Most foreign nationals wishing to visit the Russian Federation must apply for a Russian visa. Obtaining a visa for Russia currently involves a visit to a Russian mission and filling out forms to apply. Russian visa requirements may vary depending on their nationality, purpose of the trip, age, and length of their stay.
Fortunately, Russian immigration authorities are working on allowing foreigners holding passports of eligible countries to apply online for a Russian visa online in the near future. This will eliminate the hassle of having to visit an embassy or consulate multiple times, as well as pick up visa documentation.
At the moment, only 54 countries have a visa waiver agreement with Russia. This means that citizens carrying passports from these countries are permitted visa-free entry into the Russian Federation. In the near future, however, these travelers will likely be required to apply for a Russian electronic travel authorization.
Citizens from visa-required countries have several Russian visa requirements in common, regardless of their nationality. Those are:
- An invitation letter to Russia.
- A passport with a minimum remaining validity time of 6 months since the desired entry date into Russia.
What is a Russian Visa Invitation or Tourist Voucher?
A Russian visa invitation, also known as Russian visa support or tourist voucher for Russia, is a document required to obtain several different visas to visit the Russian Federation. It is currently a mandatory requirement in the following scenarios:
- Foreign citizens from eligible countries applying online for a Russian Far East eVisa.
- Foreign nationals from visa-required countries applying in person for a tourist visa at a Russian embassy or consulate.
Russian invitation letters are obligatory when applying for a Russian visa. They may be requested from the hotel you plan to stay in while visiting, or from Russian tour operators.
Important note: Hotels are authorized to issue invitation letters for guests staying at their premises. Some foreign travelers may confuse their hotel reservations with a visa invitation. Although both of these documents are issued by your hotel, they are completely different and not interchangeable when requesting a Russian visa of any type.
A Russian invitation may be issued by a natural or legal person currently residing in Russia stating that they are inviting a foreign citizen to visit Russia for one of the following travel purposes:
- Tourism to Russia.
- Business (commercial activity) in Russia.
- Studies in Russia.
- Personal reasons to go to Russia, such as visiting family or friends.
Russian Invitation Letter Format
Whether your Russian invitation letter is issued by a hotel or a tour operator, they may send it to you in PDF format by email. You may then print it out to present it along with the rest of the required documentation when applying for a Russia visa at the embassy or consulate.
What Type of Invitation to Russia Do I Need for a Visa?
There are currently 2 different types of tourist invitation letters for Russia that depend on whether you are planning to travel there one or more times:
- Single-entry to Russia invitation letter.
- Double-entry to Russia invitation letter.
Russian invitation letters or visa support letters may be issued for different travel purposes. The most common ones are explained in detail below:
Tourism Invitation Voucher for Russia
Foreign passport holders visiting Russia for tourism purposes and staying in hotels usually request this type of Russian invitation letter for tourism. They will be required to present this document when they apply for a Russia tourist visa.
Similarly, travelers from eligible countries wishing to visit the Russian Far East are required to present an invitation letter when applying online for an eVisa for Far East Countries.
How Do I Obtain an Invitation Letter for Russia from a Hotel?
The hotels in which you are planning to stay may issue an invitation letter for you, upon your reservation. Some hotels offer this document for free, while others do charge a fee when sending out tourist vouchers to their guests, so ask before completing your hotel reservation.
- Visitors going to multiple destinations within the Russian Federation and staying in different hotels or vacation apartments will require one letter for each leg of their stay.
- Should you cancel or switch to a different hotel after receiving your invitation letter, the hotel may fine you on the same credit card you used to reserve your room.
How Do I Obtain an Invitation Letter for Russia From a Tour Operator?
Tour operators authorized by the Federal Tourism Agency of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation are the only ones authorized to issue this type of invitation letter. Travelers are advised to make sure they verify whether their operator is registered with the Russian government authorities prior to paying for their tour so they are certain the letter they receive is authentic and legally accepted by a Russian mission.
Can Apartment Sharing Sites Issue Invitation Letters for Guests Visiting Russia?
The simple answer is no. The reason why apartment sharing companies cannot issue invitation letters for Russia is simply because they are not legally authorized by the Federal Tourism Agency of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation.
So keep in mind that companies such as the following will not be able to send you a valid invitation letter for Russia:
Foreign citizens choosing to stay in a flat or apartment operated by one of the above platforms, or a similar one are advised to hire a tour package from an authorized Russian tour operator. That way, the travel operator will be able to provide you with a legitimate letter to request your Russian tourist visa.
Russian Invitation Voucher or Invitation Letter for Personal Travels
This type of Russian Invitation letter is most often used by foreign passport holders going to Russia to visit their friends or family. International travelers who have friends or relatives in Russia can receive an invitation from them and present it at the Russian embassy when requesting a visa.
There are 2 ways to issue a personal invitation voucher that will be accepted at a Russian mission:
- Online through the Russian government’s official website.
- In person at the General Directorate of Immigration of the Russian Ministry of Interior Offices, also known as GUVM, and formerly FMS.
Russian Business Invitation Voucher or Commercial Invitation Letter for Russia
The Business invitation letter for Russia is required for individuals wishing to do business or participate in commercial activities in the Russian Federation.
The Russian company you are planning on working with may issue the invitation for you. In order for the document to be accepted at a Russian mission for visa purposes, the company issuing the invitation will have 2 options:
- To request your invitation letter online through the Russian government’s official website.
- To apply for an invitation in person by visiting the General Directorate of Immigration of the Russian Ministry of Interior Offices, also known as GUVM, and formerly FMS.
Russian Student Invitation Voucher or Invitation Letter for Students
This letter of invitation is generally required for students, whether they are minors or adults, planning to attend a school or university in Russia. It may be issued by the legally registered educational institution where you are planning to complete your studies in Russia. This may be a university, an academy or a school, so long as it is a government authorized institution.
Do I Need an Invitation Voucher for Russia for Transit Purposes?
Travelers passing through Russia on their way to another destination are not required to have an invitation letter. That is why Russian transit invitation letters do not exist and are not required when applying for a Russian transit visa.
How Do I Know Whether a Russian Invitation Letter is Authentic?
Obtaining a Russian invitation letter or voucher may be done online or in person. Not everyone is authorized by the Russian government to issue invitations. This means that if you request an invitation from a tour operator that is not authorized by the federal government, the Russian mission where you are requesting a visa may not accept it.
There are several characteristics that will ensure the Russian invitation you have obtained is authentic:
- Issuant is a Russian hotel located in Russian territory.
- Issuant is an authorized Russian tour operator.
- Issuant has applied online through the official Russian government’s website.
- Issuant has applied in person at the Russian immigration department’s office, as explained above.
- Document is issued in A4 size.
- Document is stamped and signed by the Russian natural, legal person, hotel, authorized tour operator or business inviting you.
- Document contains your personal information, the cities you will visit, as well as the place where you will be staying.
- Document details the tourist services contracted or touristic voucher that certifies that you have rented a hotel room to stay in upon your arrival to Russia.
- This must also provide proof of payment for the hotel reservation.
- This part of the tourist letter confirms the hotel is receiving you and is known as a confirmation letter.
Do I Need to Print Out my Russian Invitation Letter?
Hotels, tour operators, friends and family generally receive the invitation voucher in PDF format and send it to you via email. In this instance, you should print out several copies in order to present them at the Russian embassy or consulate when applying for a visa to visit Russia.
On the other hand, if you are visiting Russia for business or academic purposes, you may be required to present an original paper invitation letter at the embassy. In this case, the business or educational institution issuing your letter will have to send you your invitation via airmail.
What Time Period Must my Russian Invitation Letter Cover?
Invitation letters for Russian visas must be issued for the exact time period in which you plan on staying in Russia. Travelers with flexible itineraries who may later decide to stay longer than they had initially planned are advised to request a letter for a slightly longer period just in case, in order not to surpass their authorized stay.
Please note that you may decide to leave earlier than stated in your invitation letter. However, you may not exceed your stay in Russia unjustifiably. Should this be your case, you are advised to contact immigration authorities in the location where you are staying to request specific instructions for legally extending your stay in Russia.
Do I Need Multiple Russian Invitation Letters If Staying in Several Hotels?
Foreign nationals visiting multiple cities during their trip to Russia are required to present a separate invitation letter obtained from each of the hotels they plan on staying in.
- Each hotel will issue a letter covering the nights you will be spending in one of their rooms.
- Make sure the totality of your stay is covered within the letters you obtain.
How Do I Avoid Requesting Multiple Russian Invitation Letters When Visiting Multiple Cities?
There are 2 instances in which you may be required to present several Russian invitation letters while requesting a visa:
- You are visiting more than one city in Russia and therefore staying at multiple hotels.
- You are spending a night on a train or other transportation while going from one city to another during your stay in Russia.
In order to avoid the hassle of having to request separate invitation letters from different Russian hotels, you may find it simpler to obtain a single letter from a government authorized Russian tour operator covering the entire period of your visit.
Whether Russia has always been a dream destination or you have just recently added it to your bucket list, the next step to visiting this wonderful country would be to get familiar with the Russian visa requirements for your country’s nationals.