Going to Russia to see Moscow and St. Petersburg has been on my bucket list for quite some time now. With the exception of a few countries (like Poland, Scotland, Serbia, Croatia, Greece), Europe is not really my favourite continent to travel to. However, within that list of exception includes Russia which is definitely high on my list. That’s because one of my best friends growing up is Russian and I love learning more about Russian history. And so, I quickly started researching on how to get the Russia Visa for Canadians.
And unfortunately, after going through the Visa application process and actually getting the Russia Visa for Canadians, I was greatly frustrated by the end result.
When one of my friends here in Vancouver moved to Finland, I promised him that I would visit him in Helsinki. And I’m the kind of person that always keeps their promises. So, this year, 2019, I vowed to go to visit my friend no matter what.
It just so happens that Russia is right beside Finland. My friend and I decided we would team up and go to Moscow together! While backpacking in Venezuela to see Mount Roraima, I also met some Russians in my trekking group who are now my friends. Those Russian friends of mine lives in St. Petersburg and I’m going to visit them there after I’m done with Moscow. I’m definitely super excited.
Not taking any risk
I heard horror stories of getting the Russian Visa. Apparently, a lot of people get denied or are put off by the lengthy application process. From what I’ve been told, the Russian embassy is really anal with the smallest details from your application. For example, my sister was forced to resign her Russian Visa application many times. This is because her signature didn’t exactly match the one on her passport.
I decided not to take any chances and go with a third party to help me process my application. I know it’s more expensive going with a third party. But I rather pay more than risk getting denied getting that Russian Visa.
My sister got her Russia Visa through VisaHQ and I decided to try this company as well.
The Russia Visa for Canadians application process
Applying for the Russia Visa through VisaHQ was pretty straight forward at the start. I was sent a check list of all the documents I needed which you can see below:
Russia tourist Visa checklist
The check list is pretty straight forward and your goal here is to make sure you have all your necessary paperworks to submit to the Russian consulate through VisaHQ.
Russia Visa For Canadians submission timeline:
- Submitted my Russia Visa application to VisaHQ on July 4, 2019
- Sent a request to Moscow Marriott Tverskaya Hotel for a Russia tourist invitation letter on July 7, 2019
- Was contacted by VisaHQ on July July 8, 2019 and asked me to send them a photocopy of my passport and also my Russia tourist invitation letter
- Received my Russia tourist invitation letter from Moscow Marriott Tverskaya Hotel on July 8, 2019
- Sent a copy of my Russia tourist invitation to VisaHQ on July 8, 2019
- Dropped off my passport to VisaHQ’s Vancouver affiliate partner (AnyVisa) on July 13, 2019
- VisaHQ received my passport and submitted it to the Russian consulate on July 17, 2019
- I was contacted by VisaHQ to confirm that my Russia Visa has been approved on August 14, 2019
- My passport arrived back here in Vancouver with my Russia Visa on Wednesday, August 14 at 2019 at 11:55 am.
Total cost breakdown of getting the Russia Visa for Canadians:
- Russia VISA processing service with VISA HQ – $265.95 CAD
- Cost of shipping my passport to Ottawa – $39 CAD
- Surprise charge of shipping my passport back to Vancouver from Ottawa – $37 CAD
What I did right
Applying for the Russia Visa through a third party turned out to be a great decision! Mainly because they made the application process much easier thus saving me time and headaches.
The checklist they provided was also straight forward and I literally just went line by line until I completed all the necessary paperwork.
What I did wrong
One of the things I did wrong was submitting my passport through VisaHQ’s affiliate partner in Vancouver. Apparently, they are two separate companies and they don’t do any Visa submission on behalf of VisaHQ at all. This leads me to my biggest frustration with VisaHQ which is their lack of clear communication.
My frustrations with VisaHQ
One of the things that really annoyed me while dealing with VisaHQ is their lack of communication. I decided to try VisaHQ because VisaCenter, the other company I tried this year, is quite unfriendly in terms of their customer service.
I thought it would be different with VisaHQ. And yes, it was different with VisaHQ. They were definitely friendlier than VisaCenter. But in a way, they are even worst than VisaCenter because the end result was worst.
With VisaCenter, even though they weren’t very friendly, they actually delivered getting my a double entry Visa to Burundi at a timely manner.
More problems with VisaHQ
When I planned on submitting my passport to their affiliate partner, they told me I was allowed to do that. But when I went to their affiliate partner’s office here in Vancouver, the staff in that office was completely confused and said they don’t do this sort of service on behalf of VisaHQ.
To make it worst, after I submitted my passport to VisaHQ’s affiliate partner, without telling me, VisaHQ they went ahead and charged my credit card to have my passport shipped to Ottawa. I thought it was part of their service to cover the shipping charges if we dropped it off at their Vancouver location?
VisaCenter didn’t charge me for shipping when I submitted my passport in their office in Vancouver, the only thing they over charged me for was my passport photo.
Again, the lack of clear communication was very frustrating.
The biggest source of my frustration and my biggest mistake when I applied for the Russian Visa
As soon as I read the email from VisaHQ that my Russian Visa was approved, the horror on the look on my face was quite obvious.
Upon reading the email carefully, it turns out that my Russian Visa was only approved for FOUR days.
I applied for a one week Visa because I needed at least 3 days in Moscow, 3 days in St. Petersburg, and time to take the train to Helsinki.
Now I only have 4 days in Russia. And really it’s just 3 days because when I arrive, it’s at night and I’ll be dead exhausted.
After an email correspondence with VisaHQ, turns out I needed my invitation letter to state that I’ll be travelling in Russia for one week long.
The invitation letter’s date is exactly what the Russian consulate uses to determine how long you can stay in Russia and I was never informed of this by VisaHQ!
This is such a shitty deal because not only did I pay a lot of money to get the Russian Visa, I only get to stay in the country for 4 days!
How you can prevent the mistakes that I made
The number one most important thing for you to remember when getting a Visa to Russia is to make sure your Russia invitation letter states how long you want to stay in the country. In general, you can stay in Russia for up to 30 days. So, if you want to stay for 30 days, then your invitation letter should say you’re staying for 30 days.
It’s partly my fault for getting my invitation letter through the hotel in Moscow. Looking in hindsight, I think it’s better to pay for someone to get your Russian invitation letter for you to avoid the headache I’m experiencing now.
Key take aways
- Getting a third party to help you get your Russian Visa is a good idea because the probability of you getting approved is significantly higher
- Make sure you pay a third party to get your invitation letter for you. It’s definitely more expensive but at least you’ll get the exact duration you want to stay in Russia approved.
While I am feeling frustrated that my Russian Visa was only approved for 4 days, I’m still grateful. I’m grateful that my Russian Visa was still approved and I can visit Moscow and St. Petersburg. Many people get rejected getting that Russian Visa and I wasn’t. So even though my situation isn’t ideal, I’ll make do with what I got.
I do plan on visiting Russia again in the future because I want to take the Trans-Siberian rail all the way to Beijing. I’ll make sure I won’t make the same mistake as I did now when getting my Russia Visa for Canadians.