Whilst doing research in the build up to my Trans Siberian railway trip, I struggled to find any clear information on obtaining a Russian visa outside of my home country.
As I was already in Asia when I decided to take the Trans Siberian railway, it made sense for my journey to start in Beijing and end in Moscow – via Mongolia. Due to recent changes in immigration policy, I would be able to enter Mongolia without a visa for 30 days which would be ample for my trip (*EDIT*: At the time of writing (November 2016) it looks like British citizens now require a visa again to visit Mongolia). Russia, however, was a different kettle of fish as it appeared that it would be considerably harder to get a visa outside of England.
There was a short time where I thought it simply wouldn’t be possible, and I was almost ready to make alternative plans and shelf the Trans Siberian railway until a later date. Thankfully – after a bit of Googling – it seemed that all was not lost and that my best opportunity to get a Russian visa would be in Hong Kong.
Unfortunately, websites such as Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet were full of very mixed reviews; essentially it seemed like my chances of being granted a visa were largely dependant on the mood of the person behind the desk that day. I wasn’t overly optimistic about my chances of being granted a visa, so I was very surprised when my application was accepted with very little hassle.
In order to try and help those applying for a Russian visa in the future, here’s a quick guide to obtaining one in Hong Kong. Bear in mind that I am English, and as such get a six month permit to stay in Hong Kong on arrival. I’m not sure what applies to other countries, but to be eligible to get your Russian visa here you need to be a permanent resident or at least have a permit to stay in Hong Kong for 90 days or more.
Where is it?
The Russian embassy is located on the 21st floor of the Sun Hung Kai Centre. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the lower few levels are full of shops – you’re in the right place. Jump on the MTR to Wan Chai, head for Gloucester Road and you can’t go too far wrong.
What should you take?
As usual, I left everything until the last minute. I didn’t even head in to the city until 10am despite hearing that the cut off point for visa applications is midday and I still needed to get photocopies of all my documents as well as some passport photos.
All in all, I took with me:
- My passport
- A completed application form from this page.
- A letter of invitation from Real Russia or another company.
- A colour photocopy of my passport photo page
- A colour photocopy of my Chinese visa
- A photocopy of my Hong Kong permit (this is a black and white sheet anyway…)
- One passport photo
I’ve heard of some people in the past being asked for proof of their travel insurance, but I didn’t need this. As I said, maybe it depends on the mood of the person serving you.
There’s actually a copying shop on the 2nd floor of the Sun Hung Kai Centre, which I found out after running around the streets of Wan Chai desperately looking for a place to get mine done. As for passport photos, there’s a photo booth in Wan Chai MTR station; I’m not sure if this is the case for all stations though.
You’ll be surprised to hear that I had run out of passport photos, so I had to get some taken on the morning. It was at this point I realised that it’s nigh on impossible to have a skinhead and not look like a convict on a passport photo.
Also, make sure you fill out the application form online and print it out before you go to the embassy, as there are no hard copies available there. If you have any difficulties with this then you can go to the C.I.S Tour company on the same floor as the embassy, where one of their staff members will fill out and print the form for you for a handling cost of 50 HKD.
Finally, when I printed out my Real Russia letter of invitation on a black and white printer it seemed to print without a reference number – a surefire way to have your application rejected. Make sure you print this out on a colour printer and even then double check that the reference number is showing!
How much does it cost?
I got the express service, which cost me 1200 HKD – around £100 – and took three working days. I didn’t enquire about the normal service, as it would take nine days and time really wasn’t on my side.
The day you lodge your application actually counts as the first working day; so if you apply on Monday your visa should be ready on Wednesday. You’re given a receipt and given a time to come back a few days later and, all being well, you should be able to pick up your passport with a nice new Russian visa inside.
After hearing so many horror stories, I was very pleasantly surprised to see how easy it was to get the visa in Hong Kong. I hear it does depend on a number of things – not least the mood of the almost hilariously miserable staff on the day – but my experience was nothing but positive and easy.