Russia Student Visa
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One of the most demanding visas for Americans is a Russian tourist visa. I should know; I've been through the process 7 times. My name is Susan, I'm a 32-year-old US citizen, and I am unashamedly enamored with Russia.
It all started back when I was 23, and I got the opportunity to study in St. Petersburg. I was expecting a cold, dreary, Dostoevsky-esque experience. But instead, I fell in love with the people, the weather, the food, and the language. Since then, I've been back to Russia another 6 times.
However, traveling from the US to Russia is by no means easy. That's partly why I decided to pen my experiences and help prospective travelers. That, and I hope to share the beauty and splendor of Russia with everyone I meet.
Let's get started:
Firstly, a Russian visa support letter, or invitation letter, is a document generated by the entity inviting someone to visit Russia. So, in theory, if you arrange a tour of Siberia through a Russian travel agency, the travel agency will also arrange the letter of invitation for your visa.
However, this is not always the case, and sometimes an extra fee is required to generate the letter. Therefore, establishing what is included and excluded in a tour package or transaction is always worth the time and energy. Hotel reservations and tour itineraries are not invitation letters.
The Russian government does not want proof of your intent to visit the country. Instead, they want proof of a Russian person or legal entity inviting you to the Russian Federation.
This brings us to why a Russian visa invitation letter is needed.
The Russian visa system works on a sponsorship principle. Therefore, the invitation letter, or tourist voucher, is essentially a sponsorship for a traveler to Russia from the entity generating the visa support letter.
In days gone by, this effectively meant that the person inviting someone to Russia was responsible for that person. If someone invited a troublemaker, the sponsor could be held liable for their actions. Luckily, this is not the case anymore, and Russia is much more tourist-friendly than a couple of years ago.
Why struggle with your visa application when you already have to worry about an invitation letter? I suggest you start your Russia Visa application with Atlys.
Atlys is a visa application app that allows you to apply for your visa online from the comfort of your phone. All you need to do is download and install the app, enter your information and scan your passport's barcode.
How easy is that? And believe it or not, your next visa application will be even quicker. Why not give Atlys a go?
If you are a US citizen planning to travel to Russia, you'll need a Russian Visa that fits specifically with the reason for your travel. To obtain a visa to Russia, you'll need to get Russian Visa Invitation Letters from the entity you'll be visiting in Russia. More on this a bit later.
Needless to say, obtaining your Russian visa invitation letter can be one of the most difficult steps in your Russian Visa application process. As you'll see, the confusion starts as soon as you try to find more information on Russian visa Invitation letters...
I found that almost every website uses different names for Russian visa support letters. Sometimes one website will refer to them by three different names in one paragraph! This causes confusion and uncertainty and adds to an already tedious experience.
I've listed the names and terms that I came across for your reference:
I'm sure that if you dig a bit more, you'll find more names. But don't be fooled; they are all Russian Visa Support Letters (the official name and the one I'll be sticking to throughout this post.)
To start with, you'll need to reach out to the entity hosting you in Russia. This entity should correspond with the type of Visa you are applying for.
For instance, if you are staying at an Airbnb but only staying there to study at a nearby school or institution, the entity you should reach out to is the school or institution.
Reach out to the hotel that you have booked. Most of the time, they'll be more than willing to accommodate you, for a small fee, of course.
Quick Tip: If a hotel provides you with a Russian Visa Support Letter and you choose to stay somewhere else, you might be liable for an extra fee or fine.
It is advisable to get a Visa Support letter from each hotel you'll be staying at rather than have one hotel cover the entire trip. This might cost a bit more, but I've found that it increases your Russian Visa Application's chances of success.
Here's a pro tip:
Before you book at a hotel:
"What if no hotel can provide a support letter?"
In the past, when staying at an Airbnb, I found that the hosts are either unable or unwilling to provide me with a Russian Visa Support Letter. In these cases, my best bet was to reach out to an accredited Russian Tour operator. They'll be more than happy to help you and might even provide some travel advice for free.
Short answer, no. Long answer, yes.
Although the Russian Visa Support Letter remains largely the same in content and format, the purpose of your trip will determine what entity will provide your support letter.
A hotel can't generate a visa support letter for a student coming to study in Russia. Similarly, a Business or corporation can't generate a visa support letter for tourists hoping to travel through Russia.
In short, the entity generating the visa support letter should align with the reason you are applying for your visa.
I ran into this problem way back on my first trip to Russia (to study).
I asked the hostel I was staying at to generate my visa support letters when I should've asked the University of St. Petersburg where I would study. Luckily, the hostel pointed out that I was traveling on a Study visa; and they were unable to help me clearly understand the process.
Depending on the purpose of your travel to Russia, you'll find that you need a different type of Russian Invitation/Support letter. I'll briefly explain the different types of Russian Support Letters:
Another option is to get one from the hotel you're staying at or from the tour operator arranging your trip, provided that they are authorized by the Federal Tourism Agency of Russia.
Simply contact your hotel or tour operator and request that they issue you a visa support letter if they have not done so from the beginning. Your hotel and the tour operator may request extra payment for this service.
If a hotel generates a Visa support letter for you and you choose to change hotels, you may be liable for a fine or fee from that hotel.
If you're staying in a short-term rental, your Airbnb host would most likely not be able to grant you a visa support voucher. If this is the case, it's best to resort to an authorized tour operator. You can find a list of authorized tour operators here.
When applying for a Russian study visa, the visa support letter should come from the academic institution you'll be studying. Simply contact your school, academy, or university and ask them to provide you with a visa support letter.
While this should not cost anything, sometimes there are processing fees that the institution will ask you to pay.
For a private Russian visa, the friend or family member you will be visiting in Russia needs to apply for your visa invitation letter in Russia and at their local branch office of the Federal Migration Service.
To obtain a visa support letter for a Russian Business visa, you should contact the company you are doing business with. This business can range from finalizing a deal, or expressing interest in a partnership, to attending a MICE event — basically any activity that can further business interests.
This company, in turn, should contact the Ministry of the Interior in Russia and arrange for the visa invitation letter. Don't worry; chances are they've done it before, and it might all be sorted between your HR and their HR.
Humanitarian visas to Russia are granted to people traveling to Russia for purposes that can't rightly be included under the visas mentioned earlier. These activities include participating in sporting events, cultural or scientific exchange programs, and humanitarian work.
In these cases, the body or organization overseeing the event or activity in Russia must be contacted, and they must generate the appropriate visa support letter.
Once you receive your letter, it should look something like this.
The above Russian Visa Support Letter is just an example, and you'll find that your letter may look a bit different. As I previously mentioned, the Russian Visa Support Letter comes in many shapes and forms, but the information stays the same. Therefore, don't feel stressed if yours doesn't look the same as the sample.
As you can see, it's a rather unassuming A4 document featuring a stamp from the relevant Russian authorities and featuring the signature of the person inviting you to Russia.
It also features the place where you will be residing during your visit to Russia. If you are staying in more than one hotel, you should receive visa support letters from all of them. Furthermore, the invitation letter must cover the entire duration of time you plan to spend in Russia at that specific entity.
For example, suppose you are spending most of your journey at new hotels while exploring Russia. In that case, you'll need a letter of introduction from each hotel.
These are all techniques that I've used to help me get my Russian Visa Support letters.