How To Enter Russia

Entry/Exit Requirements for U.S. Citizens

A visa agreement between the United States and the Russian government entered into force on September 9, 2012, and is intended to reduce complications for U.S. citizens who visit, transit, or reside in the Russian Federation. Please monitor the Bureau of Consular Affairs website and the U.S. Embassy Moscow website for additional information about the new regulations and their implementation. While general visa information can be found below, U.S. citizens should contact the Embassy of the Russian Federation or visit its website for the most up to date information regarding visa regulations and requirements.

Travelers should be aware that U.S. citizens who do not comply with Russian immigration laws could still be subject to arrest, fines, and/or deportation. Russian authorities will not allow U.S. citizens to depart the country if their visa has expired; travelers must wait until a new visa is approved, which may take up to 20 days. Please verify the expiration date of your Russian visa, and leave Russia before your visa expires. Travelers should also keep a copy of their U.S. passport biography page and Russian visa with them at all times, and separate from the original documents.

Entry Visas: To enter Russia for any purpose other than short transit by air, or some cruise ship and ferry passengers (see below), you must possess a valid U.S. passport and a visa issued by a Russian embassy or consulate. You cannot obtain a visa upon arrival, so you must apply for your visa well in advance. If you arrive in Russia without an entry visa, you will not be permitted to enter the country, and could face immediate return to the point of embarkation at your own expense.

A Russian entry/exit visa has two dates written in the European style (day/month/year) as opposed to the U.S. style (month/day/year). The first date indicates the earliest date a traveler may enter Russia; the second date indicates the date by which a traveler must leave Russia. A Russian visa is only valid for those exact dates and cannot be extended after the traveler has arrived in the country, except in the case of a medical emergency.

You may wish to have someone who reads Russian check the visa before departing the United States. Please ensure that your visa reflects your intended activities in Russia (e.g., tourism, study, business, etc.). If denied a visa, you may seek clarification from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 32/34 Smolenskaya-Sennaya Pl., Moscow, Russia, 119200, ministry@mid.ru.

Limitations on Length of Stay and Exit Visas: The September 2012 visa agreement permits U.S. citizens to remain on the territory of the Russian Federation for up to six consecutive months as long as their visa is still valid. Under this agreement, it is expected that qualified U.S. applicants for humanitarian, private, tourist, and business visas may receive multiple-entry visas with a validity of three years, but will still be subject to the six-month rule. (Please note that other types of visas are not part of the agreement and those visa holders should pay close attention to the terms of their visas.) All visa holders should exit Russia before their visa expires.

You need a valid visa to depart Russia. If you overstay your visa validity by less than three days, you may, at the discretion of the Russian Consular Officer, be granted an exit visa at the airport and charged a fine. However, this process may not be available in non-capital cities, as it requires transmission of documents from Moscow to outlying departure points on a case-by-case basis, which can cause significant delays to the traveler. If you overstay your visa by more than three days, you will be prevented from leaving Russia until your sponsor intervenes and requests a visa extension on your behalf. Russian authorities may take up to 20 calendar days to authorize an exit visa, during which time you will have to remain in Russia at your own expense. You may also have difficulty checking into a hotel, hostel, or other lodging establishment with an expired Russian visa. Again, be sure to verify the expiration date of your Russian visa and leave Russia before your visa expires.

Under the terms of the new visa agreement, U.S. citizens holding tourist, private, business or humanitarian visas no longer need to replace a lost or stolen Russian Visa. However, a lost or stolen U.S. passport must be replaced at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or one of the Consulates General. The Russian government may also request a police report. Please note that under the new visa agreement, travelers will only be allowed to exit with a new U.S. passport if their Russian Visa in the lost/stolen passport is still valid (i.e. unexpired) at the time of departure. Again, it is a good idea to keep copies of your U.S. passport biography page and Russian visa with you, but separate from your original documents, in order to have some proof of the validity of your Russian visa.

At times, visas for students and English teachers only allow one entry. In these cases, the sponsoring school is responsible for registering the visa and migration card, as well as obtaining an exit visa. It can take up to 20 calendar days to obtain an exit visa, so students and teachers need to plan accordingly. Please see the section below regarding Teaching in Russia for additional information.

Visa Sponsorship:

As of June 2013, Russia has seven types of temporary visas - private, tourist, business, humanitarian, work, student, and transit - each with different application requirements. Only tourist, private, business and humanitarian visas are covered by the new visa agreement.

Under the terms of the new visa agreement, U.S. citizens applying for a tourist visa no longer need a formal letter of invitation from a Russian party. However, tourists must have advance lodging reservations and arrangements with a tour operator for their first entry request/visa application. These arrangements must be in writing and presented with the visa application. While tourists should not be required to present this documentation on subsequent entries, travelers are advised to have this information available and with them. Travelers are also advised to have their travel reservations and itinerary with them at the point of entry into Russia, even though the visa agreement does not specify whether tourists will need to have this information available.

U.S. citizens traveling for business and humanitarian purposes are still required to produce a written statement from the hosting Russian organization. U.S. citizens traveling on private or "homestay" visits must also present anotarized written statement in Russian from the hosting individual (see next section for further detail). In these cases, please ensure the name of the sponsor indicated on your visa corresponds with the organization you intend to visit, or those who are arranging your travel in Russia. If the sponsor named on your visa is not the person or entity you intend to visit, you may encounter problems with Russian immigration authorities, particularly on your first entry into Russia on a multiple entry visa. If you intend to work for a non-government organization (NGO) or engage in religious work, be sure to apply for the specific type of visa required by Russian law (usually a humanitarian visa). Russian law requires that your sponsor apply on your behalf for replacement, extension, or changes to a Russian visa. You should ensure that you have contact information for your visa sponsor prior to arrival in Russia, as the sponsor's assistance will be essential to resolve any visa problems.

In addition, Russian police officers have the authority to stop people and request their identity and travel documents at any time and without cause. Due to the possibility of random document checks by police, you should carry your original passport, migration card and visa with you at all times (see sections on Migration Cards and Visa Registration for additional information).

Documentary Requirements:

Please note that this is not intended to be a complete list of documents. Applicants for Russian visas should consult with the Embassy of the Russian Federation or Consulates General for detailed explanations of documentary requirements.

Tourist Visas: Visa application form, hotel reservation confirmation, contract for provision of tourist services with a tourist organization registered with the Russian Federal Tourism Agency.

Business and Humanitarian Visas: Visa application form and written statement from the host organization in Russian, including the following information:

Organization's full name, official address, and contact information

Full name of the person signing the written statement

If the organization is established in the territory of the Russian Federation, the organization's individual taxpayer number

Visa applicant's name, date of birth, citizenship, gender, passport number, number of entries sought, purpose of travel, requested period of entry, location of intended residence in Russia, and cities to be visited.

Private Visas: Visa application form and written statement from the hosting individual notarized by a Russian notary, including the following information:

Hosting individual's full name, date of birth, citizenship, gender, passport number, address of registration, and individual's actual residence

Visa applicant's name, date of birth, citizenship, gender, passport number, number of entries sought, purpose of travel, requested period of entry, location of intended residence in Russia, and cities to be visited.

The Russian Embassy or Consulate receiving the visa application may ask for additional documentation, including:

Bank statement from the applicant

Statement from the applicant's employer regarding the applicant's salary for the preceding year, half year, or month

Medical insurance valid in Russia and fully covering the period of the first trip

Documents regarding the applicant's ownership of property in the United States

A certificate of the makeup of the applicant's family (i.e., marriage certificate and children's birth certificates).

Transit Visas: If you intend to transit through Russia by land en route to a third country, you must have a Russian transit visa issued by a Russian Embassy or Consulate. Russian law does not require you to have a transit visa if you are transiting through one international airport in Russia, whereby you will not leave the customs zone, and will depart within 24 hours to an onward international destination. However, travelers and customs officials alike often misinterpret this law. Therefore, we strongly recommend that all travelers obtain a Russian transit visa even if you are transiting in less than 24 hours, given the possibility of unexpected flight delays, rerouting, or other unforeseen travel challenges that could cause you to be stranded in an airport for an extended period of time or create other complications. U.S. citizens need a transit visa for flights from Russia to Belarus, which are considered domestic flights by Russian and Belarusian bilateral agreements. Foreigners who arrive in Russia without a valid visa and who do not meet visa-free transit requirements, may be forced to return to the point of origin at their own expense.

International Cruise Ship/Ferry Passengers: You are permitted to visit Russian ports without a visa for a period of up to 72 hours. You may go ashore without a visa during port calls, but only if you are with an organized tour and accompanied at all times by a tour operator who has been duly licensed by Russian authorities. Cruise ship and ferry lines offer shore tours that meet these requirements. If you want to do sightseeing on your own, you must have a visa. A visa is also required if you arrive in Russia by ship or ferry, but want to depart by air, train, or other mode of transportation. A U.S. passport must be presented to Russian immigration officers each time you depart or return to the ship during your port call in Russia. If your U.S. passport is lost or stolen while you are ashore, you will not be allowed to return to the ship until you obtain a replacement passport from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or one of the Consulates General. If your ship leaves Russia without you onboard, you must obtain an exit visa to depart Russia by alternative transportation. Russian authorities may take up to 20 calendar days to authorize an exit visa, during which time you will have to remain in Russia at your own expense.

Please note that these special entry/exit requirements for international cruise ship and ferry passengers do not apply to riverboat cruise passengers. Riverboat cruise passengers must have a visa and should follow the general guidelines for entry/exit requirements.

Visa Registration: If you intend to spend more than seven days in any locality in Russia, you must register your visa and migration card through your sponsor at FMS or through your landlord at his/her local post office. If staying at a hotel, the hotel reception should register your visa and migration card on the first day of your stay. If you choose not to register your visa and migration card for a stay of less than seven days, we advise you to keep copies of tickets, hotel bills, or itineraries in order to prove compliance with Russian law.

Russian police officers have the authority to stop people and request their identity and travel documents at any time and without provocation. Due to the possibility of random document checks by Russian police, you should carry your original U.S. passport, migration card and Russian visa with you at all times.

Migration Cards: U.S. citizens entering Russia must carry a migration card while in Russia. Traditionally, these two-part cards are provided to foreign passengers to complete before landing in Russia. Upon arrival, Russian immigration authorities retain one of the identical halves, and the other half is carried in the traveler's passport for the duration of their stay in Russia.

In 2011, Russian authorities launched a new program in Moscow's Vnukovo and Domodedevo Airports, by which migration cards are electronically completed and provided by immigration officials. The new program has also been expanded to the Sheremetyevo airport. If you receive an electronic card, continue to carry your migration cards in your U.S. passport and submit it to immigration authorities upon leaving. The Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) plans to expand their use of electronic migration cards to other international airports in the future.

If you lose your migration card, you should report it to the Federal Migration Service (FMS), and request replacement; losing the migration card may or may not present difficulties upon departure from Russia.Additionally, there have been instances where replacement migration cards were required in order to register at hotels. Some FMS offices are also requiring replacement of the migration card before they will issue an exit visa, a process which can take more than 24 hours and require the traveler to stay in Russia at their own expense until the situation can be resolved.

Restricted Areas: There are several closed cities and regions in Russia. If you attempt to enter these areas without prior authorization, you may be subject to arrest, fines, and/or deportation. Russian visa applicants are required to list on their visa application all areas in Russia that they intend to visit, and must also subsequently register with authorities upon their arrival at each destination. There is no centralized list or database of the restricted areas, so travelers should check with their sponsor, hotel, or the nearest office of the Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) before traveling to unfamiliar cities and towns.

U.S. Citizens Also Holding Russian Passports: If you are a dual U.S./Russian national, you must enter and depart both Russia and the United States carrying the passport of that country. If you are a Russian citizen carrying a Russian passport, you should confirm that your Russian passport is valid beyond your planned departure. The Russian government will not permit you to depart Russia with an expired Russian passport, and obtaining one in Russia as a non-resident is extremely difficult. Russian authorities will also not permit departure from Russia if the Russian passport is lost or stolen, even in cases when the traveler also has a valid U.S. passport. In these instances, the traveler will be required to obtain a new Russian passport, a process that can take several months and will likely prevent a timely exit from Russia.

Russian consular officials generally require that dual U.S./Russian nationals renounce their Russian citizenship - a process that may take several months - prior to issuing any Russian visa in a U.S. passport, including transit (exit) visas. If you were born in Russia, you will be required to prove that you have renounced your Russian citizenship prior to obtaining any Russian visa, in order to be in compliance with Russian law. So-called "Repatriation Certificates" (Svidetel'stvo na vozvrashcheniye) issued to Russian citizens abroad are only valid to enter Russia, not to depart from Russia. Bearers of such certificates must apply for a new passport inside Russia. Males of conscript age (18 - 27 years old) who are deemed Russian citizens may experience problems if they have not satisfied their military service requirement.

For further information, please see the Department of State's webpage on dual nationality.

Minors: In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated special procedures at entry/exit points, such as requiring documentary evidence of the parent or guardian's relationship to the child and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian if not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not legally required, may facilitate entry/departure. For further information please see the Department of State's webpage regarding the prevention of international child abduction.

Special note: U.S. citizen minors who also have Russian citizenship and are traveling alone or in the company of adults who are not their parents, must carry a Russian passport, as well as a power of attorney written in Russian and signed by their parents. Such minors will be prevented from entering or leaving Russia if they cannot present such a power of attorney.

Apostilles: The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General in Russia cannot provide apostilles to documents. This process must be done by the Secretary of State of the U.S. state that processed the document (or in the case of a U.S. federal agency document, the State Department's Office of Authentications ). For more information about apostilles, visit the U.S. Embassy website.

Embassy of the Russian Federation: The Russian Federation has moved to an on-line visa application process in the United States, which can be initiated at this website. For additional information concerning travel to Russia, U.S. citizens may contact the Embassy of the Russian Federation, Consular Section, 2641 Tunlaw Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20007, tel. 202-939-8907.

In addition, there are Russian Consulates in:

Houston: 1333 West Loop South, Ste.1300, Houston, TX 77027, tel. 713-337-3300;

New York: 9 East 91 St., New York, NY 10128, tel. 212-348-0926;

San Francisco: 2790 Green St., San Francisco, CA 94123, tel. 415-928-6878 or 415-202-9800; and,

Seattle: 2323 Westin Building, 2001 6th Ave., Seattle, WA 98121, tel. 206-728-1910.

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The Watkins family before medical issues became the focus of their lives and their finances.

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2019 edition