Russia is an amazing country, but before you can enjoy its myriad of sights, you’ll need to get your hands on a visa.
Getting a Russian tourist visa used to be a traditional bureaucratic nightmare, with a ridiculous amount of paperwork and lots of frustration. Today, thanks to visa support letters and the power of the internet, things are a lot better.
Still, the process can seem a little daunting, with having to avoid the hassle, extra fees, and few remaining bureaucratic pitfalls.
With this in mind I’ve put together this step-by-step guide. There are plenty of how-to articles, so I wanted to stand out by providing clear instructions. In this article, I will show you the cheapest and easiest way to get a Russian visa for British citizens.
My goal is to cover most visa situations that UK citizens applying for a Russian tourist visa find themselves in, including those who travel solo and those who want to visit Russia through a tourist agency. While this guide is written specifically for British citizens, most of the steps are the same for all European countries and the USA. The only difference is that, if you are not from the United Kingdom, you’ll need to figure out the locations and working times of the Russian Consulates and Visa Centres in your country.
For people with a British passport, visiting Russia for work, study or pleasure is easy. You can get your visa support invitation, gather all the required documents and apply for your Russian travel visa directly from your computer or even a smartphone.
Read on to find out the easiest and cheapest ways to obtain your Russian visa!
What is a Russian Tourist Visa?
So, what exactly is a Russian visa? Simply put, it’s an official document that allows you to enter and stay in Russia. All visitors need to obtain a visa in order to be able to visit Russia. Your visa will register all sorts of official information, including:
- Information about when you enter and leave Russia;
- How many times you are allowed to enter Russia;
- The purpose of your stay;
- Your passport and personal details;
- Information about your visa sponsor, also known as a host organisation or host party;
Do I need a Visa for Russia from UK?
Indeed you do!
Even though Russia and the Great Britain are now closer than ever, British citizens still need a visa to visit Russia from UK. Actually, Russia requires visas for visitors from most countries.
The The only non-Russians who can enter freely are people from countries that have some sort of bilateral agreement with Russia. For example, people from former USSR countries can visit the Russian Federation with their regular passport. Examples of these countries are Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, and other CSI members.
Russia might also allow visitors from other countries to enter visa-free, but you’ll need to contact the official government department for your country in order to check if that applies to you.
The Different Types of Russian Visas
There are several different types of Russian visas:
- E-visa to Russia: Russia is trying to attract more tourists, hence why they’ve introduced electronic visas. It’s the easiest to obtain and is also free. Currently British citizens are not eligible for this type of visa. This may change in the future.
- Tourist visa:These are only valid for 30 days. They’re the simplest option for UK citizens, and also the cheapest. Apply for a tourist visa if you plan on visiting for leisure, sightseeing, hiking or any other typical touristic activities.
- Business visa: These visas last for up to 3 years and give you more freedom to travel across this amazing country. They are more expensive and also take more time to process. I wrote a comprehensive article on how to get a Russian business visa step-by-step, check it out if it applies to you!
- Work visa:You will have to obtain this type of visa in order to work in Russia.
- Private visa: These allow you to visit relatives and stay for up to 3 months. They are hard to obtain and require a lot of paperwork, both from you and your host.
- Humanitarian visa: Humanitarian organisations issue humanitarian visas for a range of cultural, charitable or religious reasons.
- Student visa:Student visas are issued to people studying in Russia.
- Transit visa:You will only need this type of visa if you have to pass through Russia on your way to another country.
Why do You Need a Tourist Invitation (Voucher)?
The visa application starts with an invitation. It’s the first document you will need for your visa application.
If you’re travelling to Russia for business, you’ll need an invitation from a Russian company in order to be issued a business visa. For work visas, you’ll need an invitation from the specific company you’ll be working for. Students must be invited by the university they will be studying at.
You can obtain a visa invitation in several different ways, including visa invitation services provided by tour agencies.
When ordering a tourist visa invitation, make sure you read the fine print, as many tourist agencies will try to pigeonhole you into specific itineraries in order to give you an invitation letter.
What do You Need in order to Apply for a Russian Tourist Visa?
To get your hands on a Russian visa, you need to complete the visa application. This used to be done through the Russian Embassy’s Website.
However, as demand has skyrocketed in the last few years, causing the Russian Embassy to outsource all visa application processes to M/S VF Services (UK) Ltd. This private company runs the new Russian Visa Center Application Website.
Thanks to this new service, you no longer need an appointment and you avoid all queues. This saves A LOT of time!
Where to Apply for a Russian Visa?
So, you can now process your application through the Visa Center Website from the comfort of your home, although you will also need to pay a visit to the Russian Visa Application Centre in London for a quick biometric scan.
Address: 15-27 Gee St, London EC1V 3RD, UK
Phone: +44 905 889 0149
Since 10 December 2014, UK citizens are required to go to the visa application center to get their fingerprints, also known as“biometric data”, collected.
Thankfully, you don’t have to make a prior appointment. Just pay them a visit to the above address to get your fingers inked. The process is quick and easy. You’ll also find photo booths and printing facilities here, should you need them.
Russian Visa Requirements
First, you need to obtain the invitation for a visa to Russia from whoever is inviting you there. Once you have this, you need to prepare a number of documents. These include:
UK Travel Passport
Your UK passport should be valid for at least 6 months after the date your Russian visa expires. Moreover, your passport must have been active for at least a year and a half. So, if you’re planning on visiting Russia, you need a mature passport, but one that’s not close to expiring!
You will need two 35mm x 45mm photos, one of which will go on your visa. Follow all the usual considerations when taking the photo.
- Head in the center
- Looking straight ahead
- No accessories or jewelry
- Plain background
- No hair obstructing your face
Read this article to find out more about the Russian visa photo requirements.
Visa Support Documents
Also known as a letter of invitation, tourist voucher or simply invitation to Russia. Depending on the visa type, you will need to provide the consulate with the appropriate support documents. For example, you must confirm your hotel reservation in order to be issued a tourist visa.
For a business visa, you must present documents proving your business with the Russian company that invited you. This is usually a written statement that includes the full business information of the host organisation, as well as the details of the person who wrote the invitation.
Russian Visa Application Form
In order to get a Russian visa in the UK, you must fill the online application and then print it from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. During the application process, you’ll be asked to write the information listed in your visa invitation, so make sure you have this to hand before starting.
Read this guide to find out more about the visa application process.
When to Apply?
Gathering all the required documents and then applying for a visa will take time, so it’s best to start early. Begin the process at least a month in advance in order to get your visa ready on time. If you have a valid passport and all the necessary copies of your documents, you might be able to complete the whole process in about a week, or even a couple of days, if you opt for an expedited visa application.
What is the price of a Russian visa?
Thankfully, not as much as it used to! To get your visa, you will need to pay three different fees:
- The Visa Support Invitation Letter: This is the first document you need to obtain, and it’s also the cheapest. A tourist visa invitation costs around £16-£20 and a business visa invitation price starts from £30. Services like Russia Support offer a price guarantee to ensure you’re getting the lowest price.
- Visa Processing Fee:This is also known as consular taxes and will set you back £70 for a normal visa application, or £141 for an expedited visa.
- Service Charge:You will also have to pay a service charge according to the type of visa you’re applying for. Regular Visa applications incur charges of £38.40 and take 5 working days to complete, and expedited applications incur charges of £45.60, but are processed within one working day.
Multi-Entry visas are somewhat more expensive and if you wish to have your passport returned to you via courier to your specified address by the Russian Embassy, you will have to pay an additional £9.80.
Before diving into the guide for getting the visa independently, I want to mention an online service that can do everything for you. If you don’t have time to apply for the visa yourself and don’t mind spending a bit more to save some time, Viselio is exactly what you need. You can apply for your visa online, send them the necessary documents and they will do the rest for you.
Important!I recommend getting an invitation to Russia from third-party agencies, as you can get it cheaper compared to Viselio. Keep reading for some good examples of agencies with good prices.
How does it work?
- You fill in all the data required for the application form. The process doesn’t take much time, it’s simple and secure.
- You receive an e-mail with all the required documents for your visa
- You ship the necessary documents to Viselio and they get the visa for you
- You receive the visa at your home address
How to apply?
You can start the process by clicking here.
- Choose your country of citizenship
- Choose Russian Federation as the destination country
- For a tourist visa, choose “Holiday” as the purpose of your trip
- Introduce your data in the application form
Applying for a Russian Visa in the UK: Step-By-Step Instructions
So, now that you have an idea about the whole process, it’s time to dive into the specific steps for getting your Russian Visa.
I’ll share my experience in as much detail as possible below. If you already have some experience with visas, you might be able to get yours just with the information I have written above. However, there are still lots of tips and information you might find useful if you keep reading.
1. Have a Valid Passport
As I said before, your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after your visa expires. Moreover, your passport must be active for at least 18 months. Otherwise, your visa application will be declined.
Remember that your Russian visa is an add-on document that you must stick inside your passport so you will need a minimum of 2 blank pages that face each other. Otherwise, your passport won’t be able to accommodate your new visa!
2. Plan Your Itinerary
So, what will you do with your Russian visa?
You will need to include the date of the first and last day of your stay. These dates are defined as the dates of your trip. That’s why you need to plan your itinerary in advance before applying for your visa.
Even though you have to specify entry and exit dates, you don’t have to complete the purchase of your tickets before your visa is approved. You can book your dates through any travel agency or airline.
However, if you apply for a visa before you buy or at least book your tickets, you might have to pay extra to find tickets for the exact days you’ve listed in your visa. Moreover, you might not find tickets for the exact dates, and this might mean you have to cancel your trip to Russia!
Generally speaking, the earlier you book your tickets, the cheaper they’ll be. That said, there’s always a slim chance that your visa will be declined and you’ll be stuck with tickets you can’t use! Don’t panic though – visa denials are exceedingly rare if your passport is in order.
You may also opt for a visa that covers a longer period of time than your travel. If you include days before your actual visit, you can save yourself some hassle when it comes to booking tickets. Just make sure your entry and exit dates are covered!
Once you’ve booked or pre-booked your flights, it’s time to plan out your itinerary in more detail. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Which cities will you be visiting?
- Where will you be staying?
- How will you travel from one place to another?
You must include the cities you will be visiting. You must also note if you will be making multiple entries into Russia during the duration of your visa. For example, if you want to hop over to a neighbouring country like China, you must include it in your itinerary.
To find accommodation, check online and try different sources. Some hotels offer lower prices through certain platforms like Tripadvisor, Booking.com or Ostrovok (Russian-focused). Others will give you the best price only if you book directly from their site.
Your Russian trip itinerary can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be. You can go for an urban adventure in Moscow, or climb onboard the Trans-Siberian, lie back and enjoy the sights.
3. Obtain a Letter of Invitation via Russian Visa Support
As I mentioned earlier, you need an invitation before you can start your visa application process. Your invitation can come from a variety of sources. You can do it yourself, through an agent, or through your hotel.
Keep in mind that even if you get your invitation from a hotel, you can stay in a different hotel or apartment once you arrive. Contrary to what many agents claim, your support letter does not bind you to accommodation when you arrive, as long as you’re staying in the same city.
For me, the easiest and cheapest way is through services likeRussia Support. You don’t even need a hotel reservation to get the visa support invitation. You just need a Russian citizen, business, hotel or organisation ‘invite’ you.
Your Visa Support Document
Any of the hotels you’ll be staying at, or services like Russia Support, will issue you the visa support invitation. The invitation consists of two parts, both printed on a single A4 page:
- The Tourist Voucher: This includes your personal information, your itinerary and the hotel services you have paid for.
- The Confirmation Letter: Includes personal info but also details about the hotel you will be visiting. You will need to fill in the name of the inviting organisation, their address, the reference number, and a confirmation number.
Here is a screenshot of an actual visa support letter for a tourist visa:
Getting your Letter of Invitation
If you don’t have a relative or an institution to invite you, you can either get your visa invitation from any of the hotels you will be staying at or through an agency like Russia Support or iVisa.
Hotels usually charge significantly more than the services mentioned, and they also usually take longer to deliver the invitation to you.
My suggestion is to order an invitation directly on this site from our partner agency Russia Support and just book your itinerary from a hotel. It’s faster, cheaper and easier.
Moreover, if you get your invitation through those agencies, you can change hotels without having to get a new invitation. To get a visa, you only need to include the cities you will be staying in your itinerary. You don’t have to have a hotel reservation!
So, I’ve mentioned Russia Support already. Let me introduce you to this service, so you can see yourself how easy it is. This is one of the best invitation providers that I’ve personally used, so I can recommend them as trustworthy. There is another good service below which I would also recommend; both services cost less than £20 and guarantee top-tier quality.
* Both of these services were hand-picked and used many times by me, my friends and family. I receive a small income if you order the invitation using my affiliate links. These profits allow me to continue providing independent, top-quality content, guides and interesting facts for people interested in visiting Russia.
Russia Support guarantees the lowest price for an invitation at just £16. Their service is super-easy to use and the form is intuitive and user-friendly.
Through Russia Support, you can get your invitation letter in a ready-to-print form via your e-mail. You can just grab the visa invitation from there and combine it with your other documents during the application.
Provided all your information is in order, they will send you a letter of invitation within minutes of applying, though it can take a bit longer during peak hours.
Russia Support processes more than a hundred visas daily (132 per day last time I checked) and you can trust them.
Let’s take a look at each of the application steps below:
1. Visa Information
2. Confirmation Page
3. Payment Method
Select a payment method and then fill in your card/Paypal Details.
4. Get Your Invitation
And BOOM! After a few minutes, you get an invitation that looks like this one:
You now have to enter the information from the invitation into your visa application. The important things you’ll need for your visa application are:
- Name of the host organisation
- Address of host organisation
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs reference number
- The voucher and Confirmation number
iVisa is my other favourite invitation letter service. The system is fast and foolproof. One of the best things about this invitation provider is that, after submitting your information on the application page, you will receive both the invitation and the payment information to your e-mail. If you feel unsure about other invitation providers, go with iVisa, because you will receive the invitation BEFORE making the payment. However, don’t try to get away without paying – iVisa will contact the Russian Consulates and your invitation will not be valid anymore!
At £17, the price is a bit higher compared to Russia Support at the time of writing this article.
As with Russia Support, let’s view each of the steps below:
1. Personal Information
Enter your name and e-mail to receive the invitation and payment information.
In the Client’s Information part, enter your personal data. This is necessary for obtaining the invitation.
2. Travel Information
In the travel information, choose the dates of your entry and exit from the Russian Federation. Check the number of entries you are going to make, whether it’s going to be just one entry, two entries or more than two. For a normal tourism trip to Russia, choose “Tourism” in the “Purpose of visit” field.
Next, you’ll have to indicate your travel route, indicate every city you are going to stay in, complete with the hotel and its address. If you are going to stay in more than one city and/or hotel, click on the “+” sign to add more rows.
3. Receive Your Invitation
You’ll usually receive your email with invitation letter and payment request form within an hour.
As with Russia Support, you just need to enter the information detailed in your invitation into your visa application (more about this below). The important bits of info are:
- Name of the host organisation
- Address of host organisation
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs reference number
- The voucher and Confirmation number
4. How to Fill In Your Visa Application Form
Before continuing, make sure you have all the information and documents I mentioned earlier. To recap, this information includes:
- Itinerary dates
- Letter of invitation
- Purpose of visit
- Insurance policy information
With the above to hand, you can visit this page to start filling your visa application form digitally.
A. The Main Page
To get started, select your country and the language. Read all the relevant info very carefully!
You can’t pause the application process for more than 20 minutes, or it will reset and you will have to do it all over again. You may want to save your application as a draft to avoid this.
Next, click “Complete new application form” to continue.
B. User Account and Electronic Visa Application Form ID Pages
This will take you to a page where you get your electronic visa application form ID. It is very important to write this number down!
With your code, you can return here to continue your application if you are missing any documents or relevant information. You will need the code to log into the Ministry’s system and complete your application.
So, pick a password, write down your visa application form ID number, and click “Next”.
C. Visa Details
This will take you to the Visa details page. Here you will need to fill in a number of boxes, including:
- If you had USSR or Russian nationality in the past
- Purpose of your visit
- Visa category and type
- Number of entries
- Date of entry
- Date of exit
If you’ve followed the guide up to now, you’ll have all that information readily available. Fill in the boxes and click the “Next” button.
D. Personal Details
Next, after the Visa details page, we have the Personal details page. Here you will have to type down your personal information as it appears on your passport:
- First name, middle name, and patronymic names
- If you ever had any other names, including maiden names, pseudonyms or holy order names
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- If you were born in Russia
- Your marital status
E. Passport Details
Next, we have the Passport Details page. Here, you’ll have to fill in the following:
- Type of passport
- Passport number
- Date of issue
- Date of expiry
- The name of the authority that issued your passport (Almost always the United Kingdom Identity Passport Service IPS)
F. Visit Details
Next, we have the Visit Details page. Lots of stuff to fill in here, but you’ll hopefully have all of the information to hand already from your itinerary details and your visa support invitation. Specifically, you need:
- Travel company
- Name of organisation
- Reference number
- Confirmation number
The good news is that you only need to jot down the visa support info for the first location you will visit, even if you have multiple visa support documents.
Next, if you have travel insurance, jot down your insurance company details and insurance number. You will also have to specify who is paying for your trip to Russia. Almost always you will have to pick “Independently” here, unless you are sponsored by some organisation.
Then type down your itinerary details and the cities you will be visiting. Remember that you are not bound by the hotel details you write down in this section. These are for reference, and you will be fine to stay in other hotels as long as you remain in the same city.
G. Additional Information
Oh boy! Do you know about nuclear weapons, or are you a criminal? The answer to all questions in this section is (hopefully!) “No”, except for the question “Has this application been completed personally by you?” to which you should reply “Yes”.
H. Education and Work Experience
Next, you have to write down your education level, excluding secondary school. You must also specify if you have changed your place of work recently.
Note that depending on your previous answers, you might need to attach cover letters that prove your education level.
I. Last Visit Details
On the next page, write if you’ve had a Russian visa before. You will also need to remember the places you’ve been in the last decade (quite a mission for the big travellers out there), and whether your passport has been stolen in the past.
J. Miscellaneous Information
Almost done! In the Miscellaneous Information page, fill in family information and your residential address. You may also have to fill in the details of your school or the company you work for.
Finally, mark if you have relatives currently living in Russia.
K. Appointment Details
Finally, pick where you will be processing your visa. You have 3 Visa Application Centre options:
L. Summary and Download Pages
After you’ve finished, you will be taken to a summary page where you can review all the details you’ve entered. Review everything to make sure it’s all in order and then click the save button.
On the download page, you can print your application directly on an A4 page or save it as a PDF.
5. Print, Complete and Sign the Form
We’re almost there! Now, print the visa application form and sign it. You then have to attach a passport photo, as we’ve seen earlier.
- Head in the center
- Looking straight ahead
- No accessories or jewellery
- Plain background
- No hair obstructing your face
You can find more info about biometrics and acceptable visa photos on the official page here.
6. Bank Statements for Company Directors, Self-Employed, Working from Home and Unemployed Visitors
If you are in one of the above categories, you will need to attach bank statements for the last three months.
In these statements, you need to prove that you will have at least £100/day available during your stay in Russia.
Gather the relevant statements from your bank and then attach them to your application.
7. Bring everything to the Visa Application Centre
Now take the printed form to the Application Centre that is nearest to you. Remember that these are located in:
You will have to go there yourself, as they will have to take your fingerprints. You may be asked to leave your passport for the duration of the process.
8. Tracking Your Application
After your application, you will have to wait for it to be processed. You can track the status of your application here.
When your visa is ready, you will need to show your receipt as proof of the delivery of your passport.
Remember that applications can take up to 5 days, while expedited applications are (usually) ready the next working day.
9. Medical Insurance
While you wait, it’s a good idea to look into medical insurance for your trip. While this is not a legal requirement for citizens of the UK visiting Russia, it’s useful to get often costs next to nothing.
Travel insurance will compensate you in case your flights are cancelled and cover any medical expenses that might occur during your stay in Russia.
What Should You do after Obtaining Your Visa
You’ve just got your Russian tourist visa. Now what?
Before you can enter Russia, you’ll have to take two more steps to complete upon arrival: your migration card and your visa registration.
You can complete the migration card at the customs office when you arrive in Russia. Most hotels complete visa registration once a client arrives.
When traveling across Russia, make sure you always carry your passport, your migration card and your registry accreditation in case you are asked to present them by a police officer.
When you first enter Russia you will need to get your migration card. This is usually done at airports and during passport control. It’s quick, free and painless.
The migration card comes in two parts. One part stays with the border police and the second part is handed to you. Keep your immigration card with you at all times to prove how you entered Russia.
You will also need your migration card to leave the country, so don’t lose it!
After you’ve arrived in Russia and received your migration card, you have 7 working days to register your visa. This does not apply if you’re staying for less than 7 working days.
By registering your Russian visa, you are essentially telling the authorities where you’re staying. You’ll need to register your visa in each city you visit. To do so, you need to fill in a short registration form.
Hotels will automatically register your visa. But, if you plan on staying in an Airbnb apartment, for example, you have to get your Russian host to complete the registration step.
There’s a lot of information detailed above, so I’ve summarised the main steps below:
- You can apply for a visa to Russia from UK on the Russian Visa Centre Application Website. This will cost you a total of £108.40.
- You need a valid passport that is at least 18 months old and more than 6 months away from expiring after your visit to Russia.
- You also need a letter of invitation from services like Russia Support or iVisa for about £16.
- You need some other documents, most of which you can gather easily and painlessly.
- With all the documents at hand, complete the visa application form here.
- Print and sign the visa application form, then attach your photo.
- Take the signed application to one of the three visa application centres (London, Edinburgh or Manchester)
- Wait 5 days (or 1 day for expedited applications) and your Russian visa is finally READY!
Got Your New Visa? Get Ready to Enjoy Russia!
Now that you have a Russian visa, it’s time to start planning your trip to Russia in depth.
Read the story of Natasha, a girl that is continuously discovering her motherland and get inspired!
Where will you be staying? What attractions will you be seeing? How can you make the most of your short stay in Russia?
Check out my other blog posts for TONNES of useful info for people visiting this amazing country. I put a lot of time and research into my articles, so I hope I’ve aided you in getting a visa to see the amazing sights that Russia has to offer!
If you have any comments or questions, you can leave them below and I will gladly help you out.