Visas

Russia Visa Guide

By
Scott's Cheap Flights
|
SCF Team
November 20, 2020
|
6 min read
Getting a Russia visa isn’t necessarily hard, but it definitely requires advance preparation—and patience.

Note that this guide does not take into account any additional, temporary requirements in place during the Covid pandemic. For the most up-to-date Covid requirements, visit the Russia embassy website

  • Visa needed for US citizens: Yes
  • Visa types for US citizens: Single-entry, double-entry, or multiple-entry tourist visa or transit visa
  • Visa application: Completed online and submitted in person or by proxy via mail 
  • Visa issued: By mail 
  • Cost: $160 
  • Timing: At least 3-10 business days in advance* 
  • Length of validity: 30 days for single-entry tourist visa, three years for double-entry or multiple-entry tourist visa, 3-10 days for transit visa
  • Max length of stay: 30 days for single-entry tourist visa, 6 months for double-entry or multiple-entry tourist visa, 3-10 days for transit visa

* While the official Russia Visa Centre website lists processing times as “10 business days minimum” for normal applications and “3 business days minimum” for rush processing, some report that it can take significantly longer. Applications can be submitted up to 90 days before your trip.

Who Needs a Visa to Visit Russia?

Nearly every US citizen who crosses a border into Russia needs to have a visa beforehand. Most travelers need a Tourist Visa, although if you’re taking a cruise that has a Russian port of call, you may not need a visa at all. If you’re traveling through Russia to reach your final destination, you may need a Transit Visa.

Note that you’ll need to show your visa when you’re departing from Russia, as well, and there are strict penalties if you overstay the visa’s validity—even by one day.

What Types of Tourist Visas are Available for US Citizens? 

Tourist Visa: Tourist visas are available as single-entry, double-entry, or 3-year multiple-entry. Single- and double-entry visas are valid for stays of up to 30 days. The embassy recommends that US citizens get the 3-year multiple-entry visa, which allows visitors to stay longer than 30 days.

Transit Visa: US citizens are required to get a Transit Visa when traveling through Russia to another country if they are staying in Russia for more than 24 hours or they must transfer from one Russian airport to another to catch the onward flight. These are valid for up to 10 days if traveling by train or car and up to three days when flying.

Note: If you’re traveling to Russia on a cruise, you may not need a visa at all. Cruise passengers are allowed to visit ports in Russia—including shore excursions, provided they’re with a licensed tour operator—for up to 72 hours without a visa. If you intend to skip the shore excursion and do some DIY sightseeing, you’ll need to get a Tourist Visa.

How to Apply for a Russian Visa 

Required Documents and Information

For a Tourist Visa, you’ll need: 

  • US passport (must be valid for at least six months after expiration date of visa)
  • Visa application form (completed in a PDF; must be printed when finished)
  • Passport-size photograph (3.5cm x 4.5cm, or 2” square; see photo specifications for more detail)
  • Cash (US dollars), credit/debit card, or money order for fees
  • Visa invitation, usually issued by Russian hotels and/or tour companies (must include specific information like the traveler’s name and passport number as well as certifying information from the hotel or company issuing the invitation; see details here)

Note that the embassy may ask for additional documents before they can process your visa application, including current bank statements, proof of medical insurance, income statements from employers, proof of property ownership in the United States, and even documentation about the “makeup of the applicant’s family.”

For a Transit Visa, you’ll need:

  • US passport with at least two blank visa pages (must be valid for at least six months after expiration date of visa)
  • Visa application form (completed in a PDF; must be printed when finished)
  • Passport-size photograph (3.5cm x 4.5cm, or 2” square; see photo specifications for more detail)
  • Cash (US dollars), credit/debit card, or money order for fees
  • Visa for the country to which you’re traveling after leaving Russia (if required)
  • Transit (air or train) tickets for the entire itinerary

Cost

Timing

  • Tourist and Transit Visa: While the official Russia Visa Centre website lists processing times as “10 business days minimum” for normal applications and “3 business days minimum” for rush processing of both Tourist Visas and Transit Visas, some report that it can take significantly longer. Applications can be submitted up to 90 days before your trip.

Process of Applying for a Russia Visa

Because visas to visit Russia must be submitted and retrieved in person, many travelers are willing to pay a little extra to have someone else do the work on their behalf. 

You can either nominate another person to submit and pick up your application/visa (that person must have legal documentation that says you’ve appointed them to do this), or go through a third-party visa agency. 

You’ll pay more if you use an agency, but given how confusing the process can be (and how it can change without warning) it might be worth it.

Application steps for Tourist and Transit Visas:

  1. Go to the official website to complete the electronic application form. Note that while you’ll fill in the application on the computer in a PDF, you’ll need to print the completed form in order to submit it. There is no online application process. If you must exit the application and return to complete it later—or if the process takes so long that the session times out—be sure to note the number at the top of the application form so you don’t have to start over. There’s an option to “Save Draft” as you work through the application.
  2. Print the completed application form
  3. Affix (with glue) the required photograph
  4. Include a copy of the visa invitation received from your hotel or tour operator in Russia (for a Tourist Visa) or proof of onward travel (for a Transit Visa)
  5. Submit your complete application in person to the one of the Russia Visa Centres (Washington DC, New York City, Houston, San Francisco, or Seattle). You’ll know your application has been entered into the system when you get a receipt for the fees you paid
  6. Check in after the stated processing time to find out if your visa has been approved. Keep the receipt you got when you submitted the application—you’ll need it to retrieve your passport with the visa. Contact information for the Visa Processing Centres in the United States is here
Last Updated 
November 20, 2020
Russia Visa Guide
Scott's Cheap Flights
SCF Team

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