Things have changed a bit in the last couple years. You sent in your App and Document Package via Fedex to a Russian Consulate with a Certified Check or Money Order, waited some period of time, then it appeared on your desk via a return Fedex envelope. Last year, possibly with the intent of the thousands of tourists that Socchi 2014 would be bringing in, they announced a new streamlined fast track to the process.
Here is some info about the current streamlined process, via an official Consulate Website indicating that for the new streamlined process, they will no longer accept applications for visas. I have selected Seattle because I have relatives there who can assist in my application process, but the other Consulate offices are the same.
The site for ILS is pretty informative and straight-forward. For a news item of possible future importance:
Effective 07/20/2012 Invisa Logistic Services will be accepting documents by mail.
There are prices and rules for applying via mail, but if you call their office, the canned answering machine message says no applications by mail will be accepted. It’s probable that they did not update the voicemail message. Sadly, rush processing visas cannot be done by mail, but it’s probably the best option for most people outside the metro areas of the Consulates if you have no issues with the potential 30 days processing time.
When you make your reservations for your trip, whether through a guide company (in the US or Europe or Russia) or if you’re trying to go on the cheap or self-supported, through a regional hotel, you will get an “Invitation and Voucher” for your Russian visit. They will be in Russian, and probably unintelligible to you, but your tour operator or guide should provide a cheat sheet for you with instructions on how to fill out your visa application.
You will need to fill out the application completely as per the instructions from your logistics provider in Russia. If you are really really clever you might be able to figure out a way to do all of this on your own without a tour operator. You will need an invitation and voucher from a registered hotel or tour operator. You will need to get transportation from MRV airport to Cheget or Azau, where there is lodging available. You will need to get up the mountain to the huts. If you expect to use any of the hut facilities, including what passes for an outhouse, you will need to make arrangements with the hut manager, including price.
Odds are that possibly one person at the hotel will speak some English, as will as any guides affiliated with your logistics company, but certainly no one on the hut staff will. So yes, if you speak Russian, and are clever, you can do this all on your own. If not, various local operators have a “lite” package that provides these basic services, and you can pay as you go.
Pilgrim Tours and Top Sport Travel are two of the most visible on the net. Dig around and contact them with your needs. Be aware that with the time difference, it might be a day or two to receive a reply, depending on when you send it and when they get it. Keep an eye on your spam filters as well – since it will be from Russia, it might just go straight to your trash.
You will have to wire them money, and that process depends a great deal on your bank policies. If you can do it online, note that your bank might temporarily close access to your account and lock it, in case you were hacked from Russia. I would do the transfer during the day and be right there by your phone to call support and verify you intended this transaction. If you’re using a US guide company this won’t be an issue – they take care of a lot of this for you as part of their overall expedition cost.
For your visa application, you will need your US passport with at least six months to the expiration date, a passport photo, a completed application (see below notes), your invitation and voucher, a cover letter (if mailing application: from a template on ILS), and a Cashier’s Check for the proper amount (from their price list). Check for the closest ILS processing office to you and verify that it is in fact the correct one. There is a little bit of documentation that applies to the various offices for which state can or should apply to which center, most of which really only applies if you are a Russian National or dual citizen. If you are going in person, make an appointment. If you’re mailing it in, follow the instructions.
If all goes well you will get your passport back with a visa inserted onto an empty page. Good luck with your plans to climb Elbrus, tallest mountain in Europe, and one of the Seven Summits.
Following up on the Russian Visa Application process:
I’ve since completed all of this process successfully now, and have a few comments. The current system is actually just a bit simpler than the old system, in spite of the few additional complications in the timing of the mail-in app process. You must fill out the application online, which limits some of the types and lengths of answers you would give, which also limits the amount of thinking that goes with processing the app. Sadly this also limits somewhat vague answers, such as just listing a year for an answer, that now requires a day/month/year answer.
At the end of the online app process there is a place for additional notes, which might be important, such as in my case, where I will not actually be staying in Moscow, but there is no place in the current form to say “Moscow (Transit)” which is what I did last time I did not stay in Moscow. I listed that in the notes.
You then print up the form from the online, glue your passport photo to it, sign and date it, and hand it in. There is a bar-code on it, that I have been told is because they actually process from your online, and the paper form is a formality so they have your photo and signature.
I had the assistance of a family member who was in Utah on family business who was able to take it into the office and submit it for rush processing. They picked up the completed submission earlier today and will be expressing it to me in the next few days, hopefully so that I get it before September 1 when I must be at the airport to leave.
As a brief aside, if I were not able to get assistance from a family member, I would have had to use up one of my free flights from Southwest, and would probably have done some hiking on Rainier while waiting for my app to finish processing.
P.S. this is all only applicable if you are a US Citizen applying for a tourist visa – just in case that’s not you refer to the ILS website for information pertaining to you, but the general principles still apply.