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There are several types of visas available, so it's important to know which one you want.
This visa type, which is the cheapest and the easiest to get, is issued to tourists, who have booked accommodation in Russia for non-business reason. It can be used for a short tour trip as it is valid for one entry and for a precise number of days up to maximum of thirty. Extension is not possible! To get this visa, you must confirm accommodations or transit information for every night of your stay in the country. If you're going on a package tour, all the formalities can be sorted out for you by the travel agency. If you are traveling independently, some hotels and hostels in Saint-Petersburg can arrange the necessary visa support for you.
This visa is most popular among business people and visitors, who do not know their exact itineraries, as it doesn't require that you pre-book accommodation. Nevertheless, the cost of this visa support may depend on whether or not you also book accommodation with them. Visitors applying for business visas have preferences in Russian consulates in comparison with tourist visa applicants.
Business Visas may be classified according to the number of entries to the country: single entry visa valid for 1 or 3 months, double entry visa valid for 1 or 3 months, and multiple entry business visas valid for 3, 6 or 12 months with unlimited entries/exits.
Whatever business visa type you need, when applying for a business visa you should present an invitation (or tell the telex number and the name of the inviting company), passport (which must be valid for 6 months beyond intended stay), 3 photos, and a filled in application form. For multiple entry visa an HIV-test certificate must be presented. These are the general requirements, but some additional documents may be also required.
If you have a multiple entry visa valid for 6 or 12 months, please note that it is permitted to stay in the country for no more than 3 months in a roll, then you should leave the country for at least one day and come back if needed.
Don't forget, that as well as any other visa type, business visa should be registered upon your arrival in 3 days period in OVIR (it is the organization which deals with tourists' documents, visas etc) or by any company that provides this service.
Individual / Private Visa
If you don't want to splash out on pricey pre-booked accommodation and are staying with Russian friends, you'll need an individual visa, which is valid for one entry only for the period from one day to a maximum of three months. Be warned though that this is the most bureaucratically taxing kind of visa to obtain and you'll need the original letter of personal invitation from your Russian host, which your Russian relatives or friends have to obtain from a local Visa and Registration Department of the Ministry of the Interior (OVIR). Though the price of the visa is not high, the whole process can take from 45 days up to three or four months to complete. Please notice that private visas are granted just for single trips to Russia and only to the city where this invitation has been issued. As it is a very long and difficult procedure to get this type of visa (especially for your friends or relatives), we recommend to use tourist or business visa instead of a private one.
This type of visa is for those who are traveling to some other country via Russia and it is valid for a short period of stay in the country that does not exceed 72 hours. Usually, it is easy and inexpensive to get a transit visa: the Russian Consulate will issue it if you present a copy of your travel documents and your visa to the country of destination (if a visa is necessary). Visa Invitation is not required. There are also single-entry and double-entry Transit visas available. If you have some difficulties with getting your transit visa, most probably it will be easier to get a tourist one.
Family Member Visa
If close relatives are coming with you, they may apply for the so-called "Family Member Visa", which is issued on the basis of your Visa Invitation together with your visa. Usually the visa for a member of the family is given out in case of a long stay of "the head of the family" in Russia under Business, Working or other visas. This type of visa is issued for the period shorter or similar to the visa of the "head of family". Normally the time needed for issuing a visa to a family member is equal to the time needed for issuing a visa to the "head of family." The Consular fee is lower. In case of difficulties with obtaining the visa for a member of the family probably it will be easier to get another type of visa.
If you are here for any length of time, and plan to return regularly, it's better to have your visa converted into a multiple-entry visa. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues such visa invitations for any number of months from 3 up to 12 (a one-year multiple-entry visa).The process takes about from a week to 21 days and requires three to six photos. Besides, the names of your children cannot be inserted into this visa: they have to get their own visas, except they are under the age of 16 and are registered in your passport. Family members traveling with you can obtain the same type of business visa.
There are other types of Russian visas for very specific cases. For example: visas for diplomats, sailors and students, for humanitarian and religious purposes, etc.
With all these visas, what you get is a document to slip into your passport. For single entry visas, one half (the entry visa) is collected on arrival, the other half (the exit visa) on departure. Multiple visas are stamped, as is your passport, on entry and departure. Lost visas must be reported to the main OVIR office in Saint-Petersburg, which should eventually issue your loss at the replacement, of if you discover your loss at the airport there's a rather elusive representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs present during the day, who should be able to help.