Applying for a visa can be a stressful experience, especially if you have never had to do it before. Living in England and holding a British passport means that a lot of travel for us can be done visa free, especially through the EU Schengen area. When we have had to apply for a visa in the past it has usually either been granted on entry into the country or via a five minute internet form before our trip. Therefore, when Mr ESLT booked flights to St Petersburg for the end of April (as an early birthday trip for me) he hadn’t considered the visa application process we would need to go through in order to obtain a Russian visa.
We realised quickly that the process was quite in-depth and needed us to provide a number of documents and actually visit the Russian Embassy/Visa Application Centre in person – great! Therefore, following our experience I have listed below, in order, the process we followed:
1. Do You Need a Visa
First things first, work out if you actually need a visa. If you are visiting Russia on a cruise ship you can currently visit Russia on visa-waiver scheme provided the stop in the port of call doesn’t exceed 72 hours and tourists stay overnight on board the cruise ship. If you disembark the ship and take an organised tour, you can do so without a visa. However, if you want to explore on your own you will need one.
Don’t book flights (or any other mode of transportation) before you obtain your visa. If you don’t get your visa approved it may not be possible to get your flights refunded and no one likes to waste money.
3. What Type of Visa
Work out what type of visa you need as there are a loads of options. As we are visiting for 5 days with one entry we applied for a standard Tourist Visa, which is valid for up to 30 days and allows a maximum of two entries.
4. Obtaining an Invitation
You need an invitation (or visa support letter) to apply for a Russian visa. Basically, you need to be invited to visit the country. In reality this is just a money-making scheme for a number of companies who will send you an invitation for the purpose of your visa application for a fee (approx £10 per person). We on the other hand e-mailed the hotel we are staying at in St Petersburg who sent an invitation through to us there and then and didn’t charge us a penny.
5. On-line Registration Form
Complete the on-line registration form. This took around 3 hours, therefore we recommend making a big cup of tea before embarking on the task. Mr ESLT and I sat together with our laptops and went through each questions very carefully. We wanted to ensure that we did not make a mistake which could possibly hinder our chances of obtaining our visa. The only issue we came across with the registration form was the section where you need to list the countries that you have visited in the last 10 years. As we travel a lot we managed to enter up to 2013 before it would not accept any further entries. So we simply left it at that. Also, one of the questions on the form is ‘do you have travel insurance to visit Russia’. We do have annual travel insurance that is valid in Russia and we were asked to input our policy number. We have never been asked for the certificate however it appears that not having one could hinder your chances of visa approval. You also need to state which application centre you are applying through. If you are applying through Manchester, like we did, there isn’t an option for that on the form so you need to click London.
6. Get Your Photograph Taken
Get your photos taken. You need to provide one passport photograph for your visa. The photograph must be less than 6 months old. I had mine taken by a guy in a photography shop who had a check list of how the photo should look. Mr ESLT however jumped in a booth at the supermarket and got his done. Regardless of where you get your photo, it must adhere to the following rules:
- The photograph must be a full-face view in which the visa applicant is facing the camera directly, with eyes open
- 35 mm X 45 mm (1 3/8″ X 1 3/4″) with the head centered in the frame.
- The applicant should not look down or to either side, and the face should cover about 50 percent of the photo area.
- Side or angled views are NOT accepted.
- Lighting should be such that there are no distracting shadows on the face or background
- The photos must be clear, well-defined and taken against a plain white or light-colored background
- In general, the applicant’s head, including both face and hair, should be shown from the crown of the head to the tip of the chin on top and bottom and from hairline side-to-side.
- Sunglasses or other wear which detracts from the face are not acceptable unless required for medical reasons (an eye patch, for example).
- Group photos are NOT acceptable. As a separate visa is issued to each qualified applicant, a photo of each applicant is required
- Your face must be square to the camera with a neutral expression, neither frowning nor smiling, and with your mouth closed
- Photocopied photographs are NOT accepted.
7. The All Important Passport
Ensure that your passport has two clear pages, these do not need to be consecutive. Also ensure that you still have at least 6 months on it before it expires before applying for your visa.
Print everything off in preparation for your visit to the Russia Embassy, or as in our case the Manchester Visa Application Centre as in the UK the application needs to be done in person. This can be done in London, Edinburgh or Manchester. Be prepared to wait to see the visa advisor as you cannot make an appointment, it is a walk up service only. We waited around 30 minutes having seen the two couples in front of us turned away due to not having the right documentation (eeeekkk).
9. Visiting The Russian Embassy/Visa Application Centre
Once called over you then sit with the visa advisor who goes through the documentation that you have taken in with you. For us, all he did was check we had what we needed, not whether they were correct but just that we had them. He stuck our photographs onto the forms, asked us to place our hand on his funky machine which took a copy of our fingerprints and then took payment – a whopping £118.20 each*. He gave no indication as to whether our visas would be approved and just said we would receive our passports back in a week or two. Manchester does not offer a collection service, so our passports were to be posted back to us.
10. Sit Back and Wait
After 2 weeks of waiting nervously by the letter box we finally got our passports back via DX delivery service which needed to be signed for. We quickly flicked through them and found them – OUR RUSSIAN VISAS – YES!!!!
It was a long process and until the day we received our passports back we did not know if we had ‘passed’. Yes it was in-depth and we needed a lot of documentation and yes the visas cost a fair whack of cash but hopefully it will be all worth while when we touch down in St Petersburg and have that first vodka in our hands – Nostrovia!
Have you been through this process? Have you been refused a Russian Visa?
If not from the UK – taken straight from waytorussia.net
‘It is only possible to apply for a Russian visa in the country that you are a national of or in the country where you have a residency permit valid for longer than 90 days. This means that if you come from an EU country, you can apply for a Russian visa in any other EU country, because you are entitled to permanent residence in any of these countries by European law. However, if you’re from the US, then you can’t apply in Finland, for example, unless you have a valid residency permit there.’
If you are self-employed – taken straight from VFS.Global
‘Applicants who are self-employed, company directors, working from home or unemployed need to provide bank statements for the last three months which have a current balance of a minimum of £100 per day for the duration of the visit (not required for housewives, students and retired applicants). Please note that if you wish to provide online banking printouts please make sure they will be certified and stamped by your bank.’
We hope this information helps and good luck with your Russian Visa application.
* as at 16th February 2017