Russia Will Launch E-Visas in January 1, 2021, per Vedomosti (Russia's equivalent of the Wall Street Journal). That's great news if it happens, since applying for a Russian Visa has often been the worst part of organizing a visit to Russia, due to the length of the application, and sometimes process bottlenecks (see 3-Year Russian Visa Application Requirements and Tips). It's also why I'm glad my son and I have 3 year Russian Visas, since we're in St. Petersburg every summer, and it's great not to have to apply every year. Coincidentally our visas expire in 2021, so I certainly hope these new Russian E-Visas materialize before we have to apply again.
According to the article, the Russian E-Visas will be single entry, for visits up to 16 days, and will be not only for tourist visas, but also for business visas, personal visas (e.g. visits to relatives) and also humanitarian visas. The specifics have yet to be finalized, including which countries' citizens will be eligible, but the cost is likely to be no greater than $50. In the first stage, E-Visa applicants will likely need to arrive via the major cities (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, and others) which is where most foreigners enter Russia.
The E-Visas are an integral part of the Ministry of Economic Development's roadmap for tourism development, which aims to increase the share of tourism in Russia's GDP from 3.5% in 2018 to 6% in 2035. In parallel, by 2035, the Ministry wants Russia to break into the top 10 travel destinations as rated by the UN World Tourism Organization, from its current 16th place ranking (24.6 million tourists in 2018).
The Director of the Federal Agency of Tourism, Zarina Doguzova, notes that in other countries, liberalizing the visa regime has increased the number of visitors by 20-40%, and certainly, by enabling visitors to submit applications themselves online, rather than having to mail documents, including their passport, or go in person to ILS or other visa processing facility, can help.
In fact, Russia already offers electronic visas, although not for the entire country. Free E-Visas to visit the Russian Far East (including Kamchatka and Sakhalin) were launched in August 2017, and are available to citizens of 18 countries, including China, Japan, India, Iran, Qatar, the UAE and North Korea, among others. And starting July 1, 2019, a similar free e-visa will be available for these citizens to visit Kaliningrad.
I hope for my clients and selfishly, for our own travel, that Russia's e-visas launch in 2021 and that U.S. citizens are eligible, although given strained relations between the U.S. and Russia and historical visa reciprocity, U.S. citizens may not be included in the initial launch.
In the meantime, for U.S. citizens applying for Russian Visas, be sure to apply early enough given processing times. And don't let political news deter you–St. Petersburg, in particular, is a fantastic European city to visit, and not only for its world class museums and landmarks such as the Hermitage, Peterhof, Catherine Palace, Dostoevsky Museum, Pushkin Apartment, 900 Day Siege of Leningrad Memorial and many more. It's also a romantic city of canals, cafes, jazz clubs, and parks. It also has an increasingly sophisticated Nordic food scene–last summer I was far more impressed with my meals in St. Petersburg than in ostensible foodie city Copenhagen.
If Russia launches E-Visas, do you plan to apply for one?
Become a TravelSort Client and Book 5-Star Hotels with Virtuoso or Four Seasons Preferred Partner Benefits