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!
This is amazing information. I could find here everything I could possibly want to know. Thanks a lot.
Hey! Thanks a million for that!!
Any idea how to maximize the chances of having the visa application treated as urgent??
I am 58 yrs old and retired, do I really need to list all my past jobs???
We used ivisa, which was very easy.
They recommend Let’s Russia for the visa application. Have you ever used them or do you have any information about them?
I just recently went through this whole process and was successfully granted a Russian Visa. I applied by mail through a Visa Center, and ran into a few issues during this process I wanted to add. You can ONLY mail applications to Washington or Houston. I had to go back several times to my application and update it to the correct Center I would be applying to. If you chose one, and then mail to the other, I was told they would make you fill out the form again. The Visa Center you choose during the application process MUST match the center you mail everything to. Also, they were very backed up with postal requests sent to their postal-us email address. It took 2 weeks before I heard back from them. I actually called the center in Washington DC and was told I could mail everything on my dime if I wanted to (which I ended up doing). Overall with fees and postage and everything, it cost me a total of $318 to mail to the DC Visa Center.
Thank you – great instructions. Just one note – it appears the new Russian Visa Center charges a $45 additional fee if you are applying in person in Seattle or San Francisco. That probably should be added to the total cost. Thanks!
Thank you Ed. Updated the article in section 1.4.
This is all very helpful, but you leave out the most important fact, one which took me quite some time to figure out.
To wit: Most Americans live too far away from a Russian Visa Center to make showing up at one in person a practicality. There are only three Visa Centers in the US (Washington, DC, New York, and Houston). The closest Visa Center to me is in Houston, over 2,000 miles away!
(By the way, your information is inaccurate: while there is still a consulate in Seattle, it does not process visas.)
Thus, I would like to get my visa via post.
However, you state: “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.”
In other words, if I mail my passport to the Visa Center, they won’t mail it back to me! It will have to be picked up in person! I’ve managed to sift this fact out by reading other websites in addition to yours.
Thus, the only method available for the majority of your readers will be to hire a private agency (i.e., Option 3 in your writeup).
I think you should make this point clear to your readers: Unless a person lives very close to Houston, New York, or Washington, DC, the only practical option is to hire a private agency. It’s not just a “convenience,” it’s a necessity.
Hello Forrest, thank you for your comment. As explained in the article, since January 2020 the new Russian visa center in the USA already allows the application by post-mail (step 6 in the article, option 2.B). The text you mention refers to if you apply for a visa in person (I just modified this sentence to make it clear). The visa center has offices in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Houston, and Seattle.
I am still confused. Your reply doesn’t address his main point. If the initial application is mailed to the Visa Center, are they able to mail it back or do I have to pick it from them in person?
On the VFS website (https://www.vfsglobal.com/R…
“Please note starting 16 January 2019 VFS Global will no longer process Russian Visas in USA. For further information please visit https://russia-visacentre.c…“
This is probably a typo, and was meant to state: “Please note starting 16 January 2020 VFS Global will no longer process Russian Visas in USA.
Furthermore, e-Visas are no longer an option for US citizens.
Finally, the San Francisco Consulate has been closed, and the Seattle Consultate does not handle visas. Visas are handled in the US only in Washington (DC), New York, and Houston.
Yes, Russian Visa Center has changed since January 16, 2020. Article has been updated. Thanks
Hi. I heard that former USSR citizens have to complete extra steps? Is that true? I left Ukraine in 2001 and my husband left in 1994. We are now both U.S. citizens. Will we need extra documentation? Thank you.
Hi! Are you sure you are correct with St. Petersburg being the city you have to leave the country to get to? I asked a Russian friend I am visiting and they said its not true. Kaliningrad may be where you’re speaking of?? If its a Typo, just thought it would be important to correct!
Hello Irena, I would like to thank you for providing such a helpful page. I Have followed all the steps you provided including, ivisa, insurance, and used the provided links. Such a great help! 🙂
Hi Irena. Thanks for the information provided in the website it has been very helpful. We are planning on visiting Russia at the end of October. We live an Puerto Rico (US Citizens) and need to apply to get the Visa by mail since we do not have a Russian consulate here. I understand the charges should be the consular fee + service charge + postal application fee. However they are charging a return delivery and an additional fee for international shipping. I will greatly appreciate your help with this matter.
Hi, we followed your detailed instructions and applied for a tourist visa last week via VFS-Washington with additional services. Yesterday received an auto-email saying that ‘some documents seem to be missing.’ Called the center this morning, they had no information / no access to the documents and asked to call again in 2 working days, i.e. next week. So the saga begins.
Irena, thank you for your very useful website. I have two questions:
1) If I were to fly to Seattle or San Francisco to the visa processing center, must my family go with me to process their visas or can I apply for them? Your blog mentions something about a Power of Attorney.
2) If the regular and expedited visa process cost the same, what do I need to do to request everything back in a week?
Thank you Irena, most clear and helpful. Alas, the VRS centers in both Washington, DC and New York are not accepting appointments at all. I do have an appointment at the consulate but it is 12 days from my departure date and I am a little nervous. Should I just show up at VRS or wait for appointment? Thanks
Thanks so much for your great guide. I do have one question, though. I would like to use the Russia Visa Center in San Francisco when I’m there visiting relatives. I’d like to go drop everything off. However, I won’t be able to go back in 10 business days later to pick it up. Will they mail the completed VISA to me at my home? Thanks.
Yes, they offer courier service after submission: https://www.vfsglobal.com/R…
These are THE MOST helpful instructions I’ve ever found for obtaining a Russian visa. Thank you! The entire website is thorough, detailed, and well-organized. I’m very grateful for your hard work!