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All About Russia Visas
- and the Kyrgyz and Ukrainian Visa-free Regimes -

  Contact Renee, SRAS's
Program Director, to find out how SRAS can assist with Russian visas.

SRAS facilitates visas for our students residing in the US. However, we are also aware that a few students make direct arrangements for study in Russian universities, may be travelling independently to conduct research, or may be part of an exchange in which they are responsible for their own visas. In other words, they may have little to no guidance on the overall visa process.

We are always happy to provide visa processing support to independent (non-SRAS) students and several universities already refer students to us for this purpose. If you would like more information about these services, contact SRAS Director Renee Stillings by email.

The Russian Visa Process

We would like to outline for you the basics as concerns visas for either individual students or faculty-led groups.

The Russian visa process is comprised of two steps: Visa Support and Visa Processing.

Visa Support is commonly referred to as an invitation (for a student visa) or a voucher (for a tourist visa).

In order to obtain an invitation for a student visa, a scan of the passport data page along with permanent address and home educational institution information is sent to the host university in Russia. The international office of that university then prepares an application that they turn into the Russian migration authorities requesting the invitation, which is typically ready in 4-6 weeks. At that point, the university receives it and forwards it by express mail to the applicant. We always request that a scan of this invitation be sent before shipping.

In the case of a tourist visa, a voucher can be obtained from a hotel or a tourist company. SRAS has worked with one such reliable provider for many years. A tourist voucher can be ready within about 10 minutes from the time the required information (passport details, itinerary, dates) is received.

Visa Processing is the process by which the invitation and other supporting materials are sent to the consulate, resulting in a visa being glued into the passport. Note that it is no longer possible (some exceptions made in Houston apparently) to apply directly to the consulate for a visa in the US. All applications in the US now go through an office called ILS, which accepts and reviews applications before forwarding them to the consulate. You also cannot submit your application by post directly to ILS. It must be dropped in person – either by the applicant or by an authorized representative, which usually means using a local visa agent. All of these offices along the way of course add to the cost, but it is still cheaper than going yourself unless you happen to live in a city with a consulate. Again, SRAS has worked with a reliable, affordable visa agent for many years.

A complete visa application includes the following items:

  • Passport. Should be valid for at least 6 months beyond the end date of the visa. The passport MUST be signed (or it will be returned) and must have two opposing visa pages free of any stamps.
  • Completed visa application. The visa application is online and there are many ways to make mistakes on it (that ILS catches!!!). We provide detailed step-by-step instructions for all of our applicants – and then we review the application as well before it is submitted.
  • Cover letter to the consulate. If you use a visa agent, they typically have a template for you to fill in.
  • Payment (consulate and ILS fees – money order only). Again, if you use an agent they handle this once you pay them for the full process.
  • Invitation (original) or voucher (print from a scan is fine)
  • Student visas: HIV test taken within three months of the time of application. The test results must show name, date of birth, results – and the full coordinates (address, phone) of the testing facility.

Standard (non-rush) visa processing runs 8-15 days depending on the season. You can expect the longest processing times in May and June. This time period is also when you can expect the most problems in part due to volume but also because that also seems to be when changes to the system are introduced, often with glitches. When your documents are accepted by ILS, either you or your visa agent is given a pick-up slip, indicating when it should be ready.

Visa processing out of home country is possible but you should always check with the consulate you intend to use to see if there are any additional requirements and to confirm the timing. Most will not do rush processing and in fact will take a bit longer than it would at home. This is relevant if you will be switching program locations and do not want to fly home to process the new visa. If you are in this situation with SRAS programs we guide you through the process.

Update concerning tourist visas: Americans may now receive a 3-yr multi-entry tourist visa. At present it is actually the default tourist visa issued with standard processing times. Even if your passport is not valid for a sufficient period, you still must apply for the multi-entry and it will be valid for the duration of your passport - minus 6 months. If you need rush visa processing then you will be limited to the 30-day single or double entry tourist visa.

Staying and Traveling in Russia on a Russian Visa

Russian laws on visiting and traveling within The Russian Federation don't end with receiving a visa to enter the country. Once inside Russia, visas must be properly registered. There are also restrictions on what can be done in Russia on various visa types and regulations that must be followed if one travels within or outside of Russia during one's travels.

SRAS can also help advise on these logistics and provides extensive information online concerning student visas in Russia.

Kyrgyz and Ukrainian Visas

As SRAS also has programs in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, here is a brief note about the visa situation in those countries.

Ukraine has a visa-free regime for Americans (and several other nationalities) for up to 90 days. This works fine for summer programs or other short visits. The process of getting an actual visa for a longer period, however, is ridiculous in terms of paperwork and resulting costs.

Kyrgyzstan has a visa-free regime for Americans (and several other nationalities) for up to 60 days. However, those planning to stay longer than 60 days have a simple solution as well and that is to obtain a one-month ordinary visa at the airport upon arrival. The host institution is then able to extend it. It is also possible to get a longer visa through the consulate, but in our experience is also a bit of a hassle and not very efficient.

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