I’m going to Moscow in a couple of months, and we bought the tickets a while ago. More recently I’ve randomly discovered that I need a visa to travel to Russia. I’m glad I know people who know these things, it would have been very annoying to arrive there and be told we’re not allowed in. I’d expect Expedia to warn me, but no I guess they don’t do that.

Anyway, now that I’ve gone through the process I can say it’s very straightforward if you know what to do, and if you don’t – it feels like an impossible bureaucratic mess. So here’s a tutorial for getting a visa to go to Russia if you’re looking to do that.

There is some information here and here if you read russian but the guidance there is inadequate.

You start by filling out this application for the consulate. You won’t yet have everything you need yet but it doesn’t hurt to start, you can resume the application later. If you manage to screw up massively – don’t worry, at the end of that application you have to print it out and take it to the office, so at this point a mistake is not something to worry about.

Here are parts of the application that may be confusing and how to deal with them:

If you had USSR or Russian nationality at some time

The first really annoying thing. For Canadian-only citizens this is not an issue. But if you were born in the USSR – you may run into a problem like I have. The problem is that quite likely you have no documents left whatsoever from that time, so the options they give you don’t work:

  • Prove that you’ve renounced your Russian citizenship: this proof may not exist if you left in the early 90s
  • Visa to Israel: only works if that’s where you went
  • Stamp in their passport saying… only works if you had a passport back then and still have it.

Neither of those worked for me. My parents went to Romania when I was 12, I had no passport, the romanians even replaced my birth certificate with a Romanian one. But it still says on my passport today that I was born in Moldova so I have to deal with this.

For me I chose “Yes” in answer to that question and for the details picked 01June1991: DISSOLUTION OF THE USSR. That’s the advice I was given at the Visa office. The only document I had to provide was the Landed Immigrant paper that was in my passport when I immigrated. Luckily I kept that even though I’m a citizen now.

Number of entries

You pick one. I don’t know what the point is in more than one but if that’s what you need – I can’t answer that question.

Date of entry into / exit from Russia

These have to match your actual dates. Mind that you may arrive on a different day than when you’re leaving. In the past visas were given out for a period of time unrelated to specific entrance/exit dates but that’s no longer the case.

Which institution you are going to visit?

This is the other annoying thing. The theory is that you’re going to use a russian travel agency for your trip and they will provide you with these numbers. But we weren’t going to use a travel agency – I speak russian and am perfectly able to find my way around – there’s plenty to see in Moscow without a pre-arranged tour.

But that’s not an option. Don’t worry, we’re not the only ones who ran into this. Basically what I did was look for hotels in the centre Moscow and several of them had “Visa Support” buttons. These take you to websites such as this one, where you pay approx. 35$ to get the paper you need for your visa. No other services are involved (hence the low price). After you pay for it (Credit Card via PayPal worked for me) you get the paper you need immediately in your email.

On that paper you have to find the reference number (it’s called reference number) and a confirmation number (top of the form on the left).

Medical insurance

I found a place online that said this is not needed for Canadian citizens, it’s mostly for people from the EU. Probably because they don’t have public health care systems in many of the EU countries.

Just in case though I put in one of my numbers from my Sunlife insurance from work.

Do you plan to stay anywhere (hotel, individual)

Doh, yes. You want to pick Hotel. If you pick Individual – I hear they have to go through hell on their end to get the paperwork done. Most likely you don’t need the hotel booked at this point. I didn’t but they said because we’re travelling with the whole family the consulate may ask for a reservation confirmation.

Education and work experience

I think the point of this is to figure out whether you’re planning to go to Russia to work or participate in some armed conflict. Make sure that you don’t and fill in the form appropriately. The details (addresses/phone numbers) don’t need to be precise.

Have you ever visited other countries in the past ten years?

Who the hell hasn’t? I put in one entry with a made-up date for the USA and one for Moldova. I don’t know how they expect me to figure out where I went when in the last 10 years.

That’s all the advice I have. Note that the people at the Visa office are actually quite nice and helpful, but they don’t answer their phone so you have to go there and talk to them. Note also that the visa office is just a processing centre – they don’t make any decisions. So ask them your questions, they’ll help you as best they can, but once your application is ready – it’s up to the guys at the consulate to decide.

And bring payment as cash or a money order, they don’t accept anything else there.