Russian Visa Application Cover Letter

Published/Revised May 13, 2016 By Caitlin Dwyer This post may contain promotional and affiliate links. EuropeUpClose may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Before you can even set foot in Russia, you need to get a visa.  Applying for a Russian visa is a lengthy and expensive process, and often boggles even the most experienced travelers.  But the end result is that you can coast across Siberia, trawl the museums of St. Petersburg, and brave a leap into Baikal’s frigid waters.  We have broken down the bureaucracy into several steps in order to explain how to apply for a Russian tourist visa.

Getting Started
Most travelers to Russia will require a tourist visa.  For those passing through Russia on their way elsewhere, a transit visa may be sufficient.  However, if you plan on lingering and seeing any sights, a tourist visa will give you free rein for up to 30 days.  Most travelers require a simple, single-entry visa, which means that once you leave Russia, you cannot return without reapplying.

Before you apply for your visa, you will need to obtain an invitation letter.  This is where Russia’s visa process differs slightly from other European countries.  An invitation letter, also known as a visa support letter, confirms that the visitor has been “invited” by a home institution to visit Russia.

Most hotels will issue an invitation letter – but many will only issue support for the period during which you stay with them.  For an independent traveler, this poses difficulty. You can also apply for a letter through a reputable travel agent.  An entire industry has sprung up around the issuance of invitation letters.  For a fee, the agency supplies two documents: a tourist confirmation and a tourist voucher.  Usually, you just need a clean, clear copy of these documents to include with your visa application.  There might be strange information on the documents – like the names of hotels at which you don’t plan to stay.  As long as the cities roughly match your itinerary, it shouldn’t matter too much.  However, you should check to make sure that the dates on the invitation letter match your intended entry and exit dates to Russia.

Processing an invitation letter can take around a week – or a mere 24 hours if you use an online agent.  While you wait for your letter, you can start to prepare in other ways. Get passport photos taken.  Make sure your passport has enough blank pages and won’t expire in the next six months; if not, send away for updates immediately.  Trans-Siberian Railway travelers planning on going to China should commence that visa process as well.

Putting Together an Application
The Russian government recently instituted an online application system.  Fill out the form on the consulate website, then print, sign, and attach one of your passport photos.  Once you have the invitation letter in hand, keep it together with your visa application form.

You will also need to write a cover letter explaining your intentions.  For most tourists, this can be a short explanation of your itinerary.  Be sure to include your dates of arrival and modes of transit.  For Trans-Siberian travelers, try to sketch out a rough plan of your trip: which days you plan to take the train, where you will stop and for how long, and where your ultimate destination will be.

Although not common, it is possible that a consulate will want to see copies of your airline tickets or train tickets, confirming your exit from Russia.  Be sure to have a copy on hand if asked.

Presenting the Visa Application
You will need the following forms in order to apply for your visa:

  •        Invitation letter (visa support letter)
  •        Application form
  •        Passport with at least two blank pages
  •        A recent passport photo attached to the application form
  •        A cover letter that gives your itinerary, including entry and exit dates
  •        Payment for the processing fee (check or money order)

A Russian visa application must be presented in person.  This can be very inconvenient if you don’t happen to live in a city with a Russian consulate.  In this case, contact a visa agency.  You’ll need to fill out some agency-specific forms and pay a hefty fee – but probably less than a plane ticket.  Their agents will present your application and ship you the completed passport.  The usual processing time is around 15 days, although the agencies have rush processing available.

There are Russian consulates or embassies in San Francisco, Washington DC, New York City, Seattle, and Houston.  Each administrates a certain region of the United States.  To find out which consulate applies to your state, visit the Russian Embassy website.

If you apply at the consulate yourself, a long wait and quick interview with the immigration agent should secure you a visa.  Simple tourist visas are usually granted within two weeks; the consulate will require you to return to pick up your passport.

When You Travel
A visa is a document that allows you to show up at the border and ask to be let in to Russia.  It is not a guarantee of entry.  The validity dates on your visa give the time frame during which you can arrive at the border.

The officials at the border who stamp your passport are the ones who actually determine how long you can stay in the country.  The border officials will ask you to fill out an immigration card.  Make sure that what you write down matches your invitation letter.  They may also ask to see your tickets.  The exit date given on your immigration card is the date by which you must leave Russia – usually 30 days from the day you enter.  You should keep this card in your passport and give it to the border officials when you exit Russia.

When you arrive at your hotel, the front desk will ask for your passport, in order to register your visa.  If you don’t plan on staying in a hotel or hostel, you will need to locate an immigration office and register directly.

Plenty of people make money on the Russian visa process.  If you use visa agency services, your total costs will look something like this:

  • Invitation letter: $50-70
  • Passport photos: $8-10
  • FedEx to and from visa agency: $40-50
  • Agency services: around $50 for regular processing; $100 for rush processing
  • Consulate application fees: $140 for regular processing; $250 for three-day rush processing

TOTAL:  $288 – $480

Invitation Letters
There are many websites and travel agents that specialize in obtaining invitation letters.  Here are a few reliable sources:

Way to Russia:
Express to Russia:
Visa Able:
Travisa Visa Service:


Visa Agencies
The following agencies can apply for your visa through agents if you do not live near a consulate.  All three have partnerships with the Russian Embassy.

Travisa Visa Service:
PVS International:
CIBT, Inc.:

Written by Caitlin Dwyer for

Filed Under: Eastern Europe, RussiaTagged With: visa

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If you want to travel to Russia, you need a Russian visa. In order to get a Russian visa, the first thing you need is an invitation (also known as visa support letter). After that, you can apply for the visa at a Russian consulate either by yourself or through a local travel agent (usually for an extra fee). Be careful, however, because many agents and hotels "lock" people into a fixed itinerary or limit their visa validity to the period they are staying at a particular hotel.

If you want to avoid bureaucratic traps, follow our step-by-step Russian visa application guide below. It is designed for independent travelers who want to have a flexible itinerary and be free of any hotel commitments, and has been recommended by Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, BBC and other reputable publications. Also, while nationals of most countries, including the USA, UK, EU, and Australia need a visa to travel to Russia, you might not need a visa for a short visit if you're from a country in South America (check the full list of countries that have visa free travel with Russia here).


Step 1: Get the Invitation (Visa Support)
First, you need an invitation (aka visa support letter) to apply for a Russian visa. You can get it online on this site through one of our carefully selected providers – they all cater to independent travelers, provide 24-hour support, and guarantee that your visa will be issued by the consulate (we never heard of anyone being refused so far).
It's the same price and process as when you use them directly, but doing it through our site you support our free guide to Russia and get our backup in dealing with the providers.
Period of stay:1 to 30 days (up to 36 months for US Citizens)
Entries: Single- or Double entry
Flexibility:You can stay where you want and as long as you want
Processing time:1 to 24 hours
You will get:A scanned copy (per e-mail) both of the original Reservation confirmation and the Tourist voucher.
These are all the documents needed to get a Russian visa. Originals can be sent by post when required by the consulate (normally the copies are sufficient).
Price: $30 US (instant processing)
Period of stay:1 day to 12 months
Entries: Single-, Double or Multiple entry
Purpose:Research trip, exploring business opportunities, business meetings, visiting conferences, etc.
Flexibility:You can stay and travel where you want
Processing time:3 to 18 working days, 
You will get:Telex (digitally transmitted directly to the consulate), scanned copy over the e-mail, or original of the official paper invitation from the Russian Authorities. Itinerary and cover letter can be provided upon request.
Price: $80 to $300 US

• If you're not sure which type of visa you need post your question on Way to Russia Travel Forum or Tweet us @waytorussia

• There are also private and studentinvitations available. In order to get them, you have to contact your friends / education institution (e.g. language schools) in Russia. Be aware that these invitations usually take about a month to process, require lots of paperwork, and the originals should be presented to the consulate. But with the student visas you get visas with unlimited stay, so it may be an advantage.
Step 2: Get the Passport, Photos, and Visa Application Form
Once you have your invitation (Russian visa support), you need to prepare the following documents to apply for your Russian visa:
• Travel Passport
Should be valid at least 6 months after your Russian visa will expire and contain at least two clear pages - for the visa and the migration card.

• Two Passport-size Photographs
Should be recent and good quality.

• Russian Visa Application Form
Fill it out online and print it out from Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) website – only after you have obtained your visa support documents (tourist or business), which contain the information you'll need to provide in the visa application form. Learn more about Russian visa application form here.

• Consulate-Specific Documents: Health Insurance, Letters of Employer, etc.
You will most likely need to buy a travel insurance for Russia valid for the period of your visa.
Almost all consulates will require an HIV certificate if you are traveling to Russia on a business visa for 3 months or longer or require a multiple-entry visa. 
In case you apply for a business visa, some consulates may require a letter from your employer confirming you work for the company and travel to Russia for business purposes.
If you're applying for a tourist visa in France, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, or Taiwan you will need to present an itinerary that details every day of your stay in Russia. Simply detail your journey using the format here (download doc or pdf document) and send it to your visa support agency, so they get it back to you signed and stamped.
Step 3: Apply for a Russian Visa
Finally, you need to submit all your documents, including your visa support, to the Russian consulate. You can either do it by yourself, or through a local travel agency.
Option 1: Apply in Person at a Russian Consulate / Russian Visa Processing Center       
Step 1:Fill out the Russian visa application form on the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) website - 
Step 2: Prepare all the documents above and check with the consulate's website if that is enough.
Step 3:Apply to the consulate in person or by post. You will need to pay the consular fee and present (send) the documents and the invitation (visa support). If you apply through an authorized visa center (some consulates don't accept applications directly), find the right department on their website: USA, Europe, Asia, UK. If you apply through a consulate, find the right one on our Russian Consulates Worldwide page.
Step 4:Get your visa and have a nice trip to Russia!
Timing:The whole process will take you approximately:
1 day (research)
1 day (queue at the consulate - if you apply in person)
1 hour to 15 working days (depending on your visa type and how much you pay)
Consular Fees: You will need to pay the consular fee, which depends on the type of visa, the country where you apply, and your citizenship.
Single-Entry, processing time 6 - 8 business days:
USA: $160
UK: £30
France: 54 EUR
Single-Entry, same-day processing:
USA: $300
UK: £90
Multiple-Entry, processing time 6 business days:
USA: $160
UK: £100
Multiple-Entry, same-day processing:
USA: $450
UK: £150
Option 2: Apply through a travel agency  
There is really no point applying for a Russian visa through a travel agency, unless you want to do all the processing by post. In this case, you still need to get your visa support (will be delivered by e-mail), and you can then use some of the agencies we recommend worldwide in order to submit your documents to the Russian consulate. They will charge a $50 to $100 US on top of the consular fee, but you will save the time queuing and the agencies normally know all the consulate's requirements.
Important: Visa Registration
So you obtained the Russian visa, finalized your travel arrangements, and now arrived to Russia. You have 7 business days (excluding weekends and holidays) to register your visa (this is a new regulation valid as of 25 March 2011 – before that you had to register in 3 working days, which is not the case anymore).
• If you are staying in a hotel:
The hotel will usually register your visa. The charges are from $0.5 to $20.

• If you are staying in an apartment or with friends:
The landlord of the apartment you're staying in should fill out a special registration form and submit it to any post office or immigration authorities office. It will cost them about $5 and take about an hour of their time, they will need to bring their original passport with registration (propiska) and a copy of your passport. 
Alternatively, the agency that issued your visa support documents can provide the registration for you for about $30 US (30 days maximum).  If you need this service, just ask them to provide it to you when you order your visa support.


Need More Information?

Way to Russia Travel Guide E-Book has a complete Russian visa guide, which explains how you can get a Russian visa with no hotel ties and without fixed itineraries. Order it online today, it will delivered to you immediately via e-mail, and you can take it with you on your travel - there's tons of other useful information that will save your time and money, as well as city guides.
or learn more about the book


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