Getting Russian Visas

posted by: Emma

We had found few reports of cycle tourists travelling through Russia in the last few years and after trying to arrange our Russian visas while in Istanbul we can see why people might opt for the Central Asian route instead. With time on our hands over winter, we spent some time researching our options and gave it a shot.

We hope our experience will be of use to others trying to plan a similar route and may help you avoid some problems we faced along the way. Check out our post about the basics of Russian Visas for details of application requirements.

Dolmabahce Camii Nusretiye Camii

Our experience in Istanbul

After much research and consideration we decided the six month multi-entry business visa would be most suitable for our needs. It would give us a wide window to get into the country and allow a degree of flexibility about how many days we could spend in Russia.

We hoped to get this in Istanbul, where we’ve been waiting for winter to disappear before heading on. We had read that visas were only being accepted for people in their home country but some consulates were flexible in some situations. We’re dual passport holders (New Zealand and British) but decided to try with our New Zealand passports thinking the consulate might be more willing to bend the rules for travellers who couldn’t return home easily.

On two separate visits to the Russian Consulate in Istanbul we had verbal confirmation that applications on a New Zealand passport would be possible. The Russian Cycle Touring Club would arrange for our letter of invitation to be issued from the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs which was the first step in obtaining the visa. We were sorted.

Just 12 days after our payment was accepted the letters were FedEx’d to us in Istanbul and I took them to the Consulate on a Friday morning. The scrum of bodies outside the consulate wasn’t a good sign, neither was the obvious preference given to the tour operators with large wads of American dollars and clear packets of passports.

Along with a few other solo applicants I was eventually let in, called to a counter and told that as a New Zealand citizen it wouldn’t be possible to get a Russian visa in Turkey. I explained that I had asked previously and was told (“by that man, over there at that desk”) that it would be possible. I was asked to wait.

Four hours and several repeats of “I’m sorry, we can’t help you” later, I got my final answer…

No visa would be possible in Istanbul with either a New Zealand or UK passport unless we had a residents permit.

We were stuck with letters of invitation addressed to the Istanbul embassy with support from a New Zealand business on them and New Zealand passport details on them. Hmmm.

Gambling, man

Without Russian visas we would have to dramatically rethink our plans and after five easy months in Istanbul suddenly time was against us. In order to get to Mongolia overland we would need to find some way to get those Russian visas. Some quick fire internet research gave us three possible options.

New Zealand: It would cost a significant amount of cash and take five days to courier our New Zealand passports home. From traveller reports the Russian Embassy in New Zealand seemed like they were likely to play to the letter of the law and weren’t so keen on business visa applications. If they said no, we’d still need to courier everything back to Istanbul and try another option. The odds were stacked against us.

United Kingdom: Justin spoke to Sally at Real Russia who explained it would have been much easier if we had used our British passports for the visa, however as we had dual citizenship we should be able to apply in the UK by presenting both passports to the consulate, recent bank statements and a cover letter explaining the many differences in application versus our letter of invitation. We rang another respected UK based travel agency to double-check her advice and they confirmed the same information. The result we were after wasn’t guaranteed but applying in London was definitely an option.

Russian travel agency in Istanbul: The next day we decided it would be worthwhile trying people who could plead our case in Russian and visited a Russian Travel Agency in central Istanbul. I think the poor manager was bemused by our request but he promised to help if he could. We left copies of our documents with him and he asked us to ring his English speaking colleague on Monday afternoon for an answer.

Deciding that couriering four passports to London was too much of a risk, having me fly back would be our best option so we checked flight times and costs and set deadlines for our Russian contact in Istanbul to respond. He wasn’t able to come up with an answer quickly enough, so we booked the next flight back to London. I landed at midnight on Monday night.

London hire bikes Graffiti London

Real Russia London

Because of the number of inconsistent pieces of information in our application, we decided against trying to get the visa in London independently and we felt that Real Russia were worth the extra money to smooth the process. We paid extra for a two day turn around to avoid us waiting too long for the decision.

I took our documentation into the office after sorting out additional paperwork on Tuesday morning. They delivered the applications to the London Russian Visa Application Centre that afternoon and I was emailed at 4pm on Wednesday saying they were ready to pick up.

It had taken a lot more time, effort and money than we had expected but our first major bureaucratic hurdle had been cleared. We could go to Russia!

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5 responses to “Getting Russian Visas”

  • And better still we got another dose of Emma. Even if I did put you on the wrong train and missed the afghani food the pizza evening was a welcome ray of sunshine at the end of the northern winter. Miss your chocolate butter picking ways.

  • Scoop on February 24th, 2011 at 6:43 pm
  • Great news
    But more info please
    How much and for how long
    Six months?
    Does that six months start from now or when you enter USSR?

  • matthew on February 25th, 2011 at 12:41 am
  • Matthew,
    Its not the most straight forward process, for sure.

    Re: timing. You have to specify a start date in the visa which is when your clock starts running. Apparently New Zealand and Australian Consulates might be able to start the process early, but we were told that for Business visas the department issuing our letter of introduction could only do this 45 days before our specified entry date. The clock started on 20th Feb for us but as we only want maximum of three months in Russia this isn’t a problem. Some travellers get a 1 year visa which allows entry any time in that year for up to 3 months.

    How much depends entirely on what visa, what consulate you go through and what service you want. Every single consulate we looked into had different pricing structures so best just to ask at the one you’ll be using. Our letters of introduction were roughly £100 per person but you can pay more to get these much faster. We could have used normal processing to get the visas for about £150 a head if we didn’t fast track it and enlist the help of an agency.

    Hope that helps,


  • Emma on February 25th, 2011 at 10:11 am
  • Sarah,
    I’d almost go to the end of the earth for pizza and company like that. Want to join us in Ullan Bator for a meal this summer?

  • Emma on February 25th, 2011 at 10:13 am
  • I’m trying to prepare myself for a similiar situation as I’m about to leave to go to Europe from London on my bike and spend 3 months or so in Russia.

    Asking round on the web I came across this website for expats in Russia:

    From it I found a travel agent in russia:

    The guy to speak/write to is Vadim who is a bit of a celebrity on Russian visa forums. His English is pretty good.
    He told me he could arrange for a Letter of Invitation to be emailed to me, in time for me to be in Lithuania to pick up at the Russian consulate there. It’s a fairly expensive process for a 3 month Business Visa, but it’s the option I’m going for. The alternative which he recommended first was to obtain a year long multi-entry in London which would be about the same price but which I decided against in case I change my mind about going.
    I will only be sure that this process works once I’ve done it, but I’ll try to remember to broadcast what happens whether successful or not.

  • David on February 27th, 2011 at 8:20 pm

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