U.S. citizens living or traveling in Russia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security. U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in the event of an emergency.
The Russian government maintains a restrictive and complicated visa regime for foreigners who visit, transit, or reside in the Russian Federation. A U.S. citizen who does not comply with Russian visa laws can be subject to arrest, fines, and/or deportation. Russian authorities will not allow a U.S. citizen traveler with an expired visa to depart the country until a new visa is approved, which may take up to 20 days.
The Government of Russia does not recognize the standing of the U.S. diplomatic mission to intervene in visa matters, including situations in which an American is stranded because of an expired visa. U.S. citizens should also be aware that Russian immigration and visa laws change regularly, and the implementation of new regulations has not always been transparent or predictable.
The Russian visa system includes a number of provisions that may be unfamiliar to Americans, including:
- Entry Visas
- Limitations on Length of Stay
- Exit Visas
- Migration Cards
- Visa Registration
- Transit Visas
- Restricted Areas
Dual citizens who also carry Russian passports face additional complicated regulations. Dual citizen minors who travel on their Russian passports also face special problems. International cruise ship passengers do not need visas if they remain with authorized tour groups at all times while ashore.
Under Russian law, every foreign traveler must have a Russian-based sponsor, which could be a hotel, tour company, relative, employer, university, etc. Even if a visa was obtained through a travel agency in the United States, there is always a Russian legal entity whose name is indicated on the visa and who is considered to be the legal sponsor. Russian law requires that the sponsor apply on the traveler’s behalf for replacement, extension, or changes to a Russian visa. U.S. citizens are strongly advised to ensure that they have contact information for the visa sponsor prior to arrival in Russia, as the sponsor’s assistance will be essential to resolve any visa problems.
To enter Russia for any purpose, a U.S. citizen must possess a valid U.S. passport and a bona fide visa issued by a Russian embassy or consulate. It is impossible to obtain an entry visa upon arrival, so travelers must apply for their visas well in advance. U.S. citizens who apply for Russian visas in third countries where they do not have permission to stay more than 90 days may face considerable delays in visa processing. Travelers who arrive in Russia without an entry visa will not be permitted to enter the country, and face immediate return to the point of embarkation at their own expense.
A Russian entry/exit visa has two dates written in the European style (day/month/year) as opposed to the American style (month/day/year). The first date indicates the earliest day a traveler may enter Russia; the second date indicates the date by which a traveler must leave Russia. A Russian visa is only valid for those exact dates and cannot be extended after the traveler has arrived in the country, except in the case of a medical emergency.
Russian tourist visas are often granted only for the specific dates mentioned in the invitation letter provided by the sponsor. U.S. citizens sometimes receive visas valid for periods as short as four days. Even if the visa is misdated through error of a Russian embassy or consulate, the traveler will still not be allowed into Russia before the visa start date or be allowed to leave after the visa expiration date. Any mistakes in visa dates must be corrected before the traveler enters Russia. It is helpful to have someone who reads Russian check the visa before departing the United States. Travelers should ensure that their visas reflect intended activities in Russia (e.g., tourism, study, business, etc.).
U.S. citizens who are denied visas may seek a clarification from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 32/34 Smolenskaya-Sennaya Pl., Moscow, Russia, 119200, e-mail. The U.S. Embassy and the Consulates General, however, cannot advocate on behalf of private U.S. citizens who have been refused visas or denied entry into Russia.
Travelers with expired visas should also be aware they may have difficulty checking into a hotel, hostel, or other lodging establishment. There are no adequate public shelters or safe havens in Russia and neither the U.S. Embassy nor the Consulates General have means to accommodate such stranded travelers.
Visitors who lose their U.S. passports and Russian visas by accident or theft must immediately replace their passports at the U.S. Embassy or one of the Consulates General. The traveler must then enlist the visa sponsor to obtain a new visa in order to depart the country. As noted above, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates General are not able to intercede in cases in which visas must be replaced. It is helpful to make a photocopy of your visa in the event of loss, but a copy is not sufficient to permit departure.
Travelers departing Russia by train should be aware that if they board a train on the last day of a visa’s validity, Russian immigration officials may consider the visa to have expired if the train crosses the international border after midnight on the day of expiration. The Embassy and Consulates General are aware of cases in which travelers have been detained at border crossings, unable to leave Russia, because their visas were expired by a matter of hours or minutes.
Visas for students and English teachers sometimes allow only one entry. In these cases, the sponsoring school is responsible for registering the visa and migration card and obtaining an exit visa. Obtaining an exit visa can take up to 20 calendar days, so students and teachers need to plan accordingly. Please see the section below regarding Teaching in Russia.
Migration cards, in theory, are available at all ports of entry from Russian immigration officials (Border Guards). The cards are generally distributed to passengers on incoming flights and left in literature racks at arrival points. Officials at borders and airports usually do not point out these cards to travelers; it is up to the individual travelers to find them and fill them out.
Replacing a lost or stolen migration card is extremely difficult. While authorities will not prevent foreigners from leaving the country if they cannot present their migration cards, travelers could experience problems when trying to re-enter Russia at a future date.
Although Russia and Belarus use the same migration card, travelers should be aware that each country maintains its own visa regime. U.S. citizens wishing to travel to both nations must apply for two separate visas. A traveler entering Russia directly from Belarus is not required to obtain a new migration card, but at his or her option may do so if blank ones are available at the time of entry.
Travelers who spend more than three days in Russia must register their visa and migration card through their sponsor. Travelers staying in a hotel must register their visa and migration card with their hotel within one day. Even travelers who spend less than three days in one place are encouraged to register their visas. If a traveler chooses not to register a stay of less than three days, he or she is advised to keep copies of tickets, hotel bills, or itineraries in order to prove compliance with the law.
U.S. citizens should be aware that Russian police officers have the authority to stop people and request their identity and travel documents at any time, and without cause. Due to the possibility of random document checks by police, travelers should carry their original passports, migration cards, and visas with them at all times.
Transit Visas: Travelers intending to transit through Russia en route to a third country must have a Russian transit visa. Even travelers simply changing planes in Russia for an onward destination will be asked to present a transit visa issued by a Russian Embassy or Consulate. Russian authorities may refuse to allow a U.S. citizen who does not have a transit visa to continue with his or her travel, obliging the person to immediately return to the point of embarkation at the traveler’s own expense.
Restricted Areas: U.S. citizens should be aware that there are several closed cities and regions in Russia. Travelers who attempt to enter these areas without prior authorization are subject to arrest, fines, and/or deportation. A traveler must list on the visa application all areas to be visited and subsequently register with authorities upon arrival at each destination. There is no centralized list or database of the restricted areas, so travelers should check with their sponsor, hotel, or the nearest office of the Russian Federal Migration Service before traveling to unfamiliar cities and towns.
American Citizens Also Holding Russian Passports: Dual U.S./Russian nationals who enter Russia on Russian passports face several possible difficulties. Russian authorities will not permit departure from Russia if the person’s Russian passport has expired or has been lost, whether or not the traveler also has a valid U.S. passport. In these cases the traveler will be required to obtain a new Russian passport, a process that can take several months. In order to apply for a Russian visa in a U.S. passport, however, Russian consular officials normally require a person to renounce his or her Russian citizenship.
Russian external passports extended by Russian consulates or embassies overseas are not considered valid for departure from Russia no matter how long the extension. Bearers of such passports will have to apply for a new passport inside the country. Males of conscript age (18 – 27 years old) who are deemed to be Russian citizens may experience problems if they have not satisfied their military service requirement.
For further information, please see the Department of State’s web page on dual nationality.
Minors: American citizen minors who also have Russian citizenship and who are traveling on their Russian passports must have a power-of-attorney, written in Russian, allowing them to travel alone and/or in the company of adults who are not their parents. Such minors will be prevented from entering or leaving Russia if they cannot present such a power-of-attorney.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated special procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child’s travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian if not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not legally required, may facilitate entry/departure. For further information, please see the Department of State’s web page regarding the prevention ofinternational child abduction.
International Cruise Ship Passengers: International cruise ship passengers are permitted to visit Russian ports without a visa for a period of up to 72 hours. Passengers who wish to go ashore during port calls may do so without visas, provided that they are with an organized tour at all times and accompanied by a tour operator who has been duly licensed by Russian authorities. These special entry/exit requirements do not apply to river boat cruise passengers and travelers coming to Russia on package tours. These travelers will need to apply for visas prior to entry, and should follow the general guidelines for entry/exit requirements.
HIV/AIDS Entry Restrictions: Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to, and foreign residents of, Russia. Short-term visitors (under three months) are not required to undergo an HIV/AIDS test, but applicants for longer term visas or residence permits may be asked to undergo tests not only for HIV/AIDS, but also for tuberculosis and leprosy. Travelers who believe they may be subject to the requirement should verify this information with the Embassy of the Russian Federation.
Embassy of the Russian Federation: For additional information concerning travel to Russia, American citizens may contact the Embassy of the Russian Federation, Consular Section, 2641 Tunlaw Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20007, tel. 202-939-8907.
In addition, there are Russian Consulates in:
Houston: 1333 West Loop South, Ste.1300, Houston, TX 77027, tel. 713-337-3300
New York: 9 East 91 St., New York, NY 10128, tel. 212-348-0926
San Francisco: 2790 Green St., San Francisco, CA 94123, tel. 415-928-6878 or 415-202-9800
Seattle: 2323 Westin Building, 2001 6th Ave., Seattle, WA 98121, tel. 206-728-1910.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.