There seems to be two common themes surrounding why more people don’t visit Russia – they think the visa process is too hard and expensive or they think the country is not safe, we’ll get the the safety issues in a second post.
As an Australian passport holder I should have applied for a visa in Australia but when my travel plans changed I finally had a chance to visit Russia, providing I could get a visa on a stopover in London.
As one of the most historical and culturally rich cities in the world, and a place I’ve wanted to travel for many years, I couldn’t bring myself to say no.
The process to get a Russian visa may be length but it’s really quite easy. Here’s a quick rundown on how to get a Russian visa in London.
How do I apply?
For travellers from most countries wanting to visit Russia you will need to obtain a visa before you leave the country. Most travellers will only need a tourist visa, which is the process that I’ll be describing.
To begin the application process you need to complete an extensive form online, including information about which hotels you’ll be staying at, how you’ll be entering and exiting the country, your exact travel dates and which cities you’ll be travelling to. While lengthy, the questions shouldn’t pose too many problems.
Along with your printed visa application you will need to attach a passport photo and include a passport that has more than 6-months left before it expires. It’s also advisable to include copies of your travel itinerary, including flights and hotels, with your application.
There are two visa offices in the UK – one in London and one in Edinburgh – and you can choose whether you want to post the application or hand the post in and collect it in person. You can choose whether you want to pay online or in person with a money order or credit card. (Your visa won’t be processed until your payment has been approved.)
* It is possible to visit some Russian port cities without a visa for 72-hours if you are on a cruise or on an organised tour. For more information read the Visit Russia website but always check with your tour providers for the most up-to-date information.
How much does it cost?
You own invitation (from a Russian travel agency/tour operator)
|Tourist Visa Single Entry|
|Tourist Visa Double Entry|
Prices listed on the left are standard service (6 working days) while prices on the right reflect the price for express visas (2 working days). Most people should be able to get a 30 day visa for the prices listed.
When applying for a Russian visa you need to have an official invitation to accompany the application. This can be done in a number of ways but the simplest is through VisitRussia.org.uk. They charge GBP£10 while other companies may charge double or even triple this price.
Useful Information to know about Russia and the Visa Process?
- Australians can obtain a Russian visa while in London. Generally, you do require to have a Youth Mobility Scheme Visa (YMS), however in some circumstances your visa application may be granted providing you get an entry stamp into the country – this is how I got my visa during the December 2013 Christmas period despite having an expired YMS visa. For more information speak with VisitRussia.org.uk as they are the experts.
- For the latest information about travelling to Russia, including travel warnings, check the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller’s website.
- While Russian Roubles are the national currency, US dollars are sometimes accepted as the currency was once a lot more stable than Russia’s own. (So goes the Russian phrase: “Roubles are for spending, Dollars are for saving.”) Don’t bring travellers cheques – they’re hard to exchange outside of cities – so it’s best to bring your currency in US Dollars or Euros without any tears or stains. Bank machines or ATMs are easy to locate though I was told by a few people that you need to be a little careful at ordinary machines and instead use ones within hotels. In many transportation hubs you will also find green ?? machines that convert USD or Euros to Rubles.
- I had a few problems trying to work out Russian train times and book online. While I could have done it when I arrived, to avoid hassle and have peace of mind, I used Real Russia to book train travel within Russia. They gave me all the options, including the high speed Sapsan between Moscow and St Petersburg. To book my ticket for the train between St Petersburg and Helsinki, Finland I used VR’s website.
- English is widely spoken throughout both Moscow and St Petersburg, if a little shyly. If you need help I’d recommend approaching people under the age of 30-years old or a local hotel. It does help to have a phrase book with you – it saved me a few times when I used the dictionary to find the English word with Russian translation and vice versa.
For more information about travel to Russia I’d recommend reading or speaking to the following bloggers:
- Katie Aune – in 2011 Katie spent a year travelling and volunteering through all 15 countries of the former Soviet Union. She was my go to girl when asking questions about travel to Russia and beyond. Read Katie’s posts on Russia.
- Life in Russia – beautiful photography and rich stories accompany Lindsay’s journey from her time in Russia. Beginning with attending University in St Petersburg, she fell in love with the country and now chronicles her stories with her husband who live for at least one month each summer as the only American couple in a Russian/Estonian village.
- Joulet – For an Aussie’s perspective on travel in Russia, Tash shares her travels from the Trans-Siberian Rail, the Trans-Mongolian Rail, as well as Lake Biakal and Irkutsk.
Now it’s over to you: