Russian visas from ILS

By Harlan Sager
This item appears on page 24 of the November 2018 issue.

My wife, Karen, and I needed Russian visas in order to take the tour "Waterways of the Tsars," traveling from St. Petersburg to Moscow with Viking River Cruises (Woodland Hills, CA; 855/338-4546,, June 1-13, 2018.

To obtain our visas, we completed the form provided by Viking and asked them to send us the Invitation Letter that the Russian Embassy requires for a visa. Viking first replied that they wouldn't do this until a certain number of days before departure. When I informed them that we would need our passports during that period and had to get the visas early, Viking promptly sent the letter.

We worried that the visa service Viking recommended might hold our passports too long, so we used the service named on the embassy's website, Invisa Logistic Services, or ILS (202/827-0880,

We followed ILS' detailed instructions for completing the visa application and other forms and sent our passports to their Seattle office. (Just a few weeks after we went through this process, in a tit-for-tat diplomatic fiasco between the US, Russia and England, the Russian Consulate [and the ILS office] in Seattle closed and the Russian Consulate in San Francisco reopened.)

When I realized I had made a mistake with the application process, I called the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC (the number was on the application form), and was given step-by-step instructions on how to correct the error as well as verification that I had all the correct forms and documents and that our money order was made out for the correct amount of money.

We mailed the documents via UPS, and tracking updates were texted to my cell phone by ILS. The passports were returned within two weeks of submittal.

Except for what we paid UPS to mail our documents to ILS, the total cost for both of us to get visas in our passports through ILS was $428 (paid with one money order). This was for one-time-entry tourist visas for a stay of up to 30 days, with each visa valid only for the exact dates we were in Russia.

Breaking down our expenses, each visa cost $90; the ILS processing fee was $33 for each of us; the fee for applying for the visas by mail instead of in person was $85 each, and we paid ILS $6 each to have our documents insured and tracked when they were returned by mail.

We were very happy with this direct approach to completing and obtaining our Russian visas.

Henderson, NV