Best Time to Travel to Russia
Travelling to Russia? This handy guide from Atlys will help you determine when is the best time for your trip and what you should do while you are there!
Did you know that US citizens need a Russian Tourist Visa to visit Russia? Well, I didn't.
Not so long ago, I decided to surprise my husband with a trip to Russia. You see, my husband loves action movies, especially those about the "cool" Russian spy that can do almost anything. So for our 10th wedding anniversary, I would surprise him with a trip to Moscow, the capital of Russia.
Back then, I didn't know we needed to apply for a Russian Tourist Visa or any type of Russian Visa to be honest. After talking to my best friend about my incredible anniversary gift I had planned for my husband, she said the following:
"You know you need a Russian Tourist Visa to visit Russia, and I have heard the process to get one is quite complicated."
I was shocked by what she told me. I was under the impression that US citizens enjoy visa-free travel to the Federation of Russia (like we do to plenty of other countries). But, unfortunately, that is not the case.
The trip I had planned was in 2 months, and I didn't know a thing about the Russian Tourist Visa application. So, to ensure my planned trip would succeed, I immediately started doing research.
It turns out, if you don't know what you're doing, the Russian Tourist Visa application process for US citizens can be a bit complicated.
So I have decided to share my experience with all my fellow US citizens who didn't know they needed a tourist visa to visit Russia!
In this guide, you'll find the following:
Fill in information
Get your visa!
There are a few things you'll need to be aware of before you start your Russian Tourist Visa:
"US citizens may also travel to Russia using valid multiple-entry Russian visas that were issued before adopting the Decree of the Government of the Russian Federation № 645-r of March 16March 16, 2020. Therefore, there is no need to send any special requests or ask permission from the Embassy to travel to Russia (if a traveler has a valid visa and a valid passport)." - Embassy of the Russian Federation in the USA
So if you have a valid Russian Visa that you obtained before the Decree (mentioned above) was implemented. You can skip this article and enjoy your travels to Russia. If not, continue reading.
"According to the Decree of the Russian Federation № 1745-r of June 28June 28, 2021 - The Consular Division of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the USA and Consulates General of the Russian Federation in New York and Houston may resume the issuance of all categories of visas." - Embassy of the Russian Federation in the USA
If you plan to apply for a tourist visa to Russia, you'll need to schedule your visa appointment at one of the Embassies mentioned above.
Unfortunately not. At least not at the moment. However, Russia is constantly looking to add to the 52 countries on the e-Visa list. They are adding the UK soon, and who knows, maybe the US will be next. This is sound advice, even when the world is not enduring a pandemic.
You'll need to fill out the Russian Tourist Visa application form online.
Once you're on the web page, you'll need to select the country you're applying from and the language in which you would like the application form. Then, before you can start filling out the application form, you'll need to read through the provided information and check the box to indicate you've read through the information.
After you've done that, you can start filling out the application form. I'll address what you can expect later in this post.
I should mention that at your scheduled appointment, you may only present the application form I mentioned above. Applications prepared using the old format or in a different way will not be accepted.
Quick note: Embassy officials hold the right to request an in-person interview. There you'll need to submit your supporting documents and answer some questions about yourself and your intended trip. However, this might not always be the case. Therefore, I recommend preparing yourself for an in-person interview even if it's not requested from you.
During the application process, you'll be required to submit a letter of invitation from Russia. This was pretty confusing to me at the start as I didn't really know how I would obtain a letter of invitation from Russia. But, if you know what to do, it's pretty simple to get.
To obtain your Russian Tourist Visa Support Authorization (Official Visa Invitation and Voucher from Authorized Russian Travel Company), you can contact an accredited tour company and request an invitation letter from them. You can also use Atlys for your invitation letter. This is what I used for our Russian Tourist Visa application.
Suppose you're not a Russian national (Russian citizen). In that case, you'll need to present a medical document that proves you have tested negative for COVID-19. It must be a negative PCR-COVID test result taken 3 calendar days (not earlier) before the day you arrive in Russia.
If you're a US Green Card Holder, you'll need to submit a document that indicates you have permanent residency in the United States (aka your Green Card). You're also allowed to submit any other official document that confirms you have the legal right to stay in the US. This should be submitted alongside your other supporting documents.
According to the official government website, the latest you can apply is 8 days before your intended date of entry into Russia. Furthermore, the earliest you can apply for your Russian Tourist Visa is 3 months before your planned entry date.
I highly recommend starting your visa application 3 months before your planned trip. This will allow you to gather all the required documents, fill in the application form, and mail your application without feeling stressed.
Quick tip: Ensure that your invitation letter is no older than 3 months when you submit your visa application.
As I've come to learn, US citizens can apply for a 3-year multiple entry Russian Tourist Visa - a mouth full, I know.
Here's how you do it:
During the online application form, you'll need to enter your trip dates. First, enter your planned date of entry. Then, you need to add 36 months minus 1 day for your exit date.
Let's say you plan to enter Russia on January January 2, 2022 (this is your entry date). For your exit date, you should enter January 1, 2025 (*+ 36 months - 1 day).
For your Russian Tourist Visa, you'll need to submit the following documents:
You'll need to submit a signed and completed application form. The information on the application form must be correct and accurate. If it's not (like an incorrect passport number), Embassy officials have the right to reject your visa. All the questions on the application form must be answered. If the question does not apply to you, you can write N/A on the application form.
You'll need to present an original passport/US passport alongside your application form. Your visa must be valid for at least 6 months beyond your intended date of departure back to the US. Ensure that you have blank visa pages available for your new Russian Tourist Visa.
You must submit 1 passport photo of yourself. It must meet the photo requirements (3,5*4,5 centimeters).
You'll need to prove that you have paid the visa processing fees. This can be done by presenting a money order or certified bank check made out to the Russian Consulate/Embassy. The Embassy does not accept cash, credit cards, debit cards, or checks.
This is an essential document, and without it, you won't be able to get your Russian Tourist Visa. In most cases, this will be a document received by a tour organization located in Russia. The document is in A4 format and indicates that you are invited to Russia by an accredited Russian travel company or a hotel. However, when you use Atlys, you'll receive an invitation free of charge after you have applied for your visa. There are 2 different types of letters you can provide. The letter you need to provide depends on the type of visa you are applying for (Tourist Visa, Business Visa, Work Visa, Student Visa, etc.). Business invitations to Russia are processed by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Migration Service.
You'll need to prove where you'll be staying in Russia. This can be done by presenting a hotel reservation. You can submit a document from the accredited hotel you plan to stay in.
If you're a US Green Card Holder, you'll need to submit a valid document that confirms you have residency in the US.
As I previously mentioned, the Consular Division of the Embassy has the right to request an in-person interview. There they may ask you to present the following documents:
You may be asked to prove if you have the financial means to support yourself during your stay in Russia. This can be done by presenting your bank statements.
You might be asked to submit a letter from your employer regarding your wages for the preceding year/ half-year or month.
You must present valid medical insurance that provides medical coverage across Russia. Also, it must be valid for the duration of your stay.
You may need to present a document regarding the ownership of the property you have in the US.
In addition to the documents mentioned above, I recommend you bring along a full flight itinerary that includes all your travel dates and flight numbers. Furthermore, I suggest you have a cover letter that includes the purpose of your trip and everything you plan to do in Russia.
Quick note: Even though these additional documents are not mandatory requirements, I recommend collecting them just in case authorities request them from you.
Now that you have a general idea of the Russian Tourist Visa requirements and its required documents, I'll walk you through the process of applying for your visa.
Before starting the online application form, collect all the required documents. Ensure you collect any additional documents you feel would support the reason for your trip. Doing this may help your visa application.
For example, suppose you're requested to attend an in-person interview. In that case, you'll have more supporting documents that may increase your chances of a successful visa application.
Quick note: During the online application form, you'll be asked to provide information about your trip to Russia. Gathering your documents beforehand will speed up the online application - trust me.
Before I guide you through the visa application form, I'll share a problem I ran into while filling out my visa application form.
When filling out your form, you'll use an official online portal. Unfortunately, this portal does come with a problem.
In my experience, I couldn't save my application and later return to complete it. In short, the provided application ID (which you use to return to your incomplete application) does not work. So, if, for some reason, you can't complete your application form, you'll need to start the process from the very start.
Furthermore, your session may expire if you aren't actively entering information. And when your session expires, you won't be able to use your application ID to return to your application. Meaning you'll need to fill in your information from the start.
I recommend you have all the required information when filling out your application form. You'll need to complete the application form in one sitting if you wish to avoid any frustrations.
Next, I'll guide you through the entire application form.
As I previously mentioned, you'll need to head over to the official website and start your visa application from there. The application process does take a little while to complete. Therefore, I recommend you try and complete the application form in one sitting.
Quick note: It is recommended that US citizens apply for a 3-year multiple-entry visa. To do this, you need to select a multiple entry visa and select a date of entry (when you plan to arrive in Russia) and an exit date that equals an amount of 36 months.
The application form will ask for the following information:
Visa Details: This includes the type of visa you'll be applying for, entry dates, and exit dates. Remember, US citizens can apply for a 3-year multiple entry visa.
Personal Details: This includes your personal details like your name(s), surname, place of birth, date of birth, etc.
Passport Details: You'll need to enter all your passport details, such as your passport number, expiration date, place of issue, and so on. Ensure that information you provide here is the same as the information on your passport.
Visit Details: Here, you'll need to enter some details regarding your trip to Russia. This includes the cities you'll be visiting, who will pay for the trip, your accommodation details, if you have medical insurance, etc. Also, you'll need to include the information found on your Russian invitation letter (Name of organization, address, confirmation number, and reference number)
Additional Information: You're required to answer a few questions. These questions should be answered truthfully. They include questions regarding your criminal history, visa history, and personal history.
Education and Work Experience: Here, you'll need to enter your employment status and all the details that come with it.
Last Visit Details: You'll need to answer a few questions about your previous travels. Additionally, you must include a complete list of countries you've visited in the past 10 years.
Miscellaneous Information: For miscellaneous information, you'll need to enter your mother and father's personal details, such as their names, surnames, and address.
Appointment details: Finally, you'll need to select the Russian Embassy where you plan to apply at. In my case, I selected the Russian Visa Centre (New York). Note that when you schedule your visa appointment, you'll need to schedule it at the Russian Embassy you've selected on the application form.
After completing the application, you can save and print it. You'll need to submit it with your other supporting documents during your appointment. Or mail it to the appropriate Russian Embassy you've selected.
Quick tip: I recommend you start booking your planned tours before starting the application process. While you fill out the application form, you'll be asked where you plan to stay in Russia. Here, you can just fill in your pre-booked accommodation details.
Once you've gathered all the required documents, you can head over to your selected Russian Embassy (that you selected in your online application) and submit your documents in person. Remember to bring along your proof of payment.
When you submit your documents, the office hours are as follow:
Monday - Between 9:00 AM and 9:30 PM
Wednesday - Between 9:00 AM and 9:30 PM
Friday - Between 9:00 AM and 9:30 PM
Finally, you'll need to wait for feedback from the Russian Embassy. You can expect to wait around 8 - 20 business days. Once you receive favorable feedback. You can travel back to the Embassy and collect your new Russian Tourist Visa.
To collect your visa, you'll need to head back to the Russian Embassy:
Monday - 2:00 PM
Wednesday- 2:00 PM
Friday - 2:00 PM
To submit your Russian Tourist Visa application via post, you'll need to fill out your application form and gather all your required documents (see steps 1 and 2 above). After you've done this, you can make the necessary payments. You'll also need to request the appropriate shipping labels. This is automatically done if you apply for your visa through Atlys.
Once you have all your documents and the shipping labels, you'll need to mail your documents to the selected Russian Embassy.
Currently, there are four consulates in the US:
Quick note: You must ship your documents to the appropriate Embassy/Consular office you selected during the online application form.
Your letter must include the following details:
After you've completed the mailing process, you'll need to wait for your visa application to be processed. This can take between 3 - 4 weeks. So I recommend you start your visa application well ahead of time.
In a world constrained by a global pandemic, many countries have implemented specific travel restrictions and COVID-19 regulations to ensure the safety of travelers and locals. However, an overlooked restriction is the process of submitting your required visa documents at the respective Embassy.
In the past, you could schedule an appointment to submit your documents. Nowadays, Embassies require you to submit your documents via mail. For this, you'll need to obtain the correct shipping label.
A shipping label, also known as a package label, is a sticker attached to your package that defines vital information to your carrier. Your carrier has the important task of delivering your package safely to its final destination. Without the correct shipping label, your package might not reach its intended destination.
When shipping your required documents for a visa application, your shipping label must contain the correct information. I'll guide you through what you need to know about your shipping label.
Your shipping label will typically include the following information:
1. Sender's name and address, or return address. This will usually be your name and address. In case your package is not delivered, it will be sent back to you.
2. The recipient's name and address. Your package will be delivered to this address. You must enter the correct address before sending your parcel. An incorrect address could lead to some undesired complications.
3. The total weight of the package (includes both the shipped item and the box/packaging).
4. Unidirectional Code, often known as Maxicode, is a type of code that a machine can read.
5. The recipient's scannable zip code is represented by a postal barcode or IMpb code.
6. The shipping method, such as Standard, Express, Priority, and so on.
7. The routing number tells sorting where to send your parcel.
8. Finally, you can use your tracking number to track your package in the shipping process.
To ensure that your shipping label is correct and contains all the correct information, I have 2 recommendations.
1. Use Atlys
With Atlys, not only will you be able to easily apply for your next visa, but you don't need to worry about obtaining your shipping labels. Atlys does this for you. All you need to do is get your documents and ship them.
2. Create your shipping labels through a Carrier
Carriers specialize in shipping labels. So, another great option would be to get your shipping label through companies that use them the most. Unfortunately, I will not give you a complete how-to guide, but I will list some popular carrier options and explain the basics.
Carrier options you can use:
Basically, when using one of these carriers, you'll have the option to create your shipping label. Each website has a friendly and easy guide (or simple instructions) that you can follow when making your new shipping label. All you need to do is enter the correct information. Typically, the carrier will send your new shipping label to you via email, and you'll need to go and print it out at their respective shops.
For example, when creating your shipping label through FedEx, you'll receive an email with your complete label. You're then required to travel to your nearest FedEx drop-off store to print your shipping label. After printing your label, you'll be able to stick it to your package and send it.
Now that you have your new visa, you can travel to Russia within the validity date of your visa. However, once you arrive in Russia, there are still a few things you need to do:
1. Get the immigration card.
The border police will offer you an immigration card when you arrive at the Russian port of entry. The card is divided into two parts. Each part must be filled in with your personal information. One part of the immigration card is kept by the border police, while the other is yours.
2. Register your visa.
If you intend to stay in Russia for more than seven days, your visa must be registered. If you stay in a hotel, hotel staff will register your visa. If you're staying in a private home, it's up to your host/property owner to take care of it. For the registration, they will need a copy of your passport, visa, and immigration card.
As I previously mentioned, the Russian invitation letter, also known as a voucher, is an official invitation document from a host (like a travel agency or hotel) situated in Russia. Unlike a travel itinerary that proves the purpose of your trip, the invitation letter is proof that you've been invited to Russia. Therefore, you won't be able to provide a flight/hotel itinerary as an invitation letter. You'll notice that the invitation letter is a mandatory document required for your Russian Tourist Visa.
So, how do you get one? I'll talk about this next.
Getting an invitation letter was tricky when I first applied for my Russian Tourist Visa. Luckily after some research, I have found a few ways to get your Russian invitation letter.
Your invitation letter will most likely be in Russian. But don't worry, all the required information you need can be easily found within the letter (in English). Understand that not all invitation letters look the same. However, they do share similar content and format. I'll add the invitation letter I used for my visa application:
While filling out the Russian Tourist Visa application form, you'll be asked to provide details regarding your Russian invitation letter. All the information can be found in your letter. Next, I'll list what information you need from the invitation letter:
Quick tip: If you're completing your online application form yourself, I recommend contacting the tour organization (that provided you the letter) to help you find the correct information. While I was doing this, I had a really hard time finding all the required information.
For more information about the Russian invitation letter, read our dedicated guide.
For the Russian Tourist Visa, the amount payable is the same for each type of Russian Tourist Visa (single/double/multiple entries).
When I applied for my Russian Tourist Visa, I had to pay $198 for the consular fee and $120 for the processing fee.
Keep in mind that this amount is subject to change.
For example, you may pay slightly more if you apply through a third-party service or application center. Also, these amounts indicate the processing fee and consular fee for your visa. It does not include other costs like shipping labels and so on.
After this post, you should have a good idea of how you can apply for a Russian Tourist Visa as a US citizen. This is how I applied for my Russian Tourist Visa (not my husband's). However, the application process did take a while, and during the process, there were a few things I was uncertain of.
After I had applied for my visa, I had to secretly apply for my husband's visa. This proved to be a little more difficult, and honestly, I didn't want to go through that entire process again.
While applying through Atlys, I was relieved that the application took me less than 10 minutes. What is more, I didn't have to go through the entire process of scheduling an appointment online. Within the app, you can schedule an appointment within a second.
So, in the end, all I had to do was drag my husband to his visa appointment and surprise him there!
That is why I recommend applying for your Russian Tourist Visas through a trusted company like Atlys. Not only will this reduce the time it takes to apply, but it will also reduce the stress that comes with applying for a Russian Tourist Visa.
As for our trip to Russia, I am happy to say that it was one of our best trips ever. My husband and I enjoyed every moment of it and plan to travel back to Russia in the future.
For a single entry visa - 8 to 20 business days
For a double-entry visa - 8 to 20 business days
For a multiple entry visa - 8 to 20 business days
Keep in mind that the processing time may be delayed under certain circumstances. These circumstances can include:
Visa policy changes
A sudden demand in Russian Tourist Visas
When the website of the application is being updated or renewed
An unexpected global pandemic like COVID-19
The entries field indicates how many times you're allowed to enter Russia. For example, on your new visa, the number of entries permitted will look like this:
Однократная — Single entry
Двукратная — Double-entry
Многократная — Multiple entry
No, unless you have residency in the US, foreign citizens/foreign nationals need to apply for a Russian Tourist Visa in their home country.
An invitation or introductory letter to Russia, or Tourist voucher (sometimes also called visa support ‒ suspiciously unofficial sounding) is a document in which a person, who is currently residing in Russia, invites you to visit them. The purpose of this visit could be for any host of reasons, but the reason for the invite will affect the type of visa to be issued. For instance, someone invited by a tour operator to take part in a Trans Siberian Railway journey would qualify for a tourist visa, and not a business visa. If however, the company inviting the individual invites them to look into ways of expanding the market for people going on a Trans Siberian Railway tour, they can be issued a business Visa. The terms “Russian tourist voucher,” “Introductory letter,” and “visa support” are used interchangeably by Russian visa agents and government websites when referring to the invitation letter and cause a great deal of confusion among potential travelers. This is a mandatory document needed to apply for a visa to Russia and it should not be confused with a hotel reservation or travel itinerary. For more information on the chameleon-like invitation/introductory letter, read our guide.
Travel insurance is not compulsory when traveling to Russia, nor do you need it to finalize your visa application. Medical insurance, on the other hand, very much is. The total that each traveler must be insured for is $42000. The medical insurance should be valid throughout the entire territory that will be traveled, as well as for the entire period of the trip, ie. as long as the visa that has been issued is valid. It is worth noting that as an administrative quirk, some consulates might require the original health insurance documents, while for others a copy will suffice. Check with the consulate where you are submitting your documents to ensure everything goes smoothly.
Check out the Atlys COVID-19 Explorer.
It largely depends on how you will be transiting through Russia. If you are transiting to another country, either by car or Train, then yes, you’ll need a Transit visa. If you are in transit at an airport, waiting for an onward flight without leaving the airport, you do not need a transit visa. If, however, you want to leave the airport, you’ll need a visa that corresponds with the reason for you leaving the airport. If, for instance, you want to spend a day or two sightseeing in Moscow, while waiting for a connecting flight, you’ll need a Russian tourist visa. If you are having a business meeting a business visa will be needed.
The type of visa applied for will influence the length of the application period. The minimum processing time for a Tourist visa for Russia is 10 working days, and this is the standard for most of the visas for Russia. However, if you are applying for a private visa, the process will take significantly longer because the friend or family member applying for you in Russia will need to apply at their local Federal Migration Service Office. As a rule, your visas should be applied for and granted well before traveling to a country. Trust us, there’s nothing worse than counting down the days to your departure while waiting for that email or text that your travel documents are ready.