What is invitation (visa support) letter?

If you visited a Russian consular website, you noticed that they were requiring tourist voucher and reservation confirmation for visa processing. In this section, we will try to explain what tourist voucher and confirmation, sometimes referred to as letter of invitation, is; how and where to obtain it, and how much it will cost.

Each type of visa has a corresponding invitation type: Tourist VISA calls for tourist invitation, Business VISA – for business one, private – for private, and so forth. The invitation, visa support, travel voucher, travel confirmation, or any other name it might be called is a standardized document issued by the part which invites you to Russia. This is a mandatory document to get your visa processed!

Russian Tourist Letter of Invitation/Visa Support [How it looks]:

As we have mentioned before tourist visa can be obtained on the basis of invitation from a Russian tourist agency and/or hotel, registered with the Department of Consular Services of Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Each agency is issued a special its own "tour/group reference number". It is a four digit number. Make sure, your chosen agency tells it to you and you put it on your Russian visa application.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Tourist letter of invitation is issued for NO more than 30 calendar days! If you plan to stay in Russia longer, you have to obtain BUSINESS or PRIVATE stay visa instead.

Usually, these invitations allow you to enter and exit Russia once. A double entry letter of invitation can be obtained if you travel to Russia, then visit a neighboring country (Ukraine, Belarus, etc.) and then go back to Russia. It, however, cannot be used for two separate entries that extend passed 30 day period.

Russian Tourist Invitation Prices and Processing Times – It is the cheapest type of invitation letters. Nevertheless, the price of a tourist invitation range widely. You can get one from FREE to $29 to $55, and it takes 15 minutes to 1 business day to issue it. You should know though that each travel agency/hotel pays an annual MFA registration fee; and their letter of invitation net cost is negligible (less than a $1). If you bargain correctly, you can get your tourist invitation for FREE with other travel services purchased with the firm. In general, your tourist voucher and confirmation are sent to by e-mail (scanned copy), by fax, or by post (if the Russian consulate requires originals, check with the consulate of your choice). Some consulates might ask a day-by-day itinerary, your invitation sponsor can provide you with such itinerary FREE of charge.

Most often you get both required papers tourist voucher and reservation confirmation on one piece of paper. Otherwise, you will get two separate documents. They both have almost the same information (see below). A standard tourist reservation confirmation has a standard form, but tourist voucher does not. It can look different from one travel agency to the next. Both pieces of paper should have the control voucher number, name of the sponsoring organization, its address and phone numbers in Russia, tour reference number, your personal data, date of entry/exit and detailed description of your itinerary as well as the payment method for services rendered. Please make sure it has a stamp and signature of executing officer of the firm.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Technically speaking, voucher is a receipt from the travel agency confirming that you paid for services "provided", and the reservation confirmation is a confirmation for the consulate, which states:

  1. Your official TRIP purpose is TOURISM (Visa Questionnaire for US citizens -- Question #8 : Purpose of Trip – mark TOURISM, even though your actual purpose is different!);
  2. Organization by the such and such name, with such and such reference number is inviting you to tour Russia for such and such dates (Visa Questionnaire for US citizens -- Question #9 : Russian institution or organization to be visited, Question #16: Name and reference number of the tourist group)
  3. You "have purchased" a hotel reservation through a visa agency (Visa Questionnaire for US citizens -- Question #39 : Name, address and phone number of person or hotel in Russia –please write a hotel listed on your invitation letter); and
  4. You will be traveling to such and such cities in Russia (please list these cities on Visa Questionnaire for US citizens -- Question #10 : Itinerary (places to be visited)

You, however, do not have, or have to have a reservation with hotel, and even stay in it; your actual trip purpose might be different. You just need to make sure you mirror information on your letter of invitation when filing visa application (at the consulate) and migration card (at the border). Consistency is the key in getting your Russian visa. [see our question-by-question guide for filling Russian visa application] (coming soon)

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Please be extra careful and double-check that your name, date of birth, passport number, entry and exit dates are correct since it is information used to issue your visa.

Obtaining Russian Tourist Invitation from Hotel in Russia -- Russian hotels, which have a valid tour reference number, can issue you a mandatory invitation, letter (FREE OF CHARGE), but only for the period you're staying on its premises. Always ask a hotel if they can issue an official letter of invitation or not. Below is a partial list of Moscow hotels that can issue letter of invitations:

  • Aerostar
  • Arbat
  • Balchug-Kempinski
  • Belgrad
  • Best Western Art
  • Holiday Inn
  • Intourist
  • Iris
  • Izmailovo
  • Mariott
  • Metropol
  • National
  • Novotel

Russian Business Letter of Invitation/Visa Support [How it looks]:

If you travel to Russia more than once a year; if you stay for more than 30 days at a time, or just need more flexibility, Russian business visa and, therefore, Russian Business Invitation is a way to go and you can contact a reputable travel agency to obtain one for you. Business visa support allows you to obtain visa for up to 12 months (not possible with tourist visa) and enter/exit Russia multiple times.

Normally, business invitation and business visas are designated for people, who intend to do business in Russia, meet with business counterparts, attend a conference/expo, sign a contract, and get involved in related activities. Business invitation does not imply a work authorization – you need WORK visa for legal work authorization. If you are going for such a trip, please ask your business partner to take care of visa support formalities. It might be too much of a hassle for your host firm if it is not registered with Russian authorities and have not done this before. Please refer host firm to this page and ask to download an official government Business Visa Support request form HERE

IMPORTANT NOTICE: If you obtain 12 months Multiple entry letter of invitation/visa, according to Russian migration laws you cannot stay in Russia for more than 183 consecutive days. You have to leave country for at least a day and then re-enter for another 6 months. Many people opt to leave to neighboring country for sightseeing (Belarus, Ukraine, Baltic States, etc.) and re-enter in few days.

Since November 1st, 2002 business invitations are issued by the Passport and Visa Department (Паспортно-Bизовой Управление) at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Consular Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues special telexes instead of paper invitation letters (scroll down few paragraphs). The visa supports can be obtained on the basis of request from registered Business Company or Travel Agency to the above mentioned government authorities. An inviting firm fills a standard form asking designated government body to issue BUSINESS letter of invitation for you, pays an official filling fee, and received an actual invitation letter in few days/weeks [How it looks]

Russian Business Invitation Prices and Processing Times – As you have noticed business visa support takes longer, requires more efforts from travel agency or your business partner, and costs more. Again, prices vary widely from agency to agency. It can start from $69 and reach as much as $525 for quickly processed Multiple entry letter of invitation. Sample fees:

  • Single Entry up to 90 days validity: from $89 to $289 (depends on processing time);
  • Double Entry up to 90 days validity: from $109 to $329;
  • Multiple Entry up to 12 months validity: from $105 to $525.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Please be extra careful and double-check that your name, date of birth, passport number, entry and exit dates are correct since it is information used to issue your visa.
The delivery method of Business invitations is somewhat complicated. It can either sent to you by:

  • Fax or e-mail (if the consulate accepts copies);
  • Mail (if the consulate requires originals, most of them do); or
  • Telex (electronic fax from Russian government office to the consulate) directly to the consulate of your choice. We recommend asking for a telex delivery since there is no physical paperwork involved; you just need a telex number when applying at the consulate – fastest, most convenient, and unfortunately somewhat more expensive).

IMPORTANT NOTICE: If you apply for Multiple entry visa, virtually all consulates require original letter of invitation and HIV test. Therefore, please account for extra cost involved for international shipping from Russia to your home country (around $50-$60 to the U.S.; takes 2-3 business days).

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Technically speaking, Business visa invitation is an official document confirming that you're invited by an agency to visit Russia and engage in Business meetings and also states:

  1. Your official TRIP purpose is BUSINESS (Visa Questionnaire for US citizens -- Question #8 : Purpose of Trip – mark BUSINESS, even though your actual purpose is different!);
  2. Organization by the such and such name, with such and such addresss is inviting you to engage in business activities in Russia for specified period (Visa Questionnaire for US citizens -- Question #9 : Russian institution or organization to be visited, Question #16: n/a)
  3. You will be traveling to such and such cities in Russia (please list these cities on Visa Questionnaire for US citizens -- Question #10 : Itinerary (places to be visited)

Again, you just need to make sure to mirror information on your letter of invitation when filing visa application (at the consulate) and migration card (at the border). Your "paper” itinerary does not have to match an actual itinerary. [See our question-by-question guide for filling Russian visa application] (coming soon) [Top]

Why an Invitation to Russia is needed?

According to Russia immigration law, each foreigner must obtain Visa Invitation to Travel to Russia for any reason (personal, studiy, work, business, visit relatives/friends, etc.). This requirement helps Russian authorities to better control illegal immigration and be able to see who comes and leaves the country. [Top]

Types of Russian visas

If you want to be precise, there are 11 different Russian visa types: (1) Diplomatic visa, (2) Guest/Private Visit visa, (3) Tourism visa, (4) Work visa, (5) Business/Commercial Visit visa, (6) Student/Education visa, (7) Government Business visa, (8) Humanitarian visa, (9) Transit visa (valid up to 72 hours), (10) Temporary Stay visa, and (11) Refugee visa. Each visa type corresponds to the stated purpose of your visit.

Fortunately enough, more than 75% of all issued visas, fall under two major visa categories:

  • Tourist Visa is your first pick for short, up to 30 day, one-time visits to Russia. Unfortunately, you will need a Business or other type of visa, if you intend to stay beyond 30 days.
  • Business Visa provides you with much more flexibility: multiple entries to and out of Russia, validity for up to an entire year. Business visa is ideal for tourist, who are traveling in Russia for prolonged times, visiting friends, don't need a hotel. Also, this type is a must for adoption traveler.

Officially, business visas are intended for business travelers, who travel to conduct business transactions (e.g. negotiations, contracts, exhibitions, etc.). But again, it is merely exception than a rule - you do not need to travel on an official company's business since the same qualified travel agencies can arrange visa invitation. You do not need to plan a hotel reservations or your itinerary, either. Please be aware that business visa does not imply an employment permit. You need to seek Work visa for employment purposes. [Top]

Where and how to get it?

Normally, you should apply for a visa at a Russian consulate at the country you reside. If you're currently traveling in a foreign country, you can apply at Russian consulate in that country in most cases. You need to submit to a Russian consulate various documents, depending on the time and type of visa you want:

  • A valid Passport: Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months after your stated date of exit from Russia. For example, if you plan to depart from Russia on February 1st, your passport should be valid at least until August 1st. Also, you should make sure you have at least 2 blank pages for visas in your passport. [Read more on how to Obtain New US passport, Renew US passport, Add Pages to your Passport]
  • One Passport size photo: We advice to go to a passport photographer since he is familiar with passport style photograph requirements. Click here for passport photo requirement and where to have passport photos made.
  • Visa Questionnaire/Application (download Here for free). The questionnaire has to be signed by you!
  • Visa Sponsorship/Invitation Letter from Russia: You should get the type of invitation letter that corresponds to required type of visa. For example, tourist invitation letter for tourism visa, business invitation letter for business visa, private invitation letter for private visit visa, and so forth. In most cases, the photocopy of visa support will suffice, but you need original letter of invitation if you apply (1) for MULTIPLE entry visas or (2) in one of these countries: Australia, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and Sweden.
  • Visa Processing Fee: All Russian consulates charge a certain visa processing fee. It varies depending on the type of your visa and the speed of processing. In general, the longer visa and the faster you need it, the more you pay. Russian consulate in each country has different fees. For example, the visa processing fees in the U.S. range from the lowest $131 to as much as $450.
  • Self-Addressed/Prepaid Envelope: If you apply for a Russian visa via mail, you have to include prepaid envelope. We recommend using a registered or confirmation delivery since the package has your passport and visa. If you decide to apply in person, you'll collect visa yourself, no need for return envelope. In some countries you can apply in person only!
  • Additional Documents: For certain types of Russian visas for citizens of some countries Russian consulates will demand additional documents:
    - Mandatory Medical/Travel Insurance is required for the citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Luxembourg, Norway, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.
    - Human Immune Deficit (HIV) AIDS Certificate is required for Multiple entry and longer than 3 months visas. [Find HIV testing center nationwide HERE]
    - Proof of Permanent Residency (photocopy of Green/Residency Card, if applying the U.S.) are required for the citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, N. Korea, Pakistan, Palestine, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri-Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam. Otherwise, the citizens of these countries should apply for Russian visa at their home countries.
    - Proof of sufficient funds for your stay in Russia.
    - Any Other Document that is deemed necessary by Russian consulate

As you see, it is possible to arrange your own Russian visa. In practice, however, most travelers choose to hire a professional visa travel agency to do the groundwork. For an extra $30-$70, agencies will prepare, proofread, and submit your paperwork to a consulate on your behalf and mail your passport along with Russian visa back. Some firms even take care of registering the visa when you arrive in Russia. Given that each Russian consulate has different tastes and temperaments in interpreting visa processing requirements, it's usually worth to have somebody who knows the ropes of dealing with bureaucrats.

The only problem with hiring somebody to handle your visa is figuring out who to hire. Amid hundreds of honest agencies there are plenty scammers who seem to vanish as soon as you give them your personal information. Yet, that shouldn't stop you from seeking a professional visa agency, just use healthy dose of precautions. [Top]

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