Russian Visa Scam

I don’t know if this is truly a scam, but I’ve been burned by it three times so that’s enough for me.

I was traveling to Moscow and needed a single entry visa. My wife works for the UN, so the invitation was from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and is sent directly to the Consulate in Ukraine where I would get the visa. As soon as she got word that the invitation had been sent by telex, she told me and gave me the reference numbers. I immediately went to the Consulate to get my visa, several weeks before my trip.

The Consulate personnel looked at me blankly saying they didn’t have the telex and by the way, the visa would not be free, unlike what my wife had been told in Moscow. So, I asked my wife to check re: the telexes, the numbers, the names on the invitation, info on what day it had been sent, etc. to help the Consulate locate these documents. They still couldn’t find them.

Days and weeks passed, and of course, my departure date inched ever closer.

Imagine my relief when I called on Thursday afternoon before my Friday flight and learned that the telex had magically been found. But, of course, since I needed the visa immediately, I would have to pay the exorbitant next-day or same-day fee of $300 or $400. “Fine, of course, whatever.” I just didn’t want to miss my plane to see my wife.

Then it happened again. In a vain attempt to avoid the earlier problems, everything was done earlier – the request to the MFA, notification that the telex had been sent, etc. But, it still came down to the last two days. Again, an exorbitant fee, this time for both me and my son.

Several months later, at Consulate in Washington, the same thing happened with my older son. Everything done early, lots of buffer time, and still we only got the visa at the last minute.

So, now when I hear about people traveling to Russia in the near future, I suggest the following with regards to getting your Russian Visa. Give yourself a 2-3 week buffer zone on both sides. If you are travelling on 1 Aug through 31 Aug, put down 15 Jul – 15 Sep on your visa application form. Or even 1 July – 30 Sept. If the consulate thinks you’re leaving on 15 Jul and they ‘find’ your invitation info only on 13 July, you won’t be forced into the same-day fee.

It is also wise to build in a buffer for your return date, because you could have serious problems if you try to leave Russia with an expired visa. If your visa is valid only to the day of your planned departure and then something happens (flight delay, etc.), you could be in a Catch-22. You’d think that with an expired visa, you’d have to leave the country and they’d be happy to get rid of you, but this is Russia. Yes, they want you to leave, but first you have to get a visa to leave. You can’t leave on an unexpired visa. So the buffer at the end is also important.

Do you have any visa stories, good or awful? Let me know here.

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34 Comments on “Russian Visa Scam”

  1. Anita Says:

    I wish I have found your blog two days earlier 😦 I’ve just handed in my visa application, being very honest with the dates of my departure 🙂
    Now all I can do is to keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best 🙂
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. narya Says:

    With you’re wife working for the UN (she’s a diplomat, I guess?), won’t they issue a permanent (or three year at least) visa for you as well? And of course this should be free. I’m puzzled. Never had this kind of trouble with the Russian consulates in Germany – but then, who knows what kind of loops the US embassy makes Russian visa applicants jump through. It’s always a mutual affair …

    Alexander

  3. W. Shedd Says:

    As Narya points out – likely because of politics they are engaged in what they perceive to be mutual Visa games with the US. I say perceive, because my experience is that many Russians believe they are singled out by the US State department for unfair treatment of their Visas.

    I’ve never had any trouble acquiring my Visa from the Russian consulate in the US. I do get a larger window of time approved, as you suggest .. just in case. Once you understand the visa process, that just becomes common sense. I also send all my application information via FedEx. You have to send the return FedEx envelope as well, either prepaid or on an account (not by a credit card number).

    The US Visa process is just a royal pain in the A*S compared to any other country that I have visited.

  4. Jan Says:

    hi! well i let the original invitation be sent by express courier… costs less and arrives! russians are funny…

  5. moscowblog Says:

    Anita: Good luck with your application. Like I said, it’s just a friendly warning, but I’m not sure that my experience is necessarily common. I sure hope not. When are you coming to Russia? Moscow?

    Narya: Yes, indeed, she is a diplomat, but to get the long-term visas, you must first enter the country under a normal tourist visa. Then you immediately submit your passport for the long-term visa, which is indeed free. I guess the consulates don’t have the authority to issue such visas for diplomats, only the standard ones.

    W. Shedd: As I was in Kyiv, Ukraine, I submitted all my documents in person and picked them up in person, as well.

    Jan: in our case, we didn’t have a choice how the invitation was sent. It came directly from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is sent by telex directly to the consulate. This is where the whole thought of ‘scam’ comes into play. The application was submitted to MFA, they process it and alert the applicant (my wife) that the invitation has been sent and give her reference numbers. But, somehow, the information doesn’t arrive at the consulate. Yeah, right.

    Basically, all I was trying to say is, give yourself a buffer and you should be fine.

  6. narya Says:

    You’re right, the long-term visa is only issued once you’re in the RF and registered with the MFA, but the 30-day visa to first enter the country should nevertheless be free for diplomats. The UN being involved might make a difference, though, as I have heard of various problems UN diplomats had with their Laissez-Passer.

  7. Russia visa Says:

    Why would you go with the business visa? It does take longer and cost more. Unless one is planning to stay longer than 30 days, tourist visa is the best option. It takes 6 business days and costs $100. Of course, you will need an invitation (around $20) and if you decide to use a visa service it will be another $30, however it is much cheaper than paying $300-400.

  8. moscowblog Says:

    To “Russian Visa”

    I didn’t say anything about a business visa. Read my posting again and perhaps you’ll understand why I call this a scam.

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  34. Neil Says:

    thanks for this information. its very informative. well appreciated.
    On my end, I happen to know a Russian Friend. and offer me to be their private tutor. He told me that he will be the one to carry all the expenses. Accordingly he will be asking for a quota on my visa in the immigration which i also dont know about that. He also saith that it will be 30 days visa.
    I dont know if it is true that they will really charge everything. I trust you can also help me with regards to this concern.

    have a great day!

    Poka!


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