Monday, September 30, 2013

Becoming Worldwide: Getting a Russian Tourist Visa

From my experience, Canadians appear to give off a positive, and seemingly harmless image in the world. We are also quite lucky that we get viewed more positively than the Americans. CNN has gone as far as telling Americans to pretend to be Canadian when traveling.

Here is a video from FlightNetwork on pretending to be Canadian:

Being a Canadian may not be the coolest of things in the world, but it definitely has its perks. Aside from being viewed favourably in most of the world, we can access a good portion of the world with relative ease. Canadians do not require a visa or can travel with a visa upon arrival to 170 countries and territories. Find out more here.

Russia does not fall within the 170 countries and territories and was my first travel experience with a Tourist Visa. I have assembled some tips to make getting a Tourist Visa to Russia a bit less frustrating.

What you need to know:
-A Tourist Visa is good for a maximum of 30 days.
-The Russian Consulate in Toronto is downtown at Bloor St. E. and Church St.
-There are many International Travel Visa Centres that will apply for a Visa on your behalf for a fee. This takes the burden off your hands, but requires some time and patience. If you are simply going to Russia or one country, it is not worth your time and money.
-Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your travel to Russia.
-Your Tourist Visa will be stamped into your passport. Be prepared to give up your passport until the Visa process is complete.
-You will need your a wallet-sized passport photo for your visa. Walmart has on-the-spot photos for an affordable price (~$20.00 CAD).
More of what you need to know:
-Be prepared to disclose when and where you have traveled in the last ten years. Other information that will be required is medical insurance, marital information, information on your parents, work history, other passports you may carry, education, military involvement, training in firearms, nuclear matters, biological or chemical substances, etc.
-You must have your accommodations and flights arranged before you apply for your Tourist Visa. You may have to provide a copy of your accommodation (paid in full) and flight information.
-You will have to write a letter of intent, outlining what you plan to do in Russia, when and where.
-You will be required to provide a stamped copy of an invitation to Russia or a Tourist Voucher.
-You will need to print your Visa application on one double sided sheet.
-You will have to get a money order from your bank or from the post office made out to the Embassy of the Russian Federation. This is the only way to pay for your Tourist Visa. These money orders cost approximately $7.50 CAD.
-You can get your Visa Application Form here.

-Be warned that even the smallest of mistakes or typos on your application will get rejected. Do not leave the application to the last minute. It took us about 3 weeks and multiple attempts to get the Tourist Visa, despite applying for the expedited, 3 business day service.
-For any troubles or discrepancies with the Consulate or with your hostel or Tourist Voucher Invitation, be prepared to brush up on your Russian. I was not able to get anything accomplished in English.
-Getting the invitation or Tourist Voucher to Russia may be difficult and time consuming. Some hostels will offer this service for you for a price and turnaround time of approximately 2 days. I paid 25 Euro through HM Hostel and Travellers Union Ltd. You can view the application form here.
-Your invitation to Russia or Tourist Voucher form will have both a Reference Number and a Confirmation Number. Your Reference Number will likely have four letters in it, followed by six numbers. Use only the numeric portion of your Reference Number for your Tourist Visa application. Your Confirmation Number should contain five numbers.
-The Tourist Visa application will ask you for type of passport. This can be a bit confusing. If you are a Canadian citizen traveling on your Canadian passport, be sure to select Tourist Passport, and not Official Passport.

Lastly, the government of Canada has some pretty good travel advisory pages that are worth checking out before your departure. The Canadian government's page on Russia warns of terrorism in certain areas, the consumption of homemade alcohol, and suggests a high degree of caution due to crime.

In Russia, there is no such thing as a dull moment. Enjoy the country of mystery!