There is a plethora of information relating to the confusing situation of Russia visas. Most of these tend to be out-dated or using ambiguous words. This leaves people travelling to Russia confused as to what to do once they arrive in the country. Despite what the Western media has been broadcasting, Putin pushed tirelessly for entry into the European Union and the WTO (World Trade Organisation) but to no avail. Medvedev has been doing the same, and has support from many of the European countries, such as Poland, Germany and France. As of yet, the Russian Federation haven’t been granted access to the EU. With the obvious political agendas aside, by granting Russia entrance to the EU would allow for visa free travel in both directions.
At the moment Russian citizens require a Schengen visa to visit all the European Union countries excluding the United Kingdom (UK). The same goes for the people residing in the European Union countries including the UK. Visas should be applied for in plenty of time before you travel. There are many options for visas, but applying for a Russian tourist visa two weeks before you travel is usually adequate. Business visas take a little longer, but the process is still somewhat the same. Business visas are separated into two sub-categories: actual business visas, for where a foreign national wishes to do business in the Russian Federation, and cultural visas, for where a foreign national wishes to simply enjoy an extended tourist stay in the Russian Federation. Most of the Russian visas are easily obtained, and are rarely refused.
The obtaining of the Russian visas isn’t something which is all too difficult. However, the problems usually begin when you first land in Russia. When applying for your visa, you should ensure that it’s valid when you land. This doesn’t mean that the visa’s validity has to begin from the very day you land, but that it should be valid for when you do land, otherwise you’ll be prevented from entering the country.
On board the plane travelling from a country which requires a Russian visa — which the U.S and Canada, but excludes many of the ex-Russian states, mostly those south of Russia such as Kazakhstan and Armenia, and South American countries such as Brazil and Argentina, you will be presented with a migration card which is bilingual — Russian and English. The details required from you are quite basic: your name, date of birth, place of stay in Russia for the first few days, inviting company or individual, and your passport and visa numbers. Once this has been successfully filled in, and it’s not difficult by any means, it should be handed in to the migration official you meet at the airport. Incidentally, both the left and right of the migration card should be filled in, since the customs official will stamp the right side and give it to you keep. You need to hold onto this migration slip for your entire duration, and by certain not to lose it, since this would cause problems when leaving Russia.
Once you have left the airport, most articles will tell you that you need to register your Russian visa within 3 days. However, more specifically, you need to register your visa within 72 hours. This means that if you land at 22:00 in the evening, then only those 2 hours remaining of that day will count towards your 72 hours, not the whole day, since this would be unfair. The process of registering a visa is simple if you’re staying in a hotel, as almost every hotel will register your visa for you, for the entire duration of your stay. They will also return the slip to the UFMS for you once you leave. All you need to do is not lose your passport or your migration slip.
However, if you’re staying in a private apartment or elsewhere that isn’t a hotel, then you will need to take a few extra steps. Ideally you should attempt to locate the UFMS office of the town you’re staying in, as outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, the process for registering a visa can be awfully complicated, and if you miss the 72 hour period, then you’re at the mercy of the migration officials, who may be lenient if you’re from the European Union, but it’s not something that can be relied on.
The punishment for not registering your visa within 72 hours of arriving in Russia, and if the officials do not let you off, is that you will be required to pay a fine. Anywhere from 2,000 RUB to 10,000 RUB is standard. This is not the worst of it if you plan to return to Russia, as a fine is considered an infraction of the migration rules, and whilst you are allowed to accumulate 2 of these warnings before you have trouble, you have still caused yourself problems. Another one of these infractions, which can be given for many things in Russia, and you may be declined entry to the Russian Federation in the future. Note the word may, as this is not at all definite, and depends on the circumstances.
Once you’ve located the place where you can register your Russian visa, you will need to fill in a form. However, a problem arises here that if you don’t under the Cyrillic alphabet then you’re going to have countless difficulties in filling in the form. Not only is the form printed in the Cyrillic alphabet, you are required to fill in the form using the Cyrillic alphabet. This means transliterating Latin characters into Cyrillic characters, which certainly isn’t the easiest process if you don’t understand the language.
Fortunately, if you are staying in a Russian town that is not frequented by tourists, then you will either stay in a hotel, or you will be staying with a friend, both of which will fill in this form for you. Some Russian towns also require you to pay a tax of 2 RUB per day. This can be done at the state bank in Russia quite easily. You will, however, need the account number from the UFMS department. This process doesn’t usually take too long, and shouldn’t cause too many problems.
If you are travelling alone, or with a friend who doesn’t speak Russian, and you intend to visit many Russian towns off the beaten track, and you’re not intending in staying in a hotel — maybe camping, then it’s a good idea not to stay in any of these Russian towns for any more than 3 days, since you won’t need to register your visa. You could register it in Moscow when you arrive in the country, and then de-register your visa in Moscow when you leave. You can pass through as many Russian towns as you wish, and not have to re-register your visa a single time.
Once your stay in Russia is over, you need to de-register your visa, which is an important step, as otherwise this may cause problems in acquiring another Russian visa, if you plan on visiting Russia again. To de-register your visa, which should be done 24 hours before you depart, but can be done anywhere up to 48 hours after you depart, if you have a friend who can submit this slip for you, you need to take your registration slip which you got from the UFMS office when you registered, and give it back to them. They will de-register you. You are then allowed to leave the Russian Federation by handing them your passport and migration slip at the airport.
Once you’ve done it, you’ll realise that it’s not something to be scared about. But the process can be awfully complicated outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. If you arrive in the Russian Federation on a visa that allows you to come and go a few times, then please be aware that you need to de-register and re-register your visa with every time you leave Russia. This is as important as all the information aforementioned.
Don’t let the communist-era visa process put you off visiting Russia, though! It really isn’t all that difficult, especially if you’re intending to stay only in Moscow or St. Petersburg, or stay in a hotel in the places not frequented by tourists too often. You should begin to worry when you’re staying in a private apartment in a town that isn’t Moscow or St. Petersburg. If you intend to do this, then you would need to read up more about the process, for you can quite easily become confused with what you have to do.