If you’re taking a trip on the Trans Siberian Railway, chances are you’re going to need to get a Russian visa.
For my trip, I’ll be traveling through China, Mongolia, and Russia. As an American citizen, visas to get into China and Russia are required, while in Mongolia, you can stay visa free for up to 90 days. Of course, every country is different, so be sure to check what the requirements are before you make plans to visit any country. The U.S. and China, within the past year or so, made some changes with their visa policies so if you’re applying for a visa into China and you’re an American, you’re in luck, because your visa will be good for 10 years; multiple entry with a 30 day stay each visit. Which is great news since a China visa will cost you $140.
As for a Russian visas for U.S. citizens, that’ll cost $160. Russian tourist visas are typically single entry with a maximum 30 day stay.
While my travel companion and I decided to go through a travel agent (Sokol Tours) for our train tickets, I ultimately had to apply for a Russian visa in person since I’m not living in my country of citizenship. Our travel agent, however, did give me visa support which included answering all my annoying questions and getting me an invitation letter/voucher to get into Russia. As expected, getting a Russian visa is a bit complicated. Note that it is easier to get a Russian visa within your home country and while it’s not impossible to obtain one outside of your home country, it is more difficult depending on the country you’re in and the requirements of each consulate or embassy. For example, my friend living in Indonesia who was planning on traveling with us ultimately was unable to acquire a Russian visa, while I was able to obtain one in Vietnam.
Every application requires different documents depending on the consulate or embassy. It’s best to email or call the consulate/embassy that you’re planning on applying at to be sure. I applied for my visa at the Russian consulate in Ho Chi Minh City which isn’t the most responsive of consulates. I sent many emails and tried calling a few times but only got replies to one of my emails. As for the phone calls, the language barrier was a problem since whoever was manning the phones had very limited English and no Vietnamese language ability. I ultimately contacted the embassy in Hanoi to find out the required documents for my visa application.
Here’s what I needed for my Russian visa:
- Invitation letter/voucher. For any Russian visa application, you’ll need an invitation letter/voucher from a licensed organization in Russia. The travel agency I am working with was able to provide me with one. This is pretty easily obtainable and most places will charge a small fee if you don’t need any of their other services. Consulates, however, will either require a hard copy of the letter or a printed copy. I only needed to bring a copy of my letter. Be sure you obtain the letter first though, because you’ll need it to complete your visa application.
- Completed visa application online. Complete the visa application online and print a completed copy. Be extra careful how you fill out your application. If you’re a U.S. citizen, your application will require you to fill more things out than what’s required of other countries. Also make sure reference and confirmation numbers on the application match your invitation. You really don’t want to make any mistakes.
- Proof of residence or employment or at least 3 months validity on your visa. This applies if you’re living outside of your country of citizenship. In Vietnam, you’ll need at least 3 months validity on your visa in order to apply for a Russian visa. I luckily have a one-year work visa in Vietnam so this wasn’t much trouble for me. If you have a 90 day tourist visa, you will also be able to apply for a Russian visa.
- Proof of travel insurance valid in Russia. I provided a copy of my travel insurance policy. Not all applications require this but mine did.
- Copy of my entry and exit tickets to Russia. While your invitation letter will include your city stops, I included a copy of my tickets in and out of Russia just to be safe.
- $160 USD. Be sure to bring crisp bills. The consulate only takes cash. And only in USD.
If you’re applying for your Russian visa in Ho Chi Minh City, the visa section of the consulate is only open Monday, Thursday, and Friday. Please note that the website’s hours for visa processing isn’t up to date. When I called the office for their hours, I heard Monday, Tuesday, Friday from 9-12 but when I went to Ho Chi Minh City on a Tuesday, I discovered that the consulate’s visa section is only open on Mondays and Fridays from 9 a.m. – noon and Thursdays from 9 a.m.- 11 a.m.
The Russian consulate in Ho Chi Minh City is not the easiest to find. It’s located at: 40 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan St., Dist. 3. There isn’t any obvious signs and the numbers are not easily seen but it’s next to a school. Just enter through the “gates” that look like it could be for the school. There’ll be motorbike parking on your right and some security guards as well right when you walk through. You’ll see a tiny sign for the visa section. It’s the building on the right that you will see right after you pass the security guards.
I showed up promptly at 9 a.m. and found a big group of people waiting outside the building. The doors to the visa section didn’t open until around 9:30 a.m. And while there was one person helping people at one of the tiny windows, it was only for pick up (?) or applications (?). I’m not really sure. I just know it wasn’t for submitting applications. Anyways. The consular person didn’t show up until around 10:40 a.m. and once he finally did show up, things went pretty smoothly. I turned in my application, the consular guy looked over my documents, seemed to approve, pointed at a calendar to let me know when I could pick up my passport, and then I went to the next window where I paid the visa fee and got my receipt. Be sure to keep you receipt because you’ll need it when you pick up your passport. Pick up was relatively smooth as soon as the doors of the consulate opened, but again, the doors didn’t open promptly.
Despite the little annoyances, I’m glad I got my Russian visa without too much trouble! The Russian visa application process, albeit, was more complicated than other visa applications, but definitely not impossible. Just make sure you know all the requirements before applying. You really only want to do the whole waiting in line, filling out the forms thing and what not, once.