Well, with only 38 days left until I plan to get the first train of my trip (from Belfast to Dublin), my visa applications are all ready for me to post tomorrow morning! Very nervous and excited – what if they’re declined? What if I made an error? What if they take longer than 38 days to process and get back to me? Argh!
I must try to relax, which isn’t easy – on top of these concerns, I’m always nervous when I don’t have my passport with me – and this time I’m in a foreign country without my passport. Even though I’ll post it with trackable post and get proof of delivery, there is always that small risk. All will be fine, I’m sure – and I have photocopies of my passport and UK work visa, just in case.
Although I’ve travelled to around 27 countries, I’ve only ever applied for 3 visas in advance – Vietnam, Cambodia and my UK work visa. The whole process can be quite complicated, especially when you’re talking about somewhere like China – OMG the number of trees I’ve had to kill to print all this paperwork is insane!
After looking into all the pros, cons and requirements I eventually decided to use online agency Real Russia – who are also the company I’ve used to reserve my Trans-Siberian train tickets. Although it costs more to go through Real Russia rather than applying direct to the embassies, there are some advantages – the biggest of which for me is that I can apply for all 4 visas at once rather than sending to each embassy, waiting until it gets back and then sending to the next.
Below is a summary of the considerations, documents needed and costs for each of these visas – keep in mind that these are through Real Russia, not direct, and for an Australian passport holder, living in the UK at the time of application.
Mongolia really was the most simple of the 4 countries, all I needed to do was fill in the application form and send it in along with a passport photo and my physical passport. No additional documentation was needed.
The difficulty here is that the Mongolian Embassy in London does not accept applications by post! Due to this, I would have had to go to London for several days to take my application and collect it once ready. Obviously, that would have been at a high expense and inconvenience to me, as I live in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Real Russia can do this for you – this being a major benefit of using this agency. I could post the application to them, and they get one of their employees to go to the embassy to get the visa.
This visa cost me £94 for a single entry tourist visa for 30 days.
Slightly more information needed than Mongolia, but still nothing huge for this transit visa – perhaps it would be more if it was for an actual tourist visa. As I’m getting the train from Warsaw to Moscow, my train goes through Belarus but I don’t actually get out to see the country.
It’s a shame. As much as I would very much like to see Minsk etc, the additional cost involved with a stop over was quite high, and I didn’t really have the time to spare. Perhaps another trip I’ll get to see Belarus properly! In the meantime, I’ll at least get to see the countryside from the train as we pass through.
Things needed to support the application:
- Passport (of course!)
- Passport photo
- Travel insurance information
- Evidence of transport booked showing you’re only transiting Belarus
- Visa of the country you’re transiting to (in this case Russia)
This visa cost me £47 for a 2 day transit visa.
Getting more complicated now, but still not to the level of China! There’s a lot of talk online about the scary Russian visa application and how complicated it is, with letters of invitation, visa registration and itinerary needed. In reality, the letter of invitation is very simple – it’s just an added cost on top of the visa.
To get a Russian visa, you need a letter of invitation or ‘visa support document’ from an organisation that is registered to do so. Most hotels can do this for you, so you can contact your hotel once you’ve booked it and request they send it to you.
Note: they will only send a document covering the time you stay at their hotel, but you require documents covering your whole stay in Russia. You’ll need to ensure you’ve booked hotels for every night and contact each hotel for a letter of invitation. They usually do this for free from what I can tell.
An easier way is to buy a visa support document from an agency, such as Real Russia – this cost me an additional £10 on top of their visa application fee. The advantage of this is that the document will cover the whole time I plan to spend in Russia, so saves me from having to book all accommodation in advance and organise for each hotel to send me an invite and all of that! Also, as I’m staying in hostels rather than hotels, not all of them will necessarily be licensed to provide letters of invitation.
People also seem to get quite confused and worried about registering their visa once they’re in Russia. The requirement is that you register your visa in each city you stay 7 or more days in, however it is best to register it in every city as the authorities can ask you to show them at any time (ensure you keep your passport, visa & visa registration papers on you at all times in Russia!).
If you can’t produce the right documents when requested, this could cause problems – especially if there is a language barrier and you can’t explain that you won’t be in that city for 7 days!
Anyway, the point I was making is that this seems to be standard practice for hotels/hostels to register your visa on arrival – in fact, you’ll find this is the case in a great many countries. Ever wondered why the hostel asks for all that personal information and takes a copy of your passport? They’re registering you with the authorities! You usually don’t even realise it, however in Russia do make sure this happens and they give you the required documentation as evidence. You’ll need this if asked for it by authorities on the street, as well as to passport control on your way out of Russia.
Some points of interest on the application form:
- List every country you’ve been to in the last 10 years, including dates
- Current and previous employers
- Current and previous places of study & qualifications
Required to send with application:
- Evidence I’ve been residing in the UK for at least 180 days (I provided my UK visa and a letter from my employer)
- Passport photo
- Application form
This single entry tourist visa cost me £95 plus £10 for the visa support document (letter of invitation) for a tourist visa for up to 30 days. Note that although it’s up to 30 days, it is only issued for the dates that you put as your entry & exit dates on the application form – so make sure they’re correct!
Update after my trip: I tried to register my visa at a few hostels I stayed at, all were confused why I wanted to because I wasn’t staying there 7 days or more. Eventually, one hostel agreed to, but it was quite a hassle – took ages, where I was stuck in the hostel waiting for my passport to return.
Nobody ever asked to see it, and other people I met on the trip never registered their visa and never had any problems. If I return to Russia, I won’t bother doing this again – unless, of course, I do stay in the same city for a week or more.
By far the most supporting documentation I’ve ever needed for a visa application! Not only do they want to see evidence of your entry & exit transport, but also all accommodation bookings and internal transport as well. It’s also “beneficial” to provide copies of all other bookings of your trip including countries other than China – this in part is because the embassy in London will only process visas for people who are resident in the UK (I had to prove this too), and for trips starting in the UK.
Hint – if you’re like me and don’t like to be locked into your travel plans ahead of time, book accommodation online through a site that allows free cancellation. This means that you have bookings and can provide confirmation of this, but are not locked into these places and dates. China does not force you to stick to your original itinerary – just prove you’ve organised it! I used, and recommend Booking.com
The same goes with the transport – entry, exit and internal. It is actually impossible to book trains more than about 45 days prior to the train journey, but you need to show that you’ve booked them when you apply for the visa. You also may not know for sure when and where you want to go – but fear not! There are many online agencies that will reserve train tickets for you, and several do not make you pay upfront. This means you can reserve all the internal tickets, get confirmation of it to provide with your visa application but again, you’re not locked in.
At the end of the day, you may actually confirm and stick to these plans, however, it also helps you to travel with a bit of flexibility.
There was nothing particularly crazy required on the application form apart from having to provide full details of all accommodation for the duration of your stay. You need to list all countries you’ve been to in the last 12 months, which is easy since you’ve just done the past 10 years for Russia!
Things to send in with the application:
- Application form
- Supplementary form (info as I’m applying for a visa outside my home country)
- Terms and conditions form
- 1 passport photo
- Inbound & outbound train tickets
- Accommodation booking confirmations
- Whole trip itinerary
- Letter explaining details of my residency in the UK and my plans
- Copy of UK working visa
- Employment confirmation letter
This visa cost me £83 for a single entry tourist visa for a stay of up to 90 days.
All in all, a lot of paperwork and I’m glad it’s all done. Now just the nervous wait for the passport full of visas to be returned – hopefully in time for me to start my trip when planned!
P.S – I couldn’t apply sooner as you can’t apply for them more than 90 days before arrival, but I’ll be on the road about 60 days before. It makes for a tight timeframe!
Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Let me know 🙂
Note – images of the example visas are from Real Russia‘s website.
Note 2 – this post is NOT sponsored by Real Russia in any way. It’s purely my experience, and information that will hopefully will help others with their visa applications.
This post was published in April 2014, and re-edited in June 2017 to fit with the website’s current theme. The visa information was not updated, and shows my experiences in 2014. Always get up to date information in regards to visa requirements before travelling.