The last few times I’ve needed a Russian visa, I’ve packaged my passport and a whole lot of information about my life up in a FedEx package, sent it off to the program responsible for my trip, and prayed that FedEx wouldn’t lose my passport and that I wouldn’t have to make an emergency trip out of the country in the meanwhile.
Not so this time.
This time, I learned that getting one’s Russian visa is a long process that could probably use a few more explanatory webpages.
Generally, how it goes is:
- Fill out the online application form. Submit. It doesn’t actually go anywhere though, so just save the pdf on your computer or print the thing, so that you can turn it in with your other paperwork.
- Get a picture of yourself that is approximately 35x45cm. If it’s 2x2in, that’s okay… maybe just trim it down so it looks more like 35x45cm. Also, make sure you have a “neutral expression” (read: “murderous expression”).
- Get all other necessary paperwork (in my case: letter of invitation, HIV test results).
- Submit all of these things + your passport to Russian government agents, so that they can officially okay you to enter the country.
There are a few ways that last step can work:
- Send your documents to an agency that will (for a fee) be a mediator between you and your nearest consulate. Since there are only 5 Russian consulates in the US, this will be the correct answer for most people. Sites like PVS International and CIBT can be useful. Another girl I met went through one of these agencies, and it was very useful for her: her application was denied twice due to paperwork errors, and they were able to handle the back-and-forth with the consulate.
- Take your documents to ILS (Invisa Logistics Services). They will (for a much smaller fee) take your things directly to the consulate and then return the visa to you. This is what I did. I was in DC for a week for Pre-Departure Orientation (more on that later), and there is an ILS office there. I liked being able to go in and talk to someone face to face, hand over my passport into another hand, and get some kind of personal reassurance that I would get my visa. I saw them working with other people while I was there: they vet all your papers, and if there are mistakes, you go home and then bring them back and try again. ILS mailed my passport/visa to me at home when it came out of processing.
- Take your documents to the consulate. This is not an option I considered. It sounds scary (I’d probably have to wear nice clothes) and like they would have a lot of better things to do with their time than go over visa paperwork with a girl who looks barely old enough for a driver’s license.
So all that said: I have my visa! Hurrah! This means I can, like, enter the country. Legally.
Of course, it seems something odd happened in the printing of my visa… it seems that there is a splattering of ink in a line down the page. It is positioned such that I appear to be drooling black goo out of the left corner of my mouth.
My friend Caroline capitalized on this moment in one of the best “In Soviet Russia” jokes I’ve encountered.
So Russia, see you in September. The plane tickets are bought, the visa is obtained, and the only thing standing between us is 34 days.