Thinking of planning a trip to Russia on your own without having to go through an organised tour company? Well you are at the right place. Based on my personal experience I will help you with the answers to all your questions and some bonus tips and tricks!
Here is your guide to travel to the largest country in the world. Follow the below points in the given order which has all the information you need to plan, arrange and make your trip to Russia much easier, cheaper and successful.
This article gives a step-by-step explanation of how to obtain a Russian visa on your own in India. The process is very similar in other countries, although there may be some slight differences.
Visa Process :
Russia has a different procedure when it comes to the travel visa. You will get your visa for the exact number of days that you are planning to stay in the country. For instance you are planning to have a 15 days trip, then your visa will be valid for that exact 15 days .
In addition, Russia is one of the few countries which does not require a bank deposit to be shown for getting a visa.
Therefore, before you apply for your tourist visa you need to have the below documents in place.
1. Plan the time of your visit : (at least 2-3 months prior)
- Russia has something for every season, which is why it’s important to plan your visit according to the month. We suggest, April through September is the best time to visit the place. With mild temperatures, less crowds, and a calmer pace of life you can make the most out of the trip. Also booking during these months can save you money on plane tickets, accommodations. However, it is beautiful during any season.
- You can also consider travelling in May through October as that is when the country has maximum tourists.
2. Make a list of cities you are planning to visit :
- The fact that Russia’s surface area is bigger than Pluto. You will find a plethora of incredible historical and cultural cities and sites to explore. This ancient country throws up delights wherever you look with a perfect mix of old and new – modern shopping malls, trendy bars and restaurants are interspersed among Soviet-era architecture and ancient buildings that highlight Russia’s diverse past. Russia has dozens of cities full of history, museums, food, resorts, castles, and hundreds of other activities. Narrowing down to a few cities will make your planning process much easier. Here are a few Russian cities to consider, from the tried and tested to off beat gems. Creating a rough draft of the route you plan to take will keep you organized, on budget, and stress-free.
3. Booking of your flights (both to and fro) and accommodation :
- Once you have decided the cities. It’s time to book your flights. If you are focusing on entering the country through a simpler route, chances are that you’ll fly into either Moscow or St. Petersburg. For that, just remember Moscow has four airports: Domodedovo (DME), Sheremetyevo (SVO) Vnukovo (VKO) and Zhukovsky (ZIA). It’s recommended to fly into Sheremetyevo because it’s closest to the city center. St. Petersburg has only one airport called Pulkovo (LED).
- Once that’s done, plan your accommodation. You have multiple options ranging from Airbnb, local hotels, bed and breakfast, hostel rooms, resorts to select from. Try selecting a place which is at the center of the city or close to the metro stations.
- You would need to book your flights and stay in advance, since you would attach its details in your visa application.
- You can try the mentioned links which I used for my stay in St.Petersburg, Airbnb and Moscow, Hotel.
- In case you want to pay later or yet to finalize the stay, you can make temporary accommodation arrangement here for the visa process – https://www.booking.com/
- Trick : My flight had a lay over of 24 hours in Air Astana and Almaty on my way to St.Petersburg and also on my way back to India respectively. In such cases contact to Air Vistana (if its your airline). They book your stay during lay over in 1$ only. You can book it on their website or connect with their online chat for it.
4. Get the Invitation Letter :
- The letter of invitation (also called Visa Support, Tourist Voucher or Confirmation Card / Letter) is issued by the Russian tour operator Russia Support (Voyage Expo / Travel Economy), authorized by the Federal Tourism Agency of the Russian Federation of the Ministry of Economic Development.
- Here is the link from where you can request a form to process the Invitation letter. Select the type of invitation as ‘Tourist’ on the page.
- You will need your passport details, Arrival and Departure dates, and the cities you are planning to visit to fill up the form given at the bottom of the redirected page.
- A representative will connect with you within a few hours on the email id you have provided on the above link.
- They will ask for your Passport scan copy (1st page), the complete address of your stay at the cities you are planning to visit.
- You will have to make a payment of $19.99 for the invitation letter by going on the payment link given in the same mail.
- In the next few hours you will receive 2 copies of the Invitation letter on your mail.
5. Get your travel/medical Insurance :
- It is not mandatory for Indian citizens to get Medical Insurance. Just Travel Insurance will do.
- Here is the link to get the travel insurance for your Russia trip. Fill the form on the above link, mentioning the – Traveler type, Country type for Russia you will select ‘World Excl. USA & Canada’ and click on ‘Check our prices’.
- I opted for the ‘ Silver Plan’ which cost me 801 INR. It included both Travel Insurance as well as Medical Insurance and got me covered for $100,000.
6. Visa Application :
- Starting October 1, 2019, citizens of the Republic of India are able to apply for e-visas to visit St Petersburg and the Leningrad region. That means you will be entitled to move freely only within the territories of Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast. Here you can get more details of the same.
- If you plan to visit more cities in the country apart from the two mentioned in the above point then you have to apply for a traditional visa.
- Fill out and complete the online visa application form and print the visa application, which is required for applying for a visa to the Russian Federation.
7. Get a date for your Visa appointment :
- I visited VFS Global Mumbai, but now VFS is no longer handling the process for Russia. So, in India you can visit any consulate of the Russian Federation at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
- Take copies of all the above mentioned documents with you to the consulate. Print the completed visa application form, write the date, and don’t forget to sign it and attach a photo.
- The advantage of applying for your visa in one of these consulate offices is that it is a little bit cheaper. The normal processing of a visa costs 2130 INR, while expedited processing costs 4260 INR. You do not have to pay the 1830 INR administrative cost that is charged at the Russian Visa Centers, like VFS Global.
- Once you have sent in your documents to the Russian Visa Center or Consulate, they will give you a date when you can return to pick up your visa. They offer express delivery of passports to home/business address by courier. You can book the service while submitting your visa documents directly at the Russian Visa Center or Consulate (extra payment of 500 INR per passport).
8. Immigration card
- Once you enter the territory of the Russian Federation, you must fill out the immigration card, though in practice, at large airports, it is usually the immigration service which takes care of it (either digitally or manually). It is done during passport control.
- Trick : If you are travelling through Air Astana, then the immigration card will be given to you on the flight by the airlines for free. You can fill it and use the same during border checks.
9. Forex Card and Cash
- You would require a Forex card for saving on additional charges on every transactions you make during your trip. You can use your international debit/credit cards but they would deduct more under charges. Here you can get details of the one I got.
- Also you would require some cash in hand. You can select the offers given by various banks or any local agency before getting your Rubels. I was travelling with 7000 Rubels in hand, which I had already got converted before travelling through a local agency in my city (I went for cash on delivery for more safety).
Few Handy tips : From my personal experience
- If this trip to Russia is your first International trip, then there is a chance that the Immigration authorities may be more skeptical and you may have to go through a separate interrogation when you land at Russia airport. “Do not panic, after all its Russia!” Just make sure you have all the necessary documents in hard copy.
- Take some Russian rubles and copies of your stay, visa, passport, invitation letter with you on your departure date.
- 72 hour visa is free in Kazakhstan. For more details you can connect with your Airlines for more details while departure.
- While travelling with your laptop make sure it is charged, as you will be asked to switch it on during security check in as a routine.
- Photo specification: One color photograph 3.5 x 4.5 cm (80% face) with light-colored background, clear image of the applicant directly facing the camera, without dark/ tinted glasses or any headgear (with the exception of persons who wear such headgear due to their ethnic/ religious background, and are seen wearing the same in their passport photo).
- The signature must be the same as the one in the passport
- Your flights may get cancelled, you need not panic. Connect with the airlines and they will help you re-book your tickets.
- If you have a lay over for upto 48hrs, you need not book any stay. Connect with your airlines and check if they have any offer for you. In my case Air Astana already had an offer (‘Stop over holidays’) in place. By paying 1$ per day I got to stay in a 4 star hotel in Astana and Almaty. Jackpot!
- It is important to always carry both the passport and the immigration card while traveling, and the accreditation of the registry in case it may be required from you on the street by the police (it is rare for them to do so, though).
- The purpose of accreditation of registry (which comes from the communist era) is to notify immigration authorities of the place where you will stay while you are in Russia. The registration must be done in each of the cities that you are going to visit. If you are going to stay in Russia less than 7 working days, then you do not need to register.
- If you are staying in a hotel, when you arrive, the hotel itself will register your visa. They will ask you for your passport with the visa and immigration card (the one you get at the border when you arrive to the country).
- If you you are not staying in a hotel, but in a private house/bnb, then the Russian host is required to register his/her guest at a police station or at the post office. You don’t need to be present in the registry but you must provide your host a copy of the first page of the passport, the visa and the immigration card. You may be charged a small fee for this procedure.
The process sure may look intimidating. But I will say, go for it. Its easier than you think. Also, doing this on your own will boost your confidence and you will see that its possible to plan your own first solo trip all by yourself!
I hope this article has helped you to apply for your visa to Russia from India and incited you to buy a tripod stand for clicking those amazing pictures!
P.S : Most of the above mentioned steps are same for travelling to other countries.
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