Medical facilities in general vary. A majority of hospitals are extremely well equipped, clean, and possess all of the latest technologies, while there are some that are well below western standards, with shortages in medication and neglected equipment.
Ensure that all of your vaccinations are up to date, and you have sufficient amounts of any prescription medicine you may be taking. Pharmacies are common in major cities and carry quality western medications.
Quality of tap water varies around the country, and may even be variable within cities. In old buildings tap water can be non-potable. In the big cities of European Russia, the water is clean of biological contaminants, but often suffers from the presence of heavy metals, due to outdated city plumbing. If you can't buy bottled water, boil water before drinking, or better yet use a special filter for tap water, which you could buy in any supermarket. Bottled water costs only about RUB20-30 USD0.80-1.10 for 2 litres, but watch out for refilled bottles being sold.
Besides local doctors generally good quality but often working in poor facilities there are several Western-run medical centers in major Russian cities. These all have different policies for payment some take credit cards, some require payment in cash up front, even if you have insurance so make sure you know what you are paying for and when and how before you agree to any services.
Be careful not to buy fake vodka, which can be dangerous seriously here, 'dangerous' doesn't mean 'strong'; it can contain methanol. Only buy vodka in large stores or specialized ones like Aromatnyi Mir (http://aroma.spb.ru/shops.html) in Moscow, with the sticker over the cap and/or the region's barcode on the side.
Significant number of food stores, including some food/goods chains, standalone food shops, kiosks and food markets are rumourously famous for selling food of bad quality, including out-of-date or even out-of-date with expire date reprinted with a later date. Although most of them are quite good. When possible, check the quality of the food with visual observation, don't especially trust expire date labels, that are added in a replaceable way. Also you can take note of what others are buying, sometimes you can even ask other buyers which product is better, it's considered normal. That could help you make a good choice. Examples of usually bad quality food sold are most of fish products, including smoked and spicy salted be especially careful, pre-made salads, fresh vegetables and fruits, when you can't handpick them at markets check them after shop-women picked them for you, you can usually change those you don't like, at shops they usually don't allow to change, and use to add some bad ones into bag, vegetables conservatives sold with discount and with older production date usually, cheaper dairy products, though less consistent, checking what others buy may help you here. Cheaper juices often come diluted with water.
The country's HIV prevalence is steadily rising, mainly for drug users, young adults and prostitutes. Be safe.
For those unfortunates that require a visa, the complexity of the process depends on the class of visa. Thirty-day tourist visas are fairly straightforward to acquire; 90 day and more business visas, less so. It is best to start the application process well in advance. While expedited processing is available to those who need visas quickly, it can double the application cost.
Arranging a visa basically involves two steps:
Getting an invitation and
Applying for the visa.
You may arrive at any time on or after the start date of your visa's validity and may depart at any time on or before its expiry date. Normally, an exit visa is included in transit, private visit/homestay, tourist, and business visas so long as the visa is still valid. Other classes, such as student visas, still require a separate exit visa that can take up to three weeks to process.
Exit and re-entry during the validity period of your visa requires permits. Getting these permits is a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare that is best avoided entirely by getting a double- or multiple-entry visa in the first place.
If you're in Russia and have lost your passport, your sponsor, not your embassy, must apply to the Federal Migration Service to transfer your visa to your replacement passport. Having a copy of your old visa helps with this, but is normally not sufficient to let you depart.
Note: New rules for visas have recently been instituted for US citizens per a visa facilitation agreement which entered into force on 9 September 2012.
Since the beginning of the 2000s broadband Internet has become widely available in Russia even in the countryside. Almost all places where you can find a computer have a connection at least through ADSL. In towns and especially big cities free Wi-Fi can be found in cafes, hotel receptions, and other public places.
A lot of respect is required when it comes to talking about World War II and the Soviet Union. That conflict was a major tragedy for Soviets and every family has at least one relative among the 25-30 million people who died—way above all of Western Europe and America combined—and the scars of that conflict are still felt today.
Avoid discussing political relations with Georgia or Ukraine in companies with diverse political views. This sometimes can lead to hostility and maybe even fierce debates. Tense relations between these countries have led to many conflicts, most notably the 2008 South Ossetia war and 2014 annexation of Crimea. As for simple people, Russians look at Georgians and Ukrainians from above because of lower life standards in Georgia and Ukraine, and also because both Georgians and Ukrainians arrive to Russia as a working migrants who usually have a low paid job in Russia.
Smiling in Russia is traditionally reserved for friends, and smiling at a stranger may make them self-conscious. Smile at a Russian in the street and most likely they will not respond in kind. An automatic Western smile is widely regarded as insincere. While that tradition is slowly changing as Russia smiling is still very rare in customer service. Sales assistants, public servants and the like are expected to look serious and businesslike. Hence the very common misconception about Russians that they are a very grim folk and never smile — they do, once they get to know you, and become very welcoming and kind.
When approaching a stranger with a question, attempt to use Russian at first and ask if they speak English, Russians are very proud of their language and people will be noticeably more aloof if you approach them speaking English. Even just using the Russian equivalents of 'please' and 'thank you' will make a noticeable difference to people.
Women are traditionally treated with chivalry. Female travellers should not act surprised or indignant when their Russian male friends pay their bills at restaurants, open every door in front of them, offer their hand to help them climb down that little step or help them carry anything heavier than a handbag — this is not intended as condescending. Male travellers should understand that this will be expected of them by Russian women too.
While tipping was traditionally frowned upon in Russia it has been emerging after the fall of communism. A customary tip in a restaurant is 10%, and should you leave more money than the exact total when paying your bill at a restaurant, particularly if it happens to be more or less like 10% above the total, it will be interpreted as a tip. If the service was particularly bad and you don't want to leave a tip, ask for your change.
The "OK" gesture is okay.
Likewise, keep your political opinions to yourself. Ask as many questions as you like, but avoid making statements or comments about Russia's past and current political situation. The country has a turbulent, and often violent history, and most Russian people are tired of hearing Westerners pass judgement - generally negative ones, at that - on the Soviet Union. Many Russians over the age of 30 are proud of both its triumphs and tragedies, and they probably know much more about the period than you. Younger Russians are less likely to be offended as they view the Soviet Union as an old empire, or just have a patchy knowledge of something which collapsed after many of them were born. However many of young Russians are nationalists and many of them could be even more conservative than their USSR born parents. Most of them were grown up during the 90s - time when the country was in the deep crisis and the life standards were far lower than in USSR. Many of them knew about the life in the USSR from their parents who often say them about better life before the country collapsed. Try to avoid criticizing the conflict in Chechnya. Even though horrific things have happened there, most Russians support the government and will say that Chechnya was, is, and always will be Russian. The separatist forces are regarded as Islamist terrorists. It also very important that while it is legal to criticize the government, it is a social faux pas to speak against the government in general, and Putin - who is very popular - in particular.
Keep in mind that even now, independent former Soviet Republics are widely regarded as historical parts of Russia, especially Ukraine and Belarus.
Russian is the lingua franca: across Russia, you'll find people who speak it. Russians are proud of their culturally diverse language. The language is a member of the Slavic language family, being further sub-classified into the East Slavic family, thus being closely related to Ukrainian and Belarusian. Although related to other Slavic languages such as Macedonian, Serbian, Czech, to name a few, they are not mutually intelligible, but still share a slight similarity. Russian is considered one of the most difficult languages for an English speaker to learn, mostly because of a very complicated grammar. You will not learn the language in a short time; concentrate on learning some key "courtesy" phrases, and the Cyrillic alphabet e.g. "ресторан" spells "restoran" in the Roman alphabet, which means "restaurant" so you have a chance to recognize street names, labels and public signs.
Learning Russian is quite hard going, despite Russian sharing an ancestral Indo-European root language with English. The script, Cyrillic, uses many letters of the Latin alphabet but assigns many of them different sounds. The language employs three grammatical genders masculine, feminine and neuter, six grammatical cases, and free-fall stress, all of which conspire to make it a difficult prospect for the native English speaker.
English is becoming a requirement in the business world, and many younger Russians in the largest cities such as Moscow or St. Petersburg know enough English to communicate. Outside these areas English is generally nonexistent, so take a phrase book and be prepared for slow communication with a lot of interpretive gestures.
Russia has hundreds of languages and claims to support most of them. Soviet linguists documented them in the first few decades of the USSR and made sure they were given Cyrillic writing systems except Karelian, Veps, Ingrian, Votic and Ter Sami. Some were made local co-official languages. Southern Russia is lined with Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic language; the northern with Finnic and Samoyed tounges. The southwest corner has a variety of Caucasian languages; the northeast has a few Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages. However, a smattering of Russian is will greatly aid travellers no matter where they are.
The Russian Orthodox religion is one of the oldest branches of Christianity in the world and continues to have a very large following, despite having been repressed during the communist period. The language spoken in Russian Orthodox church services is Old Church Slavonic, which differs considerably from modern Russian.
Russia hosts several cultural and educational centers of German, French, English, Spanish, Japanese and other foreign languages.
French centers belong to Alliance Francaise (http://afrus.ru/fr) and are located in Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Perm, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Saratov, Tolyatti, Vladivostok.
German is taught at Sprachlernzentern (http://www.goethe.de/ins/...) in Barnaul, Yaroslavl, Yekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, Kemerovo, Krasnoyarsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Samara, Sergiev Posad, Tolyatti, Tomsk, Vladimir, Volgograd, Volzhsky.
IELTS schools are numerous and one can find them in all big and small cities, the number of accredited exams centers, however is shorter but enough (http://www.ielts-russia.ru/).
The official centers of Japanese language include Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Nizhny Novgorod, Saint Petersburg, Moscow.
Institute of Cervantes is open in Moscow. (http://moscu.cervantes.es)
prepaid sim cards
There are 5 GSM operators in Russia, which all use the 900/1800 MHz standard for 2G, 900/2100 MHz standard for 3G, and 800/2600 MHz standard for 4G/LTE, the same as Europe and Asia. Check that your phone supports one of these standards before bringing it to Russia. The 5 operators are Beeline, Megafon, MTS, Tele2, and Yota. There is also one CDMA network: Skylink but you need to purchase a Skylink phone to use this network.
All carriers offer cheap SIM cards with data plans that are always a better alternative to paying roaming charges. Megafon is considered to have the best coverage but Beeline is considered to be the cheapest.
If you buy a SIM card in a shop, you'll need your passport for identification and it will take around 5 minutes to complete the required paperwork. If you don't speak Russian, you will need to find someone who speaks English. Alternatively, you can buy a SIM card from automated kiosks in metro stations. Calls to landlines from mobile phones are more expensive than calls to other mobile phones, especially those that use the same network. Incoming calls are free. You can add value to your card at the stores of the company you are using or at automated kiosks. You can buy a prepaid card for international calls, but online services such as Skype are often cheaper.
If you want to connect your laptop or computer to a data network, you can also buy cheap SIM cards for a USB-modem.
Russians have a marvelously and intimately quiet way of speaking with one another in public. It's best to try and follow suit to avoid standing out like a sore thumb and generally making everyone around you really uncomfortable—stand a little closer to your interlocutor and ease up on the volume.
Largely because of the transition from state socialism to market capitalism, Russia did experience a rise in criminal activity during the 1990s. As those who controlled capital through the state had to reconfigure their business operations towards a free enterprise rationality, profiteering and scams have increased. The truth is that crime was greatly exaggerated in the media, and for the average tourist Moscow, Saint Petersburg and the rest of Russia are actually just as safe as most major European cities.
You should be noted that Russia is a pioneer country in fighting against narcotics. Russia has a well-developed anti-narcotics enforcement system as well as a set of regulations against uses and carrying of narcotics as tough as Hong Kong and Singapore, drug-trafficking into Russia can be brought a sentence of at least several decades.
Driving by the majority of Russians is routinely reckless, and has claimed more than 35,000 lives each year. Reckless driving habits, the lack of proper training, and a mixture of very old to modern model cars, all contributes to a high death rate on the roads. Drivers attack their art with an equal mix of aggressiveness and incompetence. Guidelines are lax and rarely followed. As a pedestrian, take great care when crossing the roads, as pedestrian crossings are widely ignored. Most drivers are not very well trained and forged their driving licences to avoid problems with the police. More importantly, the rapidly expanding economy has led to an increase in traffic density. Driving in the tunnels is perhaps even more dangerous than driving on the roads — the tunnels are improperly built as a result of under-investment, and they claim even more casualties than on the roads. If uncertain, it's best to not drive under any circumstances.
When driving you must not be under the influence of alcohol. Russian law has a zero tolerance for this, imposing as a punishment the loss of licences for 2 years but, despite this, traffic accidents and fatalities remain high in Russia. If you are pulled over by the DPS Russian Traffic Police, don't worry — they will simply check your papers, although you will expect harassment by officials. By law, the DPS should not take your money or try to solicit a bribe — if that happens, you are entitled to report it to the nearest police station. Under no circumstances try to run away from them — if you do, they will pursuit you and even shoot your vehicle, even if you do not posses any firearms with you.
Parking spaces in Russia are very poorly marked and disorganized and there are very few, if non-existent, safe parking spaces for vehicles. Many vehicles are seen parked on sidewalks, on shoulder roads, even on residential buildings due to the lack of parking curbs and markings, making most vehicles highly insecure, even on urban areas, and potential hazards among traffic when attempting to enter/exit the parking even though there is hardly any.
There is a mistaken belief that everyone in Russia must carry identification papers. This is not the case. However, a lack of proper identification, while not punishable in itself, can lead to 3-hour detention "for identification purposes". Formally, arbitrary document checks are not permitted. They do still happen, though with far less frequency than previously, especially in the larger cities. Document checks are now more likely in places with little tourism - some police officers have very narrow notions of what should be appropriate for tourists.
Having no documents can lead to being held for up to 3 h but not arrested. The detention should not be behind bars and you should not be deprived of your belongings such as mobile phone: you can be taken to a police station, where you will end up sitting on a chair in a normal room while police "identify" you, but again, this rarely happens. Like most countries, you can be arrested if you are suspected of having committed a crime, but being unable to provide ID is not a crime and carry no penalty. No physical force can used in the detaining, unless you apply it first. If you are stopped, be confident and remember that police officers are forbidden from shouting at you. The passport checks that do happen are primarily targeted at darker skinned people who are suspected of being illegal immigrants. Western-looking, white people are very rarely asked on the street for ID.
To spare yourself of potential problems, you may choose to carry your passport, migration card and registration slip on you. If you do, keep a separate photocopy just in case.
Being stopped for ID is not necessarily a pretext for a bribe. Normally a police officer will salute and ask for your passport listen out for words like 'paspart', 'veeza' or 'dakumenty'. Hand these to them, they will look at them, hand them back and salute you. While generally an unnerving experience for first time tourists, there is nothing sinister in this.
A corrupt policeman may claim that there are problems with your documentation passport, immigrations card and residence registration, and demand a fine bribe. You have three options: you may politely, friendly, and firmly explain that actually everything is fine, there is no problem with your documents, and that you are willing to go to the police station to clear things up or you can pay 300 rouble should be enough in metropolitan areas. The first option is difficult without some Russian proficiency and solid nerves, but will generally work. The second option buys you peace but encourages further corruption. The third option is more confrontational and requires some nerve: get out a mobile phone and threaten to call your embassy. This can work and the police may well back off.
As a tourist, you are strongly discouraged to travel to the North Caucasus, as that region is the most dangerous in the entire country. The area has garnered a bad reputation for terrorism, crime and extremes of both corruption and lawlessness.
At present, the safest region to access for the time being is Karachay-Cherkessia, as that region has encountered very little attacks in the past few years. If you really need to visit the more dangerous pockets of the region, it's best to contact your embassy before traveling to the area. Assistance will be limited, however.
If you are planning to see Mt. Elbrus, it's best to go there in an organised groups.
Racism is prolific in Russia and has become increasingly violent in recent years. Though travelers do not typically encounter violent hate crimes, it is important to be careful if you are not White and/or if you are noticeably not Christian. While federal law article 105 and 282 of Russia's criminal code demands harsher penalties against perpetrators of hate crimes, the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes is highly inadequate. Many of these crimes are committed by Neo-Nazis and skinheads in groups, though one may encounter non-violent racism by individuals throughout the country. The bulk of attacks tend to take place in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Voronezh. If you feel you may be at risk, be aware of those around you, walk in groups when possible, and carry pepper spray if you feel particularly at risk.
For a detailed account of the current state of racism in Russia, please refer to the United Nations Human Rights Council website.
More information about xenophobia and hate crimes in Russia can be found on the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis website.
Once historically very high since the break up of the Soviet Union, the crime rate has fallen dramatically, and it is moderate, even though the crime issues are continuing to drop. Assault, robbery, or pickpockets are the most commonly done crimes and they are more common in underground walkways and the subway, overnight trains, train stations, airports, markets, tourist attractions, and restaurants. Foreigners who have been drinking alcohol are especially vulnerable to assault and robbery in or around nightclubs or bars, or on their way home. Some travelers have been drugged at bars, while others have taken strangers back to their lodgings, where they were drugged, robbed and/or assaulted. Of significant notation is that Nightclubs are vulnerable to acts of spiking drinks. The drug called GHB is gaining popularity in nightclubs. Typically it’s in the form of a capful of liquid mixed with a beverage.
Bogus trolley inspectors, whose aim is to extort a bribe from individuals while checking for trolley tickets, are also a threat. The use of unmarked taxis is also a problem, as passengers have been victims of robbery, kidnapping, extortion, and theft. Although there are few registered taxi services in Russia, you should always use authorized services when arriving at a major airport, and it is best to ask which is registered before moving along.
Russia's law enforcement in large cities are well-trained, but still not very professional; don't expect English to be spoken by the police anywhere east of Moscow, and even in Moscow only few officers speak it. The officers are well-paid comparing to the majority of Russian population, but many are used to a more luxury lifestyle than their salary would afford. This is evident by the luxury cars parked near the police buildings by the people whose official salary is less than 700 euro a month. The "salary supplementation" is very typical with the Russian traffic police DPS and the drug enforcement police GosNarkoKontrol.
If the police asks you for a bribe, and you did not commit any wrongdoings, you have two choices. Either to pay a bribe and let go, or waste some time from ten minutes to a week and let go. Do not argue with them, and never curse them. If you piss them off, they can plant drugs on you and "find" them on a subsequent search, after that you'd be looking for a several year jail sentence. This has happened before, the complains go nowhere and your embassy will not be able to help you out of this.
It is also useless to give the bribe and then complain to the superior officer - the superior will cover it up, and use this information to extract a share of this bribe from the subordinate. If you really want to complain, you should complain to the district attorney office Prokuratura. Don't expect to find any English speakers there, and even if you proceed with the complain, most likely the officer will deny ever meeting you, and it would be just your word against his, and generally courts in Russia always side up with the police.
On a brighter note, the police is focused on collecting bribes from Russians and the Russian-speaking migrants from CIS countries. The foreigners are rarely a target unless you are committing a crime or making yourself a target such as smoking a joint in public, so you are more likely to be let go as soon as you show your passport. This is especially true if you are from the country which has strong, vocal embassy presence in Russia, as the last thing the Russian police wants is international attention. Also most officers don't speak good enough English if any at all, so extracting a bribe from you is very difficult for them. If you are a foreigner who speaks Russian, pretend you are not when dealing with the Russian police.
If you intend to take a stroll during the night, have someone to accompany you — going alone can only make you a target for criminals and maybe corrupt officials.
Russia is among the world's most corrupt countries, and the police force and traffic police are the most corrupt institutions in the entire country. Russians, being accustomed to a police state throughout most of their history, are unlikely to offer a lot of help if you have a run in with corrupt officials or criminals on the street. As a result, busy main streets are often less safe than quiet back streets—-there are simply more opportunities for the corrupt.
In cities, keep an eye out for juvenile delinquency. Russia has a heartbreakingly large problem of orphaned street children, who unsurprisingly resort to minor crime to keep themselves alive. "Gypsy" children employ some interesting techniques to separate you from your money, including creating a distraction even fighting among themselves, bumping into you to pick your pockets, or simply swarming a surprised traveler and running their hands through every possible hiding place on your person. In such a situation, instead of showing weakness, just give the offenders a stiff shove and perhaps a few choice words in Russian and they will look for easier targets. You are far less likely to run across older juvenile delinquents, like belligerent skinheads or football hooligans, but if you do, best to give them a wide berth.
The "Russian Mafia" make for fun movies but are absolutely not a threat to tourists—at best they are a tourist attraction themselves, as they often dine in foreigner-friendly establishments. Foreigners are disproportionately targeted by pickpockets; foreigners of a non-white complexion are also more likely to be harassed by street youths or corrupt officials. But if you take sensible precautions, nothing bad should happen to you. Keep in mind that the majority of foreigners who do "find" problems do so while drunk.
Same-sex sexual activity is legal but extremely taboo in Russia; public opinion is strongly against any form of gay rights. As of June 2013, "homosexual propaganda", understood to mean public discussion of gay rights or homosexuality, is banned, as is any discussion of homosexuality with minors. Police can and do turn a blind eye to gay-bashing. Openly gay tourists may also be subject to arrest. Russian gangs systematically target gay men by making fake children accounts on the social map and offer dating, documenting acts of torturemostly beating and uploading video evidence to the internet. Police have been reported as not intervening in these attacks, and have been reported as arresting the victims.However the leader of this gangs M.Martsinkevich was arrested and imprisoned.
1. Getting an invitation
Procedures for US citizensA visa facilitation agreement that entered into force on 9 September 2012 has changed the requirements for US citizens to obtain Russian visas and, for that matter, vice-versa, which changes several of the aspects of the procedure. The main points are:
U.S. Citizens no longer need formal, approved invitations or vouchers for business, tourist, or private/homestay visas, but they will need a letter of sponsorship from their inviting agency hotel or business contact person. Additional information may be required by the consulate.
Visas may now permit a maximum stay of six months rather than 90 days and may now be valid for multiple entries over up to three years.
Visa fees are now set at $160 for most visas, regardless of duration or category of stay. Express processing is a uniform $250 3 business days for short-duration visas and $450 for the three-year visas.
If a passport containing a Russian visa is lost, an exit visa is not required to depart the country if the visa was still valid and the permitted stay duration was not exceeded. A new visa is required to return to Russia, however.
Other aspects of the visa regime were accordingly changed; due to this, it's wise to contact the nearest Russian consulate for further information.
The invitation type determines the visa. A tourist invitation results in a tourist visa, a private visit invitation results in a private visit visa etc. Except for tourist visas, invitations are official documents issued by Russian government agencies and must be applied for by the person or organization inviting you. The invitation will include the intended dates of travel and the number of entries requires 1, 2 or multiple. The dates on the invitation determine the period of the ensuing visa's validity. If in doubt of dates, ensure that the invitation covers a period longer than the intended stay: a tourist visa valid for 7 days costs the same as one valid for 30 days.
In the likely situation you have to buy your invitation, shop around globally: all invitations come from Russia and the company that gets it for you will have a base in Russia. It doesn't make a difference whether its website is based in Germany, UK, USA or Swaziland. Many embassies and consulates only require a copy of the invitation, however this is not always the case so check with the embassy or consulate beforehand. If the original invitation is required it will have to be flown from Russia anyway. It is only applying for the visa itself that generally requires the application to be made in the applicant's homeland.
A tourist invitation also called reservation confirmation is a letter of confirmation of booking and pre-payment of accommodation and travel arrangements in Russia. It is accompanied by a tourist voucher. These two documents can be issued by "government approved" tour operators, hotels, online hotel booking services or Russian travel agencies several Russian travel agencies have offices outside Russia and are adept at facilitating visa applications. "Government approval" here means that the organization in question has a "consular reference" and has been registered with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Only hotels and travel agencies that have a consular reference can issue confirmations valid for visa purposes. An ordinary hotel booking is not sufficient to constitute an invitation. Some hotels charge a fee to issue the invitation.
Booking one night in a hotel will get you an invitation valid for one day maybe two and hence the resulting visa will be valid for a very brief time. For independent travellers planning to travel around Russia, it is best to get an invitation through an agency. These agencies will issue a confirmation for a fee approx. $30 or £15, without actually collecting the accommodation prepayment. While the strict legality of such is questionable, it is a largely academic point and does not lead to problems for the traveller. If your itinerary is confined to only one hotel, then it makes sense to obtain the invitation documents directly from the hotel as the service fee will be similar.
Consider getting a private/homestay visa if you have friends or relatives in Russia they do not necessarily have to be Russian. They would need to seek an invitation through their local Passport and Visa Division of the Federal Migration Service formerly OVIR. These invitations tend to take at least a month to process. The inviting individual also becomes solely responsible for all your activities while in Russia and can be penalized heavily if something were to go wrong. Because of this, personal invitations are usually not available for a fee through the net.
Business invitations are issued by the government. They are generally time-consuming and costly to acquire but they can be quickly arranged for exorbitant fees. Any registered company in Russia can apply for a business invitation. Travel agencies and visa specialists can also get them issued for you. Business visas have longer validity than tourist visas. Being a tourist on a business visa is permitted, so anyone wanting more than a 30-day stay should get one of these. As a rough guide, one UK company can arrange a business invitation for a single 90-day stay for various amounts between GBP38 for 12 working day processing and GBP121 for 2 working day processing.
Invitations for student visas are issued by the educational institution where you plan to study. Most universities and language schools are familiar with the process.
Some Russian local governments have a right to invite foreigners for cultural exchanges by sending a message directly to the Embassy or Consulate of Russia overseas, requesting the visa be issued to a particular foreigner or group of foreigners. Such messages are used instead of an invitation. This is normally the way to go if you are invited by the government.
2. Applying for the visa
The visa application form has to be filled in via a website which is common for all embassies. It is advised to collect all necessary information and paperwork e.g. invitation, travel insurance policy beforehand, although it is possible to save and continue a form later on. The printed and signed form has to be submitted with a passport photo. Note that there might be some variations regarding to the exact requirements of the application. Some embassies may issue visas by mail, they may require application in person, they may accept a copy of the invitation, they may require the original. They may accept payment by card, they may insist on a money order. Check with the embassy or consulate beforehand - in most cases it will be on their website.
Recently, visa application centres have been opened in several countries, where the application form can be handed in with no appointment needed. Note that while these offices are outsourced to private companies, they are fully official. In fact, if there is one available in your region, you will be redirected there by the embassy. You can check here if there is one nearby. However, these companies levy a further unavoidable application fee on top of the visa fees stated below. For applications made in the UK by a citizen of any country the application fee is GBP26.40 for standard service and GBP33.60 for express service. In the rest of the EU, it is €30. For applications made in the USA, the application fee is USD30.
Visa service companies, for a fee, will double-check your application and invitation, go to the embassy for you, and return your passport to you. This service is nothing that you cannot do yourself unlike arranging the invitation but it can save time and frustration.
A single entry, 30 day tourist visa for citizens of EU-Schengen countries costs €35 and takes five working days for standard processing €70 gets express service for next day collection. For UK citizens the price is £50 express service is next day and costs £100.
The total cost of getting a visa usually has three parts: invitation fee, visa fee and application fee. If you're lucky, one or more of these may be zero but be prepared to be hit by all three. Take as an example a UK citizen applying for a 30 day, single entry tourist visa with standard processing in the UK not the cheapest example and not the most expensive: invitation bought through an agency - GBP15, visa fee - GBP50, application fee - GBP26.40 = GBP91.40 that's roughly USD140.
Tourist, homestay, and transit visas can allow one or two entries. Tourist visas have a maximum validity of 30 days and homestay visas can permit stays of up to 90 days. Transit visas are typically for one to three days for air travel and up to ten days for overland journeys. Business and other visa categories can be issued for one, two or multiple entries.
Generally speaking, a business visa can permit a maximum stay in any one visit of up to 90 days. However, a business visa only permits a total stay of 90 days in Russia in a 180-day period, regardless of how long it is valid for whether it be 3, 6, or 12 months. If you stay in Russia for 90 days, you have to leave and your visa will not permit you to return for another 90 days. This means give or take - a year isn't 360 days that a six-month visa permits as long a total time in Russia as a three month visa!
Once you have your visa, check all the dates and information as it's much easier to correct mistakes before you travel than after you arrive!
An unaccompanied minor with Russian nationality needs, apart from the regular requirements for adults, a notarised statements in Russian signed by both parents. This statement can be requested at the Russian embassy or consulate. The child is likely able to get into Russia without this statement, but will most likely be prevented to get out by the Russian customs at the airport!
If you are invited to somebody's home, bring them a small gift as a form of respect
However, most will end up protesting when offered a gift. Reply that it is a little something and offer the gift again and it will generally be accepted, hopefully. It is reasonable to bring a bottle of alcohol проставиться — proSTAvitsya in colloquial Russian if you expect to spend the evening in a less formal way. Many Russian men consider that there can never be too much alcohol for a good evening, and eventually they turn out to be completely right!
If you bring flowers, do not give yellow ones
in Russia, this colour is considered as a sign of cheating in love and separation and especially never used for wedding bouquets. The other superstition is related to the number of flowers. This quantity must always be odd that is 3,5,7 and so on. An even number of flowers is always brought to funerals.
Emergency services (landlines)
The hosts might get quite persistent when offering an alcoholic drink.
You will often have to be very firm if you want to reject that 2nd or the 3rd, 4th, 10th... shot. Claiming problems with medicine or pregnancy is always an imperfect option. Simply and grimly stating that you are an alcoholic can do the job too, but will depress your hosts.
On the other hand you can encounter a company of abstainers.
Be aware of this especially if you know you are to dine with conservative Muslims, sXe movement followers, etc. Even slight mentioning of alcohol in such companies is better to be avoided. Anti-alcohol sentiment is widely growing among advanced Russian youth, sometimes with a certain piece of maximalism denying ANY alcohol consumption.