The Russian visa - a travel obstacle

The city is divided by rivers, waterways and canals and crossed by hundreds of bridges.
The city is divided by rivers, waterways and canals and crossed by hundreds of bridges. / SUR
  • The application process can be time-consuming, complicated and expensive

Saint Petersburg is repeatedly recognised as one of the world's leading cultural city destinations, yet there remains an obstacle for many leisure and business travels - the need for a visa in order to legally enter the Russian Federation. Although there are over 30 countries that can enjoy visa-free travel to Russia, at present most citizens of Europe, including the UK, require a visa.

In addition to the standard visa requirements (a passport that remains valid for at least six months after your intended departure, travel and health insurance and two passport photos), you also need an official 'invitation' to visit Russia. These visa support letters can be provided by an approved travel agency, or the hotel where you have booked your accommodation - but for a fee of course, of around 25 euros.

In addition, if you are living abroad as a foreign resident, then expect your visa to be more expensive and take longer to process. Dealing directly with a Russian embassy or consulate is cheaper but requires a personal visit in Madrid or Barcelona.

The alternative is to use a specialist agency like IberRusia in Barcelona (which offers a five-day service for British citizens living in Spain for 260 euros).

Expect to be asked a lot of questions on the application form, including details of every country you have ever visited, details of your work status, bank accounts, family, marital status (including name and gender of your partner) and details of your social media presence.

Once you arrive in Russia you must register your visa. Your hotel can typically do this for you - but, again, for a fee.

So overall, the Russian visa application is time-consuming, complicated and expensive.

Yet, once you have a visa, expect swift passage through immigration at Saint Petersburg's airport.

Also, an increasingly popular way around the visa requirement is to visit Saint Petersburg on an approved, organised tour from a cruise ship, since passengers are given a 72-hour visa-waiver. This doesn't have to be from a long luxury cruise from Europe. Instead you could, for example, fly to Helsinki and pick up a ferry cruise to Saint Petersburg. It might even work out cheaper than getting a visa!