19 March 2020.
As Australians, we’re privileged enough to be able to visit most countries without having to go through any convoluted visa process. Unfortunately though, they’re a necessary annoyance when it comes to visiting Russia.
Thankfully, the requirements are not as strict for Aussies as they are for many other nationalities and, provided you have your paperwork in order, the process is surprisingly straightforward. There are however a number of things you’ll need to consider and organise in advance.
I procrastinated and danced around the process for weeks, stopping and starting at each stage, but in the end, the entire process was far less painful than I was expecting. In fact, had I just sat down and knocked it out in one go, the whole thing probably could have been done in a weekend rather than taking up a whole lot more time than it needed to.
I completed this process independently in September 2019 in preparation for my trip on the Trans Siberian Railway and all the information in this guide is up to date as of then. If you have a different experience or things change, feel free to let me know in the comments so I can keep the post updated for future travellers!
Here’s everything you need to known about how to apply for the Russian visa as an Australian.
As an Australian, you’ll need to complete three key pieces of documentation for the Russian Visa Application process which are outlined below.
1 | Visa Support Documents – Official Letter Of Invitation and Tourist Voucher
2 | Trip Itinerary
3 | Russian Visa Application Form
Step 1 | Apply For Your Visa Support Documents – Letter of Invitation and Tourist Voucher
Applying for your Visa Support Documents is the crucial first step as you’ll need these for the Visa Application Form and itinerary. These documents include an official letter of invitation and tourist voucher though they are often just referred to as the Letter of Invitation or LoI.
Officially, this should come from a licensed and accredited organisation in Russia, often a tourism operator, that acts as a guarantor of sorts during the visa application process and for the duration of your stay in Russia.
Long gone are the days when you needed to ask every hotel to provide you with the appropriate paperwork or book your entire stay through a tour company. Today, you simply need to fill out a short form with a certified operator and you’ll be issued your Visa Support Documents via email within minutes.
I searched through a number of suggested companies and decided to go with Real Russia who I would highly recommend. They have excellent online reviews, are well priced, issue all documents within 15 minutes and, best of all, provide continued support throughout the entire visa application process at no extra charge.
Of course, there are numerous other possible options, but keep in mind that there are a growing number of spammy websites online – visas mean big money after all – so be sure to do your research beforehand to ensure they’re legit. Read online reviews to check operators are reputable and know the ballpark price so that you’re not overcharged.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED | Along with your personal information, you’ll also be required to select the type of visa you need and the specific details of your visit.
You’ll also need to enter the exact entry and exit dates of your trip which will be linked to your final visa application so be sure that they are correct. The form will show an error if they do not fall within the 30-day period for a single entry tourist visa.
You’ll also be asked to enter up to five cities you intend to visit within Russia and your accommodation in each. If you’re taking the Trans Siberian Railway, this may be listed as an option and should be selected for one of the entries if possible. The other cities and accommodation should align with your intended itinerary, however, these are not set in stone and can be changed at any time when planning your actual trip. That said, they should still match the entries on your final visa application form whether you intend to stay there or not.
COST | Through Real Russia, the Visa Support Documents cost £15.30 for a single entry tourist visa. Prices with other operators vary.
Step 2 | Create A Comprehensive Itinerary For Your Trip
For Australians, a full itinerary is not listed among the Consulate’s required paperwork for your Russian Visa Application, however I was highly recommended to include one and was asked for it when submitting my documents at the Visa Centre.
It doesn’t need to be your actual finalised itinerary and you don’t have to provide proof that you have anything booked as is the case with many other nationalities, but showing clearly what your intended plan for visiting Russia is will only help your application.
I used the template provided by Real Russia where you need to enter every detail about the transport, cities and accommodation you will use while in Russia. Even if you plan to make changes to this itinerary, I would still suggest entering correct information, i.e. use existing train or flight numbers and travel times, include the cities and accommodation listed in your Visa Support Documents, ensure entry/exit dates are correct, etc.
Once completed, you can have your itinerary verified by Real Russia or your chosen tour operator, though this is not essential. They’ll simply return it with an official letterhead or company stamp ready to be submitted with your other paperwork.
Again, if your actual itinerary ends up being different to the one you submit, this is not a problmem. Mine ended up differing greatly with side trips added to the Altai Mountains and Taganay National Park which were never part of my initial plan, while Saint Petersburg was skipped altogether.
Step 3 | Russian Visa Application Form
The Russian Visa Application Form is perhaps the biggest headache of the entire process as it’s long-winded, requires plenty of detail and includes one particularly nightmarish question that requires you to outline every trip you’ve taken in the past 10 years. As someone who travels for a living, this one certainly had me grumbling and was a big reason why I lept putting off this process for quite so long.
The application form is completed online and you’ll be provided with the final pdf file to download and print for submission. When you begin the form, you’ll be given an application number and asked to create a password which allows you to return at any time to continue.
Along with your personal information, you’ll need to enter your visa specifications, occupation, employment history, tertiary education, parent’s details, travel insurance, details of the company that provided your Visa Support Documents, countries visited in the last 10 years and your intended places of stay in Russia.
APPLY HERE | Electronic Russian Visa Application Form
TOP TIPS |
| The ‘Host Organisation You Intend To Visit’ is the company that provided your Visa Support Documents. Note that Real Russia, for example, is only an intermediary and not the name of the organisation you will be entering in the application. Instead, you’ll find the company name and reference numbers written in Russian on these documents or in English in your confirmation email if using Real Russia.
In Cyrillic, look out for these words to find the correct confirmation and reference numbers:
ПОДТВЕРЖДЕНИЕ – Confirmation
РEФEPEHC – Reference
ВАУЧЕР – Voucher
| The list of countries you’ve visited in the last 10 years is capped at 30 entries so if you’re someone who travels a lot, rest assured that you might not actually have to list everything. I’d suggest starting with your current passport – the one that will be submitted as part of the application – and using the entry/exit stamps as a guide. If you’ve paid numerous visits to countries where you don’t receive a stamp – for example, in the Schengen Zone of Europe – add these in as well.
If you have taken more than 30 trips and have an older passport (i.e. one that’s not getting submitted) with a stamp from a country that perhaps doesn’t have the best relationship with Russia, I’d consider leaving this off the list in favour of a less controversial one to avoid raising any red flags.
| For your planned places to stay in Russia you can add numerous entries, but be sure to include the same places and accommodation that are written in your Visa Support Documents and itinerary.
Step 4 | Make An Appointment at The Russian Visa Centre
Your visa will be processed by the Russian Visa Centre and this is where you’ll have your appointment to submit all the paperwork.
Book an appointment through the Official Visa Centre of Russia in Australia which is run by Interlink Service. This is not to be confused with the Russian Consulate where it’s also possible to make an appointment relating to visas.
I submitted my application at the Visa Centre in Pyrmont, Sydney and the whole process took just 5 minutes. Provided all your paperwork is in order, the only questions you’ll be asked is what visa you’re applying for and whether you’ll need your passport in the next few weeks.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED |
For your appointment, be sure to bring:
1 | Your passport with at least 2 available pages
2 | A copy of the information page of your passport
3 | Your Visa Support Documents – Letter of Invitation and Tourist Voucher (2 pages)
4 | A passport photo attached to your application form
5 | Your Russian Visa Application Form printed and signed with passport photo attached in the correct place holder
6 | Your trip itinerary
7 | Enough funds to pay for the visa application
COST | You can find the current fees for the visa application here. For me, the total cost for a single entry tourist visa was A$170 which includes the consular fee ($140), service fee ($43), credit card fee ($5) and sms fee ($2). If your passport is being mailed back to you, you’ll need to pay an additional postage fee.
Step 5 | Collect Your Passport And Check Details
After 12 business days, and apparently not a day sooner, you’ll receive a text message to say that your visa is ready for collection. There’s no need to make an appointment for pick up, but do note that both Visa Centres have specific hours for passport collection.
When you receive your passport, be sure to check that all key details on your visa are correct – your full name and entry and exit dates are the most important.
Give Yourself Enough Time
Don’t leave it to the last minute!
You can apply for your Russian Visa up to 4 months in advance, but I wouldn’t leave it any later than a month before your trip.
Once you’ve applied, the approval process takes at least 12 business days, plus pulling together all the paperwork, booking an appointment during office hours and getting passport photos taken can all eat away at your time. You can request express service, but this is double the price and still takes 4 to 6 business days.
Your passport will also be kept at the Visa Centre during processing so be sure to apply when you don’t have any other trips coming up.
Stop Procrastinating And Just Do It
Honestly, if only I’d been able to take my own advice.
I faffed about and put off this process for far longer than necessary, Googling what documents I needed, starting and stopping my itinerary half a dozen times, beginning my application form and then losing all the progress, making appointments and then cancelling appointments.
The whole thing went on for weeks and drove me absolutely nuts!
But if you just sit down and try to knock it out in one go, the entire process is not nearly as painful as it may seen and can easily be completed over a weekend, probably even in a full day if your itinerary is straight forward.
Make Sure The Details Are Correct
This may sound obvious, but it would be a shame to be denied or given the wrong visa because of a silly error or something that might raise a red flag unnecessarily.
Be sure to carefully double-check the important things, such as:
| Your entry and exit dates should be correct from the point you apply for your Visa Support Documents as these will be used in all subsequent paperwork and will determine the actual dates of your trip.
| Match the cities and accommodation listed in your Visa Support Documents throughout the entire application process. If you don’t end up staying here, that’s completely fine, but if they are listed in your Visa Support Documents you should also include them in your itinerary and on the visa application form for consistency.
| Even if you don’t have any train or flight tickets booked, ensure you’ve entered the correct details of existing services in your itinerary and application form.
Check Whether You’ll Need Other Permits For Your Visit
A visa is essential for any visit to Russia, but it doesn’t give you free reign to visit everywhere in the country.
Some sensitive regions, particularly along the land and sea borders, will require an additional permit which must be applied for in advance through the FSB (formerly KGB) via a tour operator and can take up to two months to be processed.
Areas that require a special permit and may be relevant to tourists include parts of the Altai, Kamchatka, Yamal and Murmansk regions. This list includes a number of the other areas.
Have a Valid Passport
This may sound like a no brainer, but it seems to catch people out surprisingly often.
Your passport should be valid for six months following the expiry date of your visa. If you’re applying for your visa several months in advance, make sure this will be the case.
As the visa takes up a full-page, you’ll also need to have at least two full pages available in your passport.
And that’s it! Have you been through this process recently? Has anything changed? Feel free to leave a comment below so I can keep this guide updated for fellow travellers.