Travelled to 19 countries / regions

Written 14 briefs
Went to visit Russia in 2017



Europe > Russia > Useful Info
Updated on Sep 12, 2018 Useful Info

How to get a Russian visa for Americans

  • There's no visa exemption or visa on arrival to Russia for Americans even for tourism. I had to apply for a visa before I left the US
  • The process wasn't very straightforward. I'm documenting it here for the benefit of future traveler
  • Key things to know:
  • Total cost: ~$260US
  • Visa type: I got 30-day single entry visa
  • How long before trip I applied: 2 months before my trip. Visa processing time was just over 1 month (I didn't do the expedited service)
  • Did I need to book hotels or flights before applying for visa: no
  • Hassle level: high
  • Process I went through:
  1. Getting the invitation letter (also called visa support; this is NOT the visa)
  2. The invitation letter can be obtained from hotels that you've booked in Russia, but I didn't have any booked when I applied (and didn't want to book anything until I have my visa) so I went with one of the many agencies that offered this service. I used Way To Russia as I saw their names popped up a bunch of times everywhere (I also liked that their website had a LOT of detailed info)
  3. Application was online (on this page on their site) and took about 15 minutes
  4. Cost was $30 paid online by credit card
  5. I got the letter emailed to me the next day (emailed copies are fine for Russian visa application in the US, but they will mail the original copy if policy changes)
  6. Note: I still had to choose an accommodation on Way To Russia's online application form for the invitation letter. However, according to them I just need to pick a random accommodation from the list they provided on their website, because there's no laws in Russia against changing accommodation after the visa has been issued. I can still book whatever accommodation I want that's not on the invitation letter. A big BUT, whatever accommodation I pick here, I needed to make sure that I put the same one down for the visa application form (step 2 below)
  7. Filling out the official visa application form online and printing it:
  8. I had to do this after I got the invitation letter from step 1 because it asked for some info on the invitation letter
  9. This step is done on the official visa application website of Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
  10. Took me about 30 minutes to finish the application, printing it into PDF, and then physically printing the PDF to paper
  11. Note: the accommodation information to provide on this official visa application form needs to match the accommodation information specified on the invitation letter from step 1. I had chosen a random accommodation in step 1 and I needed to put down the same accommodation for this step. Again, there's no consequences of picking a random accommodation in step 1 and 2 because it's perfectly legal to "change" my accommodation after getting the visa (according to Way To Russia, which provided my invitation letter)
  12. There's no cost to this step
  13. Getting other visa application docs ready
  14. Two standard US passport-sized photos
  15. My passport with 2 empty visa pages and 6 months of remaining validity
  16. Proof of travel medical insurance for the duration of the visa. My American Express Gold came with this so I didn't have to buy anything separate. A lot of credit cards have this so check with them first before buying. I called AMEX to get them to send me a certificate as a proof for this application
  17. Sending everything to the visa processing center
  18. I didn't apply to the Russian consulate directly (which you can, but it's a lot of stress and from what I read you have to do it in person)
  19. Instead, I used a company called ILS (, which is a private company but they're the official Russian visa processing company in the US. I came across tons of travel agencies on Google offering services but ILS seemed to be the one everyone used from my research
  20. ILS has physical offices in 4 cities - DC, New York, Houston and San Francisco. I wasn't in any of these cities so I had to send my visa application package (stuff from step 1-3) to them by mail. Doing this by mail required a few more docs to finish (listed here on ILS's site) as well as $85 more expensive
  21. Got a money order from my bank for the total fee payable to "Invisa Logistics Services, LLC" (ILS took care of payment to the Russian consulate for the visa application, so I only had to get a single money order). The total fees I paid to ILS came out to $208, for a 30-day, single-entry, non-expedited, mail service. Here's their current fee scheduleUser submitted photo of RussiaLink to this page
  22. Once I had all my docs ready, it was just a matter of putting it all in a trackable mail and sending it to ILS. Their locations