A google search makes obtaining a Russian visa seem like a super complicated process for Americans, but actually it’s quite easy. All you need is a few papers and anywhere from a couple minutes to a couple hours to wait in line at the embassy. Also, you don’t need to be in your home country, as many websites will lead you to believe.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A photocopy of your USA passport
- A tourist voucher (obtained online)
- A completed application (filled out online after you receive the tourist voucher)
- A passport photo
- $180 USD (some embassies take credit cards, others only cash)
The tourist voucher (sometimes called visa support letter) is an official invitation from a tourist company to visit Russia, and you’ll need it before you fill out the visa application form. Most agencies will charge you $30 for this service but one will do it for free: http://www.saint-petersburg.com/russian-visa/visa-support/ You just have to book accommodation for at least one night via their affiliate link to booking.com and then they’ll send the support letter in a PDF to your email. You can then cancel the accommodation booking for free. It shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.
Once you receive the tourist voucher, you can fill out the visa application at https://visa.kdmid.ru/PetitionChoice.aspx. It’s very straightforward. It asks for every country you’ve visited in the last 10 years and the entry date. If you don’t remember the exact dates or if you’ve been to more countries than the form allows, don’t worry, just fill out what you can fit and guess on the dates. The full application shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.
Additional information (embassy specific):
The embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, also requires an additional form which they will give you if you don’t take it with you. It’s less than half a page of basic information, but is only in Russian. Other embassies probably have similar requirements, so it’s always worth calling (or having a Russian-speaking friend call) the nearest embassy before you show up at their doorstep.
Tbilisi, Georgia, embassy report:
I first had a Russian-speaking friend call the embassy to ask what I would need, but it turned out that one of the ambassadors speaks English so I talked to her. She told me that in order to receive a Russian visa with a USA passport, I need to bring a passport copy, tourist voucher, visa application, photo attached to the application, and $180 USD, any time during their opening hours. The USA and Russia have an agreement for 3-year tourist visas and she specifically added that I don’t need a hotel reservation for this visa, only a tourist voucher (effectively telling me that it’s totally ok to cancel my hotel reservation as soon as I receive the voucher).
Tbilisi doesn’t have an official Russian embassy, but rather there is a Russian interests section in the Swiss embassy, which, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same as just having a Russian embassy. It’s not even located in the Swiss embassy; it’s across the city near Vake Park. I showed up to 53 Chavchavadze St in Tbilisi to find a big crowd standing outside, but walked right up to the guard at the entrance and he waved me in when he saw my American passport. One guy at the reception desk inside spoke English and told me to wait outside for 20 minutes. I went back outside, a bit confused. After 20 minutes, the security guard told me (in Russian) that I couldn’t take my backpack inside. I went to the supermarket next door and asked to leave it there, which was fine. The police gave me a slip with a number and I walked through the door with several others into a waiting room. When my number came up on the screen, I went to talk to the ambassador who told me that it would be no problem to give me a 3-year visa. I paid the cashier and she gave me a paper saying to come back in nine days.
Nine days later, I called the embassy in the morning and they told me to come at 2pm. This time the guard wouldn’t let me skip the crowd, but it turned out that everyone was there to pick up visas so the line moved very quickly. Half an hour later I had my passport with the visa inside.