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Russia Visa Help

I am planning a trip to St. Petersburg soon. I want a 3 year multi entry Visa.
My understanding for the documentation I need my Passport, two passport size photos, 2 copies of visa application, Itinerary, Letter of invitation and hotel booking voucher.

Since they want Itinerary and booking information am I required to book my flight and hotel before the Visa is accepted?

I would hate the off chance that it is denied or delayed.

Any advice please.

Posted by
436 posts

No, you don't have to.

You need to get a LOI/voucher (same document, available from online providers for $20-$30), apply for visa electronically, providing the data from said LOI/voucher; print out a copy of application and submit it with the rest of your documents. Needless to say, your "itinerary" will have to be in line with the LOI, and not necessarily correspond to you real intended itinerary.

Alternatively, you can book a hotel/hotels for the duration of your trip and request a LOI/voucher from them. I think it's not a very popular option.

Posted by
55 posts

Rick says to get the LOI/voucher that one should use the agency recommended by one’s hotel. I definitely do not want to stay in a hotel. There are fantastic Airbnb‘s in St. Petersburg. The Airbnb site makes it impossible to contact a host without paying for a stay. I think I have enough rusty old college Russian to ask the question about a LOI/voucher, I just can’t contact a host to ask it. The above exchange seems to imply that online agencies for getting the LOI/voucher are more trustworthy than Rick would have us think. Is there a recommendable such agency?

Posted by
436 posts

The snag is that for your average hostel - and, especially, Airbnb, issuing a LOI would be quite an onerous proposition, and many, if not most of them, wouldn't want much to do with it.
The procedure for a private invitation is rather straightforward and done online at the Russian e-government site, but, at least for European visitors, the host also needs to sign a letter confirming they would be financially responsible for your stay - which, for obvious reasons, is not something your average Airbnb host would be too happy to sign up to.

I don't feel too comfortable advising piblically on which of the MANY e-LOI companies to choose - please look for suggestions at TripAdvisor' Russia forum.

I'll also send you a PM with the name of the company I use - but really, it's as good as any.

Posted by
6383 posts

I would certainly recommend that you read AirBnb's fine print before you book in an economic Wild West like Russia. Since so many people have reported failure to get refunds in what sound like situations that were not their fault, I would worry that AirBnb might take no responsibility for failures by what are, to them, third-parties! I never use AirBnb anywhere.

Edit: Referring to the reply below, I was referring to generalized discomfort about a country where what Americans call "the rule of law" has not applied for many years. I don't believe that statement is widely disputed in the U.S. Never mind internet hackers, I'm suggesting that faceless businesses in Russia might be even less reliable than faceless businesses in Western Europe. No slight against the Russian people, just talking about paying now for a promised service at a later date.

Posted by
3 posts

I have stayed in hostels when I had my other travels. This trip to St. Petersburg I plan on staying in a hotel though.

Posted by
436 posts

Tim said:
I never use AirBnb anywhere.

Well, your position is quite clear - not sure what the Russian Wild West has to do with it, though.
Airbnb is not the only provider - it's just by far the largest one.

Other, more adventurous options, include house swaps or couchsurfing. I know a bunch of people who used these options quite successfully - but obviously it's not something I'd recommend to an average traveller.

Hostels in SPB range from OK to great (I've stayed in a couple that could easily pass for a 3-star hotel), at least I've never seen one that's outright iffy.

Posted by
7384 posts

I rented an apartment for 9 nights a few years ago when visiting Russia for the first time. It was not through AirBNB but the contact who was listing local apartments connected us with a travel agency in St. Petersburg to issue the invitation. We had to go there to register once we got there since we were there more than 7 business days. It was easy.

The Visas in the US are issued through an agency; the web site for the Russian consulate will show you where you need to apply depending on your location. If you make a mistake, you just do it over but pay careful attention to all that is required.

Posted by
613 posts

Do not mess around with Russian visas. Our neighbor got visa from the Russian Embassy who made typo in her return date by one day. Immigration at St P's airport held her for 3 days to verify the Russian error & she missed her flight.

There are companies that specialize in getting Russian visas for Americans. It's expensive, but they know what they are doing. If what you want to do is possible, they will know how to do it.

Posted by
17 posts

Going through VisaHQ right now to get a visa for Russia. Although a little pricier, they are very helpful and make sure you have all of the documents ready to send for approval. Takes 8-10 business days. I submitted everything last Thursday and am already in the final stage, which is approval from the consulate. Should hear back within the next day or two.

Any questions you have, they answer in a short amount of time.

Posted by
436 posts

What kind of help are you looking for? If you have any questions - just ask here.

Unless yours is a very special case, all the info provided above, plus the "visa" section on the Russian embassy site should be all you need.

Just one thing to remember - as of last week, the Embassy switched from InVisaLogistics (ILS) to VFS Global as their "visa center" service provider. At this point ILS continues to accept applications, but charges an extra $38 on top of their regular fees and the embassy fees.

I have just gotten one - the online application took about two hours to fill out (make sure you hit that "SAVE" button religiously); I submitted the documents to ILS on April 10, received the visa on April 18. I paid $239.09 all-in. Doing it directly via the embassy would have cost $160.

Posted by
6 posts

Hi - quick question for Neil - were you satisfied with your experience with VisaHQ?

Looking to start the process soon and want to make sure I pick a good provider.

Posted by
7205 posts

We attempted to obtain a Visa directly from the Russian Embassy in DC by following their directions exactly. What a joke! Do yourself s favor and don’t waste your time doing that. Hire an agency to get your Visa and be done with it. I think we used CIBT, but I’m sure there are others who will do just as well.

Posted by
436 posts

We attempted to obtain a Visa directly from the Russian Embassy in DC

What was the problem, exactly? All of their directions are spot-on, and quite comprehensive.
The only problem at this point is pretty bad wait times (some people reported up to 30 days), but no visa "helper" agency can do anything about that - the delays are on the consulate side.
To put things in perspective, the wait times advertised on the US embassy site in Moscow (i.e. US tourist visa for Russian citizens) are 300 (yes, that's three hundred) days.