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News & Advice

Visas – an expensive and time-consuming necessity for a trip to Moscow


Q. On a whim I booked two cheap flights to Moscow in June for me and my 11-year-old daughter. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but since booking I have looked into obtaining visas and it seems like a minefield of red tape. Can you help? Matt Denby, West Yorkshire

A. You are two of the first people to take advantage of the Russian capital joining the no-frills network from Britain, with easyJet flying in the spring from Gatwick and Manchester to the city's best airport, Domodedovo.

After decades when it has been difficult or impossible to find a flight below £200 return, there are at last tickets at less than £100. (Usual rules for finding these apply: book well ahead, and avoid Friday/Sunday/school holiday peaks.)

Moscow is the largest city in the biggest country in the world. With eight million inhabitants, it tops anything in Western Europe, including London. The attractions, too, are immense: stand in the middle of the vast Red Square, and the domes of St Basil's Cathedral, the walls of the Kremlin, the Lenin Mausoleum and the nation's foremost shopping venue – GUM – stretch beyond your field of vision. That is just the start of the repertoire of fascination that awaits you. But before you reach the fine art, grandiose architecture and gastronomic adventures, you need to jump through some bureaucratic hoops.

Obtaining a visa is an expensive and time-consuming business that has not changed dramatically since Soviet days. First, you need to get your ground arrangements sorted out – which for your trip presumably means just booking a hotel. But don't imagine that an email by way of confirming your plans will suffice: you need an officially stamped and signed "tourist voucher/confirmation" from the "inviting organisation" – usually, the hotel.

Having acquired this precious document, you can start applying for a visa through the outsourced visa provider, ru.vfsglobal.co.uk. The normal tourist price is £27.60 per person, and you need to allow plenty of time for the process.

A daunting process, and one that you might want to place in the hands of a long-established expert, such as Regent Holidays (regentholidays.co.uk), to guide you through the bureaucracy.