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Summer Study Abroad: Update on Recent Diplomatic Events

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Summer Study Abroad: Important Updates

The State of Study Abroad in Russia

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SRAS and SPBGIKIT Language Partnership: The Year in Review

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Summer Programs Abroad - 2018

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Russian Student Visas
- The ins and outs of Russia - 

Obtaining a Russian student visa is a slow process, which is why students should apply three months in advance for our study abroad programs. Students on SRAS programs will be guided through the visa process once accepted, but it’s good for you to have an understanding of how it works.

Assuming you already have a passport, obtaining a Russian student visa consists of two steps. The first step is obtaining an official invitation from the Russian host university. This usually takes 5-6 weeks. However, it is not uncommon for hiccups in the system (holidays, internal system upgrades, etc.) to cause delays of up to several weeks. Once the invitation is ready, we can proceed to the second step, which is processing the visa at the Russian consulate. In the US, typical standard processing time for a student visa at the Russian consulate is 9 business days. Rush processing at the consulate (3-5 business days rather than 9 days for regular rush, or 1 business day for super-rush) is possible for additional fees from the consulate, but this can usually be avoided if you stay on top of the process and follow the directions from your SRAS coordinator.

All SRAS students must read and understand the information below before departure to Russia. Your responsibilities surrounding your visa continue even after you have received it! Contact us if anything related to your visa is unclear."

Table of contents:

  1. Knowing Your Visa
  2. Traveling With Dependent Family Members


1.  Knowing Your Visa         Back to Top

  • As an SRAS Student, you will be issued a student visa on the basis of an invitation from a Russian educational institution, valid for a period of study. By Russian law, you must be studying at that university the entire time to keep the visa. One may not legally work in Russia with a student visa (except for internships and some on-campus employment).
  • Student visas are usually issued as single entry and are valid for 3 months. After you arrive, your visa can be extended for up to one year (possibly longer depending on sub-category of visa) and may be eligible to be converted to multi-entry after you arrive. Please note that once your visa is extended, it will be re-issued in a completely different form (please see "Extending/Converting Your Visa," below. If you are studying for less than three months, it is unlikely that your visa can be converted to multiple-entry. Generally, one may live in student dormitories only if one has a student visa.
  • An example of a student visa is below:

The Russian Student Visa
Note that the actual visa will contain additional information - this one lists only the fields you will absolutely need to know and understand.

Russia Student Visa

Field 1: Visa number.   Field 4: Your "purpose for visiting" the Russian Federation. On student visas, this will be marked "обучение."
Field 2: The first date listed is your entry date - you can't arrive before this date. The last date is your exit date. You must leave before this date.  

Field 3: Your name. This will be in Russian and English. If you need to enter your name in Russian on any document in Russia, use the Russian version of your name used here. Do not alter the transliteration in any way.

  Field 5: Your inviting agency - which is the university you will be studying at. Note that it is not SRAS. If you must declare your inviting organization for any reason (such as for your migration card at the airport) state the Russian university name.

Note that under Field 1, the word "однократное" appears. This means that you may use the visa to enter Russia only once. If you leave Russia, the visa will be invalid for reentry even if the dates on the visa indicate validity. Once the visa is reissued after you arrive at your university and the word "однократное" is replaced by "многократное," only then may you legally exit and reenter Russia with the same visa within the period of validitiy indicated on the visa.

What other types of visas are there in the Russian Federation?


2. Starting The Application Process          Back to Top

  • The visa application process is not simple or fast. Note that invites cannot be rushed. Rushing consolate processing is generally possible, but expensive. Our application deadlines for programs in Russia (three months in advance) are largely calculated to assure that students can receive a visa in time. Usually, the process is completed in less time than three months, but one shouldn't count on it and SRAS can make no guarantees.
  • If you do not have a passport, apply immediately. How?
  • If your passport expires sooner than 18 months after your intended departure date from Russia, you must renew immediately. How?
  • To begin the process of applying for a student visa through SRAS, login and apply for one of our programs. 
  • After you have been accepted to your program, we will ask you to send us a color scan of the page in your passport with your picture and signature. Photocopies and faxes will not be accepted as they are not of high enough resolution. Taking a picture of your passport page, in nearly all cases, is also not acceptable due to quality issues. Find a Kinkos or other office services business near you if you don't have access otherwise to a scanner. 
  • Russia is constantly changing its requirements and thus we may contact you for more information if needed. In general, it is a good idea to check your log-in page on the SRAS site every few days to make sure everything is in order. 
  • To apply for any other type of Russian visa, click here


3. Processing And Receiving Your Visa          Back to Top

  • If you are on a SRAS program and in the US, SRAS will handle this process for you. Nonetheless, it is good for you to be aware of the components. Those students not in the US may have to contact the consulate themselves or contact a local visa processing agency. SRAS will provide as much guidance as possible.
  • Processing with the consulate is fairly straightforward but they can be sticklers about detail. Make sure you have all the required materials:
    • Passport (original) with at least two free pages (opposing)
    • One passport-sized photo (New York consulate requires 2)
    • Visa application form - do not complete this until we tell you as there is a time-out mechanism on it. We will also send you detailed instructions.
    • Invitation. Consulates in the US require original invitations (which can add to the processing time), it is very likely that consulates in other counties will require originals as well.
    • HIV test results.* Note this must be a blood/serum test - not a mouth swab.
    • Processing fee - this depends on the consulate, your citizenship, and on the processing time. Consulates in the US will only take money orders.
    • Return prepaid airbill (Non-USPS for Americans, FedEx recommended)
  • You might receive your visa only a few days before you leave (no matter when it is "scheduled" to arrive). SRAS will carefully monitor the status of your visa and we will do our best to assure that it arrives before your departure date. On very rare occasions, there can be inexplicable delays on the part of the Russian authorities that can result in having to shift an arrival date to a few days later. Luckily this is rare. On your part, please check your email frequently, read any instructions carefully, and make sure that you are helping to move the process along as well.

* An HIV test is required for all student visas, regardless of duration. Keep a copy of this test as it may be needed for registration in Russia as well. Note that some universities, as required by their district, may require an additional local HIV test to be taken for visa extension as they will not accept them from overseas. For more details on requirements for the HIV tests, click here.


Russian Migration Card, example.

4. Migration Card - At The Airport In Russia         Back to Top

  1. You must keep the migration card safe for the entire length of your stay in Russia. It is essential to registering your visa - and passport control will ask you for the other half when you leave Russia.
  2. Nearly all of Russia's international airports now have computer-automated systems for recording arrivals and departures. So, you should not need to fill out the migration card on your own (but do read the section below on doing so just in case). Passport control at the airport will scan your visa and the migration card will be automatically generated with the appropriate data. Note that they will not explain what they are doing and will often stuff the migration card quickly and silently into your passport. Make sure you watch where it goes so that you don't lose it! Without the migration card, you may face significant fines or worse as you cannot be registered without it.

In case you need to fill out the card yourself:

  1. Each foreigner will receive a migration card to fill out in duplicate. The cards are available in English and will usually be handed out by the stewardess on the airplane (or by a train wagon attendant) who will come through asking if you are Russian citizen or foreign. If you don't get one on the plane and need to fill them out at the airport, they will be available near the crowds at passport control.
  2. Make sure you fill in the migration card with the exact information on your visa as we have carefully specified in the first section of this page ("Knowing Your Visa").
  3. Your migration card will be torn in half by passport control at the airport (or at the border if you are entering by train) and stamped. One half will be given to you and the other half will be kept by passport control. Keep it safe; it is an essential piece of documentation for your stay in Russia and needed to keep you legal in Russia.


5. Registering Your Student Visa         Back to Top

All visas must be registered within seven business days after entering Russia. Failure to do so may result in fines and even deportation. The seven days include only business days. So, for example, if you arrive on a Friday, you will generally have until the following Tuesday (effectively eleven calendar days later). The actual registration document will likely be delivered to you much later than the seven day deadline as it must be processed. Most SRAS students will submit their materials for registration as part of their orientation held within 48 hours of arrival.

Russian Registration Card
If you don't have this - you're not registered!

Russia's registration cards. Cary this with you at all times.

Field 1: This is the expiration date of your registration.  

Field 3: This is the stamp of the university you are attending in Russia

Field 2: This is the name of the person in charge at the university you are attending in Russia.  

Field 4: This is the stamp that shows you are registered. Without a stamp in this box you are not registered!

  • To receive this registration card, you must submit to your university upon arrival: 
    • your original passport, with the visa inside, 
    • your migration card (received at the airport)
  • The university will give you a special paper known as a "spravka" - carry this with you until you get your passport back. It acts as a sort of "passport substitute" while you are waiting. If you do not get a spravka automatically - ask for one. If you experience any problems with this, contact your SRAS representative. 
  • If you are staying off-campus, the registered landlord for the apartment or house you are staying in may need to submit an authorized statement to the local police department, along with your visa and passport. If you are staying in a hotel, the hotel will take care of this process at check-in. In most cases, however, the university will register all student visas no matter where students are staying.
  • You must re-register your visa if 1) you leave the city your university is based in for more than seven days or 2) you leave Russia for any amount of time. Be sure to tell SRAS and your host university about your travel plans so that we can prepare for this. You might incur nominal costs for any reregistrations. 

If you plan to leave Russia and re-enter, contact SRAS as soon as you know your travel plans, so that we can brief you on any visa and registration concerns your plans might entail.


6. Extending/Converting Your Visa          Back to Top

If your program is longer than three (3) months, your visa will be extended after you arrive. Depending on your program type and length, you might be able to additionally convert your visa to multiple entry after you arrive. Once the visa is extended and/or converted, you will be issued a new visa in your passport that looks almost identical to the first. Check the dates to make sure they correspond with your airline tickets. Also make sure that the word "однократное" ("single entry") in the top left corner has be replaced by "многократное" ("multiple entry") before you make plans to leave Russia and return. 


7. Traveling With Your Student Visa          Back to Top

NOTE: Most departments will allow up to a week for student travel, etc. but pushing it beyond this, especially on a short program, can be difficult - if possible at all. Inform SRAS and the university of your travel plans well in advance.

If you are traveling within Russia and will be outside of the city your university is located in for less than seven business days, you do not need to do anything.* If you will be outside the city for more than seven business days, you will need to contact your SRAS representative and inform the university officials so that your registration can be reprocessed when you come back. *Note, however, that if you stay in a hostel or hotel while traveling and that hostel or hotel registers your visa while you are with them (regardless of how long you are out of your base city), this will cancel your university registration. Technically, hostels and hotels are supposed to automatically register you, so don't be surprised if they tell you so upon check-in. You will need to re-register with the university upon your return. When in the new city, keep in mind that you must show train/plane/bus tickets or a hotel registration card less than seven business days old (issued at the hotel) to show that you will arrived in the city less than seven business days ago. Carry your tickets or hotel card with your documents and gaurd as you would your other documents. 

If you are traveling outside of Russia for any amount of time, your registration will be automatically cancelled as soon as you leave Russia. You must contact your SRAS representative and inform the university before your departure so that we can prepare to reprocess your registration when you come back.


8. Document Checks - Know Your Rights In Russia!          Back to Top

  • Russian police can stop anyone in Russia at any time for any reason and ask to check documents.
  • Your must carry your documentation with you at all times. This includes your passport, visa, registration card, and student ID (issued by your university after you register). If your visa is being registered or extended, you will be issued a spravka which takes the place of the first three documents.  
  • You may be told at some point by some very knowledgeable person that you don't need to carry your documentation, or that you can carry copies of your documentation instead. We don't recommend this. A policeman in a bad mood will actually take you to jail if you can only show him a photocopy. 
  • Always carry your documentation in safe place - never in your back pocket or in a jacket pocket - always in a front pants pocket (preferable) or your purse, in plastic, waterproof protective covers. 
  • Document checks are, unfortunately, wide open for bribery. However, if you can confidently produce each required document and understand them as we have described them above (i.e., you can point out the expiration date on each), you should have no problems even from police who might be "trolling" for bribes.
  • If the police hassle you even after you have shown them all your documentation, ask for the policeman's documentation. If a policeman asks for your documentation, it is your legal right to ask for his. Usually, if the policeman knows that you know this, and if you appear ready to write down his name and identification number, he will leave you alone for fear that you might call your embassy and report him for hassling foreigners.
  • If you look "ethnic" (i.e. Asian, Hispanic, or Indian) you could get stopped more often. This is unfortunate, but ethnic profiling is legal and accepted in Russia.
  • Always carry a cell phone so that you can call the embassy and/or SRAS at any time in case of emergency. SRAS issues cell phones to most students in our study abroad locations.
  • Russia is safe for travel - but you should make sure that you are travelling legally and that you are fully aware of your rights as a foreigner in Russia!


9. Traveling With Dependent Family Members         Back to Top

Although SRAS officially advises against the practice, it is possible to travel to Russia with dependent family members such as young children. Russia's visa regime allows for what is called a "dependent family member visa." Under this process, your child or dependent will be issued the same type of visa as your visa and with the same invitation number. However, this process must be performed by the university at the same time as they are processing your visa. The procedure is not a simple one and typically only offered to students after their first year of study, if they are pursuing a degree in Russia. Those hoping to travel with spouses should plan on having their spouse sign up for lessons at the university so as to be issued their own, independent student visa. Note that children must always travel to Russia on the same type of visa as a parent.

SRAS recommends against bringing dependent family members on study abroad trips for several reasons. First, Russian universities will not allow you to bring your child to class and Russia does not have many commercial daycare centers. Those daycare centers it does have are usually outside most student budgets. In short, the logistics involved in attempting to care for your dependent while observing all the safety issues that come with international travel, to fulfill your studies, and to acclimate to an entirely new country and culture are likely to be overwhelming to say the least. Those who already have specific arrangements (such as a close family member living in Russia) to provide care for the dependent, however, are welcome to contact us and enquire about our programs.

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