Visas for Russia and China: Booking the Trans-Siberian

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?

visas for Russia - Grassroots nomad

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?

visas for russia

 

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?

visas for Russia - Grassroots nomad

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 accommodationΒ 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 – visas@realrussia.co.uk

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.

Β visas for Russia - Grassroots nomad

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59 Comments
Marta - Learningescapes

I totally agree with Visa processes always being daunting and it’s great to hear there is help available! I’ve never been to Russia, but the Trans- Siberian is on of my dreams, so I will remember this when I finally go

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Grassroots Nomad

I hope you are able to do this trip soon! It is not something that I will ever forget and Russia really has a special place in my heart. I was amazed by just how much I fell in love with St Petersburg. I was only there for 4 days but I could easily stay there forever! Let me know when you decide to make the trip and I would be happy to help you with the planning process (and then hide in your suitcase)!

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Grassroots Nomad

Hey Lara – visa applications are the worst thing about travelling!

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Hung Thai [Up Up and a Bear]

it was a pain in the neck to get Visas to China on our trip 3 years ago. My fiancΓ© was a Chinese national and became a US citizen a few years back. They hassled her and made her write an essay saying why she left the Chinese state. It was an eye opener for sure – not looking forward to the Russian process, but this should help. Thanks!

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Grassroots Nomad

Wow that sounds terrible!!! Were you able to get into China eventually?

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Hung Thai [Up Up and a Bear]

Yeah but we made the mistake of only getting the 1 entry – the multiple entries stamp was only $20 more… oh well πŸ™‚

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Sally E

This is a super useful post, thanks for sharing! Visas can be such a daunting process. I haven’t been to Russia yet so I’ll keep this mind for when I go!

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Grassroots Nomad

Thanks Sally – you should try to visit Russia soon. St Petersburg is one of my favourite cities in the world πŸ™‚

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Grassroots Nomad

Hey Sarah, it is by far the most annoying part of the trip! Don’t let the annoying processes stop you from doing the TS, it really is a once in a lifetime experience πŸ™‚

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abcdeghizzy

This is on my bucket list as well! I’ve heard that the process for getting a Chinese visa for Americans is pretty rough and I can only imagine that its even more difficult to obtain one for Russia as well but I’m going to save this for that special someday. Thanks again for putting this together! πŸ™‚

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Grassroots Nomad

Glad you found it useful! Visa applications are always so daunting so it is handy to know there are people who can help!

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Svet Dimitrov

Hey, thank you so much for this incredible post. You sure asked (and answered) some great questions. Visa process is always a bi*ch, but thanks to peeps like you, we can organise it more easily! πŸ™‚

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Grassroots Nomad

Haha I hope so Svet! Russia is such an amazing country that it is well worth the visa hassles!

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Svet Dimitrov

It sure is. For me, as a Bulgarian, it would be much easier, I guess πŸ™‚

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Christina

I visited Russia in 2001 but was blissfully naive of all the details that went into the trip planning as I traveled with family. As I am now the planner in my family, this post is so helpful. I will definitely be looking into using Real Russia as I like to make things as easy for myself as possible. I can’t wait to read your other posts on the trip itself!

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Grassroots Nomad

Thanks Christina! I’ve got a few posts up already about the stopovers we did, and more to come about what to pack, where to stop, etc. I didn’t see any other families on the train so I would love to read about your trip if you all go!

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hrollings

I’ve heard so many horror stories about attempting to acquire a visa for China. It seems harder than Ethiopia, where I live, and I thought that was tough. No plans to visit China or Russia in the near future, but when I do this will be super useful. Thanks!

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Grassroots Nomad

I think the Russian visa is even more complicated than the Chinese visa application!

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Suma Jain

Applying for visa to any country is such a painful process. The more research you do, more requirements are listed and everything gets so confusing!! You listed down all the major questions that comes to our mind while planning a trip. Thanks for the share Laura πŸ™‚

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casstravels

This is outrageously useful! I’m the sort of person who tends to forget these sorts of details, and would show up at a border and go, visa? what visa? I need a visa? Oh dear….

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Grassroots Nomad

HA I did this a few months ago! I had a whole trip to India planned and the night before realised I didn’t get a visa and could only get one if I went home to Australia :S

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Rebecca

I wonder how complicated it is to get a VISA for the US. I had no idea prices vary according to your nationality. Eeesh. Great information!

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Grassroots Nomad

It is all so complicated and the Russian process changes quite quickly based on the political climate :S

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blissfultravelher

Ahh this is thorough and perfect really. Thank you for the references. It wasn’t until I came to Asia that I ever considered those countries but I am super interested on the trans-Siberia trip! Thank you

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Grassroots Nomad

You would love it! It is one of the best trips that I’ve ever done and is something that I will remember forever πŸ™‚

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Grassroots Nomad

That’s great! Just make sure you keep on top of any changes because the requirements change regularly. Glad you found the process so easy to navigate πŸ™‚

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Candacetravels

What a great and thorough post! The visa process sounds like a painful one, especially in this case. However, you have taken some of the guesswork out of it. Thank you for sharing such useful information!

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The Thought Card

I had a similar experience in Barbados where they wanted to know the address of the Airbnb. It’s so much easier to say you’re staying at XYZ hotel.

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Grassroots Nomad

Ahh it is good to know Barbados is the same – do you have to apply for a visa in advance there as well? Thanks Danielle πŸ™‚

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Takoyacki

I did everything myself for the Russian visa but as you said it, it’s long and horrible and takes a lot of times.

I always do just like you did when entering a country that needs an address: I just randomly pick one in lonely planet or take a look at what my neighbor wrote down haha

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Grassroots Nomad

haha, copying someone else is a great plan! I’m impressed you managed to go through the process yourself – if I hadn’t given up before I even started, I’m sure I would have given up half way and got someone else to do it! πŸ™‚

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Vicki Garside

I’ve heard that Russian Visa’s can be a nightmare to navigate so thank you so much for putting this together and letting people know about Real Russia – they sound like the perfect people to deal with it!

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Grassroots Nomad

They really are amazing. On the train, I had a sudden panic I have forgotten to organise something and I emailed them and they quickly replied saying everything is ok and that I wouldn’t be arrested and spend my life in a Russian prison!

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Toni Frazer

Visas are such a headache! I am so glad i have managed to onl have to deal with working holidays and esta’s for the USA so far…so complicated! Very informative yet again though!

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Grassroots Nomad

I still manage to forget things like visas… I only remembered my ESTA the night before I left last time! :s

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Lian Slayford

Visas are always complicated – I left my Chinese one for my ex to sort out but it was more complicated since we rented an apartment instead of a hotel. But it’s good information to know when I book my trip to Russia

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Grassroots Nomad

So jealous that you are going to Russia. It is one of my favourite countries and I would love to go back again. Let me know if you need any help when planning πŸ™‚

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Katie @ ON A Budget

Visas are so tricky. I’ve always made it work, but there have been a few times that I had to get one rush ordered because I had already (stupidly) booked flight or something. Whoops!

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Grassroots Nomad

Hahah, at least you remembered! A few months ago I completely forgot about a visa for India until the night before my flight and I wasn’t able to go! :S

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MariaAbroad

Oh my, this reminds me of my visa-odyssey in China in 2007/2008. I was there for an internship on a 6 month visa, which a travel agent had arranged for me. Unfortunately, she forgot to tell me that I could only stay 60 days at a time. Luckily, I went to the Visa office in Beijing with a friend and spontaneously decided to show the officer my passport an visa. I had 4 days to figure out how to get vacation from my boss and leave the country. Luckily my boss was flexible and gave me 10 days off, so I decided to go to Malaysia for an adventure. Best excuse to travel πŸ˜‰

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Grassroots Nomad

Wow, that was lucky! I’m the a similar position here in Guatemala and have to leave every 90 days. A few weeks ago I went to Costa Rica for the weekend πŸ™‚

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Grassroots Nomad

Thanks so much, I’m glad you found it helpful. You really should do it! Let me know if you decide to book anything and have any questions πŸ˜€

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Jessica Elliott

I applied for both visas in Hong Kong. The Chinese visa was cake and I spent all of 10 minutes in the office, for both application and pick up. The Russian application was also quite easy, though I did need to fill out the form again because I had selected the wrong location and there’s now a 3 year, multi entry option (for the same price as 30 day single!!!). And my application fell over two sets of Russian state holidays, so it took a bit longer than I would have liked. I’ll be headed from Beijing into Moscow to get started on it in a few weeks! Cheers!

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Grassroots Nomad

I’m glad it was such a smooth process – best of luck with the next round of visas!

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anastazjasadventures

I understand where you’re coming from and these are all very useful tips. I am in fact Russian and have a Russian passport, so I can sympathies with you. But at the same time, if you think applying for a Russian or Chinese visa is daunting, try having to apply for a visa every single time you want to travel to any country, whether it being in Europe, Asia or America. It’s a lot more painful for Russian’s and Chinese, than those with a more powerful passport such as UK or America.

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Grassroots Nomad

I completely agree with you! We are very lucky to have the option for visas, or even visa-free zones, with our visas. I noticed the difference, although I’m sure to a lesser extent, with my best friend and her Turkish passport. Have you read I Am Aileen’s blog? She has some great articles about travelling with a less powerful passport (Philippines) if you are interested πŸ™‚

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therookietraveler

Ahh.. This is on the top of my travel bucket list! Thanks for sharing such clear piece of information. I am bookmarking it so I can read it again when I actually got to this trip of lifetime!!

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Grassroots Nomad

Thanks! There will be more articles coming in this Trans-Mongolian series so hopefully they help when you are planning!

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thetravelpockets

Great info! I always wondered about this. I really want to travel to Russia one day, so I pinned this for future use πŸ™‚

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