Make no bones about it, Russia and the USA have not always been the best of friends, which means getting into Russia as a USA citizen can be a bit of an ordeal. I just got mine, and it wasn’t very straightforward.
FYI, the process to enter Russia is very similar to that of Belarus, except instead of going/mailing to the Russian embassy, you go/mail to a Belarussian one instead.
The first step is to decide whether to go for a Single Entry, Double Entry, or Multiple Entry visa. They don’t do a good job explaining the differences on their website, but it essentially boils down to the following reasons:
1) If your passport expires less than 3 years from the date of your trip, and/or if you don’t plan to return to Russia ever again during the lifetime of your passport, go for a Single Entry Visa.
2) If you plan to leave Russia for another country during your trip but still want to return to Russia for a roundtrip flight home (or elsewhere), AND you don’t plan to return to Russia again and/or your passport expires less than 3 years from the date of your trip, go for a Double Entry Visa.
3) For all other trips (your passport’s expiration date extends beyond 3 years from the dates of your trip and/or if you plan to have flexible travel plans in the future that may include a return trip to Russia), the Multiple Entry Visa makes the most financial sense.
4) If you’re traveling TO or FROM the countries of Belarus or Kazakhstan and it involves a layover in Russia — EVEN if you DON’T plan on leaving any airports — and/or you want to save the most absolute amount of money in a literal sense (ignoring opportunity cost, investing in future travel plans, etc.), the cheapest visa is a Transit Visa, which is only $20 cheaper than a tourist visa. A transit visa will allow for you to stay in Russia for 3 days if you’re flying, or 10 days if you’re entering/leaving overland.
You don’t want this to happen to you — Belarus and Kazakhstan are considered local territory when it comes to traveling through Russia, so Russia will want you to have a Russian visa even if you already have a Belarussian or Kazakh visa and even if you don’t plan on leaving its airports.
Once you decided on a visa type, get the following documents in order:
1) Single Entry Visa:
- An original, signed USA passport with at least 2 blank pages marked “Visas”, that is valid for at least 6 months after the visa expiry date
- Non-USA citizens must provide a Green Card; or Long-term US Visa (tourist visas not accepted).
- Completed and signed visa application form from visa.kdmid.ru
- FYI, they ask you for a list of ALL the countries you’ve traveled to in your lifetime, but don’t worry for those of you who’ve traveled a lot: The answer bank max’es out at 30 countries, so pick your favorite, least controversial 30 states you think Russia will be okay with.
- 2×2 passport photograph of your face clearly placed in front of a white background
- A visa support document, officially titled as a “Confirmation of hosting a foreign tourist”, issued by a hotel or a tourist agency which is registered with the Federal Agency of Tourist Operators of the Russian Federation. (A booking reservation does not suffice.)
- FYI, we actually provide this service with the help of our friends at Young Pioneer Tours; so if you need one, contact us!
- A Customer Agreement form (between applicant and Invisa on services rendered)
- Payment in Cashier’s/Bank Check or Money Order
- $278 if applying by mail
- $193 if applying in person at your local Russian embassy (located in NYC, SF, DC, Houston, or Seattle)
- IF you’re applying or submitting documents on the behalf of someone else (like a family member or a friend), you need a notarized document indicating that the person you’re applying on behalf of has authorized you to do so.
- IF you were a former citizen of the USSR, you need to also supply either of the following documents:
- Copy of USSR passport with a stamp stating you left for “permanent residence abroad”, dated prior to February 6, 1992;
- Or a copy of a “Visa to Israel” issued prior to February 6, 1992;
- Or a copy of a Certificate of Naturalization issued prior to 1996;
- Or a document confirming the renunciation of your Russian citizenship;
- Or a copy of the main pages of a passport of a former USSR state, issued after February 1992;
- Or a written statement of explanation, in the case that you have no documentation (at discretion of the Consulate)
2) Double Entry Visa:
- All of the above in the Single Entry Visa
- A printed copy of your PURCHASED flight/train/bus itinerary showing all entries and exits to and from Russia
3) Multiple Entry Visa:
- All of the above in the Single Entry Visa
- The only difference is that you fill out the full 3-year period as the length of stay in the Russian Federation when filling out the visa application (ex. Date of Entry 25/10/2016 until Date of Departure 24/10/2019-minus one day).
- No printed copy of any itineraries are required
4) Transit Visa:
- All of the above in the Double Entry Visa (including a printed copy of your PURCHASED flight/train/bus itinerary showing all entries and exits to and from Russia)
- The only difference is that the price is $258 if applying by mail or $173 if applying in person
- Entry visa to the destination country, a passport of the destination country, or a reasoned request and the documents proving the necessity of stopping, unless otherwise provided by international treaty. Visas are not required for citizens of countries that have visa free agreements;
Once you have your documents, you can either mail it to your desired Russian embassy of your choice (choose from any of the 5 available in the USA at http://www.ils-usa.com/), or make an in-person appointment at http://www.ils-usa.com/
Show up at your appointment or mail it in, and you should get it back within 10 calendar days. It’ll cost you extra if you choose to expedite/rush your visa from 10 days to 3 business days ($110 extra), if you want express delivery ($30 extra), if you want Saturday delivery ($20 extra), if you’re shipping from outside the USA ($45 extra), or if you’re shipping it from Alaska or Hawaii ($10 extra).
I got turned away once as my visa support letter was incorrect by one day regarding my entry date into Russia, as they took that really really seriously. They also were pretty stern about the Double Entry Visa requiring purchase travel documents. When I said I didn’t have them, they told me to come back to apply for a Single Entry instead with the correct dates on my visa support letter.
After 10 days of waiting, I finally got my visa to Russia!