The Visa Process


Over the last year, I’ve visited 14 countries and I’ve learned that every country has its own distinctive process for entry–and Russia is no exception.  I’ve just made my way through the Russian process here in the United States and Katrin has done the same in Germany.  We thought it might be helpful if we shared what we learned along the way.  In either country, if you’re reading it now, get going!  The best thing you can do is submit it in a timely fashion, saving that panicky feeling as your trip approaches.

From the United States

Where to Apply   In the United States,  you have to go through the designated Russia visa service agency, Invisa which has full instructions on its website.   This doesn’t mean you to go, in person but you do need to choose the Visa Center (located in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Houston and Seattle).   You submit your application in person or by mail.

What Kind of Visa Should I Apply For?  They all cost the same.  In an update, the Russian Consulate in the United States says

Please be advised that effective July 10, 2014 the new processing fees of $160 will be charged for non-urgent Russian single or double-entry visas in the business, private, humanitarian and tourist categories.

In this respect – in the purpose of full implementation of the Agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on the simplification of visa formalities for nationals of the Russian Federation and nationals of the United States of America – we would recommend you apply for a three year multiple entry visa.

What do I need to submit with my application?  Make sure you fill out the online application fully, and of course, save and print out a copy.

  • Your passport, with an expiration date six months past your travel dates.
  • Additional passport photos
  • For a humanitarian visa, you need an invitation from ICOM Russia.  They are happy to provide this to you.  To receive an invitation, email requesting one.  In your email you need to include your full name as it appears on your passport;  your passport expiration date (your three year visa will be  shortened if your passport expires before three years);  where you will be staying in St. Petersburg and                 Yaketerinburg and a scanned copy of your passport
  • Payment via money order or certified check.

Once you have all your materials together (be sure and check that Invisa website to make sure you have everything you need) you can mail or deliver in person.

Unfortunately, the cost for Americans is relatively expensive (as it is to come here). You can also pay an additional $25 for the visa service mail processing to help correct any errors before submitting to the embassy.  I did, and had several helpful phone calls.

If you submit by mail, make sure to send it via any trackable method.  They will return it to you via UPS, usually in 10 days but sometimes it does take longer.

From Germany

The best way to apply is using the Visa Handling Services (with service centers in Berlin, Leipzig, Hamburg, Frankfurt/ Main, München and Bonn). The website walks you through the procedure step by step, you will find the online form for your application here (to be printed out afterwards) and you can book an appointment for handing in your documents at one of the service centers.

You may apply for a single entry humanitarian visa. This comes completely free of charge, but you will need an invitation from ICOM Russia. They are happy to provide this to you. To receive an invitation, email requesting one.
In your email you need to include (in English):

  • Vorname, Nachname (first name, last name):
  • Staatsangehörigkeit (nationality):
  • Geschlecht (gender):
  • Geburtsdatum (date of birth):
  • Geburtsort (place of birth):
  • Reisepassnummer (Passport number):
  • Ausstellungsdatum des Reisepasses (date of issue):
  • Ablaufdatum des Reisepasses (expiration date):
  • Name der Institution/Arbeitsstelle (Museum, etc.)/(Institution´s name):
  • Position/Tätigkeit (position):
  • Dienstanschrift (professional adress):
  • Dienstl. Telefonnummer (professional phone):
  •  Dienstl. Faxnummer (professional fax):
  • Dienstl. E-Mail-Adresse (professional email):
  • Einreisedatum (arrival date):
  • Abreisedatum (departure date):

In general, you will need the following documents for your application:

  • the invitation from ICOM Russia

  • passport (valid for at least another 6 months after the end of your trip)

  • your visa application with a recent passport photo

  • proof of travel health insurance

(You may also include your flight itinerary, if you have booked your flight already, to confirm your travel dates.)

Please check the website for details on all these requirements (and any changes to the process in the meantime) and remember to apply for your visa in time. On average it will take 10 business days, but it can also be longer than that.

Our parting advice?  We’re not experts and information can change. Please check the websites for the Russian Embassy in your country if you have any doubts or questions.


7 comments on “The Visa Process
  1. Thank you for the tips! This trip to Russia is my first time traveling alone and this tips make me feel more confident! Thanks!

  2. Hi Erin– so glad it was helpful! and don’t hesitate to email me directly if I can be of other help too–and I arrive in St. Petersburg on the 7th, in case you need anything at that end. Traveling alone is always a big jump!


  3. Has anyone else been having the difficulty of the Invisa website for the US being down for now two days (including this link and the one on the Russian Embassy’s website)? Does anyone know if that information is replicated anywhere else? They aren’t answering the phone, either. I am still waiting for my invitation letter, so this is all a bit nerve-wracking!

  4. Oh, good questions Brittany. Still down as I checked today. A couple weeks ago, I had good luck with the phone, but make sure you’re not calling during lunch breaks (it’s actually listed as not working then). I know some friends (not related to this conference) have used other visa service agencies–a bit of googling might find them for you. For your invitation, just recontact ICOM Russia if you’re still awaiting it. Good luck!

    • Hi Linda,
      Thanks for confirming that I’m not crazy! I called first thing in the morning, but I’ll be trying again if I can. I’ll look into other visa service agencies, though this one looks to be the more or less official one.

      I’m hoping to hear back from ICOM Russia soon (he has been very helpful so far in other emails) and get the letter so that I can simply seek the humanitarian visa (easier) early next week.

  5. Thanks very much for this instruction. Seeking a humanitarian visa, receiving the invitation letter from ICOM Russia, and submitting the required material to Invisa has seemed to have worked well for the U.S. application.

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