Citizens of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Argentina (90 days), Bosnia and Herzegovina (90 days), Brazil (90 days), Chile (90 days), Colombia (90 days), Croatia (3 months, invitation required), Cuba (30 days), Hong Kong (14 days), Israel (90 days), Macedonia (90 days), Montenegro (90 days), Nicaragua (90 days), Peru (90 days), Serbia (30 days, only biometric passports), Thailand (30 days), Turkey (30 days), Venezuela (90 days) all do not need a visa. Anyone else does.
Transiting through Moscow Sheremetyevo, Moscow Domodedovo or Yekaterinburg Koltsovo airports does not require a transit visa, provided the traveller has a confirmed onward flight, remains in the airport for no more than 24 hours and is not in transit to or from Belarus and Kazakhstan. Passing through St. Petersburg Pulkovo airport 'requires a transit (or other) visa. Visas can, in some cases, be obtained from the consular officers at the airports.
A "visa-free" regime will be introduced for visitors form all nations for the duration of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in Russia.
For those unfortunates that require a visa, the complexity of the process depends on the class of visa. Thirty day tourist visas are fairly straightforward to acquire; 90 day (and more) business visas, less so. It is best to start the application process well in advance. While expedited processing is available to those who need visas quickly, it can double the application cost.
Arranging a visa basically involves two steps: 1. Getting an invitation and 2. Applying for the visa.
Exit and reentry during the valid period of your visa requires permits. Getting these permits is a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare that is best avoided entirely by getting a double or multiple entry visa in the first place.
You may arrive at any time on or after the commencement date of your visa's validity and may depart at any time on or before its expiry date. Normally, the exit visa is included in transit, private visit/homestay, tourist, and business visas so long as the visa is still valid. Other classes, such as student visas, require a separate exit visa that can take up to three weeks to process.
If you're in Russia and have lost your passport, your sponsor, not your embassy, must apply to the Federal Migration Service to transfer your visa to your replacement passport. Having a copy of your old visa helps with this, but is not sufficient to let you depart.
1. Getting an invitation
The invitation type determines the visa. A tourist invitation begets a tourist visa, a private visit invitation begets a private visit visa etc. Except for tourist visas, invitations are official documents issued by Russian government agencies and must be applied for by the person or organization inviting you. The invitation will include the intended dates of travel and the number of entries requires (1, 2 or multiple). The dates on the invitation determine the period of the ensuing visa's validity. If in doubt of dates, ensure that the invitation covers a period longer than the intended stay: a tourist visa valid for 7 days costs the same as one valid for 30 days.
In the likely situation you have to buy your invitation, shop around globally: all invitations come from Russia and the company that gets it for you will have a base in Russia. It doesn't make a difference whether its website is based in Germany, UK, USA or Swaziland. Many embassies and consulates only require a copy of the invitation, however this is not always the case so check with the embassy or consulate beforehand. If the original invitation is required it will have to be flown from Russia anyway. It is only applying for the visa itself that generally requires the application to be made in the applicant's homeland.
A tourist invitation (also called reservation confirmation) is a letter of confirmation of booking and pre-payment of accommodation and travel arrangements in Russia. It is accompanied by a tourist voucher. These two documents can be issued by "government approved" tour operators, hotels, online hotel booking services or Russian travel agencies (several Russian travel agencies have offices outside Russia and are adept at facilitating visa applications). "Government approval" here means that the organization in question has a "consular reference" and has been registered with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Only hotels and travel agencies that have a consular reference can issue confirmations valid for visa purposes. An ordinary hotel booking is not sufficient to constitute an invitation. Some hotels charge a fee to issue the invitation.
Booking one night in a hotel will get you an invitation valid for one day (maybe two) and hence the resulting visa will be valid for a very brief time. For independent travellers planning to travel around Russia, it is best to get an invitation through an agency. These agencies will issue a confirmation for a fee (approx. $30 or £15), without actually collecting the accommodation prepayment. While the strict legality of such is questionable, it is a largely academic point and does not leads to problems for the traveller. If your itinerary is confined to only one hotel, then it makes sense to obtain the invitation documents directly from the hotel as the service fee will be similar.
Consider getting a private/homestay visa if you have friends or relatives in Russia (they do not necessarily have to be Russian). They would need to seek an invitation through their local Passport and Visa Division of the Federal Migration Service (formerly OVIR). These invitations tend to take at least a month to process. The inviting individual also becomes solely responsible for all your activities while in Russia and can be penalized heavily if something were to go wrong. Because of this, personal invitations are usually not available for a fee through the net.
Business invitations are issued by the government. They are generally time consuming and costly to acquire but they can be quickly arranged for exorbitant fees. Any registered company in Russia can apply for a business invitation. Travel agencies and visa specialists can also get them issued for you. Business visas have longer validity than tourist visas. Being a tourist on a business visa is permitted, so anyone wanting more than a 30 day stay should get one of these. As a rough guide, one UK company can arrange a business invitation for a single 90 day stay for various amounts between £38 (for 12 working day processing) and £121 (for 2 working day processing).
Any business visa permits a maximum stay in any one visit of 90 days. This is obviously true for the 90 day visas but things get complicated for the 6 and 12 month visas. These visas permit a total stay of 90 days in Russia out of any 180 days. If you stay in Russia for 90 days, you have to leave and your visa will not permit you to return for another 90 days. This means (give or take - a year isn't 360 days) that a six month visa permits as long a total time in Russia as a three month visa!
Invitations for student visas are issued by the educational institution where you plan to study. Most universities and language schools are familiar with the process.
Some Russian local governments have a right to invite foreigners for cultural exchanges by sending a message directly to the Embassy or Consulate of Russia overseas, requesting the visa be issued to a particular foreigner or group of foreigners. Such messages are used instead of an invitation. This is normally the way to go if you are invited by the government.
2. Applying for the visa
Different embassies and consulates have different requirements for visa applications. They may issue visas by mail, they may require application in person, they may accept a copy of the invitation, they may require the original. They may accept payment by card, they may insist on a money order. Check with the embassy or consulate beforehand - in most cases it will be on their website.
Visa service companies, for a fee, will double-check your application and invitation, go to the embassy for you, and return your passport to you. This service is nothing that you cannot do yourself (unlike arranging the invitation) but it can save time and frustration.
A single entry, 30 day tourist visa for citizens of EU-Schengen countries costs €35 and takes three working days for standard processing (€70 gets express service for next day collection). For UK citizens the price is £50 and processing takes 5 working days not 3 (express service is next day and costs £100). For citizens of the USA the price is $140, with standard processing being at least 4 working days (express service is $250 and stated to be 3 working days).
In some countries which have a busy trade in Russian visas (e.g. UK and USA), the visa processing has been outsourced to private companies. These companies levy a further unavoidable application fee on top of the visa fees stated above. For applications made in the UK (by a citizen of any country) the application fee is £26.40 for standard service and £33.60 for express service. For applications made in the USA, the application fee is $30.
The total cost of getting a visa usually has three parts: invitation fee, visa fee and application fee. If you're lucky, one or more of these may be zero but be prepared to be hit by all three. Take as an example a UK citizen applying for a 30 day, single entry tourist visa with standard processing in the UK (not the cheapest example and not the most expensive): invitation bought through an agency - £15, visa fee - £50, application fee - £26.40 = £91.40 (that's roughly US$140).
Tourist, homestay, and transit visas can allow one or two entries. Tourist and homestay visas have a maximum validity of 30 days. Transit visas are typically for one to ten days. Other visa categories can be issued for one, two or multiple entries.
Once you have your visa, check all the dates and information as it's much easier to correct mistakes before you travel than after you arrive!
Arrival and customs
On arriving in Russia, you'll have to fill out a landing card. As in most places, one half is surrendered on entry and the other portion should remain with your passport until you leave Russia. It is usually printed in both Russian and English though other languages may be available. Upon leaving Russia, a lost landing card may be overlooked with the help of a nominal fine.
Usually, you will be permitted to enter and remain in Russia for the term of your visa but it's up to the immigration officer to decide and they may decide otherwise, though this is unlikely.
Those who enter Russia with valuable electronic items or musical instruments (especially violins that look antique and expensive), antiques, large amounts of currency, or other such items are required to declare them on the customs entry card and must insist on having the card stamped by a customs officer upon arrival. Even if the customs officer claims that it is not necessary to declare such items, insist on a stamp on your declaration. Having this stamp may prevent considerable hassle (fines, confiscation) upon departure from Russia should the customs agent at departure decide that an item should have been declared upon entry.
Upon arrival to Russia and then subsequently upon arriving in any new city, you must be registered within 7 business days of arriving. Your host in that city (not necessarily the one who issued the invitation) is responsible for registering you. The proof of registration is a separate piece of paper with a big blue stamp on it. Registration costs money, is annoying and is not generally checked upon leaving Russia. However, it is worth doing at least in the first city you visit. Larger hotels will not let you check in without seeing your registration (at least if you've been in Russia for more than 7 business days) and corrupt police who insist that a lack of registration is your fault are more annoying and more expensive than paying the registration fee.
This law is a relic from the Soviet days of controlled internal migration. Today, even Russians are supposed to register if they move cities. The official line is that these expensive pieces of paper with blue stamps on help control illegal immigration from the poorer countries to Russia's south in Central Asia, the Caucasus, China and even North Korea.
Overstaying the visa
If you overstay, even by a few minutes, you will likely be prohibited from leaving until you obtain a valid exit visa. You may be able to obtain a visa extension from the consular officer at an airport against the payment of a fine if you overstayed for fewer than three days, but this is not guaranteed. Generally, though, obtaining an extension requires an intervention by your sponsor, a payment of a fine, and a wait of up to three weeks.
Be careful if your flight leaves after midnight and be aware of the time at which the train crosses the border. Border guards will not let you depart if you're leaving even 10 min after your visa expires! A common pitfall is the Helsinki-bound train, which only enters Finland after midnight.
If your overstay was due to reasons such as medical problems, the Federal Migration Service may instead issue a Home Return Certificate rather than an exit visa which is valid to depart Russia within ten days of issue.
Moscow and Saint Petersburg are served by direct flights from most European capitals, and Moscow also has direct flights from many cities in East Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and North America. US non-stop flights from the United States to Russia are offered by Singapore (from Houston to Moscow, Sheremetyevo), Delta (from New York and Atlanta to Moscow, Sheremetyevo), United Airlines (from Washington to Moscow, Domodedovo) and Aeroflot (from New York, Washington and Los Angeles to Moscow, Sheremeryevo). There are also non-stop services offered from Toronto and Montreal, Canada to Moscow, Domodedovo operated by Transaero.
Please, mind that there are 3 international airports in Moscow: Sheremetyevo (SVO) in the northwest, Domodedovo (DME) in the south and Vnukovo (VKO) in the southwest. Getting between these airports is quite challenging, because there are no means of rapid transfer between them, so if you are planning a transfer trip, mind airports for all your flights. Usual taxi fee for a trip between any of airports is about 1500 rubles, which is expensive unless you travel not alone. You can, of course, use public means of transportation which are much cheaper (ranging from 200-500 rubles per person depending on means you choose), but if you don't speak Russian at all and first time in the country — you better think twice before attempting that, you might easily get lost.
Airport Sheremetyevo has undergone major expansion in 2010 with two new terminals commissioned and consists of five terminals. Terminals B (old Sheremetyevo-1) and C are located on the northern edge of the airport and provide mostly domestic and charter services. Terminals D and E operate since December 2010 along with older Terminal F (old Sheremetyevo-2, built for Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980). Terminal D hosts domestic and international Aeroflot flights, Terminals E and F host international flights operated mostly by SkyTeam alliance.
Domodedovo is a high-class modern airport with a single spacious terminal. It serves both domestic and international flights by most Russian and international companies, so you'd be better off choosing flights bound for it.
Vnukovo is a smaller airport and is generally operated by low-cost airlines. As of March 2012, it undergoes a major renovation with a construction of a new spacious terminal building. There are airports in all large cities in Russia. Some international service can be found in: Novosibirsk, Sochi, Vladivostok, Kaliningrad, Ekaterinburg. International service to other destinations is much more limited.
Local airlines are listed in Get around.
Low-cost air-lines from Europe:
-NIKI  flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport from Vienna (Vienna International Airport). Approximate one-way price — €99.
-Air Berlin flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Berlin (Berlin Tegel), Duesseldorf (Düsseldorf International), Munich (Franz Josef Strauss Airport) and Stuttgart (Stuttgart Airport). There is also a connection from Berlin (Berlin Tegel) to Saint Petersburg (Pulkovo Airport). Approximate one-way price — €110
-Germanwings flies to Moscow (Vnukovo International Airport) from Berlin (Berlin Schönefeld), Cologne (Köln Bonn Airport), Hamburg (Hamburg Airport) and Stuttgart (Stuttgart Airport). There are also connections from Berlin (Berlin Schönefeld) and Cologne (Köln Bonn Airport) to Saint Petersburg (Pulkovo Airport). Approximate one-way price — US$100.
-Aegean Airlines flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Athens (Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport) from 155€ return ticket, Thessaloniki (Macedonia Airport)  from 177€ return ticket.
-Astra Airlines flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport), Novosibirsk (Tolmachevo Airport), Omsk, Rostov-on-Don, St. Petersburg (Pulkovo Airport), from Thessaloniki (Macedonia Airport)
-Evolavia flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Ancona (Raffaello Sanzio Airport) on Wednesday. Approximate one-way price — €140.
-Wind jet flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Catania (Fontanarossa International Airport), Forlì (L. Ridolfi), Palermo and Verona. Approximate one-way price — €90.
-clickair flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Barcelona (Barcelona Airport). Approximate one-way price — €179.
-vueling also files to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Barcelona (Barcelona Airport). One-way fare €110-€180 if booked in advance.
All airports are now conveniently connected to Moscow with Aeroexpress trains which depart every 30 minutes from/to Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo, and every hour from Vnukovo. They operate from 6:00 till midnight. The fare is 320 RUR (March 2012), travel time is 35 minutes to/from Vnukovo and Sheremetyevo, and 45 minutes to/from Domodedovo. There are no trains or buses that connect the airports without passing through central Moscow. In Sheremetyevo, Aeroexpress trains arrive at Terminal E and F, Terminal D is in 5 minutes walk from them through a gallery. Terminals B and C are served by buses only. There is a shuttle bus available between Terminals D,E,F and Terminals B,C. Using taxi is discouraged, as traveling to/between the airports is very expensive (averages at 1500 RUR from Moscow).
Russian Railways RZhD (РЖД) runs reliable services across dizzying distances (http://eng.rzd.ru/
). Eastern and Central Europe are well connected to Moscow and to a lesser extent Saint Petersburg. Moscow is also connected to some surprising destinations throughout Western Europe and Asia.
Except for the swish new carriages that run from Moscow to Nice and Paris, the international trains generally offer the same quality of compartment as the domestic trains (see Get around: By train).
The Russian word for railway station (Vokzal, Вокзал) is somehow related to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a XIX century London attraction. Toilets in the vokzal are free if you have a ticket for an upcoming train (unlike in Vauxhall).
Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine are very well connected to Russia with many trains daily from cities throughout each country. Helsinki (Finland) has four high speed trains daily to St Petersburg and one overnight train to Moscow. Riga (Latvia) and Vilnius (Lithuania) each have at least one overnight train to Moscow and St Petersburg. Tallinn (Estonia) has a train to Moscow but not St Petersburg.
Kaliningrad has a short train connection to Gdynia in Poland and the trains from Kaliningrad to Moscow and St Petersburg pass through Vilnius in the afternoon.
Beyond Russia's immediate neighbours and former Soviet dominions, direct trains connect Moscow with Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Switzerland.
The Sibirjak train connects Berlin directly to a baffling array of cities deep inside Russia: Adler, Kazan, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Samara, Sochi, St Petersburg, Ufa, Yekaterinburg and even Astana in Kazakhstan!
Western European has a different track gauge from Russia, Finland and the CIS so bogies must be exchanged when the train crosses into the ex-Soviet countries (usually Ukraine or Belarus). This adds a couple of hours to the long wait already encountered for immigration. You can stay on the train as the wheels are being changed so it won't disrupt your sleep too much.
Moscow is connected to all the former Soviet Central Asian countries: (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, & Uzbekistan) at least 2-3 times per week. Journeys are long (3.5-5 days). To the Caucasus, there is a service from Moscow to Baku, Azerbaijan (3 days); however, the Azerbaijan-Russia border is only open to CIS passport holders. There is also a service from Moscow to Sukhumi in the disputed territory of Abkhazia. The Trans-Siberian Railway spans the entire country and connects with Chinese cities such as Beijing and Harbin, as well as Mongolia's Ulaanbaatar. There is also a very infrequent service from Moscow to Pyongyang, North Korea (essentially the Trans-Siberian plus a short link from Vladivostok to Pyongyang) but this line isn't open to Western tourists.
Traveling in Russia by car can be difficult. Roads may be poorly marked, if marked at all, and poorly maintained, especially outside the cities and towns. Car rental services are only starting to develop in major cities such as Moscow or Saint Petersburg, and are expensive.
Crossing the border by car is a peculiar entertainment.
There is no doubt that car travel is the best way to see the country, but it is a risky enterprise which is recommended only for the brave and capable.
Russian highways have highway patrol police (GAI) roadblock every 20 km or so. If you have an international license plate, prepare to pay a bribe ($5-$20) in some of the most corrupt regions (e.g., in the Caucasus). Russian traffic rules are very numerous and you will be found violating some of them. If you decide not to pay, at best you should expect to spend several hours at every road block.
Service is scarce and poor, and the countryside can be quite dangerous without experience and fluency in the Russian language.
It is possible to travel safely by car in Russia using a private licensed guide. Traveling independently is not recommended, especially for the non-Russian speaker. Guides generally provide their own cars or vans and know the roads, the customs and the countryside making seeing small towns and historic sites possible.
A few bus companies, most notably Eurolines, operate international coach services from a number of destinations to Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Tallinn, Helsinki, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw and Berlin all have regular services to Russia.
Ferry services operate in the summer between Sochi and Turkey's Trabzon. In Vladivostok there is a scheduled ro-ro ferry to Busan and numerous lines to the different Japanese ports, however they are mostly oriented to the used Japanese car imports and less to tourism, there is also a weekly service in summer between Korsakov on Sakhalin and Wakkanai on the Japanese island Hokkaido. Cruise ships are also call to Russian ports frequently. There is a boat connection from Lappeenranta, Finland to Vyborg.
International cycling routes Eurovelo are two and include EV2 Capitals Route (from Ireland to Moscow) and EV10 Baltic Sea Cycle Route (Hansa circuit) interconnecting Saint-Petersburg with Estonia and Finland.