There’s a few reasons why there aren’t too many tourists to Russia;
1) The stigma that its a miserable country (which is not true – they’re lovely!)
2) The price of everything (which actually isn’t as bad as you think!)
3) The incredibly confusing and expensive VISA process!
It may seem like a bit of a endless saga trying to work out what to do, how much it’s all going to cost and what’s required to qualify – but don’t panic!
Although it does seem complicated, getting a Russian VISA isn’t as hard as it seems if you just break it down into small pieces and tick each one off on your list.
Note: This is a guide for UK citizens applying for a Russian VISA, it may be similar for your country but you should always check requirements, fees and the process for your own country before applying.
Before you apply
- Book your flights: the Russian VISA process is really strict on knowing your exact dates of travel and locations while you’re going to stay there so make sure you’ve booked and know your entry and exit dates.
- Book your hotels: This is also a requirement and the VISA form will have a list of hotels per city for you to select from. Although you could probably get away with selecting one and changing it, I wouldn’t risk it! Each city has different tourist fees depending on how long you stay so make sure you research.
- Check you passport: Make sure there are 2 blank pages in your passport for your VISA and it is in date for when you travel there.
- Check the fees: There are different fees and prices depending on what service you are applying for. I went with the normal service and it cost around £143! (yeah, i know)
Applying for your VISA
Pick a company to handle documents, invitations and tourist fees for you: choosing a company to handle your VISA forms and documents may be an easier option for you and will save you time! I chose Real Russia, as I read a lot of reviews which said they were a reliable service. I can now vouch for that, they were brilliant! They kept me up to date every step of the way. You will pay a slight premium, but it’s worth it to ensure you get through that border!
Do it yourself: You can go through the process of applying for a VISA on your own and it can be slightly cheaper. Check here for more details.
Documents you will need to send off to your company:
- VISA application form: This will require your usual details but it will also require your current occupation, previous occupations, parents full names and their occupations and all the countries you’ve travelled to in the last 10 years. You will then need to print this off and sign where appropriate.
- TIP: I know you’re thinking how can I possibly remember every country I’ve visited in the last decade?! Don’t worry, you only need to include ones you have stamps/VISAs for in your form. If you do not include these countries, you will incur a fine per stamp which isn’t accounted for! So make sure you check. It will also ask you for exact dates of day, month and year (Again don’t worry – these should also be on your stamps)
- Passport: You will need this for your VISA to be beautifully presented on a page.
- Passport Photo(s): You will need to send off 2 regular passport photos for your VISA. These can be taken at any PhotoBooth just make sure that you pay for UK standard passport size.
Arranging a Bio Metrics Appointment
After your VISA application has been received, your company will contact to book an appointment at the Russian Embassy in London or Edinburgh for a Bio-metrics appointment. Sounds scary but this is a pain free process to scan your fingerprints! This is a legal requirement and unfortunately, you cannot get around it. You could arrange for a private appointment at your home but it would cost A LOT of money.
Bookings can be made via your chosen VISA service company or you can contact them directly here.
The Embassy is only open Monday, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays (closed Wednesdays) from 8.45am-3pm so make sure you book an appointment around this!
Giving your Bio Metrics
Before you arrive, make sure you have you VISA documents with you to sign. If you have applied through Real Russia or a VISA company, a courier will meet you outside the embassy at your chosen time to provide you with them.
When you get to the inside the Russian Embassy in London you will be asked to go through security and be given a ticket (kind of like being at Argos!). When your number is called you will be asked to the desk and then your assistant will check through all your documents.
You will then be asked to place your four fingers from each hand on the scanner and both of your thumbs. When they have been scanned, your documents will be stamped and – that’s it! You now have the rest of the day to explore if you wish. The whole process took us around 15 minutes, a long trip to London for a short visit! Just keep thinking of that Red Square at sunset…
After your Bio-Metrics
After you have given your fingerprints, all that is left is for the Embassy to send the documents back to Real Russia or your VISA service provider.
Depending what service you picked you will receive them via Royal Mail Special delivery around a week later. These will be signed for, so make sure someone is home to collect!
Your new Russian VISA
Your VISA will appear in your passport as one full page. Make sure you check your details such as name and passport number and most importantly your entry and exit dates to ensure you a smooth process through border control.
Note: They may add a little extra days onto your exit date incase of emergencies. But always check that this was intentional, better to be safe than sorry!
It may seem like it’s overwhelming, but honestly the process isn’t as bad as you think. Furthermore, if you hire a company like Real Russia, you’re in safe hands and most of the hard work is done for you! (I don’t work for the company, I just really rate their service)
I also booked my Sapsan tickets through them to travel between Moscow and St. Petersburg (in a record 4 hours) and you can find out how to do this here.
Sure, you have to go to London and shell out some extra money but all that VISA process will totally be worth it when you can set your eyes on THIS…
…And the list goes on! Russia is so beautiful and worth it’s weight in VISA fee gold! Don’t think of the price, think of the experiences.