June 2019 Update: Per the ILS site, there's currently a bottleneck of visa applications, because VFA Global, which the Russian Consular Section subcontracts to, is limiting its acceptance of new visa applicants to 30 per day. ILS is mandating that all applicants submit their visa application at least 30 days in advance of proposed travel, and urges applicants not to buy their flight tickets or make non-refundable hotel bookings before receiving their visa.
Applying for a Russian visa can be time consuming and rather expensive for U.S. citizens, but back on September 9, 2012 it got better for anyone who may be going more than once to Russia in a 3-year period: you can now get a 3-year, multiple entry Russian visa.
That means, for anyone flying via Moscow Domodedovo (DME), you can actually spend some time in Moscow rather than just staying airside. Now, some may still not want to, whether due to irrational fears of the Russian mafia, worries about grappling with the language, or practical concerns about expense (and central Moscow is expensive). But where's your sense of adventure? It's an amazing, vibrant capital city, where I thoroughly enjoyed living and working a couple years. So having been through the process, here are my tips for getting the new 3-year multiple entry Russian tourist visa:
RUSSIAN TOURIST VISA REQUIREMENTS
Here's what you really need when applying for a 3-Year Multiple Entry Russian Visa as a U.S. citizen:
1. U.S. Passport Valid for at Least 6 Months Past the Visa Date
Does your passport expire in less than 3.5 years? You can still get a multiple entry visa, but it will just be good for the life of your passport, less 6 months. So, for example, if your passport expires in 2.5 years, your Russian Visa would be valid for 2 years.
2. 2 Passport Photos
Many print and copy shops in NYC offer passport photos even cheaper than the U.S. Post office, and with less of a wait. Check Yelp and call ahead to make sure.
3. Online Russian Visa Application
Complete the Russian Visa Application form online at evisa.kdmid.ru
- Make sure to save your “Declarant” number and password: these are assigned, so not at all intuitive, and you'll need them to access your saved application. You may even need them at the Invisa Logistic Services office if there's something in your application that needs to be amended
- Page 1 is straightforward: purpose of visit, visa type, dates
- Page 2 is your name and citizenship, also straightforward. Note that if you hold dual citizenship, both Russian and of another country, you may NOT travel on your foreign passport and apply for a Russian Visa. You MUST use your Russian passport.
- Page 3 is your passport info
- Page 4 is where you'll need to enter your visa support info from the hotel. You'll need to enter both the name of the tourist company (which may differ from the brand name of the hotel) and both the tourist company reference number and the confirmation number. Hence, to fill this section of the online form out, you first need a hotel reservation and to request visa support from the hotel. Or, you could get an invitation from Way to Russia or similar, if you need to apply for a visa before you know where you'll be staying.
- Page 5 asks for your home and work addresses
- Page 6 asks if you have medical insurance valid in Russia, and the document number. To be on the safe side, I did get health insurance specifically valid for Russia, since I didn't want to chance a delay over this, but neither Invisa Logistic Services or the Russian Consulate even asked about my documentation. So if your regular work health insurance covers you while in Russia, you should be fine and not need to get any kind of supplementary health insurance.
- Page 7 is marital status and spouse info
- Page 8 asks about your parents' names. Don't worry about “patronymic” since only Russians and people in the countries of the former Soviet Union have them. Just as it sounds, it's formed from the father's name, e.g. if you're a man named Alexei and your father was Ivan, your patronymic would be Ivanovich; if you're a woman, it would be Ivanovna.
- Page 9 is the most time consuming if you travel a lot, since it asks for ALL the countries you've visited in the last 10 years and the date of visit. Good luck with that! Just do the best you can from memory and your passport. On the lower part of the page, don't forget to put “United States” and any other countries which have issued you a passport.
- Pages 10-11 are prior workplaces
- Pages 12-13 are prior educational institutions
- Page 14 asks about membership of “professional, civil, and charity institutions” and right underneath (rather disconcertingly lumped together) asks “Do you have any special skills, training or experience related to firearms, explosives or to nuclear matters, biological or chemical substance?” Hopefully you can answer no to that question, and note that while you should of course be truthful, it's not such a plus from the Russian Consulate's perspective to answer yes to even the first question.
- Page 15 asks about military service and whether you've been in armed conflict.
- Page 16 asks the miscellaneous questions about whether you've ever been refused a Russian visa, stayed past your visa expiration date, have a communicable public health disease, etc.
- Page 17 asks about prior Russian visas and their dates
- Page 18 asks the hotel or other addresses where you plan to stay. As far as I know it's not binding, so if you got invitation support from Way of Russia or similar, just put down a hotel or other address you're considering staying at
- Page 19 asks about relatives residing in Russia
- Page 20 asks if you personally completed the Russian Visa application
- Page 21 is a space for notes (if someone else completed the application on your behalf)
- Page 22 asks you to confirm your appointment date and location. Make sure to select “ILS [City name]” and not just the city name, since all Russian visa applications are now being processed by ILS.
4. Hotel Reservation for at Least the First Day of the Visa
Note that if you want to use hotel visa support for your visa application, you MUST have a hotel reservation for the first day you need the visa to start from, i.e. your first day in Russia. If, for example, you're planning to take an overnight train that first night, you should instead opt for a tourist invitation from Way to Russia or similar, because ILS and the Russian Consulate will NOT grant you a visa starting from a date that you don't have a tourist company number and confirmation number for.
On the other hand, because of the 3 year visa, you DON'T have to worry about hotel reservation visa support for subsquent dates during your stay. You can figure those out later, you just must have support for that first day your visa is valid from.
5. Visa Support Confirmation from the Hotel, Including Tourist Company Number and Confirmation Number
After you make your hotel reservation, request visa support. My experience with the hotels I requested it from is that it was very fast, and I received it within 24 hours of requesting, but these were also 4-5 star hotels. I wouldn't leave it to the last minute, in case there is any kind of delay.
Also note: by getting visa support from a hotel, you are committing to stay at the hotel. Hotels that provide visa support generally have you agree that, if you end up cancelling the reservation, you'll owe them money for the visa support. So if you don't want to be bound in this way, just go with a normal Russian visa invitation service, as the fee is usually a bit cheaper, although it also tends to take longer.
6. Fee of $248
Note that you *cannot* pay by credit card or personal check; you must pay with cash, bank transfer, money order or cashier check ONLY (payable to the Invisa Logistic Services LLC). The $248 fee consists of a $198 consular fee plus a $50 visa center processing fee.
The Russian Consulate may also request the following, but none of them were needed for my application:
– a bank statement from the applicant;
– a statement from the employer regarding the applicant’s wages for the preceding year, half year or month;
– medical insurance valid in the country to be visited and fully covering the period of the first trip;
– documents regarding the applicant’s ownership of property in the country of his citizenship;
– a certificate on the makeup of the applicant’s family.
APPOINTMENT WITH INVISA LOGISTIC SERVICES
You should schedule your appointment about a month in advance of when you need the Russian visa. There are ILS offices in Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, Houston and Seattle. See ILS addresses and maps
At the appointment, they'll pull up your submitted online application, review it to ensure it's complete, print it out and affix your passport photos, and then provide you with an invoice that you take to the cashier and pay with cash or money order. The pickup date and time are on the invoice, and you'll need to bring the invoice with you, so don't lose it.
INTERVIEW AT RUSSIAN CONSULATE
For most applicants for 3-year visas (and even some single entry visas) there is an interview at the Russian Consulate. In NYC, they tell you to show up at 2pm, but I'd recommend getting there earlier, as when I arrived around that time there was already a line (not just visa applicants though, Russians also). At least in NYC, make sure you dress appropriately for standing outside given the weather. Eventually you'll be ushered inside, go through a metal detector….and wait some more in a seating area, until pointed to a row of 4 chairs across from 2 Russian Consulate officials. The actual conversation was quite brief in my case. He did ask for a copy of the hotel reservation, which I didn't have in printed form, so he asked me to email it.
PICKUP RUSSIAN VISA AT INVISA LOGISTIC SERVICES
Actually picking up my passport, with Russian Visa inside, was mercifully fast, but perhaps too anticlimactic. You almost feel that you should be offered a vodka toast after all this…perhaps some drinks at Mari Vanna are in order!
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