May 272015

The world’s largest country has everything to offer, from history in Saint Petersburg to present day Moscow and from adventures like Trans-Siberian Railways to the destinations like Lake Baikal. It also has Altai, Kamchatka, Caucasus, Black Sea, Siberia and many more attractions-the list is endless. Russia is so vast that the 16-days visit planned by me was just like a drop in the ocean.

Despite having all of these attractions, it is still a less-preferred destination for the tourists. It still has some age-old regulations to govern the foreign visitors. Although, it is a very friendly nation with India, but the rules for visa application make it very difficult to plan an independent trip to Russia. However, planning a trip with the travel agent is very easy and doesn’t involved any hassle, but their dominance over Russian visa applications make it a very costly affair.

Saint Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

Russian visa application process in India involves three steps:
1. An original invitation from Russia
2. Filling the application form
3. Applying for Visa at a Visa Center

Step 1: An Original Visa Invitation from Russia

It is an original letter from a tourist agency in Russia and contains details like applicant’s name, passport number, date of birth, cities to be visited, hotel names etc. The inviting agency must be registered with the Russian Ministry of External Affairs. The invitation letter must be in original, duly signed and stamped by the Director of inviting agency and must be sent by post/courier. Fax or e-mail copy is not accepted at all(Although on the website of Russian Embassy, it is mentioned that a clear copy of visa invitation is required, but w.r.t. an Indian citizen, it only means a clear original copy). This is the thing for which you need to do a lot of research to get the best price.

How to get the original invitation? Best way to get this invitation by contacting an agency on the Internet. There are mainly two types of inviting agencies:

1. No courier, only invitation: Nationals of many countries do not require original copy of the invitation letter. A clear e-mail or fax copy is good enough for them. So, these agencies charge for issuing the invitation letter and e-mail them to their clients. Charges may vary from 400 Rubles to 2500 Rubles. A newly opened web-based agency even issue these invitations without any cost. Some agencies charge additional fee to fax the invitation copy. Since, Indian citizens need an original copy of the invitation letter, these type of agencies are no use for us.

2. Invitation with Courier copy: These agencies issue the invitation letter (again 400 Rubles to 2500 Rubles). Their courier charges also vary from agency to agency ( From Saint Petersburg to New Delhi, it varies from 1500 Rubles to 3500 Rubles). After getting online payment for invitation as well as courier charges, they first send a scan copy to check for any discrepancies. After getting the confirmation from the customer, they send the original copy by a reputed international courier.

Now, there are again two type of agencies in this category. One is simply an inviting agency, which do a plain job of issuing the invitation and sending that to you.

Second can be the hotels/hostels. They also issue the letter of invitation on a lower prices, if you book your accommodation at their properties and send that invitation to you. But the duration of invitation may be only during your stay at that property. Some may issue an invitation beyond that.

It all can be very confusing, and that’s why needs a lot of research. Therefore, to avoid all confusion, there are certain things you should know about your visa invitation and inviting agency. Just decide them on these parameters and your visa invitation should be perfectly fine.

Things you should know regarding visa invitation and inviting agencies:

1. It should be in original, duly signed and stamped by the director of inviting agency. So, check if your inviting agency can send it to you by courier.

2. Before asking for visa invitation, you need the complete itinerary with the name of hotels/hostels for each night of your trip.

3. That itinerary is not the final wordings. You can change it entirely after getting the visa and you can also cancel all your hotel bookings.

4. Always book your hotels/hostels on the booking engines offering last days cancelation policy. Many booking engines do not charge the credit card until one day prior to your arrival date and you can also cancel your bookings without any charge.

5. You may not get some hostel listings on the big booking engines. In that case, try to search them on hostelbookers or hostelworld. Both websites only charge 12% of booking amount initially and rest of all should be paid to the property directly. In most of the cases, they do not charge for cancelation one day prior to the date of arrival. So, you will only lose INR 100-200 for your booking in case of cancelation.

6. Getting visa doesn’t mean that you have to visit only those cities that are mentioned in your invitation. Except some restricted areas (Popularly known as closed cities, none among the popular tourist places these days), you are free to visit entire Russia.

7. Ideally visa invitation charges should be 400-500 Rubles, if you are getting it through your hotels/hostels. If you get it from any agency without booking their hotels, it shouldn’t be more than 1000 rubles. Courier charges shouldn’t be more than 1500-1800 Rubles. If anybody quoting higher prices than these, negotiate well or checked with another one.

8. Mostly they send it through a reputed international courier, but also insist from your side to send it by a good courier company and at least get a tracking number.

9. Before dispatching the original copy, they send a scanned copy for your confirmation, but if they don’t, you must ask for that to avoid any discrepancies in the original copy.

10. Some invitation letters also mentioned the list of paid services. It is written like “All accommodation and tourist services are paid.” However, it is not necessary to mention this on the invitation letter.

I arranged my invitation through an agency (, in Saint Petersburg. They charged me 1000 Rubles for invitation and 1600 Rubles for courier charges. They run a big chain of nice hostels (Friends Hostel) in Saint Petersburg, and offered me 400 Rubles price for visa invitation, after booking one of their hostels. But, during my trip their hostels were not vacant, so I paid 1000 Rubles for the invitation. They sent the original copy through Pony Express ( a reputable courier company in Russia) and it is delivered in New Delhi by UPS (their India partner). I also got a tracking number, but even till the time of delivery on 8th day after pick up, that number only indicated that shipment was picked from Saint Petersburg and bound for New Delhi. 🙂

An Update from September 2015: I got an information that this agency doesn’t serve Indian customers now. You may search around on the web, there are plenty of other agencies providing the same services.

Step 2: Filling the application form
The link to fill this application form is:

Before filling this form, you are required to register on the website. After registration, you can log-in to your account and fill a form of about 5 pages. It requires simple information like your personal details, occupation, address etc and details of your trip like cities to be visited and medical insurance valid in Russia. All the information should be matched with your visa invitation letter. At last, it asks about the center of your application. Choose the relevant IFS visa application center.

Medical/Travel insurance is not compulsory to get the Russian visa and you can simply write NO in that column. However, personally, I always travel abroad with a good travel insurance policy.

After filling the application form, it converts in a single page form. Take a clear print out of that single page form, properly sign it and paste one photograph. This application form will be in their database for 30 days from the date of filing, so you can edit it anytime and take the print out within 30 days.

Photo Specifications:
1. 35 mm x 45 mm with the head centered in the frame.
2. Full face (without sunglasses and normally without other head covering, unless the applicant wear such item because of their religious belief or ethnic background).
3.The photo must have been taken within the last six months (Really, who verifies? 🙂 )

After getting the visa invitation and filling the application form, you are all set to apply for Russian visa.

Step 3: Applying at a Visa Center:

You can not apply directly to Russian Embassy/consulate in India. They have outsourced their visa application process to two agencies in India. The old one is Salvia Visa Facilitation Center and recently added agency is Indra Visa Facilitation Center. You are free to chose any of them, but each has its own pros and cons. Both agencies also mention different type of documents requirements (although, fundamentally same documents) and have different charges for visa applications.

Agency 1, The older agency, Salvia Visa Facilitation Services, SVFS (also, Salvia Travels): They are the older and well known agency for Russian visa in India. Required documents for Russian Visa are:

1. Original Passport with not less than 6 months validity from the date of entry.
2. Duly filled online application form with attached photograph
3. Original invitation from a travel company in Russia
4. An official visiting card of the applicant.
5. Copy of Return Air Ticket

One person, who applied for Russian visa at Salvia VFS, Mumbai, also mentioned that a leave approval letter from the employer is mandatory, however, it was not required in my case at IFS, New Delhi.

Visa Charges:
Single Entry Visa: INR 2790 (Visa Fee) plus INR 1125 (Service Charges) plus Taxes, Total: INR 4600

Double Entry Visa: INR 5580 (Visa Fee) plus INR 1125 (Service Charges) plus Taxes, Total: INR 7400
Multiple Entry Visa: INR 7192 (Visa Fee) plus INR 1125 (Service Charges) plus Taxes, Total: INR 9000
Transit Visa: INR 2790 (Visa Fee) plus INR 1125 (Service Charges) plus Taxes , Total: INR 4600

Time Required for Visa: 03-04 working days from the date of application.

Note: 1. If visa is required urgently (within 24 hours), fee for urgent visa issuance of INR 2790 will be charged.

2. No fee is charged in case of diplomatic and official visas.

3. For diplomatic and official passport holders visa is not required if the duration of stay does not exceed 90 days.

Timings for Visa Application at Salvia VFS:
Submission: Monday to Friday (Except Holidays), 0900 AM to 1200 PM
Urgent Visa, 0900 AM to 1000 AM
Collection: Monday to Friday (Except Holidays), 0300 PM to 0500 PM

Validity: They also mentioned at their website that tourist visa is only available for 15 days stay in Russia (Although its available for 30 days). For more duration, you have to apply for a business visa, which is more costly. I did not verify this information with them, because when I call their representative for some clarification, she didn’t talk nicely, when she heard that I want to apply it independently. With multiple entry visa one can stay no longer/more than 90 days in total per period of 180 days.

Advantage of Salvia VFS: Salvia Travels can also help you to arrange a visa invitation from Russia. But, they say that all the accommodation should be booked through them only and they don’t book hostels, only 3- star hotels or higher categories. So, over all it becomes very costly.


Salvia Visa Facilitation Services (SVFS)
905-906, Prakash Deep Building
7, Tolstoy Marg, Connaught Place,
New Delhi – 110001
Phone: (011)-43592711 / 22 / 33
Fax: (011) 23730087

Luckily, last year Russian Embassy authorised one more agency for its visa application, Indra Visa Facilitation Center.

Agency 2, Experience with IFS, Delhi: I applied at IFS, New Delhi and had a very good experience.
Required Documents:

1. Original Passport with not less than 6 months validity from the date of entry. And a copy of first and last page of the passport (However, they did not take this copy from me)
2. Duly filled online application form with attached photograph (Photo specifications same as above)
3. Original invitation from a travel company in Russia.
4. Copy of return air ticket ( Not mentioned on their website, but it is mandatory)

Appointment for Visa Application at IFS: Before applying for visa at IFS application center, you are supposed to get an online appointment at IFS website. But, since they are relatively new, very less people apply at their center and I don’t see any need for prior appointment.

Also, I went their without the copy of return air ticket. They asked me to email that and took the print out. Please make sure that entry and exit dates are clearly mentioned on your air ticket. In my case, my return flight was on May 22 from Saint Petersburg and then after 15 hours connection time in Moscow, the final return flight was on May 23 from Moscow, but May 23 was not mentioned anywhere in my ticket. As per IFS representative, it could have created a problem. However, I got the visa without any problem. Russian visa is not valid for a particular duration, but for the exact dates of entry and exit. So, May 22 instead of May 23 on the visa, and your entire savings on that cheap flight is gone.

Visa Charges:

Single Entry Visa: INR 2790 (Visa Fee) plus INR 1125 (Service Charges), Total: INR 3915
Double Entry Visa: INR 5580 (Visa Fee) plus INR 1125 (Service Charges), Total: INR 6705
Transit Visa: INR 2790 (Visa Fee) plus INR 1125 (Service Charges), Total: INR 3915
Surprisingly, IFS don’t have any provision for taxes like Salvia, so their charges are lower than Salvia VFS.

Timings for Visa Application at IFS, New Delhi:
Submission: Monday to Friday (Except Holidays), 0900 AM to 1200 PM
Urgent Visa, 0900 AM to 1000 AM
Collection: Monday to Friday (Except Holidays), 0300 PM to 0500 PM

Time Required for Visa: 03-04 working days from the date of application.

Validity: It is clearly mentioned on their website that we can apply for a tourist visa up to 30 days (16 days in my case).

I was there with other supporting documents like official identity card, leave approval letter, bank statements, ITR copies (just in case) but they required nothing. They only took my original passport, original invitation and the flight ticket. Nothing else. I deposited the required amount at an adjacent counter ( only cash accepted) and walked out with a receipt. 3- business days later, I collected my passport with a stamped Russian visa. Finally, I was all set for a Russian Adventure.

Indra Visa Fiduciary Services Pvt Ltd
809-810, 8th Floor, Ashoka Estate Building
24, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi -110001
Phone: (011)23322444/555
Website: (It often goes down, my personal experience 🙂 )

A Note on the Validity of Russian Visa: Russian visa is valid only for your duration of stay i.e. from the date of entry to the date of exit (up to 30 days in case of Single Entry Tourist Visa). It is not like other visas where validity period is mentioned in days, like 15 days, 30 days, so that you can change your plan and exit on the last day of the validity. In case of Russian visa, you can not stay more than the validity period, you can say that, even not by a single minute. You overstay it by a single minute and your life is hell. In that case, you have to arrange an exit visa that takes up to 10 days after spending hundreds of dollars and lot of hassle.

Extension of Russian Visa: Except some extraordinary cases like medical emergencies, it is not possible to extend a Russian Visa.

Registration of Russian Visa, when you arrive in Russia: Visa registration is also a very confusing term for all the visitors to Russia. Just to keep things simple and clear:

1. You must register your visa in Russia, if you are intended to stay for more than 7 business days in one go in any city. These business days don’t count holidays. So, if there are 3 holidays immediately after your arrival in Russia, this registration should be done within 10 days of your arrival. You are suppose to register in each and every city, wherever you are going to spend more than 7 days.

2. Usually reputed hostels, mid-size and large-size hotels automatically register its visitors without any charge at the time of check-in. However, they may provide registration slip or may not. If you plan to stay for more than 7 days, must ask for the slip.

3. Generally, these hotels/hostels register for the duration of your stay. So, if you stay 3 days at one hotel and another 4 days in another hotel in the same city, you have to register at both the properties.

4. Some small hostels also provide this facility, but they charge 400-500 Rubles fee for this. But, in any case, paying more than 500 Rubles for this is too much. Many shops and online portals also provide this service.

5. If you register in a city and visiting another city for less than 7 days, there is no need to register in the second city. However, your hotel/hostel may register you.

6. If total duration of stay is less than 7 business days, there is no need to register at all.

7. In 16-days trip, I never stayed in any city for 7-days. But, I did this registration in Moscow, after my arrival. Because, sometimes, in the smaller cities, corrupt police officers may trouble you for this reason. And, the worse thing is that you can not explain them clearly, because many of them don’t understand English. But, if you can argue well in Russian, then there is no need for this safety net.

8. From Vladivostok, Ulan Ude, Moscow to Saint Petersburg, till time of my departure from Russia, a policeman checked my documents only once in the Trans-Siberian Train and he too, did not ask for the registration slip.

Therefore, this registration slip is a hype created by numerous online portals to frightened the tourists and to run their own registration business smoothly.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.