If you are going to visit friends or relatives in Russia you can apply for what is called a private visa, which is issued to foreign citizens visiting the country as private guests of Russian citizens or foreigners with legal residence in Russia. In this article I’ll explain the procedure for requesting this type of visa.
I'm going to talk about ...
- 1. Preliminary issues
- 2. The application process for the private visa
I often receive questions from people who want to travel to Russia to visit their Russian relatives or friends and who don’t know what steps they should take to apply for a visa. The truth is that the information offered by the Russian Consulates on their websites is not very detailed, which is why many doubts arise.
In this article I’ll explain what is the procedure to follow and in which cases it is worth applying for a private visa and in which it is worth requesting another type of visa.
1. Preliminary issues
Before explaining how to apply for a private visa, it is necessary to explain some preliminary matters.
1.1. What is a private Russian visa?
The Russian visa for private travel is issued to foreign citizens visiting Russia as private guests of relatives or friends based on a request from a Russian citizen or a foreign citizen with legal residence in Russia.
1.2. How long are you allowed to stay?
The normal length of stay allowed with a private visa is a maximum of 90 days and may be single or double entry.
1.3. Where do you apply for a private visa?
You may apply for a private visa:
- At Russian consulates. The advantage is that it is a little cheaper: you save the visa center management fees and only pay the consular fees. The disadvantage is that the application can only be made in person, you must have a prior appointment and the operating hours are shorter.
- At the Russian Visa Application Center, an agency authorized by the Consulate, where you can complete this process in person or remotely by courier. They have longer opening hours. The disadvantage is that they apply management fees that are added to the consular fees.
1.4. When to start the process?
I recommend starting the application process for the private visa at least 2 or 3 months in advance, since the process is generally slower than the process for the tourist visa.
2. The application process for the private visa
The application process is very similar to applying for a tourist visa. The following documents are required when applying for a private visa:
- Original passport with at least 2 blank pages, valid for at least 6 months after the expiry date of the visa.
- Fill out the Visa Application Form, to be printed, signed and with a photo affixed. IMPORTANT: on the form you must indicate that it is a private visa:
- Travel assistance insurance with coverage in Russia (you can get it online with Cherehapa). Note: Insurance is compulsory for European citizens only, but not for US, Canadian, UK or Australian citizens (although it is highly recommended).
- Private visa invitation letter issued by the General Administration for Immigration Issues of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation or by a Russian resident addressed to the Consular Section.
As you can see, the documents are basically the same as for the tourist visa application, but with one exception: instead of a tourist visa invitation letter, you will need a private visa invitation letter from your relative or friend. Although you can get a tourist invitation letter online in 5 minutes, getting an invitation letter from your friend or relative takes more time.
Next, I’ll explain how to get the invitation letter from your relative or friend. You may have 3 different scenarios:
- A Russian relative or friend who lives in Russia invites you to their house
- You are traveling to Russia (from overseas) accompanied by your Russian spouse or parents
- A (non- Russian) relative who resides legally in Russia invites you to their house
A warning beforehand: the list of documents to be submitted at each Consulate may differ depending on the country, so it is best to contact each Consulate directly.
Case No.1: You are invited by a relative or Russian friend living in Russia
The most common case is when a Russian relative or friend who resides in Russia, invites you as a guest to their home. Applying for this type of visa requires the same documents as for a tourist visa, except that the invitation letter must be processed in Russia by your friend or relative through the General Administration for Immigration Issues of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation (GUVM, formerly known as FMS).
This application can be submitted by your friend:
- In person through one of the GUVM offices.
- Electronically via the website of the Russian Government at the following link: https://www.gosuslugi.ru/16436/.
The process to obtain the invitation costs 800 rubles and once the application is submitted, the invitation takes about 20 business days. Although the law allows the invitation to be sent directly to the Consulate electronically, this document is usually issued in paper form, so you have to go and pick it up. After obtaining it, your relative or friend has to send the invitation by mail to your home address (the postage cost may be at least about 2,000 rubles).
To apply for this invitation, your relative or friend will need a copy of your passport, as well as their Russian passport. They must also prove, with their pay slip or bank statement, that they have the financial means to be able to invite you to their home.
Your friend has to fill out different forms, which you can download at these links:
- Application to issue an invitation to enter the Russian Federation (information about the inviting organization)
- Application to issue an invitation to enter the Russian Federation (information about the invited person)
- Guarantee letter (for individuals)
- Guarantee letter (for the inviting organization)
Here’s a sample of a private invitation letter:
- If you are going to stay with relatives or friends this is the visa that best suits your circumstances
- The private visa allows up to a 90-day stay, while the tourist visa allows a maximum of 30 days.
- Your relative or friend has to take the trouble to apply, pay for, collect and mail you the invitation letter.
- The process for obtaining the invitation is slow (20 business days). You also have to add the time it takes for the mailed invitation to get to you from Russia. A tourist invitation letter can be obtained ready to print in 5 minutes.
- It costs 800 rubles to process the application, plus postage costs, which can amount to at least about 2,000 rubles.
- US citizens: 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. So, it is much more practical to apply for a 3-year Multi-Entry Tourist visa. Once you have obtained a tourist visa, you can enter Russia and stay at the home of your Russian family or friend.
- Citizens from other countries
- If you are staying with friends or family for less than 30 days, it is much more practical to apply for a tourist visa (allowing stays of up to 30 days). The most common practice is to obtain a tourism invitation letter online for about 1,200 rubles, which you can print at home. In this case, both in the invitation letter and on the visa application form you must indicate that you will stay in hotels or apartments, whether Airbnb or other platforms. You can include a random hotel or apartment in the city where you will be staying, even if you do not stay there. Once you have obtained a tourist visa, you can enter Russia and stay at the home of your Russian family or friend.
- If you are staying more than 30 days, then you can apply for a private visa, although if you want to speed up the process, you can consider the option of applying for a business visa which allows a 90-day stay every 180 days (for this you can also obtain a business invitation letter electronically).
To bear in mind: A very common mistake is to obtain a tourist invitation letter from a Russian tourist agency and then indicate on the form that you are applying for a private visa and that you are going to stay at the home of friends or relatives. This is something you should never do because it is one reason for the visa being denied. If you have a tourist invitation letter you must apply for a tourist visa (even if you end up staying at your friend’s or family’s house), whereas if your invitation letter is private then you must apply for a private visa.
Case No.2: Travelling to Russia (from overseas) accompanied by your spouse or Russian mother / father
The case is different for foreign citizens who are the spouses or children of Russian citizens who live abroad and are traveling together to Russia.
In this case you must also provide the same documents as for the tourist visa application, but instead of the invitation letter you must provide the following documents:
- Application by your Russian relative addressed to the Consul General, for the visa to be issued, indicating the degree of kinship and the place where you will be staying in the Russian Federation.
- Original and photocopy of your Russian relative’s internal passport.
- Documentary proof of the degree of kinship: applicant’s marriage or birth certificate.
- Residence permit of your Russian relative, in the country where you are going to apply for the visa.
Conclusion: if you are traveling to Russia with your spouse or Russian parents this is the visa that best suits your circumstances. In this case you will save the cost of the invitation and the entire process is completed from the country of origin and not in Russia.
Caso No. 3: Invited by a (non-Russian) relative living legally in Russia
The last case is when you are invited by a (non-Russian) foreign citizen who is a legal resident in Russia and is your close relative: spouse, child, parents, grandparents or grandchildren. In this case, instead of an invitation letter you need to provide:
- A written, notarized application by your relative.
- Proof of your relative’s legal residence in Russia (temporary residence permit, study permit, work permit, etc.).
- Registration certificate as evidence of the degree of kinship.
The cost of notarial services may amount to around 700 rubles plus the cost of sending the documents, which can be at least approximately 2,000 rubles.
Conclusion: if your stay is less than 30 days it is easier and cheaper to obtain a tourist visa. If your stay is longer than 30 days, you can also opt for a business visa (or a 3-year Multi-Entry Tourist visa for US citizens).
I hope this article has been useful for you. If so, I would appreciate it if you share it on your social networks. Below you can tell your experience about the private visa so that it can be useful to other travelers. Thank you