If you’ve been following my blog for awhile then you know I already had some Russian visa adventures a couple of years ago.
Back then I decided against going to Russia mostly because of the problems of getting that visa.
Well, here we are two years later and it’s time to jump through those hoops yet again.
This time around I knew what I was getting into so I was prepared.
That still doesn’t mean it wasn’t an adventure
In fact, this blog is only Part 1 of my Russian Visa adventures because there’s just so much to it.
Here’s a list of the things you need to apply for a Russian visa:
• Visa application form
• Letter of invitation
• Bank statement
• Proof of health insurance
• Personal letter about your trip
• Trip itinerary
• Passport photo
The cost for a single entry, 30 day visa (for Canadians anyway) is $145 and takes about 3 weeks to process. There are expedited options if you need the visa quicker but, of course, that costs more.
The two stumbling blocks I encountered last time were:
1) You can’t apply for the visa more than 90 days ahead of your visit. This means if you’re visiting in September, you have to wait til June to apply.
2) You have to apply personally at the Russian embassy. This, unfortunately, was still a stumbling block as the embassy that accepts visa applications is located in Ottawa. (Note: there is one in Vancouver but it doesn’t process applications)
This time around, the 90 day thing wasn’t a stumbling block as I’m still here in Canada able to apply for my visa.
The whole embassy being in Ottawa thing though – yeah, still a stumbling block
Actually, it’s more of a nuisance than anything.
If you do a google search for “Russian Visa” you will find a ton of listings of 3rd party companies that will gladly help you with your entire visa application process.
For a fee
And not a cheap fee, either!
I did some shopping around and came across VisaHQ. With a service charge of $69.95 it’s actually the cheapest I’ve seen. They also have an office here in Vancouver so I can correspond with them easier and also drop off and pickup my documents personally which saves me courier costs.
I still hate wasting money on a 3rd party but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and chalk it up to the “cost of travelling”.
I will say the nice thing about having a visa company working for you is that they’ll make the process somewhat easier. Instead of having to fill out the official visa form supplied by the Russian government, I spent about a half hour on VisaHQ’s website filling out their easier to understand form. I’m assuming they then take the info I entered and plug it into the official form that they send in themselves. Also, if I mess it up they’ll fix it before sending it in.
That last one is a big thing cause I do tend to mess things up from time to time
Anyway, that takes care of the visa application form. Next on the list – an invitation letter.
First off, for those of you who don’t know what an invitation letter is – well, it’s basically a money grab.
There’s no other way to describe it. The Russian government requires that the place you’ll be staying at in Russia send you an invitation letter which you, in turn, submit with your visa application.
The entire process it a joke though as most people don’t actually get their letter through their accommodation but through one of the hundreds of 3rd party websites that only exist to offer this service for prices between $20 and $50.
Now, while this letter is just a money grab, it’s still an official document and needs to be submitted properly. So, before purchasing this letter you need to know the exact dates you’re entering and exiting the country and also where you’ll be staying while there.
Anyway, last week I contacted one of those companies, paid my 20 bucks and the following day I had my invitation letter waiting for me in my email inbox.
The next four things on the list were much easier to do
For my bank statement, I printed out a screen shot from my online banking and for my travel insurance I simply photocopied the travel insurance documents I had received earlier in the week.
My personal letter about my trip was just a simple letter outlining my trip and where I’d be staying while my trip itinerary was a list of the flights I have booked entering and exiting Russia along with the hostel bookings I’ve made in Moscow and St Petersburg.
Tomorrow, I’ll continue this lovely Russian visa adventure and head to the VisaHQ office and submit everything.