Applying for a Russian visa

By Lois Halunen
This item appears on page 15 of the November 2013 issue.

For any of you intrepid travelers who may be planning to attend the Winter Olympics in Russia in February 2014, it is not too early to take a look online at the Russian visa application form. It is daunting.

Although the Russian Consulate will not accept a visa application until 45 days prior to your trip, finding out what is required ahead of time will help. 

After reviewing the application, myself, I decided to use a visa service company and chose CIBT (eight locations nationwide; 800/929-2428), which was recommended by the tour company my friend, Olga, and I were booked with. Of course, you still have to personally fill out all the visa information (it ran to about a dozen pages), but you have the assistance of professionals to make sure it is handled correctly.

The total cost for one person was $256, which included a 50-dollar CIBT fee. The rest was for Russian application fees, as you’ll see on the form.

I applied for my visa on July 14, 2013, 45 days before our scheduled entry into Russia on Aug. 28. We received the visas via FedEx around Aug. 20, a week before we were to enter Russia. The CIBT form does ask for the date by which you need to receive the visa, and I wrote “8/19/2013.” It would have been better to have given an earlier date.

Besides the usual visa information, you will need to have a “tourist visa support letter,” which is sometimes provided by your tour company, confirming that you are traveling on a tour. There is a charge of $50 for this, but if CIBT has to obtain one for you, the charge is $115. 

I do not know what the process is if you are going on your own, but, in any case, you still will have to list on the visa form each city and hotel where you are staying in Russia.

You must provide two passport-sized color photos that meet the requirements outlined by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Your photographs must be printed on photo paper; have a white background; measure 35mm by 45mm; have been taken within the previous six months; show a full-frontal view of your head, including the tops of your shoulders; show your face centered in the middle of the photo with your face square to the camera, and picture you with a neutral expression, with your mouth closed (no smiling), and not wearing sunglasses.

Note: we found on our Russian trip that they do not smile in Russia; it is just not in their culture. I suspect that they think of we Americans as grinning idiots.

Another unusual request is asking if you have ever been involved in an armed conflict, either as a member of the military or as a victim, and, if so, what country you served, your rank branch of service and the entry and exit dates of service. Also list all professional, civil and charity organizations to which you belong.

Now comes the really daunting part for those who travel regularly: list all countries visited in the previous 10 years and the date of each visit! If you’ve taken a number of cruises that include four or five ports, your list will be quite long. I consulted my passport for some of the times and dates but gave up after a while and did not include visits from my previous passport. (They did not question any omissions.) Good luck!

The visa effort was worth it, though, and our August-September ’13 river trip from St. Petersburg to Moscow was wonderful. 

Having visited Russia 30 years ago, it was very interesting to see the changes — from no cars, except a few Russian-made Ladas, to crowded freeways with every make of American car and even traffic jams; from no advertising signs to neon everywhere, and from almost no tourists to crowds at every wonderful site we visited.

The poor are still poor, but there is certainly more hope for a better future. Russians still don’t smile, however.


Livermore, CA