Once you arrive in St Petersburg, the former capital of the Russian empire, you will think that you are in any European city, Amsterdam springs to mind. The beautiful canals, the stunning architecture and the rich heritage, will both enchant and amaze you. However, you have to get there first, and this requires a visa if travelling from the UK. Russia has a reciprocal visa policy. There are 41 countries and territories with visa exemptions but many countries do require a visa. The UK is one of them.
Understanding the Visa Requirements.
Travelling to Russia from the UK there are a few important points that you must consider before booking flights. You will not be granted entry to Russia unless you have a Visa before you arrive in the country. The Visa application can be confusing. I shall talk you through my experience travelling from the UK. The application can be different for other countries.
Exemptions – The World Cup – There are exceptions this year for World Cup ticket holders. They do not require a visa but do require to have a valid passport and a Fan ID card. The fan I.D. is approved by FIFA once you successfully apply for match tickets. The fan I.D is the document that you will need with your World Cup ticket to gain entry to the stadiums.
Your passport must be valid for 6 months after the expiry date of your Fan-ID and you must have insurance. The Fan I.D grants the right to use trains for free between the organising cities but tickets must be pre-booked on the Russian government website. tickets.transport2018.com. If you plan to travel to Russia without Fan I.D and have a visa then you can watch the matches on giant TV screens in the host cities. Fan fest details on Fifa.com
The other exception to having a visa is if you arrive by Cruise ship or ferry. If visiting a Russian sea port on a cruise or ferry for less than 72hrs and you are on a pre booked organised tour with a registered local tour operator, then no visa is required.
Applying for a Visa.
I was visiting St Petersburg for 5 days in late autumn and therefore required the standard tourist Visa, also known as a ‘Visa support’. It is a requirement that you have an ‘invitation’ with a voucher code from all the hotels that you have booked. If you do not have this then you cannot complete the visa application form.
Once you have these letters of invitations from the hotels you can then proceed to fill out the online application. My letter of Invitation was in Russian and I was unable to understand it or find the MBT reference number. The Russian alphabet is not the same as the UK. My friends and I decided at this point that a travel company would be an easier option as they would instruct us on exactly what was required.
Once I had the code I could proceed to complete the online form. This took me two hours to complete as it is extremely thorough. You can take a break and come back to it, make sure that you save your answers by recording your username and password generated by the online system and click save draft on page 2. This will allow you to re access your saved application.
The questions include all your trips abroad for the last 10 years. I fortunately had my old passports to hand and this was easy to look up. Your children details, mine were abroad but past mishaps have taught me to always keep a photocopy of their passports. Other questions include – Parents/Where they were born, date/country and place of birth. These are just a few of the questions. Employment questions, social network accounts etc etc..
Once you have completed the form, print it off and take it with one coloured passport size photo to the nearest Russian embassy. These can be found in Edinburgh, Manchester or London. Please ensure that your passport is signed on the back page as signatures must match. You will also need to have two blank pages free on the back of your passport as this is where the visa is attached.
The visa dates need to cover the entire period of your stay in Russia. There are many types of visa and it is easiest to follow the guidelines on VFS Global application centre, which has a FAQ section and a helpline number. (see bottom of blog).
The visa costs around £108 and takes 5 days to process or you pay an additional fee for next day approval, providing you have filled out the forms properly. You must also be present for biometric finger prints.
It is NOT like popping over to Spain so please give yourself plenty of time to go through this procedure. You can apply for a Russian visa up to 6 months before your date of travel but in all honestly it took us under two weeks.
If you are worried that you have not filled out the forms properly, there is a system in London to have your papers checked before you apply. This costs £18, which includes fast track upon arrival at the Application centre. This information can be found at ru.vfsglobal.co.uk/additional services.
There is also a VIP premium service which costs £150 per application on top of the visa price. Details on above website. This allows you to have an appointment time and assistance with online form if required and access to VIP lounge. They cannot fill out the forms for you.
Letters or ‘invitations’ for AirBB. Many people choose to stay with family or friends or do AirBB in Russia. In this case the host issues the invitation and registers you on arrival. They will need to provide you with the MBT number.
It may ultimately be simpler to use a recommended tourist operator such as: Way to Russia, Visa House, Go to Russia, iVisaonline or Visatoruss.com. for the letters of Invitation.
Arriving at the Airport in Russia – When you arrive in Russia you will then be issued with a migration card. This is in two parts, and both need to be completed before you go through passport control. Part A is kept by the authorities and you get part B. DO NOT lose this document as you will need it to exit Russia and the police can ask to see your documents at any time. I kept mine tucked into the back of my passport.
Once you arrive at your hotel, the hotel reception will register your visa. It is a legal requirement that all visa are registered with in 72hrs except for weekends and official holidays. The hotel will need the Migration card issued at the airport, so again do not lose your documents as fines may be issued. Other info: Call centre has a helpline that is 55p per minute so have your questions pre written to save time and money. 8.30-5.30 Mon-Friday. Tel: 0905 889 0149
There is a premium rate for World Cup Fan ID. Calls are £1.50 per min on top of network charges….0905 889 0149.
It does sound like a lot of effort but I have been told many times by Russians in the UK that is what they have to do to bring friends or parents here to the UK for a holiday. Remember it is a reciprocal policy…
This is only a guideline and MY experience, please use the official website for further information. Once you get head around the procedure, it’s all systems go. To read my 4 day experience click here; https://wp.me/p8JB3K-ax
Would I go back? Definitely I need to see the fountains at Peterhof!
To plan your trip here is a list of tours and attractions in Russia.
Thanks for reading, if anyone has tried the mobile biometric service I would love to hear how much it costs?
Football fans get the latest on World Cup training camps & cities on Fifa.com and updates on tickets, semi finals and stadiums.
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Thanks for reading, I hope that you have a fabulous trip.