Visas for Russia

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Visas for Russia

Visa Requirements: Getting into Russia!

Citizens of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Argentina (90 days), Bosnia and Herzegovina (90 days), Brazil (90 days), Chile (90 days), Colombia (90 days), Croatia (3 months, invitation required), Cuba (30 days), Ecuador (90 days), Hong Kong (14 days), Israel (90 days), Macau (30 days), Macedonia (90 days), Montenegro (90 days), Nicaragua (90 days), Peru (90 days), Serbia (30 days, only biometric passports), Thailand (30 days), Turkey (30 days), Venezuela (90 days) all do not need a visa. Anyone else does.

Transit through Moscow Sheremetyevo, Moscow Domodedovo or Yekaterinburg Koltsovo airports does not require a transit visa, provided the traveller has a confirmed onward flight, remains in the airport for no more than 24 hours and is not in transit to or from Belarus and Kazakhstan (travel to and from these countries use domestic terminals). Passing through St. Petersburg Pulkovo airport requires a transit (or other) visa. Visas can, in some cases, be obtained from consular officers at the airports.

A "visa-free" regime will be introduced for visitors from all nations for the duration of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in Russia.

For those unfortunates that require a visa, the complexity of the process depends on the class of visa. Thirty day tourist visas are fairly straightforward to acquire; 90 day (and more) business visas, less so. It is best to start the application process well in advance. While expedited processing is available to those who need visas quickly, it can double the application cost.

Arranging a Visa for Russia Basically Involves Two Steps:

1.) Getting an invitation and 2.) Applying for the visa.

You may arrive at any time on or after the start date of your visa's validity and may depart at any time on or before its expiry date. Normally, an exit visa is included in transit, private visit/homestay, tourist, and business visas so long as the visa is still valid. Other classes, such as student visas, still require a separate exit visa that can take up to three weeks to process.

Exit and reentry during the validity period of your visa requires permits. Getting these permits is a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare that is best avoided entirely by getting a double- or multiple-entry visa in the first place.

If you're in Russia and have lost your passport, your sponsor, not your embassy, must apply to the Federal Migration Service to transfer your visa to your replacement passport. Having a copy of your old visa helps with this, but is not sufficient to let you depart.

1. Getting an invitation

The invitation type determines the visa. A tourist invitation begets a tourist visa, a private visit invitation begets a private visit visa etc. Except for tourist visas, invitations are official documents issued by Russian government agencies and must be applied for by the person or organization inviting you. The invitation will include the intended dates of travel and the number of entries requires (1, 2 or multiple). The dates on the invitation determine the period of the ensuing visa's validity. If in doubt of dates, ensure that the invitation covers a period longer than the intended stay: a tourist visa valid for 7 days costs the same as one valid for 30 days.

In the likely situation you have to buy your invitation, shop around globally: all invitations come from Russia and the company that gets it for you will have a base in Russia. It doesn't make a difference whether its website is based in Germany, UK, USA or Swaziland. Many embassies and consulates only require a copy of the invitation, however this is not always the case so check with the embassy or consulate beforehand. If the original invitation is required it will have to be flown from Russia anyway. It is only applying for the visa itself that generally requires the application to be made in the applicant's homeland.

A tourist invitation (also called reservation confirmation) is a letter of confirmation of booking and pre-payment of accommodation and travel arrangements in Russia. It is accompanied by a tourist voucher. These two documents can be issued by "government approved" tour operators, hotels, online hotel booking services or Russian travel agencies (several Russian travel agencies have offices outside Russia and are adept at facilitating visa applications). "Government approval" here means that the organization in question has a "consular reference" and has been registered with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Only hotels and travel agencies that have a consular reference can issue confirmations valid for visa purposes. An ordinary hotel booking is not sufficient to constitute an invitation. Some hotels charge a fee to issue the invitation.

Booking one night in a hotel will get you an invitation valid for one day (maybe two) and hence the resulting visa will be valid for a very brief time. For independent travellers planning to travel around Russia, it is best to get an invitation through an agency. These agencies will issue a confirmation for a fee (approx. $30 or £15), without actually collecting the accommodation prepayment. While the strict legality of such is questionable, it is a largely academic point and does not leads to problems for the traveller. If your itinerary is confined to only one hotel, then it makes sense to obtain the invitation documents directly from the hotel as the service fee will be similar.

Consider getting a private/homestay visa if you have friends or relatives in Russia (they do not necessarily have to be Russian). They would need to seek an invitation through their local Passport and Visa Division of the Federal Migration Service (formerly OVIR). These invitations tend to take at least a month to process. The inviting individual also becomes solely responsible for all your activities while in Russia and can be penalized heavily if something were to go wrong. Because of this, personal invitations are usually not available for a fee through the net.

Business invitations are issued by the government. They are generally time-consuming and costly to acquire but they can be quickly arranged for exorbitant fees. Any registered company in Russia can apply for a business invitation. Travel agencies and visa specialists can also get them issued for you. Business visas have longer validity than tourist visas. Being a tourist on a business visa is permitted, so anyone wanting more than a 30-day stay should get one of these. As a rough guide, one UK company can arrange a business invitation for a single 90 day stay for various amounts between £38 (for 12 working day processing) and £121 (for 2 working day processing).

Invitations for student visas are issued by the educational institution where you plan to study. Most universities and language schools are familiar with the process.

Some Russian local governments have a right to invite foreigners for cultural exchanges by sending a message directly to the Embassy or Consulate of Russia overseas, requesting the visa be issued to a particular foreigner or group of foreigners. Such messages are used instead of an invitation. This is normally the way to go if you are invited by the government.

2. Applying for the visa

Different embassies and consulates have different requirements for visa applications. They may issue visas by mail, they may require application in person, they may accept a copy of the invitation, they may require the original. They may accept payment by card, they may insist on a money order. Check with the embassy or consulate beforehand - in most cases it will be on their website.

Visa service companies, for a fee, will double-check your application and invitation, go to the embassy for you, and return your passport to you. This service is nothing that you cannot do yourself (unlike arranging the invitation) but it can save time and frustration.

A single entry, 30 day tourist visa for citizens of EU-Schengen countries costs €35 and takes three working days for standard processing (€70 gets express service for next day collection). For UK citizens the price is £50 and processing takes 5 working days not 3 (express service is next day and costs £100). For citizens of the USA the price is, at the present, $140 ($150 for multiple-entry visas), with standard processing being at least 4 working days (express service is $250 and stated to be 3 working days).

In some countries which have a busy trade in Russian visas (e.g. UK and USA), the visa processing has been outsourced to private companies. These companies levy a further unavoidable application fee on top of the visa fees stated above. For applications made in the UK (by a citizen of any country) the application fee is £26.40 for standard service and £33.60 for express service. For applications made in the USA, the application fee is $30.

The total cost of getting a visa usually has three parts: invitation fee, visa fee and application fee. If you're lucky, one or more of these may be zero but be prepared to be hit by all three. Take as an example a UK citizen applying for a 30 day, single entry tourist visa with standard processing in the UK (not the cheapest example and not the most expensive): invitation bought through an agency - £15, visa fee - £50, application fee - £26.40 = £91.40 (that's roughly US$140).

Tourist, homestay, and transit visas can allow one or two entries. Tourist and homestay visas have a maximum validity of 30 days. Transit visas are typically for one to three days for air travel and up to ten days for overland journeys. Business and other visa categories can be issued for one, two or multiple entries.

Any business visa can permit a maximum stay in any one visit of up to 90 days. However, a business visa only permits a total stay of 90 days in Russia in a 180-day period, regardless of how long it is valid for (whether it be 3, 6, or 12 months). If you stay in Russia for 90 days, you have to leave and your visa will not permit you to return for another 90 days. This means (give or take - a year isn't 360 days) that a six month visa permits as long a total time in Russia as a three month visa!

Once you have your visa, check all the dates and information as it's much easier to correct mistakes before you travel than after you arrive!

Arrival and Customs

On arriving in Russia (except from Belarus), you'll have to fill out a migration card. As in most places, one half is surrendered on entry and the other portion should remain with your passport until you leave Russia (except to Belarus). It is usually printed in both Russian and English though other languages may be available. Upon leaving Russia, a lost migration card may be overlooked with the help of a nominal fine. Belarus is a special case because Russia and Belarus run a common border and share the same migration card.

Usually, you will be permitted to enter and remain in Russia for the term of your visa (or the term stipulated by visa-exemption agreement, if applicable). Immigration officers are very unlikely to use their power to decide otherwise.

Those who enter Russia with valuable electronic items or musical instruments (especially violins that look antique and expensive), antiques, large amounts of currency, or other such items are required to declare them on the customs entry card and must insist on having the card stamped by a customs officer upon arrival. Even if the customs officer claims that it is not necessary to declare such items, insist on a stamp on your declaration. Having this stamp may prevent considerable hassle (fines, confiscation) upon departure from Russia should the customs agent at departure decide that an item should have been declared upon entry.


Just like in many European countries, upon arriving in any new dwelling, you must be registered within 7 business days of arriving. Your host at that dwelling (not necessarily the one who issued the invitation) is responsible for registering you. Registration is done at post offices, costs money and involves a lot of hassle. The proof of registration is a separate piece of paper with a big blue stamp on it. Border guards have neither authority not possibility to check if the duty to register has ever existed and evaded.

Nevertheless, it is worth insisting to be registered at least in the first city you visit. Corrupt check-in staff at dodgy hotels will not let you check in without seeing your prior registration if you've been in Russia for more than 7 business days. Corrupt police and border staff in remote areas will insist that a lack of registration is your fault; it may cost you more than paying the registration fee.

Large hotels are accredited with the Federal Migratory Service and arrange registration automatically and without fee on the day of arrival.

Overstaying a Visa

If you overstay, even by a few minutes, you will likely be prohibited from leaving until you obtain a valid exit visa. You may be able to obtain a visa extension from the consular officer at an airport against the payment of a fine if you overstayed for fewer than three days, but this is not guaranteed. Generally, though, obtaining an extension requires an intervention by your sponsor, a payment of a fine, and a wait of up to three weeks.

Be careful if your flight leaves after midnight and be aware of the time at which the train crosses the border. Border guards will not let you depart if you're leaving even 10 min after your visa expires! A common pitfall is the Helsinki-bound train, which only enters Finland after midnight.

If your overstay was due to reasons such as medical problems, the Federal Migration Service may instead issue a Home Return Certificate rather than an exit visa which is valid to depart Russia within ten days of issue.

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