To enter Russia, most foreign nationals are required to obtain a visa in advance.
Travelers from most countries* will need to obtain a visa in advance for entry into Russia. The process involves many steps and can take several weeks to complete. For these reasons, the simplest way to obtain a visa is to go through a third-party visa agency. These various agencies specialize in the visa process; however, they do charge a fee for their services.
Steps to Obtain a Visa for Entry into Russia:
1. Before applying, you must get an official "visa invitation" (also known as a "letter of invitation," "visa sponsor," or “visa support letter") from a Russian organization recognized by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Visa invitations are typically issued by a hotel: upon making a hotel reservation, ask the hotel to arrange for an invitation (they'll usually charge $15–30). If you're visiting multiple Russian cities, ask if your entire trip can be included on a single invitation. You may find online agencies willing to issue invitations for a fee, but it is best to use the agency recommended by your hotel.
2. Fill out the Electronic Visa Application Form. Request a single-entry visa (valid for 30 days for $90, plus a sizable processing fee). Note: your passport must be valid for a minimum of six months past the date of your departure from Russia and must have at least two adjacent blank pages to accommodate the visa.
3. Submit the visa invitation, the application form, your passport, a passport-size photograph, and the processing fee (money order or certified bank check only) to the Russian Embassy. Applications are accepted approximately 30 to 60 days before departure. There are three options for filing your application: deliver it to one of the consulates in-person ($33 fee); you can mail it to a consulate ($118 fee); or you can submit your application through a third-party service ($33 in-person fee, plus the agency's service fee).
For more information, please visit the Saint Petersburg website and see their more expansive step-by-step visa guide.
*Residents of some countries are not required to obtain a visa—more information here.
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