Getting a Russian visa Aug 6, 2015

In my last post I offered you some insight into the Hell's Kitchen, usually labelled with a sign Почта России (Russian Post).

This story is about a quest called "getting a Russian visa". I have to warn you it won't be as dramatic as the previous one. Partly because the main burden is usually on the shoulders of the receiving person.

As I had ho experience with a Russian visa, I decided to get a private one, which means you need an invitation from someone living in Russia. It might be a better idea to get a tourist visa instead. Because even getting an invitation is a task for a smart, swift, brave, patient and lucky.

It takes being smart to comprehend the lengthy procedure description, which is written by a cybernetic brain, judging by its style. One needs to be swift and brave to find their way into the local Federal Migration Service office, after which a good deal of patience would be helpful. And you have to be lucky all the time you waste spend in communicating with government officials, because, from my practice, if something is written in a certain law, it doesn't generally mean anything.

This subject reminds me of an episode of a podcast, where a Dutch guy living in Moscow was sharing his experiences. And he mentioned that Russians hardly ever make firm statements, usually adding "in principle" to any answer instead:

"Can I park here sir?"

"In principle, yes."

But back to our lovely officials. Even if you possess all the necessary qualities, and the stars are right, and you know the list of required documents by heart, be prepared you'd need to come back again once or twice. Because there's always some Secret Knowledge, conveyed from father to son, from one official to another, from generation to generation, hidden from the eye of a stranger. Knowledge is power, and you don't want to give away your powers just like that to any customer wandering about.

Interestingly enough, the receiving party has to guarantee both accommodation and financial support, no optionality provided. The latter requires an income statement of the landlord.

Once the inviting person has paid the fee of 800 roubles (ca. €10) and got to the finish line, they need to wait twenty (!) business days for the invitation to be made. It's a quite serious document, with watermarks and stuff. Then they send it to the invitee by the service of their choice (you may try Russian Post should you feel adventurous).

After the foreigner has received it, he has to make an appointment at either Russian Consulate in the Hague or the Visa Center. For some reason the appointment has to be made twice, on one website you declare an intent to get a visa, on another one you actually reserve a time slot. The calendar in the Consulate is usually booked three months ahead, a reservation in the VC is easier, but you get charged an extra service fee of €30. I chose for the latter option.

When the day comes, you put on your best shirt drive all the way to the Visa Center in the Hague, located in a shabby office very close to the Russian Embassy, and produce all the neatly prepared paperwork to the girl at the counter, smiling happily.

And now what? The documents are incomplete so she turns you down! You were born in Novosibirsk, Russia, right? You get it?

Come on, it obvious! You have to present a Russian citizenship termination certificate. So obvious that it's not even listed on the website.

"I'm sorry, we can't accept your documents," — the girl was inexorable. So making the appointment, taking a half-day off and crossing the country was all in vain, you can start all over again.

I got very lucky thanks to my habit of scanning and storing all my documents in the cloud. The girl was kind enough to accept the scanned certificate by email. That said, there are only a few as lucky, as I can imagine.

I've got a visa in five business days, as expected. Nonetheless, you're advised never to expect anything when dealing with Russian officials.

Compared to that, getting a Shengen visa is a breeze. The inviter also sends a guarantee statement (garantstelling), but there you may choose whether or not to provide financial support. You simply print out the statement form at home and certify your signature at your local town-hall. This takes about five minutes of your time (as opposed to 20 business days) and an ID. The visa is usually ready in 4-7 days.