For as long as anyone can remember, applying for a Russian visa has been the ultimate test of character. Over the years, it has resulted in hundreds of thousands of angry stares, slammed doors, profane rants and nervous breakdowns.
Patience you must have. Worth it will be.
Once you have the rotten thing in your passport and have passed border control, it will become immediately clear: Russia ≠ the Russian state. Overall, it’s much more friendly. Until you get there, though, you are going to have to suck it up.
What is not discussed here
Russia has a tremendous amount of visa policies, and we will not discuss all of them. If you are interested in:
- Group tour visas
- the 2020 Fan ID
- Border area permits for Latvian, Norwegian and Polish passports
- The (non-)existence of transit zones in certain Russian airports
- Closed cities
- Visiting Crimea
- Student, work, private, missionary, … visas
- Working holiday visa for French under 30
- Visa-free travel for
- Cruise ship and ferry passengers
- APEC business card holders
- Service and diplomatic passports
- Japanese and Alaskans traveling to resp. Kuril Islands and Chukotka
- Crew members
- Participants of selected cultural, sports and economic events
you should look elsewhere (Wikipedia is kept up to date by a team of dedicated visa geeks – it’s where we get our visa tables – a good place to start).
The following passports have visa-free travel to Russia. Except for citizens of Belarus and South Ossetia, all visa-free travel must not exceed 90 days within any 180-day period.
90 days for non-commercial purposes
60 days for non-commercial purposes
30 days for non-commercial purposes
30 days for holders a letter of guarantee/invitation and a tourist voucher
14 days for non-commercial purposes
Belarus visa-free rules
Visa-free entry is not available for foreigners who are holders of valid Belarusian visas. This was (and officially still is) planned in a mutual visa recognition agreement between Belarus and Russia, which has been drafted but never been signed (as Belarus was reluctant) and basically now been postponed indefinitely.
Do look up the current situation for crossing the land border between Belarus and Russia. It remains a tricky issue.
Updates on the matter are welcome in this forum thread.
At the moment, e-visas are available for select nationals for the regions of Kaliningrad, Saint-Petersburg and the Far East.
Conditions for issuing:
- E-visa is a single-entry visa and issued for 30 calendar days from the date of its issuance. The permitted stay in Russia with an e-visa is up to 8 days starting from the date of entry, within its validity period
- E-visa validity and/or the permitted stay under it cannot be extended
- An e-visa is free of charge
- Invitations, hotel booking confirmations or any other documents that confirm the purpose of your journey to Russia are not required for an e-visa
- The time period for issuing an e-visa is no longer than 4 calendar days from the date of submission of the complete application
- E-visas can be of the following categories only: ordinary business visa (purpose of journey is business), ordinary tourist visa (purpose of journey is tourism), and ordinary humanitarian visa (purposes of journey are sports, cultural, scientific and technological ties)
- Application form for an e-visa can be filled not earlier than 20 days and no later than 4 days before the intended date of entry into Russia
- Passport must be valid for at least 6 months from the date of application
- Foreign citizens are required to have a medical insurance
Russian Far East
Citizens of the following 18 countries can apply for a single-entry eVisa to visit to regions in the Russian Far East for less than 8 days. You can apply for the visa directly via the government website, or through an agent.
Regions you are allowed to travel in:
- Primorsky Krai
- Kamchatka Krai
- Sakhalin Oblast
- Amur Oblast
- Khabarovsk Krai
- Chukotka Autonomous Okrug
- Zabaykalsky Krai
Eligible border crossing points of entry and exit
|Port||Areas permitted to stay|
|Vladivostok International Airport||Primorsky Krai|
|Sea passenger terminal of Vladivostok|
|Sea port of Posyet|
|Sea port of Zarubino|
|Railway checkpoints: Khasan Station|
North Korea side: Tumangang Station
|Railway checkpoints: Makhalino station (Kraskino)|
China side: Hunchun Railway Port
|Railway checkpoints: Grodekovo Station (Pogranichny)|
China side: Suifenhe Station
|Road checkpoints: Poltavka|
China side: Dongning
|Road checkpoints: Turiy Rog|
China side: Mishan
|Sea port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky||Kamchatka Krai|
|Sea port of Korsakov||Sakhalin Oblast|
|Blagoveshchensk Airport||Amur Oblast|
|Khabarovsk Novy Airport||Khabarovsk Krai|
|Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Airport||Kamchatka Krai|
|Ugolny Airport (Anadyr)||Chukotka Autonomous Okrug|
|Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Airport||Sakhalin Oblast|
|Baikal International Airport (Ulan-Ude)||Buryatia|
|Kadala Airport (Chita)||Zabaykalsky Krai|
Kaliningrad and St-Petersburg Region
Citizens of the following countries may obtain an eVisa for Kaliningrad and St-Petersburg Region. You can apply for the visa directly via the government website, or through an agent: St- Petersburg – Kaliningrad.
Eligible border crossing points of entry and exit
- Mamonovo (Gronowo)
- Mamonovo (Grzechotki)
Ports and airports
- Khrabrovo Airport
Ports and airports
- Pulkovo airport
- Marine Station
- Passenger Port of St-Petersburg
For St-Petersburg, there are currently no train border crossing points. You cannot enter/exit by train on the e-visa.
2021 general e-visa system
Russia has announced a more comprehensive e-visa system for 2021. Questions and updates welcome here.
3 types of visas are relevant to most travelers: tourist, transit and business.
- Transit visas are the cheapest and easiest to obtain but limit you to 2-10 days.
- Tourist visas are issued for 1 month (sometimes more), and cost around 100$.
- Business visas are the most expensive and most flexible. You do not need to be on a business trip to get a business visa, you just need to be willing to pay for it.
Russian visas are date-specific. This means you cannot enter before the entry date on your visa, and cannot leave after the exit date, but you can enter after the entry date and leave before the exit date.
Eg.: a 30-day tourist visa valid from 1 January – 30 January. You can enter on January 1, or 2 or 3 or 4, etc. But you must in any case leave before or on 30 January.
Russian tourist visas are typically issued as single or double entry for 30 days. If you want to stay longer, you will need a business visa, unless you carry a USA passport, in which case you can get a multi-entry 3-year visa.
To get a tourist visa, you need to first get an invitation letter from a tourist agency in Russia. With this letter, and a bunch of other documents, you can apply at the consulate of your choice. See the chapters on application and invitation letters below for the lowdown.
3-year tourist visa for American passport holders
If you carry a USA passport, you can get a multi-entry 3-year visa. Americans with the 3 year visa can stay in Russia for a period of up to 6 months at a time and can re-enter immediately with a new stamp.
Procedure is the same as applying for a regular tourist visa. However, no one offers a 3-year visa invitation letter. Americans applying for a 3-year visa should get the regular 1-month invitation letter.
When filling in the actual visa application, they should write dates 3 years apart in the visa application. This strategy has worked for Americans so far.
The first date on your visa invitation letter should match the first date of your visa application. This will be the start date for your visa.
Visa fees typically depend on the number of entries, not the type of visa. Fees vary widely depending on your nationality and the consulate you apply at.
Some examples: EU consulates usually (meaning, not all of them) charge local citizens 35 EUR for single or double entry visa, but it can be over 250 EUR for other foreign nationals. Also be aware applying through a visa processing center can easily triple the price.
In the USA, fees are $90/144/270 for single/double/multi-entry visas.
Generally, standard visa processing takes 4-20 days and expedited processing in 1-3 days costs double. Call or visit the consulate to ask for a more exact time estimate.
We will assume you are a tourist, not someone actually interested in doing business in Russia. If you are in business, you can get an invitation through your contacts in Russia.
Business visas can be:
- single- or double-entry valid for up to 3 months
- multiple-entry valid for 6 months, 1, 2, 3 or 5 years. 1 year is standard, 3 and 5 years is available for some nationalities (could not find a list yet, but definitely EU and Indian citizens are eligible).
As with visa-free stays, travelers on a business visa must not stay longer than 90 days within a 180-day period.
In most cases, multi-entry visas are granted only to those who have obtained a Russian visa before, unless you are from the USA.
In addition to the general visa documents, you will need an invitation letter. Similar to a tourist invitation letter, but more expensive and a longer waiting time (see below).
Like other Russian visas, transit visas are date-specific, so be ready to use it. They are given for 1 to 10 days, depending on the distance and your mode of transport. The benefit: they are cheap and easy to obtain while traveling, while tourist visas are often more difficult or impossible to get depending on your nationality.
In addition to the general visa documents, you will need:
- Photocopies of visas for countries which you will enter and exit Russia through (if applicable)
- Transport tickets from country A, through Russia, to country B, or car documents and a printout of your planned route.
- No letter of invitation is needed, so you are saving money.
If you are traveling by airplane, you will get a transit visa until the day you have to catch your second plane (no more than 3 days).
By car, the consulate expects you to cover 500 km per day, so specify a route of 5000+ km to receive 10 days.
For cyclists – it is up to the whims of the consulate whether to grant you a visa to bike from Kazakhstan to Ukraine or Mongolia. It is entirely feasible to apply for the visa with car documents or train tickets and then, after you receive the visa, decide to use a bicycle, local bus or hitchhike instead. Your mode of transport is not printed on the visa.
By train, it depends on the length of your journey (eg. Moscow – Vyborg: 1 day, Moscow – Nakhodka: 8 days). Each embassy has slightly different rules. Some may say you can only have 1 connection, while others grant 2 or more. Some may deny the transit when the connection time between 2 trains is very long, while others will let you hang around for an extra day or 2.
Are transit visas location-specific? Sometimes, entry or exit locations are written on the visa, but most of the time they aren’t. Anecdotal evidence suggests that even with an exit point written in your visa, you can exit at a different crossing than you applied for, as long as you exit to a third country (so not hopping back into the same country you came from).
We do not know if this will work in all cases, but so far, we haven’t heard of travelers getting into trouble exiting at a different border crossing from the one they requested. YMMV.
If you choose to go this route, in order to maximize your visa, book train/bus tickets that will take 10 days to cross the country (i.e., Vladivostok to Murmansk, or 1 day stops in each city). Russian train tickets are refundable.
Visas for children
We do not know so much yet about Russian visas for children. Please enlighten us if you know more.
It has been reported that not all companies know how to apply for a Russian business visa with accompanying children.
A big point of confusion for first-time visitors to Russia is the concept of an invitation letter.
It all starts with a lack of consistent naming. If you have read other guides, you might have encountered the terms visa invitation, visa support documents, tourist voucher, tourist confirmation, et cetera. We call it a letter of invitation or in short LOI. These are all the same thing – an invitation from a Russia-based company dealing with tourists.
All travel agencies offer this service. You send them a bit of money, and soon you will find an invitation letter in your e-mail inbox. Technically, the invitation letter consists of 2 documents (in Russian). You just need to print them and bring them to the consulate when you apply for your visa.
Each LOI has a number code which you will also need to fill in on your application.
The price for a tourist LOI tends to be around 20$, and it usually gets delivered the same day via e-mail.
Prices for a business LOI range from about $80-150 for 8-20 day processing and double that for faster processing, with multi-entry support documents being generally more expensive than single or double entry.
Where to get it?
Plenty of options. Some hotels or booking sites give you a free LOI when you book with them for a number of days. If you are booking a tour, the price for the LOI should also be included.
Ivisa is a reputable company with good prices and they gives us a commission for referrals, so we are happy to recommend their tourist LOI and business LOI services. If your embassy needs a detailed day-by-day itinerary, Realrussia is a good option thanks to their handy itinerary builder.
It is possible to apply for a Russian visa either directly through the consulate or via a visa processing service or travel agency.
Some consulates in the US, Canada, and Europe outsource their visa processing to another company, and they will make it much easier to apply through that company (for a fee), but it is still possible to apply directly at the consulate with some persistence. Note that applying in the consulate typically requires being there in person, whereas the processing services allow mail-in applications.
Expect to pay about double for your visa with the visa processing service. If you want to apply through the consulate directly, look far in advance to book an appointment: places are usually limited, and the consulate loves to send you back home because of a missing document.
If the consulate states that visas are processed through ILS/VFS/VHS but you do not want to use that service, be adamant and request to make an appointment to submit your documents in person in the consulate.
Updated information on required documents and visa processing for each consulate is usually available on their website, which tends to follow the formula city-name.mid.ru, city-name.kdmid.ru or country-name.mid.ru.
For all visas, required documents include:
Completed visa application and invitation letter
You will likely need to fill in the form online. On the application, you will be asked to write the dates of your visit to every country in the past 10 years. Don’t worry too much about this – just give a rough estimate if you cannot remember.
For tourist and business visas, you will need to purchase a letter of invitation before you can fill out the application.
A passport, copies and passport pictures
- A passport with 2 empty pages valid for 6 months after planned departure from Russia.
- The embassy tends to keep your passport while your application is being processed.
- A photocopy of your passport
- A 3,5 x 4,5 cm photo
Valid travel health insurance is required for EU/EEA citizens, though this may be overlooked at some embassies for the transit visa. Generally not required for citizens of other countries.
The travel insurance must often explicitly state Russia. Big insurance companies tend to know the Russian consulate’s idiosyncrasies, just call them up and ask for the standard letter, they will know what to do.
Depending on your nationality and the consulate, you may need to provide:
- A note from you or your employer stating the purpose of the visit
- Bank statements from the past 3 months
- A detailed day-by-day itinerary
- Hotel bookings
Longer-term visas will probably require HIV test results.
Russian visa application on the road
Things change quickly for Russian visas, so do double-check with the embassy in advance if someone bothers to pick up the phone.
Long-term registration for some nationalities needed
To apply for any category of visas except transit, one must have a long-term ( > 90 days) registration in the country you are applying in.
BUT: No long term registration is needed for citizens of the following states and territories, who can get any categories of visas during 4-7 working days at regular price or during 1-2 working days with extra fees paid:
Argentina, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chili, Columbia, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Ecuador ,El Salvador, Eritrea, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana , Honduras, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Panama, Philippines, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Maldives, Republic of Seychelles, Romania, San-Tome And Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, Uruguay, Yemen, Zimbabwe.
Citizens of these states can get any category of visas at regular price, but the waiting period may vary from 10 up to 26 working days: Australia, France, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Turkmenistan, the USA.
If citizens of the states and territories that are not mentioned above, do not have a long term registration in the country of application, according to the principle of reciprocity they can apply for any category of visas except transit, ONLY in their country of origin.
We know Ulan Bator does not follow this rule and hands out tourist visas freely.
Many people affected by this rule can still get a tourist visa in Tbilisi, where the year-long visa-free regime for rich countries circumvents the registration problem.
If you only need a transit visa, you have more options, since.
Address: Zhandosov Street 4, near the corner with Manas Street – Google Maps – Printshop, Atm, Exchange around the consulate. Opening times: Tuesday morning 9.30 to 12.00 and Friday afternoon 15.00 to 17.00. Window 3.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 14-16. Very busy. Updates gathered here.
Ho Chi Minh embassy
Embassy reports gathered in the Kathmandu forum thread.
The embassy is in Baluwatar, 4km from Thamel. The best to go is to take the brown bus in front of the Chinese embassy. The embassy responds to e-mails ([email protected]), best to ask in advance to check if you are allowed to apply. Website.
Opening hours: Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10h30 to 11h30 (sharp) only. Busy! Come very, very, very early!
Kuala Lumpur embassy
Address: Apply at the consulate at No. 263, Jalan Ampang, 50450 KL. Opening hours: 9.30am-1pm, Mon, Weds and Fri.
Updates in the Kuala Lumpur forum thread.
Reports welcome in the Osaka embassy forum thread.
The consulate is open Monday- Friday 14-17.30, phone +7 7232262959
September 2018: An appointment was needed but granted the next day. 3 days turnaround for a transit visa.
Visas are issued from the Russian Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi (53 Chavchavadze Avenue – N41.71121 E044.74305, map). Not the actual Swiss Embassy, the Russian Interests Section is a different building on the other side of the city near the Russian embassy. The embassy is open 9am – 2pm for applications, but best to come early as it gets really busy. Updates collected here for transit visas – here for tourist visas.
In September 2018, a visa centre opened up to process Russian visas. This is more expensive obviously, not sure if it is much easier. Appointments at the visa centre need to be made minimum a week in advance, but a more expensive express service is also available.
Consulate is located @ 35.697376, 51.414698 (the embassy, which is across the street, does not handle visa applications). Updates collected here.
Ulan Bator embassy
Opening hours: 9-12 (not 14-15 anymore) Monday – Wednesday – Friday. Pay at TDB Bank (GPS: 47.920134, 106.910285). Transit visa updates – Tourist visa updates. Tourist visas are also possible for those not supposed to get it on the 90-day registration rule.