So you've booked your flights and your ready for your Russian adventure but on thing stands in your way, the dreaded Russian visa! Your first option is to jump online and find an agency that will effectively do it all for you. This can be pricey but saves you any hassel. We opted for the 'DIY' version and saved ourselves quite a bit.
*Important to note: I was using a British passport and Max a German one. We got our visas in Germany.*
Step One -Invitation Letter
You will need one of these to get a Russian visa. If you are part of a tour or staying in the same hotel for your entire trip then they will provide you one (sometimes for a small fee). If, like us, you want to travel around a bit and don't want to stay in expensive hotels then your best bet is buying one online. We bought ours through travelrussia as it was only €8. Make sure your passport information is correct and our dates cover the entire time you will be in Russia. You don't have to know where you will stay, simply choose a hotel from the drop down menu. The website will automatically email you your invitation letter once your payment is approved.
Step Two- The Visa Appointment
In Germany there is an organisation that deals with Russian visas which I used due to the Russian embassy having limited opening hours and me being unable to take time off work. This meant I paid a little extra in fees. I also paid more for having a British passport which I didn't realise as I thought it came under the same fee bracket as EU passports. Turns out the UK doesn't have the same agreements with Russia as the rest of Europe and is therefore charged more. I paid €72 with my NZ passport it would have been €52 and with an EU passport €35. Max managed to get to the Russian embassy to hand in his documents so avoided the extra fees too. Along with the invitation letter you will also need:
- A passport photo (taken within the last 6 months)
- A copy of your travel insurance
- Details of your flights (I was never asked for this but best to be safe.
Once they've checked you have the right documents they take your payment and send your visa off for processing. We had no further hassles and went back to collect our passports a week later.
Step Three- Entering Russia
We had no issues entering Russia. We filled in an arrival/departure card and needed to keep part of it until we left the country. They stamped our passports and we were let loose to explore.
Step Four - Registering
We never completed this step as we read into it and found that unless we were unfortunate enough to be stopped by police and document checked then we wouldn't be asked for it. The rules are also a bit unclear on whether you need to be registered for stays over seven days in Russia or only if you are more than seven days in one place. If you are staying in one place longer than seven days your hotel, hostel or even hosts can register you for free (they may charge you for the effort). It's not a difficult process if you speak Russian, they just need a copy of your passport and visa. We stayed ten days in Russia and were never asked about it.
Other tips for negotiating Russia
- Use 'Uber' for any longer distances or late night trips. Super easy to use and the prices are very cheap especially if you add up the cost of 2 people traveling. The best part about it is that you set you pick up point and destination before hand so there is no need to speak Russian and no price negotiations.
- Overnight trains are very easy, clean and comfortable. We booked ours before we even got to Russia from here. It was very cheap and easy.
- If you are going for any length of time then make an effort to learn the Russian alphabet as this will help with reading street signs, metro information and menus. Most people speak very little English but are friendly and helpful.
For more ideas and information about Russia read Why Russia Should Be Next On Your Travel List.