Visas for Russia
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Most expats will need a visa to enter Russia, no matter the purpose or the duration of their stay. The country’s visa protocol is complicated, expensive and, for many people, the cause of much stress. Visas aren't generally granted at Russian border points, making it necessary to apply well in advance.
Russian police officers do not need reasonable cause to stop foreigners and request proof of their identity and the documents that give them the right to be in Russia. For this reason, it’s important that visitors carry their passport and visa at all times. Those who don’t may find themselves subject to fines and even possible arrest.
Tourist visas for Russia
Unless an expat's home country has a reciprocal agreement with Russia they will need to obtain a tourist visa before arriving in the country. Though this can be a quick process, it’s still best to allow at least a month before travel to complete the application and to receive approval. Applicants must apply for a tourist visa at the Russian embassy or consulate in their home country by submitting the appropriate documents. If approved, an entry and an exit visa will be granted.
If overstaying and trying to leave more than three days after the date listed on the exit visa, the Russian authorities will insist the visitor stay in the country until a new visa has been applied for and approved. This can take several days.
Once entering Russia, tourists will also need to fill out a migration card. Oftentimes these are distributed on the aeroplane prior to arrival. One half of the completed card is given to authorities when entering the country, and the other half foreigners must keep and return when exiting the country.
Migration cards may also be requested by a visitor's accommodation and by police officers. Though a lost migration card will not deter foreigners from leaving the country, it may present problems in the future if wishing to return to Russia.
Once arriving in Russia, foreigners must register their visa within seven working days of arrival. Most of the time a visitor's accommodation will assume this responsibility. However, if staying with friends or renting a holiday apartment, then the landlord will need to register the visa at the local police station or post office.
It's not necessary for expats to be present for this process, but they must make sure that the responsible party gets the appropriate stamp on the migration card as proof.
Business visas for Russia
Russian business visas are similar to Russian tourist visas, but they can usually be used to enter and exit the country multiple times, and they can also cover longer periods. Tourists anticipating staying long periods of time or those who make frequent trips to Russia will want to pursue this kind of visa. Business visas are slightly more expensive than tourist visas but generally demand the same application and approval process.
It is often necessary to obtain a visa invitation letter prior to applying for the business visa. These letters are usually organised by the company with which one has business, but can also be granted by a travel agency or an entity registered with the Federal Migration Department (UFMS). Once they have received this letter applicants can apply at their home country’s Russian consulate or embassy.
The same rules that apply to foreigners with tourist visas in regard to exit visas, migration cards and registration apply to those with business visas.
Student visas for Russia
Student visas are granted to those who have been accepted for enrolment by a formal education institution in Russia. These institutions have special departments that are familiar with the visa application process and will usually take care of the logistics of organising a visa letter of support.
Once expats have this, they can apply at their home country's Russian consulate or embassy with the same documents required to get a business or tourist visa. Student visas last the duration of the study period.
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.