Please sign in to post.

Application for visa to Russia

If travel opens up and we are allowed in, my husband and I are taking a Viking cruise in late August 2021 from Moscow to St. Petersburg, followed by about a week and a half in the Baltic countries on our own via train or bus to Estonia, then heading south thru Latvia, Lithuania, and then a flight to Helsinki from where we will return to Florida.

I am concerned about the visa application. I’ve never gotten one before and I’m confused so I am going to outline my beliefs and then hopefully someone can correct me where I am wrong.

1) if we apply for a visa ourselves, Viking will need to get us an invitation letter. It’s the same price ($160) for a one year single entry or a 3 year visa so we may go for the 3 year. We live in SW Florida. My belief is that I send the needed info to Washington DC and that I don’t have to actually go in person. I am confused on the difference between a consulate and an embassy. Not sure what Dc is. OR We can use a company called GenVisa that Viking uses and let them apply for the visa. They will provide the invitation letter. Cost for single entry visa is $548 for 2 people and $632 for multi entry 3 yrs for 2 people. GenVisa provides a white glove service for an additional $59 each person where we don’t have to fill out any forms at all, except for a couple of simple pages. I don’t think that they are even processing visas now because of Covid. We have our shots and the waiting period. Yeah!

2). I send them the current passport only(we’ve got about 8 yrs left on them), even though most of the last ten countries that we’ve entered that we must tell them about are on the previous passport. I also notice on our current passports that when we went to England, they only stamped the exit date from England whereas on my trip to Grand Cayman on this passport in March of 2020 they stamped it only when I arrived in GC. Why the discrepancy? And will that cause a problem? I do know all actual dates for all ten trips because I keep a journal.

3). We plan on staying for an additional two nights in St. Petersburg after the Viking trip on our own (we could do Vikings 2 night post extension but we can do it a lot cheaper on our own). We are getting our own hotel. Do we need to get an additional invitation letter from that hotel? Do we need to list that somehow on the application?

4) if we do the 3 yr. visa, they don’t care that we aren’t really going to be in Russia the whole time or when we are actually coming back to Russia (in reality we would have no way of knowing that or if we will even return). I’ve seen an explanation of the dates we enter for entry and exit on a 3 yr. visa. What happens if we return to Russia? Do we need to get another invitation letter? I’m guessing not???

5) in your experience, how long, after application, did it take you to get your visa? Would you go ahead and send in paperwork for a visa, even if they aren’t issuing them currently, in anticipation that there is going to be a huge backlog when they do start processing them? I guess I shouldn’t apply at all If Viking seems wishywashy on whether they are going to operate this trip in August. We will get a total cash reimbursement or voucher for future trips if they don’t go. I’m not worried about that part.

Thanks.

Posted by
17907 posts

I have no recent experience applying for a Russian visa, so take this all with a very large grain of salt.

I think it's reasonable to consider that the visa-application process may not be terribly efficient when things first open up, and I don't blame you for thinking it would be a good idea to get that essential step taken care of well ahead of time. However, I doubt you'll get any money back from the visa fee or GenVisa's processing fee if you apply now and it turns out the cruise doesn't run--or if the cruise runs but doesn't go to Russian ports.

I assume you are aware there's a visa-free way to visit St. Petersburg (not Moscow) for a few days from Helsinki.

Posted by
484 posts

We got a visa to visit Russia in 2019. You can not apply (at least that was the rule) far in advance. In our group some of us were given 3 year visas some were given the shorter visa. Our choice didn't matter. We used a company that GoAhead tours recommended and had no problems. They asked us questions, we provided info and they handled all the rest for about the amount of money that you are mentioning. I am a dual citizen with Italy and I used my American passport which didn't have any stamps for Europe in it but there was no problem. We have the 3 year visa and are hoping to use it before it expires but I haven't looked into it yet.

Posted by
4181 posts

Is Viking not handling the visa applications, or at least doing part of the work on behalf of its clients? Or are they leaving it up to you, and only mentioning that GenVisa is a possible resource?. Does Viking have a customer service center that can simplify your visa process? Maybe you wouldn’t be discussing the 2 post-cruise nights you plan to do on your own, without booking their trip extension package. If you did, would that complicate getting their assistance?

About 3 years ago, we were considering a Scandinavian cruise where St. Petersburg was the only Russian stop, and a special, short, 72-hour Russia visit was authorized without needing a longer visa. Since your itinerary is more than 3 days and is more than just St. Petersburg, that wouldn’t be an option. I’d still think that Viking would be making the visa process as easy as possible for its clients.

Posted by
1927 posts

jtridle1, my last visa to Russia was secured while I was living in Austria. Like you, I needed a letter of introduction from the company I would be traveling with. With that, I worked through an agency in Vienna which charged me about 220€ (if I recall correctly). The up-front process took a couple of weeks of back and forth info, then I had to provide my passport to the agency, which they sent to the Russian consulate.

The Russian Consulate had my passport for about ten days and then it was returned to the agency. The VISA was "inserted" into my passport, taking almost a full page. Like you, I opted for the 3-year option. My passport perhaps had three years remaining and was fairly full. Like you, I did have some in-and-out stamp issues, but these were not a concern. We also stayed over in St. Petersburg, but that was covered in our "travel dates" explanation - so we did not get a letter from a local hotel. (This was a couple of years ago... so verify that's still the case!). My understanding is that if you were to return, you would still need the invitation letter, but could use the visa in your passport is still valid (I traveled years apart and so would I need another visa).

I would secure a visa as early as possible (I got mine about 5 months out)... certainly before purchasing plane tickets or if possible, before making a final payment on a Viking cruise. I guess my process, working through an agency (a must because of where I was living) took about 20-25 days all-in. Getting all the paperwork together - and giving up my passport for 10 days while living in a foreign country - were the two biggest concerns for me.

That said if you are able to go in August... and I hope you can... you'll have a wonderful experience. On one trip, we did a cruise from Moscow to St. Petersburg - on a Russian ship - and had a great time. One quirk, the last time I flew into Moscow, immigration took almost an hour to clear. Surprisingly, they photocopied EVERY page of my passport!

Posted by
52 posts

I’m aware of the no visa way to go but we are definitely going on the Viking cruise and I figure I won’t get a refund on the visa if we can’t go which is a reason I’m hesitant on applying soon. It’s curious why Rick Steves says you can’t apply prior to two months when RnR says they got theirs 5 months out. And no - Viking doesn’t help with the Visa. The person I spoke to at Viking told me to call GenVisa with any questions but I haven’t done that yet. Thought I would see if I could get a better understanding here first before I made my call. Viking doesn’t know yet about my 2 night post-cruise stay in St. Petersburg on my own so that’s not the reason for no assistance.

Posted by
1927 posts

jtridle1, there are many companies that can assist you with securing a Visa. For example, CIBTvisas is the global leader in travel visas and US passports. They can perhaps give you more info. In my case, my trips were travel-related business trips to Russia (and a few years ago), so not sure if that would be different than your situation?

My last trip was in August, and I'm thinking I got my visa in March or April... (have to look back at my notes). With my Visa - and defined dates of travel - I was free to stay during the "requested period" which included extra days on the end. Again, I'd seek out expert assistance from CIBT or one of their competitors like Travel Visa Pro, Fragomen, VisaHQ, Visas Simply, or VisaPro. I have used CIBT a few times. I've not used any of these other companies, so I cannot offer any reference or recommendation... But the point is, there are other options than what Viking is suggesting. I think you'll get some answers talking to these experts. Good luck - hope you're able to travel in August.

Posted by
409 posts

For fear of sounding like a broken record - according to the Russian embassy (washington.mid.ru), the ONE official provider of tourist visa services for the Russian embassy in the US (other than the embassy proper) is Russia visa center (russia-visacentre.com). All other providers, white gloves or no gloves, will necessarily go via the official provider.

Accordingly, the ONE source of information closest to the horse's mouth (other than the embassy proper or Amb. Antonov himself) is Russia visa center. Everything else is not even second-hand.

For the time being, the consular division only deals with essential travel. When things get back to normal is anyone's guess.

In my most recent experience (April 2019), getting the visa (in DC) took 8 days from the date of document submission. The problem is, any past experiences are likely to be completely irrelevant to your case - I submitted via ILS (the ONE official provider at the time), on the unfortunate day that consular services were transferred to VFS Global (the ONE official provider since that date and until the date when this new visacentre gig popped up). So I ended up paying both VFS and ILS fees. The issue is it was not only pre-Covid, but also before the unfortunate decision on the part of DOS to close the two remaining consulates in Russia. At this time nobody knows whether the Russians will return the favor (which will inevitably affect processing times once visa services resume).

Posted by
409 posts

To address your questions from the first post (and kinda sum up everyone else's contributions):

  1. If you apply directly via the embassy, you will save money (the visa fee is $160), but you have to do it in person and at the consulate or embassy that is assigned to servicing SW Florida (in all likelihood, DC). The second-cheapest option is to apply via the official visa center (if you can do it in-person, that would add about $40 per person; please check their site to see what their mail-in fees are - they are usually quite draconian - and maybe genvisa's $300 pp, all in, will not sound as bad).
  2. Yes, you send the current passport only. Previous travel dates will be one of the (many) questions you'll have to answer - good that you have all info handy. No problem with stamps.
  3. Generally, I don't see why Viking shouldn't be able to extend the invitation. If they do not, the hotel will. Hostels won't. You submit both invitations with your application. Generally, invitations must cover the whole duration of the proposed stay (but, once you get a 3-year visa, you can actually enter at any time throughout the validity period, go anywhere within the country, and stay up to 6 months).
  4. They do not. For multi-entry, no additional pre-trip paperwork for any subsequent visits.
  5. In the past, anywhere between a week and a month. Going forward, all bets are off. If Viking cruise is the only option you're considering (vs., say, an independent land trip), I'd wait for a go-ahead from them (maybe use this downtime to get the application ready - for first timers, it can take a little longer than suggested under Paperwork Reduction Act; or research other available options).
Posted by
52 posts

If you’re telling me that if I want to do it on my own for the $160 pp price(Viking would get me an invitation letter in this scenario) that I must physically go to the embassy in DC, there is no way that I am going to do that. That wouldn’t end up being cheaper. I would have transportation, hotel costs. Who in the world would do that unless they lived near Dc? I’ll just use a company. Makes my decision a lot easier.

From PerilsofP above, #3). Im confused. if I get the multi 3 yr. visa using GenVisa (and they do provide an invitation letter but I don’t know if it is just for the Viking cruise or if it will include the two nights post-cruise stay at a hotel, not a hostel, in St. Petersburg), why would I need two invitation letters for the 2021 trip as you state? Why would we need this second one from the hotel since you stated that in future years we can go back whenever we want, as long as the visa is still valid, and wouldnt have to get any invitation letter at all? If that is so, we wouldn’t need to say anything about these two other post cruise nights would we?

Thanks.

Hi!
We did the Viking Helgi in late 2019 Moscow-STP added 2 nights in Moscow pre & added 2 nights in STP-Puschka Inn for post- It was great!

Visa- did on my own for my group of 6 ( 5 who were in their 80's) using IVISA with the extra fees. filled out extensive backgroud info, photos, cashiers check. passport, invitation letter( from both moscow hotel, puschka inn and viking - total 3 i wanted to be complete) sent to Wash. D.C. and paid extra for fed ex service. Took I think 1 month or . We got our visas and passports all on different days - but I had signed up for email/text tracking extra fee.

Also, upon airport arrival (at least in 2019) you obtain a paper like ticket (?) that you keep with your passport and when you depart Russia you must have it to leave. When we boarded Viking, they keep those in their safe and when you disembark ship they will return it.** I took pictures of everything on my iphone and shared with all my group.

The paperwork/background info is detailed but I did the best with it. We had 2 retired military in my group so I was worried. Some of the answers about work/education for the 80 year olds were iffy. I figured a lot of that info would be hard to questioned since that time was pretty much before computers and it be difficult to trace, I was as honest as I could be and we didn't have any issues getting the visas. Hope this helps!

FYI, traffic in Moscow & St Petersburg is unbelievable, both ports for Viking are far away from citycenter. 30-45 minutes each way. If you do anything on you own. The "Moscow" port was the most accesible by metro and a bit of walking, STP not as much we took a taxi one time back and it was around $30ish dollars. Did their version of uber-yandex in Moscow city a little and it was fine. I took and unlocked iphone too and bought a SIM card and used it for a few calls locally and was perfect for searching internet and using google translate.

Posted by
52 posts

So you probably just got a one time visa, not a 3 yr multi visit visa? And you did this pre and post trips on your own and didn’t do Viking’s pre and post trip hotel packages.? You just asked each hotel to provide you with an invitation letter? How long before they got you the letters?

Posted by
409 posts

We usually go with an invite/voucher from an online company (one of zillions out there). It's delivered instantly and costs 12 to maybe 30 dollars pp. Since you will by default have a free invite from Viking (not Genvisa), it would only make sense to make use of it. The hotels will also be able to send you the invite within hours.

The "invitation letter"/tourist voucher is a weird atavism, especially in the case of a 3yr multi-entry (for which you'd specify the full 3 years as "duration of stay" in your application). Still, for peace of mind, when we submit our paperwork we treat it as we would a single-entry (i.e. with all the dates aligned with our tickets plus a week on either end for some last-minute flexibility).

@Milagros, very good point about the tiny piece of paper (immigration card) - this is another atavism (all the data contained in the card are also available electronically), but may turn into a bit of a pain to replace if you lose it.

Posted by
1771 posts

Still, for peace of mind, when we submit our paperwork we treat it as we would a single-entry (i.e. with all the dates aligned with our tickets plus a week on either end for some last-minute flexibility).

Sorry, you lost me there. Do you apply for a single entry Visa or a 3 year? If it's 3 year, are you saying you don't put the full 3 year window on your application?

Posted by
12089 posts

While maybe not the best way, I hired CBIT visas, filled out the application, paid the fee and they took care of the whole thing, including every question being asked, in about 2 weeks via FedEx.

Posted by
409 posts

Oops, I re-read and it doesn't make much sense, sorry about that - and thanks for pointing it out.

No, I still list the "period of stay" as date of entry plus 3 years minus one day, as suggested on the embassy site. What I'm trying to say is that I still submit the same paperwork for the first stay (the one that is used as the basis for issuing the visa in the first place) as I would, had I applied for a single-entry, with the invite covering and, ideally, slightly overlapping my potential flight dates. That is, for instance, if I'm planning to be there between Jul 1 and Jul 15 2021, I'll get an invite for June 25 - Jul 25, and list the "period of stay" as June 25, 2021/Jun 24, 2024, which will be the validity term of the actual visa.

Hope it makes a little more sense. I'll return to re-read it again once after a couple of doses of caffeine to see if it doesn't :-)

Posted by
1771 posts

It makes complete sense to me now! And your example was super helpful to guide me in what I hope to do whenever I can reinstate my lost 2020 travel plan to St. Petersburg and Moscow. Thanks for the detailed example!

Posted by
1771 posts

I like your safety buffer on the invite letter. I don't want to find myself "a day short" at the Moscow airport!

Posted by
52 posts

Well I got word today from Viking that all Russian, Ukraine and Alaskan tours have been cancelled through the end of 2021. So I no longer need to worry about getting a visa for awhile. Other cruises have been cancelled at least through july 2021. Although apparently, according to another Viking email I received today, they have cruises going to Bermuda and Iceland, and may announce more.

Posted by
409 posts

Sorry to hear that. Best of luck with a replacement cruise - and there's always next year.

Posted by
4181 posts

Well, Iceland’s openings it’s doors to vaccinated people, and even fired up a volcano as a spectacular welcome.

What’s Bermuda’s Covid19 situation? All-clear, or come at your own risk?