In order to get a Russian visa, you’ll need some basic information to get started. The first thing we tell our customers is that they need a valid passport and to decide on the date of their travel to Russia. That’s easier said than done. We recommend getting a visa before booking flights to Russia but in order to book flights to Russia you should have your visa. It seems like a cycle you don’t want to enter.
When US citizens apply for a Russian visa, there is no requirement to provide proof of reservation of a hotel or apartment. In addition to that, US passport holders are being issued multiple-entry visas with a validity of three years. So, put your earliest possible arrival date, which is the visa start date, and you’ll have 3 years to decide when exactly you arrive in the country.
Let’s say it’s January and I’m planning a trip to Russia sometime in the Spring. I’m thinking I’ll be leaving closer to the beginning of April and I definitely won’t be leaving before March 15th. In this case, we’ll put the visa start date (synonymous to arrival/entry date) as the 15th of March and we’ll have the flexibility of choosing the best flight all the way up to the beginning of April because you can enter anytime on or after March 15th.
On the contrary, if you choose the visa start date closer to the actual date you end up deciding on like April 1st, then you are limited to booking flights that land in Russia April 1st or later. It’s a pity to miss out on a great deal on a flight if you see one March 29th, for example, just because we didn’t put the visa start date earlier.
For EU and other citizens, the visa requirements are slightly different but the same concept could apply. For instance, a German passport holder wants to visit around April 1st. He is limited to a 30-day tourist visa but the trip will only be 2-3 weeks. In this case, it’s best to add a couple days before and after the potential arrival date to give somewhat of a buffer if travel plans change. We’d recommend putting the visa to be valid from March 26th to April 24th, for example. This gives the traveler flexibility, especially if he or she hasn’t booked flights yet or if something changes and the traveler wants to extend his or her trip by a couple of days.
We’ve heard of travelers who have indicated exact travel dates and when something changed in their plans, they were unable to accommodate it due to the tight validity dates they had initially marked in their visa applications. There was a girl with a medical issue while in Russia who was unable to make her flight that was booked the last day her visa was valid. She booked for the next day but encountered issues at passport control when the border guards saw her visa expired the day before. She was able to explain her situation and they kindly let her go, probably mostly due to the language barrier, but nonetheless, the incident could have been avoided if she had allowed extra days before her visa expired.
So, the moral of the story and our advice to you as a fellow traveler, plan ahead and leave yourself some time in case the unexpected happens. And as you may have heard before, if unexpected things happen, they happen in Russia. Safe travels!