St Basil’s Cathedral is the first thing that comes to my mind at the mention of Russia. The iconic cathedral with multi-coloured onion domes is something i thought i should behold someday. Well, the day is coming soon. I have just obtained the Visa for entry into Russia for tourism.
What deters many from visiting Russia, besides the distance, is probably the difficulty in getting a Visa. Yes, Russia is one of the few countries for which a Visa is required for a tourism visit with a Singapore passport. Vfs handles the application for Russia Visa in Singapore, and their website provides comprehensive information on how to do so.
As detailed in the website, in order to apply for a Visa, you need to get a Tourist Confirmation issued by a hotel or a travel agency. It is counter-intuitive, but it means you need to book your accomodation first before you are certain you will be granted a Visa. It is possible, however, to book a cancellable or refundable accomodation, just in case there is any problem with obtaining the Visa. Not to worry though, as it will be stated as having been paid in full on the Tourist Confirmation.
Most people will be at a loss as to how to get hold of the Tourist Confirmation. One way you can do it is to stay in one of those premium hotels (e.g. Hilton), but these hotels don’t come cheap in Russia. They are priced similarly with any other cosmopolitan city.
I did my hotel bookings on booking.com and got my Tourist Confirmation for free. Here’s how: I did my hotel bookings by going through the link on this website -> www.saint-petersburg.com. I was skeptical at first, but decided to try, since i had nothing to lose. After submitting the Visa support request form to them, i got a reply the very next working day!
You do have to book your hotel stays for the entire duration you will be in Russia with saint-petersburg.com, going through the same link. Obviously, saint-petersburg.com earns a commission for the hotel bookings. I was careful not to go through Shopback when doing the bookings because there’s obviously a conflict of interest here.
For the services provided, saint-petersburg.com deserves the cashback they receive in lieu of your receiving it. I highly recommend that you obtain your Tourist Confirmation this way, because it is easy, and saint-petersburg.com is really efficient. They even did an amendment for free, and the turnaround time taken was jaw dropping quick.
Do note that after you have been provided with the Tourist Confirmation, you will be asked to pay US$15 in penalty if you cancelled your hotel bookings. This is only fair, and US$15 is a reasonable amount too. There are many websites that try to sell the Tourist Confirmation at up to US$20 per person.
Anyway, once you have obtained the Tourist Confirmation, the rest of the steps are fairly straightforward. Take care to print your ID photo according to the Russian passport specification.
Besides the hassle with the Tourist Confirmation (with the help of saint-petersburg.com it is no longer a hassle), the other thing that i find objectionable is the price of the Visa – S$168, including a S$42 fee paid to Vfs Global. This is more expensive than the flight that is bringing me into Moscow! But since this is a once in a lifetime thing, well, you just have to do it.
FYI: when you enter the Vfs office, take a queue number. Don’t bother to make an appointment online, because you will still have to use the queue number. The office is not very busy, so it doesn’t matter.