So far I've just scratched the surface on what is involved, mainly the high cost of visas and the required "invitation" letter. We were originally going to try to go this fall, but the hoops to jump through seem a little too daunting to rush through in that short of time, as we need our passports in hand for Italy in May, and can't be sending them off to the Russian embassy soon, etc etc.
For those of you who have gone through the process, any suggestions from your experience? Did you use an agency, or just go at it on your own? Thanks!
Russian visas has been changing a lot over the past decade -- mostly for the better -- so you may be finding some very outdated information.
You no longer need an invitation, just a hotel reservation (and it doesn't even need to be the hotel you end up staying in).
You no longer have an option of agencies to use or whether to do so. Unless you're going to the embassy/consulate in person, you MUST use their single designated agency, Invisa.
The time from mailing your passport to getting it back should be under one month with normal processing, so your timetable to go this year doesn't sound like an issue.
Thanks Lenin1991, that's good info! Sounds like it's now a little easier and quicker than I thought, going to forge ahead with plans. We have some new friends in Moscow we met last fall in Paris, and want to take the opportunity to go while we have someone there to visit with. Thanks again!
Lenin1991, (or anyone else familiar with this subject!): Well, we decided not to go to Russia last year, but we have made the decision to definitely go this year, in September. You seem pretty knowledgeable about the visa situation, so wondering if you could help me a little to save me from needless hours of internet run around.
So we're planning on entering at St. Petersburg and meeting our Russian friends, who will transport us around and to Moscow, and depart the country from Moscow by air. We will have hotel reservations set up beforehand, (not staying with our friends).
It appears from the ILS site that we can apply by mail, as we aren't close to any of their 4 US offices.
In section of list of documents required for 30 day tourist visa - Item #1 says:
"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/ the visa support document may be a copy.)
I don't think that will be a problem, but I haven't decided on hotels yet, just seems different than what you stated (but that was last year).
Not arguing of course, just trying to hash this all out, as you are very correct that there is a lot of outdated information out there. Including the status of the ILS office in Seattle (which I could get to). It's not listed on the ILS site, but there is a page on the website that says it remains open, but who knows. I'm probably going to do mail anyway, despite the extra cost. Just an example of the confusion with all of this.
I would appreciate any help or hints you might offer, I've read a lot of horror stories about rejection of documents and photos taken in person to the ILS centers, with multiple trips and redoing applications etc. So I hope to not have those kind of nightmares by mail and be worrying about time for it to process. From what I understand, you can't apply more than 6 months ahead, so I hope to be ready to mail it off in March.
Thanks for any help out there! I hope it's worth all of this, (and the money) as the visas look to be about $200 each by the time we pay for the mailing fee, ILS fee, etc.
It appears from the ILS site that we can apply by mail
That's what I've done
A booking reservation does not suffice/ the visa support document may be a copy.
That's accurate. So you can either make a flexible booking to get the visa support letter for free (and then maybe cancel the reservation), or if you just want a quick arms-length transaction, you can find hostels online willing to provide it for $10-$20. Alternatively, since you have friends in Russia, they can provide a notarized invitation enabling you to get a Private Visa. But that could be more than $10 worth of trouble.
you can't apply more than 6 months ahead
That used to be true, but I don't think it is anymore, since the standard is now a 3-year multi-entry visa.
I hope to not have those kind of nightmares by mail
Oh, I have my own. When I received my visa in 2011, my middle name had been mistransliterated: Jeffrey --> Джеффни ("Jeffney"). I immediately noticed the problem, but processing by mail was so slow, I was afraid if I sent it back, I wouldn't receive it back in time for my trip. So entering in Vladivostok, my heart sank when the border agent asked how I pronounce my middle name, and when I told her, she said "есть ошибка" and disappeared with my passport for 15 minutes. Everyone else from my flight went through, I was all alone, standing around with my backpack and my highly questionable visa invitation from a business in Moscow -- this was when Americans were limited to 30-day tourist visas, so the only was to stay longer was business or private visas. As I'm recalling my Russian lessons on the proper way to offer a bribe, she reappears, takes another 30 seconds, and lets me through.
@Lenin1991, thanks a ton man for the great info. I think this is probably a one and done trip for us, so I was planning on just getting the 30 day tourist visa rather than the 3 year, because of the big cost difference. Regardless, it sounds like I've got plenty of time for the visa by mail with a Sept 1 arrival date, I'm going to just try to be super careful about the forms etc before mailing that the info all jives. The FYI on the ILS site says: "Traversing the Russian Federation via vehicle any other means is considered a common Tourist visa, requiring the person to obtain a confirmation and voucher from hotel(s) or from a registered travel agency that they would obtain from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This would include your travel itinerary, and places of stay along the way. In this case, your purpose of travel would be "auto-tourism"." --which I think would apply to us with our friends since were are "traversing" not "transiting", so I'll need to make sure that that "auto-tourism" is on there wherever the purpose of travel is asked, I assume.
I can just picture you there all alone with your backpack! I'd have been shaking as I thought of cold, dank prison cells lol. Or long, long hours at the airport having to get back out at a humungous expense. Good story to illustrate the importance of precision on those documents. But if the transliteraton was in Russian, and we can't recognize it, how does that work? Were you just lucky to be able to read it well enough to recognize the error? or is it in English too (did it say "Jeffney" somewhere?). Just curious, and glad you made it in, I know that was a moment & 1/2 !
This isn't directly relevant for Ed4000's situation, but for those who don't want a Russian visa but want to visit St. Petersburg only, you can take the boat from Tallinn or Helsinki to St. Petersburg and visit St. Petersburg visa free for up to 3 days.
You must also be part of an excursion, so they add in a purchase of a transit from the port in St. Petersburg to Isaac square. The boat is nicer than a typical ferry, but not as nice as a decked out cruise ship.
But if the transliteraton was in Russian, and we can't recognize it, how does that work? Were you just lucky to be able to read it well enough to recognize the error? or is it in English too (did it say "Jeffney" somewhere?).
Now the name on the visa is printed in both Latin & Cyrillic, but back then, only Cyrillic -- so yeah, many foreigners wouldn't even notice the problem. (Maybe it changed because of issues like mine!) But I majored in Russian, so it was obvious to me.
A lot of the rules around Russian visas are left over from the Soviet period, such as the requirement that foreigners register their presence in each city they stay in. Nicer hotels will do this (and insist on doing it), but complying with this requirement when staying with friends requires a visit to an awfully bureaucratic government office. I'll admit I did not register in every city I visited...
Lenin1991, i.e. registering, understood. Well I've had somewhat of a complication. Our friends were assuming that we were staying with them in their flat when I began to discuss best locations for hotels. So I am hesitant to try to decline and risk insulting them for their offer of hospitality. So I guess I'm diving down the rabbit hole of trying to get the right kind of visa for a private stay host. They will go with us to register which I assume might help, but do you have any idea about the Moscow office bureaucracy is? I hate to look at spending a huge amount of time there in an already short visit (5 days).