. This way later, if you want, you can change hotels.
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)
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, 2022 (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 here: 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: Visa Centre, LLC
- Address: 10, Bolshaya Konyushennaya st, 4th floor, St. Petersburg
- Reference number: 007612
- Confirmation number: 3856
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 (between $ 25 and $ 40). If you stay in two or more hotels, you will need an invitation letter from each hotel.
- Please note: if the hotel makes you a free invitation letter you must stay at the hotel since if you cancel the reservation after obtaining the free invitation, the hotel can invalidate it and charge you a supplement.
- Option 2. Getting a letter of invitation on your own through an authorized RUSSIAN TOUR OPERATOR. If you simply want to do things more quickly without having to call or email each individual hotel, there are different travel agencies that can quickly provide the visa support online in 5 minutes for about $ 20. With this option you can include the hotels or apartments in which you are going to stay, but with the advantage that later you can change the hotels after obtaining your visa (you may find a cheaper hotel, or Airbnb apartment or one that you simply like better than the original hotel or apartment).
The three best options that I used to get an invitation letter are: iVisa, Russia Support and HotelsPro. You can get it in 5 minutes in PDF format and you should print it in color.
If you have booked your accommodation through Airbnb (or platforms such as Wimdu, Tripping, CouchSurfing, Interhome, HomeAway, VRBO, HomeStay, etc.), you can get an invitation through iVisa, Russia Support or HotelsPro. In these cases, in the invitation request forms (Hotel section) specify “apartment + address”. More info: How do I get the invitation to Russia if I’m staying with Airbnb?
If you travel on a cruise to St. Petersburg, specify the name of your cruise. More info: How do I get the invitation to Russia if I travel on a cruise ship?
Let’s see how to obtain an invitation letter with these Russian tour operators:
iVisa is one of the best systems currently available to obtain an invitation letter to travel to Russia. The system of issuing visa support is fully automated. You receive the invitation letter immediately after paying (in PDF format ready to print). You can pay by credit card or Paypal. Currently, the price is about $22 each visa support.
The automated process of purchasing visa support can be done through this button:
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, St. Petersburg
- Reference number: 007612
- Confirmation number: in the above example is 3856 but note that it is different for each visa support.
Another excellent system is that used by Russia Support, an agency specializing in the issuance of invitation letters. The form is very easy to fill out and allows you to get the invitation letter, ready to print and to present along with the rest of the documentation. The price is cheaper, it costs 19,90 USD. They usually send the letter of invitation quickly (in minutes), although sometimes it may take a few hours.
The process of purchasing visa support can be done through this button:
Russia Support – Invitation to Russia
The form is simple to fill:
The information you need to fill out the visa application form:
- Name of organization: VOYAGE EXPO, Ltd
- Address: Russia, 109382 Moscow, 129 Lublinskaya st
- Reference number: 017740
- Confirmation number: in the above example is 166407 but note that it is different for each visa support.
HotelsPro is a registered tour operating business. A letter of invitation costs 1.200 rubles (about $21). Once you have paid they will send you the letter by email. 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 button:
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:
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:
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 (USA) 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.
Choose a password to be able to recover the form later (for example: ma123456789). If you have any problem to retrieve a completed form, you can fill in a new form.
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
- If you are applying for a visa 3-year Multi-Entry Tourist visa you specify a 3 year long period in your visa application form. The starting date of your visa would be on the day your visa support starts, but the end date would be not in 30 days, but in 3 years (ex. Date of Entry 25/10/2018 until Date of Departure 24/10/2021 – minus one day).
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 States Department of State)
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, Cherehapa).
If you stay in an apartment (from Airbnb or similar), in the Hotel section specify “apartment + address” (same as in your invitation letter).
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.
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 any consulate or Russian Visa Center in your area:
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.
Step 5. Print the Visa Application Form, sign it, and glue a photo
You must print the PDF form double-sided, write the date, paste a photo, and don’t forget to sign it:
The photo should be an original photo (3,5 x 4,5 cm) that is recent, in color, from the front, against a white background, and without glasses with tinted lenses or hats. Detailed instructions:
Step 6. Take all of your documents to the Russian Visa Center (or consulate)
Once you have all your documents, the final step is to take everything to the Consulate or to the Russian Visa Center that is nearest your place or residence. This can be done in person or by mail.
Option 1: Consulate
You can submit documents at the consular establishment of the Russian Federation in USA that is in your jurisdiction by prior appointment only. Appointments have to be booked online:
- Washington: http://washington.kdmid.ru/
- New York: http://new-york.kdmid.ru/
- Houston: http://houston.kdmid.ru/
- Seattle: http://seattle.kdmid.ru/
To apply at the consulate, you must make an appointment in advance. I have tried on a few occasions to request an appointment at the consulate through this system but I usually find that the schedule is completely full (in red) and I have been unable to request an appointment ahead of time.
Note that applications sent by post are not accepted for processing.
Option 2: Russian Visa Center
A) Applying in person
When applying in person at a Russian Visa Center, you don’t need to make an appointment ahead of time. Just drive to the Russian Visa Center nearest you and give them your completed documents.
Payments can be made at the Russian Visa Application Centre in USD by cash or by major Credit or Debit Cards.
You must come either in person, or nominate a person to submit the documents on your behalf, providing they have a letter of attorney.
B) Applying through the mail
If you are unable to apply in person at a Russian Visa Center, you can also send your application by mail.
Step 7. Collect your passport with your visa
If you apply in person, in order to collect your passport with your visa you will need to present the original receipt given to you during the submission. If you wish to nominate somebody to collect the passport on your behalf, they must carry the original receipt.
Processing times vary from application to application and are at the sole discretion of the Russian Consulate. Processing times under normal circumstances are as follows:
- Normal application – 10 Calendar Days from the day the documents are submitted to the Russian Consulate for review.
- Urgent application – 3 Business Days from the day the documents are submitted to the Russian Consulate for review.
The final result of the whole process is your passport with your visa attached to one of the pages. Check the validity of the visa issued to ensure that it covers the period of stay requested, the number or entries required, and that it is valid for the purpose of trip immediately after collection of the passport. The Embassy of the Russian Federation in USA accept resubmission of passports for correction on the day of the passport collection only.
Below is an example of a tourist visa (ТУРИЗМ, 004), with the information you should check:
Step 8. Travel insurance (optional)
US 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 very good option is Cherehapa, a Russian company specializing in travel insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online your travel insurance to Russia, even after you’ve left home. The insurance has a medical expenses coverage of 50,000 euros (Covid-19 insurance coverage included).
If you want to apply for a Russian visa on your own and want to avoid the hassle of third-party providers and consulate offices, the easiest way is to apply through the authorized Russian Visa Centers. The visa will cost you $198 which includes the $38 administrative fee.
If you already have a passport (remember that you have to take or mail 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 $19-20 from iVisa, Russia Support, or HotelsPro.
- Complete the visa application form for free through the website https://visa.kdmid.ru/PetitionChoice.aspx, which you can print, sign, and glue a photo to.
Once you have all the documents, take them to a Russian Visa Center and in less than 10 business days your visa for your trip to Russia should be ready (3 days for expedited applications).
3. ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR COVID-19 AND WAR IN UKRAINE
Once you have obtained the visa and before boarding the plane, you must take into account the additional requirements for Covid-19 that must be met:
Every passenger must show a printed medical document (in English or Russian), confirming a negative PCR test for COVID-19 no older than 48 hours, at the check-in and then at the border of the Russian Federation. Since 4 September 2021 the 14-days isolation for those arriving to Russia is no longer required. As of October 21, 2022, a negative Covid-19 PCR certificate is no longer required for foreigners to enter Russia. As a consequence, you can enter Russia with your passport and valid visa.
- However, you still need to fill out a form that you can download on the website of the Federal Service for the Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor): https://www.rospotrebnadzor.ru/files/news/авиаАнкета%20RUS.docx
- Despite the war in Ukraine, consulates issue visas to travel to Russia.
4. SUBSEQUENT FORMAL PROCEEDINGS AFTER OBTAINING THE VISA
Once you have the visa and the Covid-19 documentation, 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).
Document 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:
Document 2: Registration
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):
I hope this article has helped you apply for your visa to Russia from the United States and Canada!
If you’ve found it useful, please share. Thank you!
Would you encourage us to leaven the Airport at 11at night to Visit Red Square? Our connection is around 9:30
I know there is expense to getting there and Transit Visa.. So is it worth the hassle and expense?
Could there be enough to do in the airport for the night?
Thank you, Irena, for such a comprehensive overview of the tedious process! I have a question regarding the last step – the dreaded registration. I am planing a trip of 2 weeks, during which I’ll stay at a hotel for 6 nights, then will take a 4-day bus tour to several Golden Ring cities (staying at 3 different hotels along the way) and finally stay with a friend. Do I have to register each time I change accommodations? I’m afraid that doing so with just the first hotel will leave more than 1/2 of my trip unaccounted for and will cause problems at the customs? Thank you for any insight you can provide!
Thanks for the super helpful info! I really had no idea where to start to plan my Russia trip until I found your site. A couple of things I found out have changed, though, that should be noted:
1. The Seattle Russian Consulate has been closed, as of 3/2018
2. ILS no longer has an office in Seattle, either
2. VHS Global appears to be handling US Visa submissions, but I’m confused as it looks like ILS is also (by mail).
Let me know if you have additional updates on these closures and any other tips!
My wife and I have filled in the Visa application plus the Agreement as we intend to apply for a Russian Visa as US citizens by Express mail. We are confused by the total amount of how much to make the money order. We do not need rush service but I have seen multiple dollar amounts in different slots on the form versus on your site. Please advise.
Sorry but I am unclear on the US $$ needed in total for submitting the application for the Russian Visas from a US Citizen. My wife and I will be submitting together in one envelope Express on US mail. Please advise as the fees seem confusing ?
Great article, appreciate the help!
As a note to anyone else in San Francisco (and this might be helpful to add to the article):
– The San Francisco ILS office DOES require reservations. You can make them at https://ils-usa.com
– When filling in the online application, you will not see San Francisco listed in the Appointment Details section. You should select VFS Washington instead.
I have taken appointment with ILS Visa Application Center in San Francisco to submit the application. But I do not find this specific location as one of the options when filling out the online Visa application under “Destination Name” in “Application Details”. What should I select here? Thanks
Hello It is 2 april 2019 i was invited by St Petersburg Police to attend a conference in st petersburg with the International Police Association USA. I leave for my home in Lithuania on 8 May 2019. Is there time if i start today to get my visa before i leave the USA for Lithuania. The conference in 27 May 2019 in St Petersburg. The police in St Petersburg arrange the invitation letter and hotels , etc. The reservation is non refundable so i am leary in booking and paying and then not have the russian visa in time:( please advise Thank you and God Bless 🙂 Larry
Hi Irena, thank you so much for this article. This is so well organized and detailed.
I just have one question, as I will be driving a car (USA license plates) across Europe into Russia, it is not possible to determine the exact dates that I will be entering and exiting the country.
What do you advise me to do in regards to the itinerary in this case?
Thank you so much for all of your time and help.
We are 5 adults that want to visit Moscow and St. Petersburg, but 3 only speak spanish do you a company that can provide thta service to us, we want to go in May this year.
Great info, thanks a lot. But I have a little complicated question, I leave in Canada. I used to go to Russia at least every other year for work – with a military on the Green passport. Never had a problem getting a visa, all paperwork was done by work and all I had to do is a online visa application. Now when it’s getting little complicated – am I allowed to apply for another visa for my blue passport for the personal use – to go visit my family ??? Technically I am not supposed to use my Green passport for personal use – but it is not big deal, visa in the green passport is for official travels. So do I get a second one for my family visits ???
How safe is Moscow and st Petersburg for American tourist in 2019 given the political environment between the Us and Russian federation?
У меня есть новый, потому что для продажи современная итальянская мебель, эксклюзивные и роскошные полы, кухня и три ванные комнаты
We company Siberian Tour offer you a tour for residents of the United States in Russia, namely in Siberia.
The tour lasts for 12 days, includes active rest in Siberian nature, fishing, hunting, Russian wood-fired bath (in the winter time walking on a snowmobile through the forest) and visiting cultural and entertainment events in Siberian cities (Novosibirsk, Tomsk), as well as full immersion in the Siberian culture.
Hello Irena, just wanted to thank you for the excellent website and information you have provided for us here for obtaining Russian Visas.
We just returned from our first trip for New Year and Christmas and are planning on going back this summer to enjoy Russia without the snow this time. My question is this: my wife is American and has the 3 year Visa, what formalities does she need to complete in order for us to go back there, does she need a letter of invitation this time also? Thank you.
Hi Irena, we just got back from Russia…we got our Visas by following your step by step instructions! Thank you! I have a question. We want to go back next year and I emailed where we got a visa asking if I can pay additionally to get the three year visa and they said no I had to reapply and pay the huge cost again. Do you know why this is? Thank you, Daisy
Hello, Irina, I am traveling to Moscow in April and staying at an apartment for 9 days. A friend who lives in Moscow will be staying with me. When I asked the landlord if they handle the visa registration they said they would do it for $50 US. As you’ve explained this should just be a small fee and an hour trip to the post office, at most, so clearly $50 is outrageous, since it’s more than the price of one night’s stay. Can my friend just register me under the apartment address she stays at? Is there a way to argue this with the landlord or some other solution?
Здравствуйте, Ирина. I was looking at staying at an apartment (AirBnB) for more than 7 days. I messaged the host and she says she will take care of registration for $50 US. That sounds outrageous and is more than one night’s stay. What should I say to her or should I just look at a different property?
Great help, thank you.. I just want to confirm I have to mail application and my passport to the Russian Consulate once I have my picture glued signed and dated.. is that right?
Hello I’m citizen of US and i wanna go to Russia visit my friends so can you explain me more step by step what do I need to do and what kind documents do I need please. You can mail to me.
Thank you for this helpful guide.
Whether for work, business, study or tourism, applying for a Russian visa form the US or Canada, is not a complicated process. One needs to present the introductory letter giving full details of the travel, destinations and, purpose of the visit.
Our relatives will provide an invitation.. we want to live with them.. we do not want to buy any hotel vouchers.. Is there are any limit of the size of the flat for doing this?
I do have a question,on our tourist invitation, visa application we listed Moscow as the city we are going to visit (where our daughter is/working now) well now our daughter suggested we should go and visit St. Petersburg for couple of days, can we do this?
Great article. I was hoping you could help me as I don’t see it touched on too much in the article. My girl-friend lives in Novosibirsk and we are currently applying for a private visa. I will be going to see her in January. So instead of her writing a personal invitation she has went to the Ministry of Interior in her city. There they have collected all of her information and my information including passport copies ect. They sent it to the police for background checks and are now processing it to send some type of digital document to the Russian Consulate in Washington. This is where I get very confused? What is it they are sending to the Russian Consilate in Washington? I’m assuming I will have to go there to get the visa but the form she filled out seems awfully familiar to the visa application form you have listed here. Could you touch in this please? I have a lot of questions I’m unsure of regarding what they are sending, what am I to do when the Comsulate receives it from Novosibirsk, will I need to bring all of the documents you have listed?. It really sounds like these steps have been completed and it’s a matter of picking up the visa but I am really insure. I’ve searched for information of gaining a private visa this way but it doesn’t seem to be a common way to do it. Any info would be great or if you may direct me to where I can get the information. They are saying on or around 10/17/18 it will he sent to Washington from Novosibirsk. Whxuh means I’ll need to plan a trip to DC to gain my visa if that’s the case.
Hi Irena. I have a question about a three-year Visa. Everything that I have read says to prepare as though you are getting a 30-day Visa, and then on your actual Visa application form, indicate that you would like to apply for the 3-year Visa. Is that correct??
My question then is about the invitation letter. You need to have your travel dates inserted in the Invitation Letter. Do I have the invitation letter prepared with the 30-day travel dates, or the up t0 180 day travel dates for a 3-year Visa?? Does that make sense??
Greetings – and thanks for this very informative article. I am a US citizen and resident of New Mexico, planning to apply for a Russian visa. For previous visits, this would involve the San Francisco Consulate and their associated ILS office. My question: Now that the San Francisco Consulate is (regrettably) closed, do I still deal with the San Francisco ILS office? — or may I deal with the Washington DC ILS office? I’ll be most grateful for your advice! Richard Cameron-Wolfe
Thank you for your helpful article. The only question I have. The photo (2″ by 2″), it doesn’t fit. May I cut it?
Hello Irena, I am traveling to Armenia via Moscow, and have 10 hours layover. Do I need to get visa to get out of the SO airport and if yes, is it worth to obtain a visa for 5-6 hours( 10 hours minus the time to got out and in to the airport)
Hi Irena, thanks for putting this blog up! I’ve been using it for research and it is amazing. I am from Canada and applying for the Russia Visa and was wondering why it costs so much more for Canadians than American citizens?
We are recommended to use this agency:
The total will be $266 CAD and the breakdown is (in Canadian dollars):
-Russian visa = $126 CAD;
-Visa application processing fee = $50;
-Postal application fee because we can’t apply in person = $45;
-Secure Courier Delivery = $45).
I am just wondering if this is correct? Your blog points out that for Americans the total cost is $141 USD.
Any insight would help.
Using your excellent website my friend and I have just received our VISAs. Thank you.
We plan on flying into Moscow, train to St Petes and then flying to Kaliningrad. From Kaliningrad we want to take the bus to Lithuania.
Do you think we will need to show proof of onward travel (bus ticket to Vilnius) when we land in Moscow ?
Ka Kit Li
Thanks for the information about obtaining an invitation.
I have a question about the links of the agencies:
I notice that the prices on the links here are different from their own sites. Is this a referral discount we get for using your link?
Thanks in advance!
Yes, users of this blog can get a better price
In the section for education it ask about the date when you first attended a university then date when you graduated. I have attended two universities but never graduated. How do I fill that line out? Do I just put a date when I last attended or leave blank? Do I add education at a technical school which I did graduate? Also for the question on married status do you put in spouses maiden name, married name or current name?
Hello! This is an awesome site, thank you for the info! I have one question. I (US citizen) would like to get a 3-year tourist visa, but the three sites here for invitation letters only have dropdown options for single and double. Is this OK, or should I get an invitation from a different site? Thanks!
Yes, is OK. You can obtain a standard visa support letter for 30 days from iVisa, but then specify a 3 year long period in your visa application form. The starting date of your visa would be on the day your visa support starts, but the end date would be not in 30 days, but in 3 years.
This article covers how to obtain invitations for tourism through hotels, but what about personal invites from people? My friends wanting me to visit them have no idea what they need to do to send a formal invitation for me to use for my visa application.
This has been SO helpful! I may be missing something but can’t find the mailing address to mail the application and my passport to.
Hi, I’m planning on traveling to Russia later this year and I want to make sure that I’m applying the correct way. I’m planning on staying for approximately 10 days with my friend who is a Russian National. Should I apply for the 3 year multiple entry tourist visa and get my invitation letter through one of the above companies, even though I’m not staying at a hotel?
I have a 3 year visa that I used in summer 2016 to visit Russia. I’d like to go again before the visa expires. What other documents do I need? just another invitation letter??
I have a 3 year (multi-year/multi-entry) visa that I used I used in 2016 for a trip to Russia. I’d like to go again while the Visa is still valid. What documents do I need to get? just another hotel invitation letter?
Hi and thanks for the awesome info. Can you advise me on this issue, I’m a retired US Air Force Colonel, and am hoping to tour St Petersburg for 3 days in September. Based on my military service, do you think my tourist visa will be approved?
The ILS Agreement has a section titled “Documents made available” but under it the subtitle is “Applicant Name” with seven blank lines and Passport # also with seven blank lines. What information goes here? I am using the mail service.
Hi. I am a citizen of Slovak Republic but I am a US Permanent Resident. I am trying to figure out how difficult will it be for me to obtain a tourist visa for October 2018. Any help is appreciated
Hi Irena, can I apply at Russian Visa Center for 3-year multiple- entry tourist visa and if yes do I have to prepare all these later supporting documents every time I go to Russia?
Wow, this is an incredibly useful website and is extremely well organized. Bravo! If you have a second, I wanted to confirm whether I needed a double entry visa to visit Kaliningrad if I enter Russia via Moscow and then fly to Kaliningrad? Since I never leave Russian terrirotiy, I believe this is a single entry visa, correct? Thanks so much!
On a single entry Russian visa you can travel from Moscow to Kaliningrad and back only by domestic flights.
Hi Irena, This has been the most helpful information. Thanks. My question may have already been asked but I can’t seem to load all the comments. What is the Customer Agreement? On the Visa application website it says Customer Agreement and Service Agreement are needed.
The template may be found here: http://www.ils-usa.com/data…
Hi, i have a curious situation. I am a US citizen living in Europe ( I have a residence permit in Hungary.) i want to learn Russian for 3-4 weeks in the summer. Can i apply for my Visa at the russian consulate in Budapest? No one has any idea how I can do this. Also, the school I appled to ( they received my application march 26h says I won’t get the invitation letter from them until June? Is that crazy? Shouldnt it come right away? The program will start in July. Help!
– If you have resident permit, you can apply in Hungary. Russian visa center in Hungary: http://www.vhs-hungary.com/. More info in this article: https://russiable.com/apply…
– You can also apply for a tourist visa (max 30 days). Easier and faster
Thank you for the excellent information for those applying for a Russian Visa. My only question is, you have listed the visa photo requirements as an original 2” by 2” photo. I believe they are now supposed to be 35mm x 45mm, which is what is listed on the Visa site. Thanks for clarifying. I’m applying at the Embassy this week and need to have my photo re-done because the picture does not include the top of my shoulders – another requirement!
One standard passport-style photograph 3.5cm x 4.5cm, (colloquially known as 2″ by 2″ in the US)
M. G. Solis
2″ by 2″ is not the same as 3.5cm x 4.5cm. Take 2″ by 2″ and cut it?
It’s explained here: https://russiable.com/regis…
Hi Irena, this is very helpful. I have a question about section 3.2 (registration). Do I have to register if I am staying in one location (e.g. Moscow) for 7 business days or more, or if my total time in Russia (across multiple cities) is 7 business days or more? I am planning on spending 3 business days in Moscow and 4 business days in St. Petersburg. I am not planning on staying in hotels. Thank you in advance. Rich
It’s explained here: https://russiable.com/regis…
Thanks again, Irena. One final question. You mention it’s optional for US residents to purchase health insurance in order to get a visa. What about Canadian citizens – is it mandatory for them?
For Canadians is optional, but in Canada you need to present an introductory letter from yourself giving full details of the travel, destinations, terms and purpose of the visit: http://www.vfsglobal.com/Ru…
Irena, this article is very useful and is much appreciated.
I am puzzled by the 1st question on the visa application: “If you had USSR or Russian nationality at some time please select “yes” and indicate when and why you lost it”. I moved to USA from Ukraine when I was 23. I did not “officially lose” my Ukrainian nationality. I never held USSR nor Russian passports. Mine was issued by Ukraine. How should I answer this question, and do you know the purpose of it?
Just answer “No”. Purpose? Not sure, maybe you’re a spy from the USA 😉
I will only be in Russia on a long layover (19 hours) I booked an air b n b and would like to leave the airport look around and get some rest before my flight the following morning. Should I apply for a transit visa or tourist I’m so confused due to the 24 hour thing I’ve been seeing. Also I am not near any of the consulate locations so will need to do my request via mail. Do I mail in my whole passport as well ? I leave the 28th of January should I expedite ? Or if I can get this all out in the next few days do you think it will be fine ?