Dodging Unnecessary Costs of a Russian Visa for Americans
A visa to Russia is not like a product on a shelf at a supermarket. You cannot just walk in the store, grab it and expect to pay the price on the tag. Even if you could grab it off the shelf, the final price would vary based on numerous factors once you get to the cashier. She would ask you for your citizenship and add the corresponding tax. Another fee would be added based on the type of Russian visa you’d like to get. And, yet another fee would be assessed according to the urgency of your case, although this fee can be understood. All in all, you realize that the cost of a visa to Russia requires gathering additional information.
There is good news, however! In spite of the current political tide between the United States and Russia, the process of getting a visa to Russia for Americans is easier than ever before. A US citizen is requested to provide fewer documents to be granted a Russian visa compared to citizens of other countries who need a visa like citizens of the EU. Not only that, anyone in the USA, including non-US citizens, can apply for a visa to Russia by mail, even from the comfort of your own home. There’s absolutely no need to seek out a Russian consulate, wait in line, get frustrated about vague instructions and maybe have the patience to finish the job! Read more about that here.
For US citizens, the minimum cost for a visa to Russia is $123 and can reach as high as $900 with all the agent fees or even more! The biggest factor in significant price increases is due to urgency. We’ve seen plenty of visa applicants put off the visa process and, in the end, have overpaid to get their visas on time. With a little planning, you can cut your costs dramatically and not to mention the headache and stress you’ll put yourself through because of the time crunch. Without further ado, here are some ways you can dodge some steep fees when applying for a visa to Russia.
1. Get Started Early
To avoid any exuberant expediting fees, I recommend sending in your documents for a visa to Russia no less than one month before you leave on your trip. Ideally though, start 90 days in advance. Regular processing time for a Russian visa is just 6-10 business days at the Russian consulate. This does not include mailing time to and from nor does it include any corrections you’ll need to make to your visa application should you decide to save money and try to go through the process yourself.
$123 is what the Russian consulate charges including the visa center processing fee for a single entry tourist visa for up to 30 days. You can spend several hours going through the process yourself and to avoid a mail-in fee, you will have to apply for the visa in person at a visa center (ILS). Keep in mind you’ll have to make a trip to the visa center to submit your documents and a second trip to pick your passport up when the visa is ready. Some visa centers, like San Francisco, charge an additional fee to send your documents to Washington D.C. because the Russian consulate in San Francisco has closed.
Take a look at the table below that compares the fees for regular processing versus expedited processing for different types of tourist visas. These fees are the Russian consulate fees and do NOT include any agency fees. Notice that a double entry tourist visa valid for only 30 days costs MORE to process quicker than regular processing of a multiple entry tourist visa valid for a whole 3 years.
If you’re going through an agency to process your visa, you’ll spend $100 to $150 on the service fee for regular processing versus $200 to $400 on expedited 3-4 day processing.
Don’t forget the visa invitation! If you need the visa invitation right away, some companies charge as much as $50 just for 1 hour processing. By the way, you should never spend more than $20 for the tourist visa invitation (aka travel voucher or visa support).
And one more thing, you’ll need overnight mail if you’re in a hurry. You’ll spend $27 to $50 on FedEx overnight mail vs FedEx 3 day service that runs $7.65 to $9.90 for envelopes.
The difference adds up quickly. So, for planning ahead you would spend around $245 total ($123 consulate fee, $99 complete visa submission, $15 visa invitation, $9 mailing) through Let’s Russia for a 30-day, single-entry tourist visa. Our regular service takes 10-15 business days. However, if you fail to plan ahead and wait until the last minute, that same visa could cost you well over double at $612 ($213 consulate fee, $299 expedited service, $50 rush visa invitation, $50 overnight FedEx).
Consulate fees for regular and expedited visa processing
6 business days: $123
3 business days: $213
2. Determine the length of your stay
How long your visa will be valid factors into the final cost. Get a tourist visa to Russia for 30 days if you’re quite sure you won’t visit Russia again in the coming 3 years. There’s no reason to get a multiple entry tourist visa for 3 years, which starts at $303, if you have a couple weeks of vacation per year, you’ve never been to Russia and have no connection to Russia. You most likely won’t visit Russia again.
However, if the Trans-Siberian railway is calling your name and you’re planning on a trip over 30 days but less than 6 months in Russia, get a 3 year tourist visa. I recommend a 3 year tourist visa if you’re open to traveling to Russia again and you travel often. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to take advantage of a last minute steal on airlines tickets if you have a valid visa. It’s completely worth the flexibility. Plus, you don’t need to pay for another tourist invitation for any subsequent trips to Russia and you’ll only pay an agent once in 3 years.
A single entry tourist visa through Let’s Russia costs $245 total ($123 consulate fee, $99 complete visa submission, $15 visa invitation, $9 mailing). If you were to make two trips within a period of 3 years, you’d spend $590 compared to just $426 ($303 consulate fee, $99 complete visa submission, $15 visa invitation, $9 mailing) for a 3 year multiple entry tourist visa.
For EU citizens, you can either get a 30 day tourist visa or a 90 day business visa.
3. Number of entries on your visa
When it comes to Russian visas, you can either get a single entry visa, a double entry visa or a mutiple entry visa, the first being the least expensive. The number of entries merely states how many times you may enter Russia on a single visa. If you’re on a tight budget, get a single entry tourist visa for 30 days for $123 and see everything you can in Russia in one trip. If you just have to slip over to a Baltic country or go on that cruise from Saint Petersburg to Finland or Stockholm, which I highly recommend, then get a double entry visa for $177.
On the other hand, if your budget is higher and if the likelihood of you returning to Russia for a second trip within 3 years, just go for the multiple entry tourist visa for 3 years. Again, the flexibility you get here is worth the cost if you are planning a second trip to Russia. You collect your documents once. You wait for your visa to be issued and mailed back to you once. You don’t have to worry about how many times you’ll enter Russia. You can take advantage of any last-minute travel deals to Russia. You can swing over to Russia if you’re on an unexpected trip in Europe. It’s very convenient having that visa already taken care of.
As an American, you can apply for a tourist visa, business visa, student visa, work visa, religious visa and private visa. For each of these you’ll have to have an invitation from a Russia organization. We’ll discuss other types of visas in another post.
While planning your trip to Russia, the length of your stay, how many entries you’ll need on your visa and timing are all things you’ll have to consider. They can have a profound affect on the price you’ll ultimately spend on the whole visa process. It doesn’t have to be expensive if you are aware of the process and the factors that determine the final price. My goal is to make the process clear and as simple as possible so that more people can have the opportunity to visit beautiful Russia.
Please note that the prices above are approximate and based on prices for US citizens obtaining a visa to Russia in the United States. Also, unless otherwise stated, the prices are only the Russian consulate fees. This post is intended as a reference only and the Russian consulate can change their visa fees at any time.