Organising your visas for Russia and China has to be one of the most daunting tasks in booking your railway adventure. I know that I had scores of questions running through my head – Do I need a letter of invitation for my Russian visa? What if I’m staying at an Airbnb? Are the visa forms written in Russian or Chinese? How much does it cost to get a visa for Russia? What about China? This is all so confusing, can someone just do it for me?
Can I organise visas for Russia and/or China myself?
This process can seem incredibly daunting, especially because the visa requirements change regularly so it is hard to keep on top of things. My best friend travelled with me on her Turkish passport in September 2015 when Turkish citizens did not need a visa for Russia. However, only a few weeks later, due to changes in the political climate, this was changed. If you are sorting out your own visa, make sure you regularly check the relevant consulate page to stay up to date.
The forms are complicated. Well, I assume they are. When I was submitting my visa application at the Russian visa office in London, every single person had filled it out incompletely and had to start the process all over again. Please note, that even if you have someone else organise your visa, you will still have to go into the office to have your fingerprints scanned.
Can someone else organise my visa for Russia and/or China?
Luckily, they can. After learning how to book tickets for the Trans-Mongolian, I also used Real Russia to organise my visas for Russia and China. They had an online form which was in English (one for the Chinese visa and one for the Russian visa) and I just had to fill that out with all the relevant info. Real Russia then puts it all together and submits it to the relevant embassy for processing.
The Russian visa currently requires you to visit an office for fingerprint scanning, but this only took me about 5 minutes all up and wasn’t at all difficult. Real Russia then collected my passport and visa from the Russian office and took it to the Chinese consulate where they then organised for my Chinese visa to be processed. Once this is completed you can either have your passport mailed to you by registered post, or you can collect it in person from their office.
Real Russia can also organise your Chinese visa. My friend organised her own through the Chinese embassy in Australia. The process is a bit simpler than the Russian visa application so it may be possible to organise this yourself. Make sure you contact the relevant consulate for the most up to date information and requirements.
How far in advance can I organise my visa?
There is no requirement to apply for visas for Russia within a certain time frame so it is best practice to start this process as soon as possible. Previously, you were not allowed to apply for the visa more than 90 days prior to entry into Russia. While this requirement has changed, make sure you check the consulate website in case this is reintroduced at a later date.
In order to apply for a Chinese tourist visa, you must submit your application within 90 days prior to entering China.
How much does it cost to get a visa?
The prices vary based on your nationality so it is best to either contact Real Russia or your relevant consulate office for the most up to date information.
What if I am staying at an Airbnb? I said I would be staying at one hotel but we have decided to stay at a different one instead?
When organising your visas for Russia, you are required to list the address of the hostel or hotel that you are staying at but do not need to show proof. As I was staying in an Airbnb apartment, I looked up hostels in the area and listed these on my application. If you decide to change your accommodation you do not need to notify the visa office.
The Chinese visa process requires you to show proof of your accommodation as part of the application process. Our original plan was to rent an Airbnb for China, but in the end, we decided to book a local hotel instead. If you do decide to book an Airbnb for your stay, make sure you also book a (refundable) stay at a hotel so that you can show this evidence in your application and then cancel your hotel booking once you have finalised your Airbnb booking. As with the Russian visa application, if your plans change and you decide to book a different hotel, you do not need to notify the visa office.
I’m still confused…. can I have more information?
Of course! It is a very complicated process that is made even more challenging by the fact that the process changes relatively frequently. If you have any questions, your best bet is to contact the Real Russia visa service directly – firstname.lastname@example.org
Best of luck with your trip – be prepared for the adventure of a lifetime! If you want to read more about the Trans-Mongolian, make sure you read my other articles about How to book the Trans-Siberian, 5 unusual things to do in St Petersburg, What to see in Moscow, Lake Baikal photo series, 7 things I learned in Mongolia, and 3 tricks to avoid the crowds at the Great Wall of China.
Please note that if you book through the Real Russia website using one of the included links, I will receive a small commission from the sale. This will not increase or alter your visa price in any way. If you would not like this to happen, please contact me for additional information. My affiliation with Real Russia in no way has impacted my representation of the company in this article. It is only because I found them to be so amazing that I have included them on Grassroots Nomad. Thank you!
Have I missed anything? Comment below with any questions about visas for Russia and China and I will be sure to update this post to include anything that I missed.