How to apply for a Russian Visa and Keep Your Sanity

Posted by Lisa Pagotto

Let the process begin
Let the process begin

Applying for visas can be daunting to any traveller whether you are experienced or a first timer and with all the current turmoil surrounding Russia following the demise of MH17, it made applying for a visa a little more nerve racking than usual.

Here I was, thinking I was all organised – I had printed off the application forms months ago and had completed the generic sections, leaving blank the missing puzzle pieces which have started to filter through now that my trip is getting closer.

I received my invitation letters from both tour operators I will be travelling with – all written in Russian, all looking like double dutch to me. I print out the check list for the required documents I am to submit to the consulate. Looks fairly normal, air tickets, itinerary, invitation letter, passport photos, form. Nothing out of the ordinary. I decide I should just double check the consulates website in case anything has changed since the heightened security.

Lucky I did. I jump onto the consulates website in Sydney and hover my mouse over the subheading “Visa Section.” I read through pages and pages of information and everything seems in order and straight forward until I read the last sub-tab “You should know before your visa application.” Surely you would think this SHOULD be the first tab you see. Luckily I saw and read what was on this tab as it seems that all applications made in Australia must now be made electronically online. There was no mention of this anywhere else throughout the website. Not even on the page that still allows you to download the manual form which apparently you can no longer use. Why is the manual form still there if you can no longer apply with it?

Good luck navigating this website
Good luck navigating this website

Anyway, no problems. I’ve read the important information and proceed. I create my account, jot down my application number and am moved to a screen which shows 6 tabs to the side – the equivalent of 6 pages of forms. Most of the required information is fairly straightforward – until you reach the “Visit Details.”

I had read previously on the website that you can stay at no more than 6 hotels in Russia and you can use no more than two tour operators for your stay, your maximum stay is 30 days. No problems for me, I fit within that criteria. Except the application only allows you to list one tour operator despite the website clearly stating you must list both if you are travelling with more than one…. Well this option wasn’t available, so I had to ignore it.

You then need to provide the full hotel details for every single hotel you are staying in. No problems here either as all this information is on the invitation letters… except there is a problem. I look at my first invitation letter and there are four hotels listed. I was only staying in Moscow and St Petersburg with this company… why do I have hotels listed for Novogrod and some other small village I’d never heard of? I just added in the two I was actually staying at.

I click the ‘add’ button to create space for my last hotel with my other tour operator. I glance at that invitation letter and the hotel name, address and phone number are all in Russian and I don’t know which part is the name, which part is the address. The only part I can decipher is the numeric phone number. I take a stab and add in what I hope will be correct.

I move on the ‘miscellaneous’ tab where I am asked to list my parents full name, the details of my previous two employers as well as every country I have visited in the past 10 years including entry dates and durations…. Hmm…

Hmmmm.... What to do...?
Hmmmm.... What to do...?

I have been to over 70 countries in the past 10 years and some of them multiple times, especially when I was living in the UK and would head abroad every other weekend. I have at least 50 entrances into the UK alone let alone anywhere else I’ve been. Are they serious? Do I really need to list every single country? I don’t even have some of my old passports to be able to check the accuracy of the information I would be submitting.

I decide to head to social media as an avenue to seek answers. A mix of answers come flooding through.

Some good advice.
Some good advice.

I decide to do it properly and make a list in excel so I can move things around easily if I have missed some countries.

I traipse down to the post office to organise my money order and after checking with the consulate, I have to order TWO separate money orders. One for myself and one for my husband. We can’t possibly put both our visa costs on the one money order. That’s crazy talk! I have the same situation with actually sending our passports. They need to arrive separately and each must have their own individual express post envelope to send them back to us in – just in case one of us gets our visa approved and the other rejected.

I send it off… I track my passports and see they arrive at the consulate the next morning. 10 working days is the processing time. 12 working days pass. Nothing. I call the consulate. Sorry, we cannot advise your visa application status.

14 days. Nothing. I call back. Sorry, we cannot advise your visa application status.

Hmmm… 16 working days later. Sorry, we cannot advise your visa application status.

20 working days later and they are here. My sanity returns.

Yep... figured that one out pretty quickly.
Yep... figured that one out pretty quickly.