My Russian VISA nightmare

I don’t know if anyone else has had the joy of applying for a Russian study VISA but I’d thought I’d share my nightmare story so someone can hopefully get a laugh out of it!

St Basils in Moscow

The first step of getting a Russian VISA is filling out this incredibly long online form. It’s somewhat painful but generally okay until you get to the dreaded where have you been question! In this section they want to list every country you have visited in the past ten years and your dates of entry and exit. Now I am very lucky to have visited a whole host of countries in the past ten year – a fact I am usually very grateful for! Unfortunately in this moment I was slightly less pleased! Luckily my Mum has kept every diary and calendar she’s ever owned and my Dad has kept all my old passports. Through a careful consultation of these resources and a bit of guesswork (shhhh don’t tell the Russians!) Very cleverly I also made a spreadsheet so next time I have to apply I have all the information I need!

The next step of getting a Russian study VISA is to get a negative HIV/AIDS test. I’m still a bit uncertain as to why you need one of these to enter Russia as a student but you do! Sadly it’s actually very hard to get a HIV blood test done in the UK at the moment- especially if you’re in a bit of a rush. I ended up having it done privately which cost me like £50+. This was particularly challenging for me because I’m really not good with needles (the technical name is vasovagal syncope) and I’ve never had blood taken before. I did pass out during it but I got it and that meant I was one step closer towards going to Russia.

The next step to getting your VISA is going to one of the UK’s Russian VISA application centre – in either Edinburgh, Manchester or London. Since I’m studying in Nottingham, I decided to go to the Manchester one as it was by the closest! I was advised that you get try and get there as it opens so you don’t have to queue for too long. On the basis of this advice, I got a 6am train to Manchester – the earliest I have ever gotten a train and not even for a fun reason!

Once I got off the train, it didn’t any more fun at all! Luckily I had my trusty sidekick Google maps, but the VISA office was still nearly impossible to find. I don’t know what you picture when you think of a VISA office, but I can assure this is definitely not it! The Russian VISA office was a single room in a office block, down a random street, with people just queueing in the corridor.

Once I’d figured out that I maybe thought this might be the right building, I slightly nervously headed in and spoke to the receptionist who confirmed I was in the right place and gave me directions to the right room. Unfortunately in my stress I didn’t quite catch all her instructions and made the wrong turn down the corridor, meaning she had to shout after me to correct me and I looked quite the fool! Oooops!

Luckily because the office hadn’t been open long, there wasn’t even a queue and I made it into the little office. Whilst the queueing down the corridor would have been fairly straight forward, entering the room was slightly chaotic, due to a random selection of spinny office chairs all over the room that people could sit in. This meant when I first arrived I had no clue when it would be my turn to go, as I couldn’t possibly know who had arrived just before me. There were already six people there but it seemed to be moving fairly quickly – with two people being sorted in the 15 minutes I first arrived.

So when I finally made to the front of the queue, it was after less than half an hour of queueing, much to my delight. I spoke to the not overwhelmingly cheery but fairly efficient Russian VISA officer and she was checking out my printed out forms when she pointed out my mistake. My invitation said I was going to Russia on a course, whereas I had filled out on the form that I was going to Russia to study. This was a fatal mistake! I was so annoyed given that it was a damn study course but there was nothing to do be done other than for me to change the form.

So I was sent away from the office with the advice to go to and change the form at the local library, as the form has to be filled out online and it couldn’t be filled if it was incorrect. Luckily the VISA officer was right and the public library wasn’t too far away.

Unfortunately to use a computer at a public library you need a library card. And due to the fact I do not live in Manchester, I obviously don’t have a library card. Luckily though, there was a helpful man at the front desk of the library who logged me on to a computer with his login.

After much struggle getting the VISA form to load – after the very helpful advice of another library employee told me that sometimes the VISA forms just don’t load on their computers. I did eventually manage to get it to load though and made the one word change that was needed and we were almost ready to rumble again!

When I got to the stage of needing to print that page with the correction on, I realised I needed change to use the printer and I only had a couple of pennies and a ten pound note. Luckily there was a cafe in the library that I could buy a cup of tea from and get some change. With the change I managed to print what I needed and I was feeling good. However being the clumsy oaf I am I then managed to spill the cup of tea I’d just bought all down myself, although luckily not on the newly printed form!

With all my correct forms, I headed back to the VISA office, only to discover much to my disgust that the queue was now four times as long as it had been earlier that morning when I first arrived! There were now at least 20 people in the queue in front of me. When I saw the queue I wanted to cry and was immediately worried I might not make it before lunch, as the VISA office closed at 12 for lunch. Luckily I was all sorted by 11:40 and wasn’t foiled by the lunch break!

Despite my annoyance at standing in the queue, I did have a lot of fun people watching as it’s always quite a eclectic selection of people trying to get into Russia. My favourite person in the queue was the woman a couple of people in front of me who just couldn’t believe this many people wanted to go to Russia. She was clearly a native Russian and couldn’t figure out for the life of her why anyone would voluntarily go to Russia, which made me laugh.

Finally when I made it back to the front of the queue, the rest of my forms were checked over and given the okay, my fingerprints were taken, I handed over my passport and the £115 that the VISA cost me! I’d now done everything I needed to get my VISA and get into Russia!

I now had the rest of the day to spend in Manchester until my train back at 3:30ish (I’d booked a late train just in case the process took longer than anticipated). Unfortunately by this point, after having spent so many hours waiting, my phone was now dead and I’d forgotten my charger. I then wandered slightly cluelessly until I found a shop I could buy a new charger in. I bought it and then headed to the nearest coffee shop, to have a drink and charge my phone back up. I then found my myself some rather delicious lunch of some chicken and pesto pasta before heading back to the station.

So there ends the tale of my Russian VISA nightmare! Despite a few hiccups along the way it did end in success so I thought I’d share a few final tips!

  • Check, check again and triple check your VISA forms before you print them out and take them to the office. Don’t make my mistake!
  • Head to the VISA office as early as possible – the queue is far shorter then!
  • Take a phone charger with you – just in case everything ends up taking longer than anticipated.
  • If you’re getting trains, book a flexible return or a train much later on in the day, so you’re confident you can get your VISA done and catch your train.

Well I hope you enjoyed this tumultuous tale and if you’re applying for a Russian VISA I hope this is useful to you in some way!

22 comments

  1. Wow, what a stressful time! Definitely sounds like a good learning experience though! I travelled by myself on an exchange this year and I have many stories like this one, dealing with visas and other travel related issues. Thanks for sharing your story and advice on the subject!

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  2. Wow how stressful! I am happy you sorted it in the end! I had to get a work visa for america but it was no where near as stressful as your story haha.

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  3. Immigration offices and VISA’s are always so much fun. This reminds me getting my wife’s visa and getting sent away to get one more medical test done redoing forms multiple times.

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  4. That sounds so stressful! My step-dad is from Australia, but living in Scotland and he has to travel hundreds of miles just to get his Australian passport renewed. Nowhere near as stressful as your experience, but an inconvenience all the same.

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  5. Wow, I had no idea obtaining a Visa was such a nightmare! I have never applied for a Visa before nd heads no idea it was such a complicated process – thanks for this education xxx

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  6. I did this last year – tourist visa, not study, and fortunately, no blood test required. The London office has its own computer for amending those forms. It’s a bit of a wait and you have to pay something like £13 to do it but at least it’s right there in the waiting room.

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  7. Hahahaha this sounds like something that would happen to me! Especially the spilling tea down myself, and I would probably have 1p less than what I need for the printer. We had a nightmare getting a visa for China while we were in Hong Kong, to the point that we gave up and booked a last minute flight to Vietnam! But that’s a story for another day, haha.

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