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Obtaining entry visa to Russia

To enter Russia, foreign citizens need a passport and a Russian visa permitting stay in Russia for a specific period of time. Russian visas should be obtained from an embassy or consulate in advance of travel. Generally, there are six types of visas: 1) a tourist visa, 2) a business visa, 3) a student visa, 4) a personal (private) visa, 5) a transit visa, 6) a short 72-hour visa.

Applicants for a Russian visa should submit certain documents depending on the required type of visa to a Russian consulate. For example, when applying for a tourist visa, you need to submit: a) passport, b) three passport-size photos, c) a visa application form, and d) an invitation from Russia (the type of the invitation depends on the visa you wish to get - tourist, business or private). There might be some additional requirements if you apply for a business or student visa (e.g., travel insurance or HIV test). The originals of the visa support (invitation) documents are only required if you're applying for a multiple-entry or if you're applying in certain countries (for example, Switzerland, Sweden, and sometimes Australia, Japan, and Germany). To process your visa, the consulate will charge you a certain visa processing fee depending on the type of your visa and the speed of processing.

Any person applying for a visa for a stay of more than three months must present a certificate showing that he/she is HIV-negative. The certificate must contain the applicant's passport data, proposed length of stay in Russia, blood test results for HIV infection, including date of the test, signature of the doctor conducting the test, medical examination results, diagnostic series and seal of the hospital/medical organization. The HIV test must be administered no later than three months prior to travel, and the certificate must be in both Russian and English.

Employment or Study Travel to Russia

The invitation (also called visa support) is a special document issued by the party that invites you to Russia. The invitation is required by a Russian consulate to be able to process your visa. For every type of visa, there exists a different type of invitation (tourist, business, private, student). The invitation (visa support) can be issued by a Russian travel agency or by a company or organisation authorized by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

Russian Tourist Visa

Tourist visa is issued for the travellers who come to Russia for tourism purposes. A tourist Russian visa is single-entry or double-entry only and can be valid for the period up to one month. To obtain the Russian tourist visa, you need a tourist invitation. The tourist invitation comprises a tourist voucher and a tourist reservation confirmation, sometimes these two documents may be united in one. These documents can be issued by a Russian travel agency, which is registered as a tourist company in Russia, has a registration in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and has a reference number in MFA. All these data should be stated on the invitation.

Student Visa

Student of visa is issued only for students, who come to Russia for exchange or education. You can only get the visa if you applied to a Russian university, school or an institution and will study there. In that case, you will need to submit your data to the university and the "foreign department" of the university will take care of all the formalities. They will submit all your data to the immigration officials and have your student invitation ready. After that, they'll either send you the invitation by post, by fax, or send the invitation by telex directly to the consulate where you will apply for your visa and you'll just need to know the telex number when you apply.

You are eligible for this type of visa if your stay in Russia will not exceed three months. According to the Russian immigration law the type of this visa is "Entry-Exit", therefore, there is no need to make a special "Exit visa" when you leave the country. However, it is usually impossible to extend this visa without leaving the country once you are in Russia. Thus, if you intend to stay in Russia for a longer period, you should apply for a long-term Russian student visa that can be extended for a period of up to one year.

To obtain a three month student visa, the following documents are required :

  1. A completed Russian student visa application form.

  2. National passport (original) valid for at least 6 months after the intended date of departure from Russia.

  3. Three identical professional passport sized (3x4 cm) photos. One photo should be stapled to the specially marked place of the application form.

  4. A letter of invitation from the Russian Foreign Ministry, or its Regional Representative Offices.

  5. Visa application charge.

The Consulate reserves the right to request the original or copy of a cover letter from the Russian host organization with information about yourself, destinations, terms and purpose of visit.

Student visas allow only for one entry. The sponsoring school is responsible for registering the visa and obtaining an exit visa. It is important to know who your sponsor is and how to contact him/her because the Russian law requires that your sponsor apply on your behalf for replacement, extension or changes to your visa.

Long-term Russian Student Visa (one year)

You are eligible for this type of visa if you are planning to undertake a long-term course of studies (from three months to one year) in Russia. This is an "Entry" visa that gives you permission to enter Russian Federation within a one month period that is stated on your visa. Once you enter Russia and register your visa, it can be extended for the overall duration of your stay. Please, note that you will not be able to enter the country after the date that is stated on your visa.

To obtain a long-term student visa, the following documents are required:

  1. A completed visa application form (one per person).

  2. National passport (original) valid for at least 6 months after the intended date of departure from Russia.

  3. Three identical professional passport sized (3x4 cm) photos. One photo should be stapled to the specially marked place of the application form.

  4. A letter of invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or its Regional Office.

  5. Copy of your current diploma or educational certificate, certified by the State or Federal authorities.

  6. General health certificate and a copy of HIV test certificate, if you are going to stay more than 3 months in Russia.

  7. A confirmation of the payment arrangement directly from the University, Institute or College you are going to study at.

  8. Visa application charge.

Russian Business Visa

This type of visa is issued for those who come to Russia for business purposes. The visa can be valid from 1 month to 12 months, and be either single-, double- or multiple entry. A person who obtained a multiple 1-year business visa can continuously stay in Russia for the period not longer than 6 months.

To obtain a business visa, you need a business invitation. Usually, a company that would like to invite a foreign person for business, requests such service from a travel agency (registered in MFA or RIM). The travel agency submits all travel data of the person to the MFA or RIM, pays a certain processing fee to the MFA or RIM, and after a few weeks receives the invitation. After that, this invitation can either be sent to the person invited by post (if the consulate requires originals), by fax (a copy), or by e-mail (a scanned copy). Also, MFA or RIM can send a special telex to the Russian consulate, where the person will apply for his visa, then there's no need to have a copy or an original of the invitation, the just have to to specify a "telex number" of the invitation to the Russian consulate.

Russian representations abroad

Special circumstances

Visa registration: Your visa must be registered within 72 hours upon your arrival to any Russian city excluding weekend and holidays either by a hotel you're staying in or, if it's not possible (in case you're not staying in a hotel), by the company that issued your invitation (visa support), or by a local registration office (OVIR). The registration is a small stamp in your passport or the migration card, showing a place of your stay. If you don't register your visa within 72 hours, you shall be fined.

If you stay in a hotel or a hostel, they should (according to the law) register your visa for the whole period of its validity, but not longer than 3 months. If you stay with your friends or rent an apartment (in other words, not in a hotel), the visa should be registered by the inviting party.

If you obtained your invitation (tourist invitation) from a Russian travel agency (company, organisation), this travel agency must (according to the law) register your visa. Usually, it takes about 3 days to register your visa, so you should bring it to the agency, as soon as you're in Russia.

If you stay in Russia for longer than 3 months, the registration should be made through a local OVIR office. The company that issued your visa invitation should assist you in this matter or register it for you.

Currency: The ruble is the only legal tender. It is illegal to pay for goods and services in euro or US dollars except at authorized retail establishments. Euro and dollars can be easily exchanged into rubles. Old or very worn dollar bills are often not accepted at banks and exchange offices, even though this constitutes a violation of currency laws. Travelers' checks and credit cards are not generally accepted outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Even in these cities, the acceptance of credit cards is subject to change, and even some shops that advertise the acceptance of credit cards do not then accept them at the point of purchase. Check with your credit card and travelers check companies to learn if and where these can be used in Russia.

Customs regulation: Russian customs laws and regulations are in a state of flux and are not consistently enforced. When arriving in Russia, travelers must declare all items of value on a customs form; the same form used during arrival in Russia must be presented to customs officials at the time of departure. As of October 2001, travelers must declare all foreign currency they are bringing into Russia. Non-residents of Russia are prohibited from taking any cash money in currency other than the Russian ruble out of the country unless it has been declared upon arrival or wired, and supported by an appropriate document. Those with stamped declaration forms may exit Russia with a sum of foreign currency no greater than the sum declared upon entry. Lost or stolen customs forms should be reported to the Russian police, and a police report (spravka) should be obtained to present to customs officials upon departure. The lost customs declaration cannot be replaced. Travelers attempting to depart Russia with more money than was on their original customs form face possible detention, arrest, fines and confiscation of currency.

Travelers should obtain receipts for all high-value items (including caviar) purchased in Russia. Any article that could appear old or as having cultural value to the customs service, including artwork, icons, samovars, rugs and antiques, must have a certificate indicating that it has no historical or cultural value. It is illegal to remove such items from Russia without this certificate. Certificates will not be granted for the export of articles that are more than 100 years old, no matter the value. These certificates may be obtained from the Russian Ministry of Culture.

Russia has strict rules on the importation of large quantities of medication, and of some medications regardless of quantity. It is advisable to contact the Russian Embassy or one of Russia's consulates for specific information regarding this or other customs regulations.

Global positioning equipment and radio electronics: The importation and use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and other radio electronic devices are subject to special rules and regulations in Russia. Mapping and natural resource data collection activities associated with normal, commercial and scientific collaboration may result in seizure of the equipment and/or arrest of the user. The penalty for using a GPS device in a manner that is determined to have compromised Russia's national security can carry a prison term of ten to twenty years. No traveler should seek to import or use GPS equipment in any manner unless it has been properly and fully documented by the traveler in accordance with the instructions of the Glavgossvyaznadzor (Main Inspectorate of Communications) and is declared in full on a customs declaration at the point of entry to the Russian Federation.
All radio electronic devices brought into Russia must have a certificate from Glavgossvyaznadzor of the Russian Federation. This includes all emitting, transmitting and receiving equipment such as GPS devices, satellite telephones and other kinds of radio electronic equipment. Excluded from the list are consumer electronic devices such as am/fm radios and cellular phones.

Sources: http://www.russianconsulates.com/ and http://www.russianvisa.com/


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