What is a Russian Visa?
All foreigners (except citizens of some former Soviet republics) visiting Russia need a visa. In order to get one, travelers need an invitation from a Russian citizen or a company, which is then taken to a Russian embassy or consulate, where the actual visa is issued. Within three business days of arrival in Russia, the visa needs to be registered by the person/organization that issued the invitation. If you don't make it through this bureaucratic loop, you may have problems leaving the country.
Although it is possible to arrange your own Russian visa, most travelers choose to hire a visa service to do the work. Russian consulates have many options for visa processing, from a regular 2-week (cheapest) processing, to a very fast (and terribly expensive) same-day processing. If you live in a city with a Russian consulate, you may save some money by going and applying on your own. Beware, that most Russian consulates only accept paperwork early in the morning.
But if you want to make sure you get your visa on time and without losing any sleep over it, hiring an experienced visa-expediting agency is the way to go. Since Russian visa also involves getting a Russian invitation, you want to deal only with those agencies that can assist you in both. Invitations can cost anything up to and beyond $300, depending on the type and the speed of service. For an extra $30-$70, agencies will offer full processing (invitation, taking visa to a consulate and sending it back to you). The best services will take care of registering the visa when you arrive in Russia. Given that each Russian consulate and embassy has different tastes and temperaments, it's usually best to have somebody who knows the ropes do the dirty work.
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