Russia is one of those countries that no matter where you come from, getting a visa would be fairly difficult. Almost everyone is required to have an invitation letter. This letter is usually issued by an accredited Russian Tour Agency (all based in Russia). The easiest way to acquire this letter is to join a tour. By joining a tour, the travel agency will be the one in contact with the Russian Agencies thus handling all the steps needed to formally lodge the visa application. Locally, another option is to go to a local travel agent and ask them to get an invitation letter on your behalf. Usually the local travel agency and the Russian agency will still make an itinerary for you as well as the letter to be submitted to the embassy. You need to pay the agency a fee for producing the documents. You can cancel the tour after you’ve submitted your application – so technically that will come out cheaper since the amount you pay for the documents won’t be as large versus if you paid for a complete tour. I’ve also seen websites such as http://www.expresstorussia.com that would apparently also provide you with an invitation letter if you book your tours with them.
For our trip last month we booked a whole tour via a local travel agency who coordinated with their Russian counterpart. It was expensive because we were only 4 in the group. Travel agencies can include you with big tours assuming that you have enough days and your itinerary matches their schedules. We didn’t have that much time so we had to have a private tour, which in my honest opinion was much better and enjoyable.
Besides the invitation letter, these are the other requirements for a Russian Visa:
- A valid passport (valid for 6 months from date of departure from Russia)
- 2 passport sized photos with white background – wear a collared shirt
- Russian visa application form which you can get from a travel agency (one of the most simplest visa application form I’ve ever encountered but no erasures are allowed). I saw this online but not sure if it’s still valid because ours looked a bit different http://www.visatorussia.com/files.nsf/Lookup/visa_application/$file/visa_application.pdf
- Itinerary which is usually included with your invitation letter
- Flight itinerary/tickets
- As mentioned earlier – invitation letter
These requirements are pretty minimal actually. But I’ve been told how strict the Russian Consulate is. It doesn’t really matter if you’ve been to a lot of other places, they can just deny you a visa without reason. More often than not, you don’t have to appear before the Consulate. But sometimes they will require you to go to the Embassy. My sister-in-law is a student so they asked her to go and after waiting and standing for 3 hours, it took only a couple of minutes and she was done. Apparently they just looked at her and sent her on her way. We also submitted our itinerary for our Europe leg, as well as all our other flight tickets in and out of Europe.
As of March of this year, these are the visa fees:
- 5,600 Php – 10 working days
- 7,000 Php – 7 working days
- 8,400 Php – 3 working days
Take note that the Embassy’s working days are different from the regular working days. They are only open every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. So in reality 10 working days is equal to almost a month’s wait.