Here’s how to (successfully) apply for a Russian visa!
As we are off to Russia in a few weeks to experience the Trans-Siberian railway, Gary and I had to sort out our Russian visas last month. We were really worried at first as we had heard so much about how difficult and complicated it was – especially during my time working in travel where Russia is a big, scary, uninviting place for many. It seemed no-one had a smooth ride getting this particular visa sorted. With much apprehension, we eventually submitted our application in London…. and within a week we had our passports back, complete with visa!
The whole process was so much easier than expected – although there are definitely things that are worth knowing before you apply. Hopefully this post will help anyone else who is looking to apply for a Russian visa, to make your application process run as smoothly as possible!
*Please note this post contains advice for UK citizens applying for a Russian tourist visa in the UK. Visas and visa rules are ever-changing (the joys of travel!), so please always refer to embassy websites for the most up to date information*
A few things you need to know…
- You MUST obtain your visa BEFORE entering Russia!
- The Russian tourist visa is valid for a period of 30 days.
- When applying for your visa, you need to specify your entry and exit dates. You must make sure that you enter on, or after your specified entry date and MUST leave before your visa expires. Even if you don’t plan on staying the full 30 days, I would still put dates 30 days apart on your application. E.g. We plan to enter on the 27th September, so we put that as our entry date. We put our exit date as 25th October (30 days later). We actually plan to leave on the 20th, but this gives us 5 days flexibility in case we are delayed on the way.
- You can apply for your visa pretty much any time before you leave, but I’d recommend applying at least one month before travel in case of any delays with your application.
- The visa takes 5 working days to process. If you pay more for the express option, it will be ready on the next working day.
- You have to provide biometric data (fingerprints) to apply for a Russian visa. This means you HAVE to visit an application centre in person.
- Russian visa applications are handled by a company called VFS Global – it’s their visa application centre you’ll need to visit in London, Edinburgh or Manchester.
Documents you’ll need…
When we first trawled the internet for help, we ended up even more muddled than when we began! There is SO much written online, but nothing clear and straight forward (hence this post). Some websites said we needed an ‘invitation’, whilst others said we needed a ‘tourist voucher’ or a ‘tourist confirmation’. Whaaaat?
Basically – these three terms all cover the same document. It’s a double sided document in Russian that is stamped and signed by an authorised person like a hotel or travel agent. If you have accommodation booked and you are only in one or two places during your stay, you can ask your hotel to provide this document. Some will do this for free, others will charge. As we are planning to do the Trans-Siberian Railway, we are staying in multiple hotels and would therefore have had to contact each hotel and try and get this document… That was more effort than we were willing to put in! Luckily, there is an easier option. For £15 per person (for single entry visas), Real Russia will provide you (almost instantly) with a document that has all the required information. It’s called ‘visa support’ and can be found here.
As well as this confirmation/ invitation document, you will also need:
- One application form. You can find this form on the VFS Global website and you fill it out electronically. You are given a reference number when you begin – keep a note of this! You can stop at any point and return to your application at a later date, but you’ll need your reference number to log back in again. The form is long-winded but pretty self explanatory – it asks for basic information (name/ passport/ travel plans etc) as well as details on your work, close family and education.
- Passport – which has to be valid for a minimum of six months after your visa’s expiration date and with at least 2 blank pages (they don’t need to be consecutive).
- One recent passport photo. We had some problems with this one!! I found some information on the VFS website that showed the dimensions of the photo and realised it was slightly different from UK passport photos. Although the size of the photo is the same, the dimensions of the face are different – with UK passports the face should measure 29-34mm whereas for the Russian photos it should be 35-45mm. I paid almost DOUBLE the price of normal photos (£15) in SnappySnaps to get a ‘Russian passport photo’ taken. Gary decided not to get a Russian-specific photo as we found out there was a booth in the application centre and he decided he’d get some taken if we got there and were told his were not suitable. HOWEVER – it turns out a standard UK passport photo is totally FINE! Do not waste your money on ‘Russian passport photos!
And that’s it 🙂
*If you are are self-employed, a company director, working from home or unemployed, you also need to provide bank statements for the last three months with a balance of a minimum of £100 per day for the duration of the visit (not required for housewives, students and retired applicants)*
How to apply…
- Print application form. Although you fill the form out electronically, you need to print a hard copy out once completed. As per the instructions on the website, make sure you print at 100%. Your passport photo should fit perfectly in the box in the top right corner.
- Glue your passport photo into the designated box.
- Gather all other documents and your passport.
- Head to your nearest or most convenient visa application centre (London, Edinburgh or Manchester). You don’t need to book an appointment, just turn up. NOTE: We got to the London centre super early, thinking we would beat the crowds. You can submit your application between 8.30am and 3pm, so we arrived first thing at 8.30am. HOWEVER, it seemed everyone else had the same idea and we ended up joining a queue of about 30 people outside the building. By the time we left (about an hour later), there was no queue at all, so it might be worth waiting for the morning rush to subside if you don’t fancy queuing!
How much will it cost?
|SINGLE-NEXT DAY||SINGLE-5 WORKING DAYS||DOUBLE-NEXT DAY||DOUBLE-5 WORKING DAYS||MULTIPLE-NEXT DAY||MULTIPLE-5 WORKING DAYS|
What happens at the application centre?
On arrival, you must pass through security. Your bag must be placed on the table when asked, and will be searched by the security guard. Another guy will then use a handheld scanning device (like in airports) to check over your body. Once this is done, you’ll be given a numbered ticket and asked to take a seat in the large waiting room (think Argos!). If you are travelling with someone else, you can get one ticket for the both of you and can apply at the same time.
Take a seat and watch the screens to see when your number is called – you’ll be allocated a desk number. Head over to that desk and hand over all your documents. They’ll have a look through and make sure you haven’t missed anything obvious. All being well, they’ll ask for payment and how you want your passport returned. If you collect the passport, there is no additional charge. Anyone can collect the passport on your behalf – they just need to take the original receipt with them. If you want the passport posted back to you, it’s an additional £9.80. So that’s it!
If you need to edit or re-print your visa application, there are computers at the centre you can use. E.g. If you get to the desk and they realise you’ve missed one of the questions on the application. BE AWARE you will probably have to join a long queue of people! I had to re-print mine as I realised I’d brought an old version with me (doh!) and we ended up queueing for about 25 minutes.
It’s £6.50 (!!) for half an hour of internet but most people will just be printing something off and will be much quicker than that. It’s then an additional 40p per sheet you print. I never actually got to the computers as the lady who was taking payments for printing let me log in on her computer and print mine off from there. It took all of 30 seconds and I assumed I’d just be charged the 40p for printing… NOPE! An extortionate £8.10!! I argued my case and queried why I was having to pay for half an hour internet but she wasn’t budging! I then asked if I could share the ‘half hour’ with others in the queue. We were chatting to the people behind us whilst waiting, so I managed to split the half hour £6.50 charge three ways, which was much more reasonable! So make friends with people in the queue and you can reduce your internet fees!
There is also a photo booth (London centre only) if you forget to bring photos, but it’s £8 for four photos and was out of order when we were there, so try and be prepared!
So that’s all you need to know to apply for a Russian tourist visa!
I hope this comes in useful – I know we could definitely have used something like this when we applied. If you have any specific questions about the visa or application process, let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them 🙂