Your Next Visa Run:
Sprint or Marathon?
If there is ever a time you wished you were in the diplomatic service, it is when that dreaded reminder appears in your diary every year: Russian visa renewal… Feverishly you start collecting your paperwork – invitations, HIV tests, and application forms – and then another wave of trepidation hits you. If you fly home for this annual visa quest, your in-laws will be waiting at the other end and the thought of enduring endless family dinners fills you with misery… Is there a plan B?
Indeed there is… There is also a plan C, D and E. Why not change your habit? Apply for your new Russian visa and discover one of Europe’s grand old cities at the same time.
Close to Moscow…
Address: Vuorimiehenkatu 6, 00140 Helsinki
Tel: +358 9 661-449
Hours: 9.00-1200 Monday to Friday
Information line: Monday- Friday from 8.30-12.00 and 14.00-16:00 at tel: +358-9-661 449 and +358-9-661 448.
You can also e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org, but questions are only accepted in Russian or English.
Fees: Single or Multiple visas: 35 euro
Extra charge for same-day processing: 75 euro
Helsinki receives bonus points for proximity. If you feel like making a mini-break out of it, you can get there by train, or, with more complications and connections, the ferry. Permanent and direct ferry services are not currently available between Helsinki and St Petersburg.
Some consider Helsinki to be a little dull, but others enjoy its vibrant nightlife. There is plenty to see – for the children there is Korkeasaari Zoo, one of the oldest in the world; for adults the Senate Square and surrounding buildings which form a unique example of Neo-Classicism; and for the whole family there are Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress, the world's largest maritime fortress, and Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, a folk museum which offers a glimpse at traditional Finnish life.
About the consul: The consul is big and well-equipped to deal with visa applications. Some who apply in Helsinki make use of an agency – often hired by their employer – and they all recommend this method: “The additional cost was about US$100 per person. Documents were collected from the hotel at 8.00 and returned by 14.00. We thought the service was excellent. We didn’t have to do anything.”
Another convenient destination that requires little travel is Copenhagen. With Denmark having one of the highest income tax rates in the world, it is no wonder that everything in this city works. Public spaces are well-organised and clean; buses and trains work and are on time; and best of all, people are friendly. In recent years, Copenhagen Airport in Kastrup has repeatedly been chosen as the best European airport. The city centre is only a short train trip away from the airport. If you choose a hotel near the central station, your transport problems are virtually non-existent. Furthermore, the Danes are bilingual and almost everyone will be able to help you in English.
Despite the fact that Copenhagen is so well-organised, it is not bland. Visit Christiania, the so-called ‘free city’, and you will see why. Residents, the last of the real hippies, have created their own completely self-governed zone here – their lifestyle is relaxed, green, innovative, and far from primitive.
After your walk through hippieville, you could take a boat trip down the canals to see the oldest parts of the city. Amalienborg (the royal castle), the city’s spanking new opera house and Nyhavn (New Port), packed with old wooden ships, are all worth seeing. And if you are tired by the time you reach Nyhavn, it is useful to know that the canal is lined on either side with bars, cafes and restaurants. It is aptly called ‘the longest bar in Scandinavia’…
Address: Kristianiagade 5, 2100 Copenhagen
Tel: +45 3138-2370
Hours: Monday-Friday 9.00-11.30
Information on Consular matters: +45 35 38 23 70, Monday- Friday 10:00-11:00
Fees: Multiple-entry express: 1588 Danish Krone
The Russian consul is small, so make sure you arrive early to ensure same-day processing. A visitor comments: “The biggest surprise was the friendliness, the fact that most staff spoke English and that our applications were processed without fuss. I definitely recommend Copenhagen as a user-friendly, stress-free option!”
It’s considered to be stylish, romantic, cosmopolitan and beautiful. You can already see yourself wandering aimlessly down picturesque boulevards, stopping at charming cafes and corner patisseries for refreshments. And then there are the countless museums, art galleries and other tourist attractions… Before you can do all that, however, don’t forget the small matter of your new Russian visa.
Be warned, the queues in Paris are very long and, like most other consuls, they will accept the last application at their preferred time, even if you’ve been standing in line for hours. Make sure you arrive well before opening time. Even then the line might be long.
Address: 40-50, Boulevard Lannes, 75116 Paris
Tel: +33 1 4504-0501
Hours: Monday to Friday from 900-12:00 at windows 4, 5 and 6
Fees: Multiple-entry visa: 153 euros (One last tip: if you use an agent, you stand a much better chance to succeed the first time.)
One French applicant and her British partner ran into problems with both tourist and business visa applications: “The first time I was turned down because they wanted a detailed itinerary for each day of my 3 weeks. This isn't mentioned in any information that I read about visa applications. I returned 2 days later with it, but it wasn't detailed enough. I came back a third time, but it still wasn't good enough. Angry and frustrated, I took a 2 week visa and took the chance of applying for a one week extension in Moscow which was of course difficult and expensive.”
Apparently it is common to see people being turned away – they leave in anger and sometimes even in tears. “They always seem to find something to turn you down the first time. They are notorious for their toughness and unfriendliness there… Nothing seems to soften the stony faces behind those windows…”
Still want to go? Good luck – here is the information…
Despite the fact that Geneva is the headquarters of the United Nations, it does not have the vibe of other very cosmopolitan cities. Perhaps it is the somewhat sombre, strict, Calvinist streak of the locals that cause people to say that it is not a very satisfying place to visit for more than a few days.
Of course there are things to see and do – St Peter’s Cathedral, Old Town, the lakefront – but you could also capitalise on your presence in Switzerland by opening your own Swiss bank account (if you don’t already have one…). Setting up an account will cost you around 899 Swiss francs ($688) and you only need to maintain a minimum balance of 5000 Swiss francs ($3824). Just imagine…
There is one more thing you could do: apparently the city boasts 1656 coffee houses, so if you have to wait for your visa to be processed… or your bank account to be set up, you will certainly not run out of caffeine to sustain you.
Switzerland’s main Russian consul is in Bern, but a call to the Geneva office revealed that one can apply for a new visa in Geneva. A second communication to try and confirm this went unanswered, so it is best to call the office in Geneva before you book your trip.
Address: Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8 4QS
Visa information tel: +44 0906 550 8960
Hours: Mon-Fri from 9.00-12.00. Last application accepted at 11:45 a.m. The website still says that no applications are accepted on Wednesdays, but other sources do not mention this.
Fees: Multiple-entry visa
Next day: .130
Same day: .150
Express: basic of .120 plus add-ons
London is an obvious choice for many. Not only will you regain some of your linguistic self-esteem by understanding everything that is said to you, but you can also get some shopping done for those ‘essentials’ you can’t find in Moscow. Moreover, many multinational companies have offices there, so while you wait for your visa, less valuable working time needs to be lost.
If you’re starved for theatre, there is always an amazing selection to choose from in London – from Les Miserables to The Crucible. New shows starting over the summer include Evita, Jane Eyre and the Taming of the Shrew.
What else is new in London? After 90 years on the books, the official pub-closing time of 11 o’clock has been scrapped, so you can now catch up on all those pints you were never allowed to have…
At the consul, queues are said to be long, so arrive early, and be aware of the rather ominous warning on the website: express visa processing is possible unless staff is overworked…
One user comments: “I usually travel the weekend before and use this as personal time. I hand deliver the documents to our agency or have them picked up by courier first thing Monday morning. Passports can be made available the same day, but I normally ask that they be ready by Friday lunch time and take another weekend break.”
Most agencies provide a complete visa service from collection and standing in line to delivery of your documents once the visa has been issued. They charge cost and their own fee – in the case of one agency used in the UK, it is about £50 per application.
On their professionalism and efficiency: “Never a problem, other than when the paperwork is not 100% correct.”
Outside of the box…
Riga?! Yes, it is true that Riga may not be the most obvious choice, but many things count in its favour – it’s not far to travel, the city is beautiful, and you may not have to deal with the stress of the longer queues in the bigger cities. The national language is Latvian, but Russian is widely spoken, so if you can help yourself in Moscow, you will probably be able to help yourself in Riga.
The remaining parts of the Latvian capital’s medieval centre as well as the rich collection of Art Nouveau buildings are stunning. Places of special interest are the Riga Opera/Ballet House, the Central Market, and the wooden buildings in the Agenskalns District.
Address: 2,3 Antonias Ul, Riga, LV - 1010, Latvia
Tel: +371 721-2579
Hours: Monday to Friday from 10.00-13.00
Fees: It depends on your citizenship. If you are non-Latvian, you pay around US$160 for a 4-day processing time, but if you are a British or American citizen, the price goes up considerably – it could be up to US$400. Although the website does not advertise this, same-day processing of your application is indeed possible, but you have to contact them directly to confirm this, or just be prepared for whatever processing time and fee they dictate.
User comment: “It is a nice city – better to go in summer as its winter is grey and wet. The city has a beautiful downtown. I also recommend going to Jurmula (spa-resort) – it is on the coast, very nice with a decent beach. We took bicycles from Riga and followed a bike path to Jurmula. It takes about 40 minutes.”
This visitor received her visa in 24 hours. She speaks Russian, so could not comment on the consul staff’s ability to help in English, but praised their friendliness and helpful attitude.
Do not assume that every consul has the same document requirements – consult their websites and even follow up with a call to ensure you have the correct documents. (If you need translating Russian text, try using www.online-translator.com). Some websites do not mention HIV test requirements and many expats will tell you they didn’t need it at certain consuls. Don’t take their word for it.
Getting through to a consul by telephone or receiving a reply to your e-mail, is difficult. Some consuls are better at responding – Helsinki, Copenhagen and London – but the communication is often short, does not answer your questions, and a follow-up email is frequently ignored. The lesson: start your research early. Often only cash payment in the local currency is accepted – if they say so, don’t try to argue that your credit card is as good as cash – you’ll get nowhere.
The following note on one consul’s website sums up what you should be prepared for at all Russian consuls: Processing time, requirements and fees are subject to change without prior notice…
How does it all compare?
There are so many variables at play here – your nationality, when you book your flights, the processing time you choose – so the comparison below should not be read as exact science. It is merely a comparative snapshot of a hypothetical express visa application.
Some Russian phrases to help ease the pain…
Consular department: Êîíñóëüñêèé îòäåë
Multi-entry visa: Ìíîãîêðàòíàÿ âèçà
Business visa: Äåëîâàÿ âèçà
I am applying for a multi-entry business visa: ß ïðîøó ìíîãîêðàòíóþ âèçó
When will my visa be ready? Êîãäà ìîÿ âèçà áóäåò ãîòîâà?
Where should I go? Êóäà ÿ äîëæåí/äîëæíà ïîéòè?
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