| 4 min read
Planning a trip to Russia isn’t exactly a hassle-free operation. The entire thing is time-consuming and might seem overwhelming at first because of all the paperwork, but by following these steps (in the right order) you’ll have no trouble obtaining a Russian tourist visa. Read on to kick off your trip without having to worry over anything.
1. Draw up an itinerary
Given that the Transsiberian is actually a network of train connections, you can follow different routes. Figure out which places you’d like to visit depending on your interests and travel time. Keep in mind that distances are enormous and that you’ll spend a considerable amount of time on the train.
We spent about two weeks traveling from Ulan Ude to Sint-Petersburg. Personally, I really liked Olkhon Island, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk and Suzdal, so I wouldn’t leave those out.
2. Book your flight and your hotel
Possibly stating the obvious here, but it’s important to do things in the right order, as you’ll find out in the next few steps. If you don’t know your itinerary yet, it is okay to freestyle a bit and enter random hotel names, as those won’t be checked when processing your visa application. The flight (or bus/train) tickets on the other hand are a prerequisite to obtain a Russian visa, because you have to prove when you’ll be entering and exiting the country.
3. Buy an invitation
In order to get a Russian visa, you need to get an invitation first (unless you are from a visa exempt country). Also called a tourist voucher, this is a mandatory document issued by an institution certified by the Russian government. You can buy one from various travel agencies for a fee ranging between USD 10 and 35. It’s a straightforward procedure and within 5 minutes you’ll have the invitation in your mailbox. To name a few agencies, you could try ivisaonline.com or visatoruss.com.
It is also possible to obtain an invitation for free. Upon booking your hotel, you can ask them to send an invitation, which they usually do for free. With booking.com you can easily book a hotel and -if they refuse to give you an invitation-, cancel and book another. We also got our visa for free because we had booked our train tickets from Ulaanbaatar to Ulan Ude via Real Russia.
4. Buy a medical insurance
When buying a medical insurance, make sure that it is valid for the entire duration of the visa, that it includes repatriation in case of death and that it covers at least 300 EUR. All these details should also be stated on your medical insurance certificate.
5. Apply for Russian visa
Try to make your appointment well beforehand, as it can easily take up a few weeks before the embassy has an empty time slot for you.
Bring these documents:
- International passport with at least 2 empty pages
- Travel itinerary composed on the official Russian website
- A colored passport photo
- Invitation (as detailed above)
- Plane, bus or train tickets with date of entry and exit
- Certificate of your medical insurance
NOTE ON THE TRAVEL ITINERARY
When you get the question 'Which institution you are going to visit?", pick 'travel company' and enter the details from your invitation (see point 3 above).
Apart from your passport, hand in copies of your documents, as you won’t get them back afterwards. After 4 to 20 working days, your visa will be ready for pickup. Bring enough cash to pay the visa fee. (For Brussels for example, that would be 63 EUR for a single-entry visa.)
6. Learn the Russian alphabet
Once you can read the Russian words, you’ll notice many are quite similar to words you already know in French or English. It will come in handy to study the basics before travelling to Russia, as Russians are generally not that fluent in foreign languages.
7. Unlock your bank cards and exchange money
Generally, bank cards won’t work outside of your continent, so don’t forget to modify your permissions online or in your bank office. It is safe to exchange a small amount of money beforehand, although you can easily withdraw Russian Rubles from the ATM.
8. Start packing
Given that you’ll be spending many hours on board of the Russian trains, make sure to prepare well for this trip. You’ll find some suggestions in my Transsiberian packing list.
Have you got questions? Did you experience something similar? Did you notice a mistake? Please share!