A Recommendation for Help with Your Russian Visa

I’m headed to Moscow in 2 weeks and because of reasons that aren’t important I was quite late getting started with the whole Russian visa process. What Russian Visa process? Oh, the one that involves a multi-page application (what countries have you been to in the past 10 years and on what dates?), photographs, an interview, an official invitation, etc. And apparently if you have any discrepancies between the various materials you have to submit, you will be rejected.

I had a bit of a freakout when I realized that getting to the Consulate in New York for the required interview (yes, interview) was not going to be possible. Also, I’d read that even if you go early they won’t necessarily take you that day. Lovely.

There is an official alternative: a company called Invisa can help you through this process, and they only charge $30 to submit the application for you. That’s pretty great, but you need to schedule time to go down to Lower Manhattan and visit with them, which wasn’t possible in my timeframe (because of Russian holidays they were closed for 5 days in May).

After a bit of digging, I saw a recommendation on FT for Visahq. There are lots of other visa-expediting services out there, and I haven’t used any of them. I can tell you, however, that Visahq was fantastic. I printed out everything I needed and brought it to their office in Manhattan (though you can mail it to them, of course), and a guy named Val kinda laughed when he saw my application, which was missing information and, in general, a mess.

His first comment was, “you don’t need us to do this for you” which I appreciated but, it turns out, I did need them to do it for me because I was not going to run around New York city getting this processed. Also, I forgot to mention: if you go to the Consulate to drop off your visa application you need to have an interview. But for God-knows-what-reason if you go through a third party, no interview is required.

Anyway, Val said not to worry (it was clear I was worrying, because I didn’t see how they would possibly get this done in time) and said he’d fix everything and deal with it.

Lo and behold, in a week the visa was in my apartment. Visahq charged $90 to expedite which, in my book, was more than worth it.

I’ve now learned a bit about the whole ridiculous process so I’m happy to answer any questions.


  1. the process is just like the country itself

  2. If the Visa process included people jumping to the front of the queue at the ticket office door after you’d been in line for half an hour, I’d agree with Frank. I’ve never seen anything quite like lining up for things in Russia :)

    VisaHQ sounds like a good choice, Jared. I just got back from Russia last week and had processed our visas through GotoRussia. (I had no choice but to use a service as I don’t live in a city with a consulate.) their expediting fee was much higher at $160. I didn’t expect to need expediting since I had about 30 days, but about a week after turning in all my documents to them, my husband and I both got selected for background checks which would have delayed our visa until the day after our departure. The extra $160 per person magically made it all go away.


    PS enjoy Moscow. I loved it!

  3. i thought the cold war was over? :lol:

  4. :eek:
    Strange. My visa application process was really smooth.
    Applied. Given a date. Stand in line. Called in. Asked why I wanted to go to Russia. Come back tomorrow and collect your passport.

  5. Is there any advantage to getting a “transit visa” over a 30 day tourist visa? Cheaper perhaps?

  6. I work for a large multinational company and have used our preferred passport service, CIBT, several times. Their web site is http://www.cibt.com and I have always received great service (and my visa). In many cases, a business trip requirement has come up to be somewhere the following week so I’ve used their express service. They send you a forms package and have offices located all over the country (so if the consulate in NY is closed, for example, they can use DC or LA).

  7. Wow — the Russian visa thing seems more complicated than just a few years ago. After the Global Market Meltdown and a flu panic, AA was selling ridiculously low fare tickets to Russia in early 2009. I went in May of that year, and my roundtrip ticket was in the low $200s from the East Coast. I recall having to get an “invitation,” but my chain hotel in Moscow was happy to do it for me. I was in DC so went to their embassy to apply for the visa. No interview, no big hassle. Frankly, it was probably easier at the time than, say, India.

    I should have extended my trip to St. Petersburg at that time, and I regret not doing so. Given the current rigmarole, maybe I won’t be returning anytime soon!