If you’re planning a trip to Russia, chances are you’re trying to make sure you have everything you need to hop aboard your flight. The visa regime put in place by the Russian government is complex and ever-changing, so it’s important to do your research and make sure you meet any updated requirements before traveling.
In order to enter the country for any reason, U.S. citizens must have both a valid U.S. passport and a bona fide visa issued by a Russian Embassy or Consulate in their possession. You will not be able to obtain an entry visa when you arrive in Russia, so make sure you obtain yours in advance. If you arrive without an entry visa, you will have to return to the point of embarkation at your own expense.
Russian visas contain two dates, each written in European style (day/month/year). The first date is the earliest day you are allowed to enter the country, while the second date is the date you must leave by. Russian visas cannot be extended once you’ve arrived in Russia except in the case of a medical emergency.
Russian tourist visas are typically only granted for the specific dates included in the sponsor’s invitation letter. These visas can be valid for as little as a few days. Even if a Russian Embassy or Consulate mistakenly enters the wrong dates on your visa, you will not be allowed to enter the country before the visa’s start date and cannot leave after the expiration date. Mistakes must be corrected before you enter the country. Your visas should detail your intended activities, whether you’re traveling for tourism, business, educational, or other purposes.
Russian visas with periods of validity under three years long may only stay in Russia for up to 90 days in any 180-day period, unless that visa authorizes employment or study. Visas issued for three years allow you to stay in Russia for up to six months, uninterrupted, while breaks between intervals are allowed to be as short as a single calendar day.
All foreign travelers are required to have a Russian-based sponsor. This sponsor could be a hotel, tour company, university, employer, relative, etc. Visas obtained through U.S. travel agencies indicate sponsors’ names on the visas. These sponsors must apply for any changes, extensions, or replacements to Russian visas on behalf of the foreign traveler. It’s crucial that you have your sponsor’s contact information before arriving in Russian territory in case you encounter any problems with your visa.
Upon your arrival, you must acquire and fill out a two-part migration card. You will then leave one part of the card with immigration authorities at your port of entry and keep the other part until your departure, when you will submit that half to the authorities as well. Foreigners are usually expected to present their migration cards during hotel registration. If you plan to travel between Russia and Belarus, know that you can use the same migration card but will be required to have two separate visas.
Applications and Types of Visas
Russian visas will only be granted upon the presentation of an invitation from a Russian sponsor. Student visas do not include exit visas. You will have to submit a separate application for an exit visa to the Russian authorities. Student visas are usually only valid for up to three months, but extensions are possible. Your Russian school must obtain your permission to exit and will also be responsible for ensuring timely extensions. You must notify the school’s visa department in advance if you intend to leave Russia before the time scheduled in your contract.
For work visas, prospective employers must initiate the application process.
Private visas must include an original entitlement certificate obtained and sent to you by your sponsor. To obtain this certificate, your sponsor will need to know your full name, address, nationality, passport number, date of birth, and your dates of arrival and departure.
Transit visas must include your tickets, travel itinerary, and visa for your destination country. It’s recommended that U.S. citizens traveling to Russia for business apply for a three-year multiple-entry business visa regardless of the intended number of entries, trip duration, or intended entry and exit dates. Applications for a business visa should include a written statement from your sponsor that contains the full name of the host organization, the organization’s address and contact information, the signer’s surname, first name, patronymic, and employment position, the taxpayer number (if applicable), and the applicant’s basic information. This basic information should include your full name, date of birth, citizenship status, sex, passport number, reason for traveling, multiplicity of the visa, location of intended residence, travel itinerary, and requested period of entry.
To obtain your Russian visa, you must have a passport that is valid for at least six months after your departure date, and it must have at least two blank visa pages. You should complete and sign two copies of the Russian Visa Application Form and include two signed passport-sized photos. Your photos should feature the front of your face holding a neutral expression, and you should be positioned in the center in front of a white background. If you’re a tour member or cruise passenger, you should include a letter from the company or cruise line that confirms your travel itinerary and has confirmation from an authorized Russian travel company with the visa’s reference and confirmation numbers. If you’re traveling individually, you should include the confirmation of your hotel arrangements from an authorized Russian travel company or from the hotel itself that has the visa’s reference and confirmation numbers.
U.S. citizens who don’t comply with Russian visa laws may be subject to arrest, fines, and/or deportation. U.S. travelers with visas that expire during their time abroad may become stranded in Russia for up to 20 days before they are granted an exit visa by local authorities. You will be stranded at your own expense, and expired visas may result in problems securing lodging accommodations. If you lose your visa during your trip, you must consult your sponsor to apply for a new visa on your behalf before you will be allowed to depart. Updated visa and immigration laws and requirements are not always made transparent by the Russian government, and U.S. diplomats are unable to intervene with visa matters even in situations that involve stranded U.S. citizens. Dual citizens, including minors, who travel with Russian Passports will face extra complications.
If you’re traveling to another country and make a stop in Russia along the way, even just to change planes, you must be in possession of a Russian transit visa. Russian authorities may refuse to allow you to continue your travels without a transit visa, and you will be forced to return to your point of embarkation at your own expense.
Several areas in Russia are closed and/or restricted. If you attempt to enter restricted areas without authorization, you may be subject to fines, arrests, and/or deportation. Your visa application must list all areas of intended travel, and you and your sponsor will need to make sure that your visa is registered when you enter new areas. Furthermore, Russian police officers may perform random document checks without cause. You should have your passports, visas, and migration cards on you at all times.
If you’re departing the country by train, immigration officials might consider your visa to be expired if you board on the last day of your visa’s validity and the train crosses the international border after midnight that day.
If you’re the passenger of an international cruise ship that will be stopped at a Russian port for no more than 72 hours, you won’t need a visa so long as you are always in the presence of an authorized tour group while onshore. If you’re the passenger of a river boat or the member of a package tour, however, you will need to apply for a Russian visa prior to entry.
If you are a dual citizen and enter the country on a Russian passport, you will not be allowed to depart if your passport has been expired or lost even if you have a valid U.S. passport. You will be required to obtain a new Russian passport, which can take up to several months. If you’re applying for a Russian visa with a U.S. passport, you’ll likely be required to renounce your Russian citizenship. If you have a Russian external passport that is granted an extension by a Russian Embassy or Consulate overseas, it will not be considered valid for departure and you will need to apply for a new passport inside the country. Males between the ages of 18 and 27 who are considered Russian citizens may experience complications if they haven’t satisfied their military service requirement.
American citizens under the age of 18 who have dual citizenship and are traveling on Russian passports must have a power-of-attorney that allows them to travel alone or under supervision of adults who are not their parents. Minors will not be allowed to enter or exit the country if they cannot present a power-of-attorney. Furthermore, there may be special procedures at entry and exit points that require evidence of relationship and permission from the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) for the minor to travel if parent(s) or legal guardian(s) are not present. These requirements are in place in an effort to prevent child abduction.
At Travel Visa Pro, we provide expedited passport services and offer assistance with applications and other paperwork. Whether you’ve encountered a last minute emergency or are planning your trip in advance, we’re here to help you avoid any unnecessary hiccups.
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