In recent years, Russia has been testing new ways to simplify visa procedures and boost international tourism.This has seen, for example, visa-free entry for foreigners attending the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the launch of new region-specific electronic visas, and the improvement of airports and infrastructures in remote areas.
In February 2020, the Russian government announced they will take one further step for making the country more accessible to foreign travelers — the implementation of new eVisas for Russia that are expected to go live in 2021.
Although not all details have been revealed yet, the new visas are expected to grant entry into the majority of Russian cities, allow for a longer stay in the country, and it’s already known that they will involve the payment of an application fee.
Why Is Russia Launching New Visas?
Home to 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and famous for its unique architecture and stunning natural beauty, Russia is already the ninth most visited country in the world, with 33 million foreigners choosing it as their holiday destination in 2013.
However, the government is looking to expand the sector even further. Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced his plan to raise the annual tourism revenue of the country to $15.5 billion by the end of his presidential term in 2024.
As part of the national Digital Economy Program, different types of eVisas have been launched recently to encourage foreign arrivals. The traditional paper tourist visa for Russia requires applicants to submit their papers in person at a Russian embassy or consulate. Moreover, travelers have to obtain an invitation letter from a Russian entity in order for their visa application to be considered.
The new eVisas change things dramatically. Without having to queue at the embassy, eligible tourists can simply apply online in minutes from anywhere in the world. All they need is an internet connection and a few supporting documents like their valid passport.
For now, the eVisas are available for 3 Russian regions only:
- The Far East District
- The Kaliningrad Oblast
- The St Petersburg and Leningrad region
However, the electronic visas have been a huge success thanks to their convenience, affordability, and the much shorter waiting times.
Other ways in which the government has facilitated international travel and communications include:
What Will Be Different From the Current Electronic Visas?
Not all information about the new eVisas has been disclosed yet. However, we already know that the application process will be just as quick and straightforward as that for the 3 existing electronic visas.
It’s also been announced that the new permits will be made available for citizens of over 50 countries, the same that are now eligible to apply for the Far East, Kaliningrad, and St Petersburg. The online visa requirements are also likely to be similar.
However, there are 2 main differences that are likely to be well received among travelers.
E-visa validity: more time in Russia
Although the current eVisa validity is of 30 days, eVisa holders are only allowed a maximum stay of 8 days in Russia since the moment they first enter the country. As the Second Secretary of the Russian Embassy in the Philippines Denis M. Karenin commented, this is just “enough time to visit St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad”.
The new eVisas will allow foreigners to stay in the country for up to 16 days. This will be especially helpful for those who wish to explore more than one city or/ and arrive in Russia after a long flight from a distant country.
More territory covered: non region-specific visas
The current eVisas for the Far East, St Petersburg, and Kaliningrad only grant their holder entry into a specific Russian region. Once they are done visiting, foreigners must leave Russia from a border crossing point belonging to the same region they first entered. Should foreigners wish to see another part of the country (for example, both St Petersburg and Moscow) they will have to apply for another relevant visa.
The new eVisas will apply to most cities within Russia. This will give tourists much greater freedom of movement. The number of entry points eligible for eVisas is also expected to increase.
Are Russian Visas Free?
The vast majority of Russian visas require the payment of an application fee. This goes to cover the processing costs of the visa.
Fortunately, electronic visas are usually more inexpensive since the amount of both paperwork and man power required to review applications is lower. However, fees apply to eVisas too, and this will include the new electronic permits to be launched in 2021.