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Types of Russian Visa and Invitation, and Russian visa laws:
contents: a legal basis - types of russian visas and invitations - - tourist russian visa - business russian visa - student visa - private visa - short 72-hour visa (Last update: 15 December 2004)

The information in this section is completely revised according to the new laws on the status of foreign citizens in Russia, effective as of 1 November 2002, and incorporates some changes introduced in 2004.

The Legal Basis.
The Russian Federal Law #114-FZ (issued 15 Aug '96) called "Regulations of departure from the RF and entrance to the RF" regulates the order of departure / entrance of foreigners from / to the Russian Federation and describes the documents needed. Specifically, Chapter 4 of this document lists the documents needed to enter to Russia: a passport and a Russian visa. It regulates that a special invitation from an inviting party in Russia (company, organisation, tourist agency, private person) is needed to obtain a Russian visa. The order of issuing the invitation is regulated by a special Decree of the Russian Government #1143 (issued 1 Oct '98).
The Chapter 5 of this document (FL #114-FZ) lists the cases when a foreigner may be refused entry in Russia. Specifically Article 26 lists the cases when a foreigner may be (not necesserily will be!) refused the entry: 1) if he/she can't confirm that they'll have enough money for their whole trip in Russia; 2) if he/she broke the rules of crossing the Russian border (like carrying dope or guns, for example); 3) if he/she provided wrong information about the purpose of his trip (for example, you're getting a tourist visa to work in Russia - this is not lawful); 5) if he/she commited an administrative infringement in Russia more than twice in the past (for example, if you didn't register your visa, or were fined for not having a ticket in a train); 6) if he/she is a drug addict, or has an infection desease.
The Article 27 lists the cases when a foreigner must be refused the entry: 1) if it's necessary for the state security; 2) if he/she had comitted a crime in the RF (only during the first 5 years after the crime); 3) if he/she was deported out of Russia (only during the first 5 years after that); 4) if he/she didn't present the documents needed to apply for a Russian visa -- until these documents are presented; 5) if he/she couldn't confirm having enough funds to finance the trip, when crossing the Russian border;
The Decree #470 (4 Jul '92) lists the territories of the Russian Federation with restricted entry for foreigners, these territories include parts of Kamchatka, some industrial regions in Urals. To get there, you should get a special permission that can be obtained through a travel agency. You can freely cross these regions by railway or autoroad.

Types of Russian Visas and Invitations:
There are 6 types of Russian visas: a tourist visa, a business visa, a student visa, a personal visa, a short 72-hour visa, a transit visa - each type corresponds to the purpose of your visit. However, many people come for a short business trip with tourist visas, and many people come to visit their friends with business visas. So, when choosing the type visa, the only consideration should be your convenience in terms of price of the visa, its speed of processing, the period of stay this visa allows and the number of entries the visa allows. Especially, as Russian officials seem not to care about which visa you finally take, what matters is how much you pay... However, when filling in an application form in the field "purpose" you should specify the purpose corresponding to the type of your visa. If you apply for a tourist visa, specify "tourism", if you apply for a business visa, specify "business meetings" or "seminars", if you apply for a private visa, specify "visiting friends". (according to Fed. Law #114-FZ, Ch.4, A.26 - see above).
Generally, the most convenient options in terms of price, processing speed and flexibility are tourist and business visas. It's better to get a tourist visa if you plan to stay in Russian no longer than one month, and need single-entry only. It's better to get a business visa if you plan to stay in Russia longer than 1 month and / or need a multiple-entry visa.
The business visa invitations are longer to get and are more expensive, than the tourist ones.

The invitation (also called visa support) is a special document issued by the party that invites you to Russia. The invitation is required by a Russian consulate to be able to process your visa. For every type of visa, there exists a different type of invitation (tourist, business, private, student).
The invitation (visa support) can be issued by a Russian travel agency or by a company or organisation authorized by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

Below we will describe different types of visas and invitations available:

Russian Tourist Visa:
This type of visa is issued for the travelers who come to Russia for tourism purposes. This visa is easiest to get and the least expensive of all visas, so it's ideal for tourists. A tourist Russian visa is single-entry or double-entry only and can be valid for the period up to one month. It usually takes the Russian consulate from 1 to 10 days to issue this type of visa and will cost from $50 US to $150 US, depending on the time of processing.
To obtain the Russian tourist visa, you need a tourist invitation. The tourist invitation comprises a tourist voucher and a tourist reservation confirmation. These documents can be issued by a Russian travel agency, which is registred as a tourist company in Russia, has a registration in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and has a reference number in MFA. All these data should be stated on the invitation.
Note: effective from 1 Nov 2002, all travel agencies issuing visa support will need to re-authorize in Russian Interior Ministry (RIM). This doesn't affect you, if you apply for a tourist visa, it's just a formality for travel agencies.
The price of a tourist invitation is usually $25 to $40 US, and it takes 1 hour to 1 day to issue it. It is usually sent to the applicant by fax, by e-mail (scanned copy), or by post (if the Russian consulate requires originals
There are many things written on both voucher and confirmation, but most of it are some formal stuff required by the outdated Russian bureaucracy - a legacy of the Soviet times. The voucher is basically a receipt from the travel agency confirming you have paid for something, and the reservation confirmation is a confirmation for the consulate, that Mr. John Smith is indeed invited to Russia for such and such dates and will visit this and that city and the purpose of his trip is tourism. We hope that they (the Russian government) will get rid of all this formal crap soon, but for now, the most important is whether your data are correct (your name, birth date, passport number), and whether the entry / leaving dates are correct, because that's the period for which your visa will be issued. If that is allright, your visa shall be fine.
Also, be sure to fill in the visa application form after you received your invitation, and specify there the same data as in the invitation: the name of the inviting travel agency, the purpose of the trip - tourism (or pleasure), the visa dates, the cities to visit.
Where can one get a tourist invitation? You can get a tourist invitation from expensive hotels (like Mariott, Novotel), but only for the period you have your room booked and paid ($$!) there. Also, you can get an invitation through a youth hostel, but you will also need to book and pay at least one night or a service there. The most flexible option when you don't need to pay for anything extra and can stay where you want and use the services you want is to order an invitation through a Russian travel agency. Usually, travel agencies don't require any additional services to be paid, and for the same fee (about $25 to $40 US) issue the tourist invitation.
After you come to Russia, you need to register your visa in 72 hours (see Registration section). If you stay in a hotel, it must register your tourist visa for the whole period of your stay (according to Decree #212 - 26 Apr '91), the hotel registration costs about $0.5 (16R). If you stay in an apartment or with your friends, the landlord (the owner of the apartment) should write a special letter and submit it to the travel agency that issued your visa support. The travel agency will then register your visa in UVIR (immigration officials) for free or for a small fee ($5 to $20). That's why it's always better if the travel agency that issued your invitation has an office in Russia (at the city where you will come first for longer than 3 days).

You can apply for a tourist invitation  through our ru4arab services and we'll refer your request to our partner travel agency. This agency has a reference number in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities, so you can have your visa registred easily when you arrive. The tourist visa support costs $30 US (taxes included, no additional services required) and is ready in 1 working day. If you're interested, please go to Services / Visa Support in ru4arab.

Russian Business Visa:
This type of visa is supposed to be issued for the people, who come to Russia for business purposes. But because this type of visa allows long stays, multiple entries etc., it is also used by ordinary travelers, who need more flexibility.
Note: effective from 1 Nov 2002, all travel agencies issuing visa support will need to gradually pass re-authorization in Russian Interior Ministry (RIM). This doesn't affect you, if you apply for a tourist visa, it's just a formality. However, you may expect a change in processing times and fees (after all, it's another organisation looking after all this now).
A business Russian visa can be valid from 1 month to 12 months, and be either single-, double- or multiple entry. A person who obtained a multiple 1-year business visa can continiously stay in Russia for the period not longer than 6 months. So, after the first 6 months you may leave Russian even for 1 day, then come back, and it'll be ok. Many people in such situation prefer to go to Baltic states, because they are quite close.
It takes approximately the same time for the consulate to issue a business visa as a tourist visa, but a business visa is slightly more expensive. The price depends on the processing speed, usually, it's about $80-$90 US for 5-7 days, and about $150 for 2 days. You can get the exact quotes at the Russian consulate where you apply.
To obtain a business visa, you need a business invitation. Contrary to a tourist invitation, which is issued by a Russian travel agency, a business invitation was issued by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and, effective as of 1 Nov 2002 - by the Russian Interior Ministry (RIM). The applicant's data can be submitted to the MFA or RIM either by a business registred in the MFA or RIM or a travel agency. Usually, a company that would like to invite a foreign person for business, requests such service from a travel agency (registred in MFA or RIM). The travel agency submits all travel data of the person to the MFA or RIM, pays a certain processing fee to the MFA or RIM, and after a few days (depending on the processing fee) receives the invitation. After that, this invitation can either be sent to the person invited by post (if the consulate requires originals only), by fax (a copy), or by e-mail (a scanned copy). Also, for an additional fee, the MFA or RIM can send a special telex to the Russian consulate, where the person will apply for his visa, and then there's no need for this person to have a copy or an original of the invitation, he or she will just need to specify a "telex number" of his invitation to the Russian consulate, when he applies.
Where can one get a business invitation. Normally, you should get a business invitation if you're coming to Russia for business, for example, to work for a company, to participate in conferences, negotiations etc. In this case, the company with which you're going to make business should take care of all the formalities (either they'll apply themselves to the MFA or RIM, or ask an agency to do it).
As you understand, any foreign person can apply directly to a Russian travel agency for such invitation. So, if you're coming to Russia for travel and want to get a business visa only because you would like to stay longer and to be able to enter or leave multiple times, you can apply for a business invitation through a travel agency.
It's better to fill in the visa application form after you received the business invitation and to specify there the same data as in the application (the same inviting company, the same visa dates, the same cities to visit).
The price of a business invitation depends on the processing speed and the number of entries. For example, a 3-month double entry invitation would cost about $60 US, and a 12-month multiple entry invitation would cost about $250 US.
After you come to Russia, you should have your visa registered in 72 hours. If you stay in a hotel, it must register your visa for the whole period of the visa, but not longer than 3 months (Decree #212, 26 Apr '91). If you stay in an apartment, with friends, or if your visa is longer than 3 months, it should be registred in UVIR (local immigration office). Usually, the travel agencies or companies / organisations that issue your visa support should take care of that, so we strongly advise you to check if the agency that issues your business visa support has an office in the city where you will live.
I should also add that sometimes it may be slightly harder to register a business visa than a tourist visa, because some hotels in Moscow, for example, have a rule that they can register business visas for not longer than 2 days. But again, if the agency that issued your business invitation has an office in the city you're in, you should not have any problems - they should take care of that (it's their responsibility to the Russian law).

Student Visa:
This type of visa is issued only for students, who come to Russia for exchange or education.
This is the best kind of visa, but you can only get it if you applied to a Russian university, school or an institution and will study there. In that case, you will need to submit your data to the university and the "foreign department" of the university will take care of all the formalities. They will submit all your data to the immigration officials and have your student invitation ready in about 7 to 10 days. After that, they'll either send you the invitation by post, by fax, or send the invitation by telex directly to the consulate where you will apply for your visa and you'll just need to know the telex number when you apply.
Usually, the student visa doesn't have a limited validity, it is extended all the time, depending on how long you study.
When you apply to the consulate for a student visa, you'll need to pay a normal fee, which will be about the same as for a tourist visa ($50-$150, depending on processing time).

Personal (Private) Visa:
This type of visa is given to the foreiners who come to Russia for a personal visit (friends, relatives etc.) It can be valid for up to 3 months and is single entry only. This is the worst kind of visa you can apply for.
To obtain this visa, you need a personal invitation certificate (or visa entitlement certificate - "izveshchenie") from a person living in Russia. Sorry, but it will be a real pain in the ass for your friend to make this invitation certificate for you. This person should go to a local OVIR office (something like immigration officials), stand in a long queue, get an application form, fill it in, pay a processing fee (about $30 US - always changing), and wait for about 45 (!) days until the immigration officials will check him (the person who's inviting you) and you. I don't know what they check, but I guess they're looking for some serious stuff like terrorism or spying -- there's no other reason for it to take 30 days. I even think they'll quiz Interpol and the FBI about you too...
So, after all this is finished (hopefully with success), the UVIR officials will give your friend an invitation (after he stands in a long queue again). This invitation can only be sent to you by post, because consulates accept originals only. It can't be faxed or e-mailed or telexed. So, all in all, it'll take about 14 days for it to arrive by post (or 1 day if it's sent by express post, but then it'll cost $50 or so). Then you can take it along with other documents needed to the consulate, and apply for your private visa. It'll cost you the same as the other ones, but will surely cause much suspicion from the consulate officials. Why would a Russian person invite a foreigner to his country? Only to sell his motherland's secrets...
So, we  think you understand, why most of the people prefer getting a tourist or a business visa instead...

Short 72-Hour Visas:
This type of visa WAS an experiment started on the 1st February, 2002 to attract more tourists to Russia. However, there are canceled as of now, so it is NOT possible to get a 72 hour visa at the moment, it's better to go for a tourist visa.
However, if you are traveling on a cruise ship, the cruise company should be able to provide you with a short visa, usually valid for up to 72 hours.

Transit Visas:
This type of visa is usually given for maximum 72 hours if you're crossing the country or need to change the airports. The requirement and the prices depend on the country you're in, so the best thing to do is to contact the Russian consulate and they'll explain everything.
The most common requirements are
1) a valid travel document (passport);
2) onward airline or train tickets (proving you're crossing Russia and will not stay for longer than 72 hours).
3) a visa to the country you are traveling from Russia (if you need one)
4) completed visa application form
5) one passport-size photograph
The price of the transit visa is usually lower than a normal tourist visa, for example, in France it costs 28 Euro. Note, that you don't need to obtain an invitation or visa support to get this type of visa.

Cruise Passengers
New Information (June 2003) According to the agreement between cruise companies and Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, passengers of cruise ships stopping in St. Petersburg port for not longer than 72 hours do not require a Russian visa. This applies only if St. Petersburg is not the only port you stop at during your cruise. Also, this rule DOESN'T apply for the passengers of Finnish cruise companies, because there's a sort of disagreement at the moment (June, 2003) between them and Russian officials.
In any case, we recommend you to doublecheck it with your cruise company.

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