Everyone has a list of countries they dream of going to, and for a very long time, Russia was one of mine. For years I said to myself, ‘This is the year I will go to Russia!’, but eventually the year passed and another one began with the same promise to myself.
You might then be wondering why I didn’t visit sooner if I apparently wanted it so badly? I have one word: Visa.
I hate paper work. Anything that involves sitting down to read legal jargon or small print is viewed as an obstacle to life’s adventures and bores me to tears. Being spontaneous. Not thinking too hard. That’s usually my state of mind when I book a flight and pretty much every dumb or brilliant idea I’ve ever had and carried out.
Filling out paperwork and spontaneity are natural enemies of each other, or so I believe. But in reality I know both of these qualities can, and do, go hand in hand with each other. You might well possess the mental agility for both (I envy you people, I really do) but in my world you people don’t exist, and I’m trying to provide a legitimate excuse for why I am so abysmally organised.
In spite of my allergy to paper work I eventually managed to obtain my visa but as far as applying for visas go, Russia’s has been the most time consuming and expensive. So to make it easier for you, I’ve stripped away all the small print, and broken it down to the essential points to give you my fool-proof guide to getting a Russian Visa!
1. Book accommodation and get an invite from hotel
In order to get your Visa you must book accommodation in Russia first and then ask the hotel to send you an invite after filling out a Visa Support Document (provided by the hotel). Many hotels state they offer visa support on their website, so look out for this.
An example of a hotel offering Visa Support on their website.
Tip: The Visa Application does not make it explicit that you have to book your accommodation first. It seemed like a financially sensible idea to book my accommodation afterwards in case I was denied a visa for some reason, but without an invitation letter issued from a hotel my application was declined upon my arrival at the Russian Visa Application Centre in London. For peace of mind book a hotel that has a free booking cancellation period.
2. Fill in visa form online
Log onto www.ru.vfsglobal.co.uk and fill in the form and press finish and print. You also have the option to press save at any point so you can resume at your convenience.
Tip: You will be asked to write down every country you have visited in the last 10 years, including date of arrival and departure. This could take a VERY long time if you are a frequent traveller so I suggest only writing down the countries that you have stamps in your passport for.
3. Go to Russian Visa Centre in London or Edinburgh
Once you have filled out the form, print off two copies and take them to the Visa centre in London, along with your invitation, passport, and two passport photos. You must go there in person. If London is inconvenient you also have the option to go to the office in Edinburgh. (An equally bad alternative for most people, but that’s one of the reasons why getting a Russian visa is a pain!)
Russia Visa Application Centre
15- 27 Gee Street,
Russia Visa Application Centre
64 Albion Road
Tip: If any small adjustments needs to be made to your application, you will be notified and you’ll be able to amendment it using the computers and printer at the centre. Very convenient!
4. Normal or fast-track service
The regular service takes approximately 5 days for your passport to be returned, however, me being me, I had to pay an extra £50 for the fast-track service bringing the total to approx £135.
Tip: Start your application early to avoid paying extra charges!
5. Collecting your passport and visa
The people at the centre will tell you the date when your passport will be ready for collection.
Tip: If it’s not convenient for you to collect, or you live nowhere near London or Edinburgh, then you can arrange for somebody else to collect it on your behalf.
To summarise, how does a Russian Visa differ from others?
- Unlike several countries you can’t just get a Visa at the airport.
- You can’t just apply online either, you need to go to the Visa centre in person.
- You have to provide the precise number of days you’ll be in the country. For example, you can’t get a one month’s Visa – if your flight is for 10 days then your Visa will only permit you 10 days. Admittedly, this does knock out some of the spontaneity of travelling within Russia . You have to plan flights, accommodation and exact amount of stay beforehand. Once in Russia you can probably change your accommodation, if you want to use AirBnB for example, but it’s something you’d do at your own risk (and you didn’t hear it from me!).
One thing is for sure, the palaver of getting the visa is definitely worth what Russia gives back in return!
Here are some photos to get you excited about your up-and-coming trip (because I’m assuming most of the people who have read this far down have either booked their trip or are at least planning to!!!).
The Hermitage Museum
The beautiful garden at the winter palace in Pushkin
Hire a bike and explore the canals and side streets of Saint Petersburg.
Just looking at Chesme Church makes me want CAKE!