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13 Sep 2013

Getting a visa for Russia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Posted by Will

Overland travellers of all sorts – backpackers, hitch-hikers, cyclists and walkers – get stuck in Central Asia. Since July 1st 2013, China has tightened visa rules and rejection stories are starting to filter through. Since the presidential elections in Iran, many visa applications are stuck there too. So why not consider the largest country in the world, Russia, as your route out of Central Asia?

p1060728-800Travellers have avoided this way previously because it is considered, incorrectly, that getting a Russian visa in Central Asia is impossible. People think you need to apply in your home country because that’s often the information Russian embassies and consulates publish. I can tell you that I (British – June 2013) managed to score a Russian visa in Bishkek, as did a friend of mine (Belgian – June 2013) applying independently. Another friend (British – April 2013) received one relatively hassle-free in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Here’s how to get it done in Bishkek:

(A word of warning: it isn’t cheap and it isn’t quick. Approx $300 for a 30 day visa, and at least 3 weeks processing time).

Stage 1: Apply for a Kyrgyz 3 month tourist visa through the largest and most trustworthy agency in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Concept. They have offices all over Bishkek so are easy to find (they also have very attractive employees – ask for Anastasia). The Russian embassy in Bishkek only accepts applications from people holding a valid 3 month visa (either tourist, private or business – tourist is the easiest and cheapest). This is the expensive part as Kyrgyz Concept require $200 for their services. I enquired extensively at the relevant government office to try to do this visa without the agency’s help but they refused me outright. Even if they had accepted my application (fee $130), I would have had to leave the country and then return again (not easy since all other countries in this area require a visa for entry). Kyrgyz Concept were the cheapest agency I found and they also have the best reputation.

This stage takes 2 weeks. Kyrgyz Concept will let you know when your new visa is ready.

Stage 2: Buy a letter of invitation online from a trustworthy agency like realrussia.co.uk. Cost is about $20 and is delivered instantly by email. Print it off in colour. They would probably accept non-colour but I was asked for a colour version.
At this stage you have to enter the exact date you’ll enter Russia and a basic itinerary. Don’t include restricted cities on your itinerary (see a list of Russian restricted cities online). Russian visas are fixed-date so if you enter late you’ll miss some of your precious days.

Stage 3: Make two fake hotel bookings using a website like booking.com or hotel.info. Make the reservation (no fee required), print off the official looking confirmation paper, and then cancel the reservation. No one will ever check. Make sure that the hotels you book are in the cities you have put on the itinerary on your letter of invitation.

p1050822-800Stage 4: Fill in the application form available both online or at the embassy. Relatively straight forward apart from a few annoying questions, one of which is about insurance. I said I have insurance even though I don’t and gave a fake insurance certificate number.

Stage 5: Take some correctly-sized (standard size) passport photographs. Russia isn’t too fussy about the size though, unlike China. There are numerous photo shops in Bishkek including a few opposite the front face of the Russian embassy (near to Manas/Chui intersection).

Stage 6: Take all these documents to the Russian embassy whose entrance is located down a little alley accessed from Kiev St (alley wedged between the Russian embassy and Bishkek Park mall). Like most embassies, this one works at irritating, limited times. Check for the updated information on opening times for the consular section which when I was applying (June 2013) were on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for a morning and afternoon session.

I’m sure you’ll be given instructions once in the embassy (fight your way through a crowd and wave your papers in front of the Russian man directing affairs) but if not then head to window 1 which was always manned by a woman (again quite attractive) who spoke perfect English. If everything is in order then your papers are taken and you’re directed to the cashier at another window in the embassy. Fee for British: $73, fee for other European citizens: $55, fee for Americans: don’t know but probably extortionate. Make sure you have crisp, clean, Dollar bills. They refused to accept one or two of my more ragged $1 bills.

Stage 7: They take a week to process your visa if you opt for the standard processing time. Collect your visa on the same day the following week.


It is expensive, it is time-consuming (but then I found Bishkek a very cool place to hang out once you get to know it). However, if you find yourself in Central Asia at the right time and are heading east, Siberia is calling. And China, particularly cycling across China, may not be feasible for much longer (only one extension is now permitted which puts cyclists on a rough schedule). If you’re heading west, and maybe in a hurry, it may not be much more expensive and time-consuming than Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran visa processes combined.

Feel free to send me any questions if I haven’t explained something clearly enough. To finish this article I’ll add the usual disclaimer that this information may now be outdated and therefore must all be checked thoroughly during your visa application process. In which case, you might justifiably ask, what was the point in writing this all in the first place. Good question!

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5 Comments already on “Getting a visa for Russia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan”
  1. 1:29 pmpermalink
    15 Nov 2013

    Rob Gardiner

    I considered this, but heard that you must be a month in to your 3 month visa before you can apply for the Russian one. Any idea if this is true?

    • Will

      4:43 pmpermalink
      15 Nov 2013

      Will

      When I applied (June 2013) it was not true that you must be a month into your 3 month visa before you can apply for the Russian one. The day after I was granted my Kyrgyz 3 month tourist visa, I trotted off to the Russian embassy and with no fuss was allowed to apply for a 1 month tourist visa. Since it looks like China has stopped giving tourist visas in Bishkek for the meantime, it seems as though cycling through Russia is the cheapest way forward (a look into postal costs to send passport home from Bishkek + visa agency fees added up to more than the total cost of getting the Russian visa, not to mention all the extra risk of not having your passport).

  2. 9:52 ampermalink
    13 Dec 2013

    Marissa Albay

    Sir will how about business visa do you have an idea

    • Will

      2:21 ampermalink
      14 Dec 2013

      Will

      Marissa,

      I did briefly think about getting a business visa for Russia because it can get you more time in the country (more than a month). Here’s what I found out:

      - You still need the Kyrgyz 3 month visa in your passport in order to start the application process. See above on how to get that.
      - A different kind of invitation is needed. You can still get this through agencies online or in Bishkek but it is much more expensive. It also must be sent in original form to the embassy in Bishkek (ie. you can not print it off the computer like for the tourist visa). ‘Original form’ means sending the invitation letter to the embassy through TELEX (very expensive but pretty quick – days) or through a courier (less expensive but slow – weeks).

      In June, my estimate for how much a 3 month business visa would cost in total hovered at around $450 (approx $200 for Kyrgyz visa, $100 for invitation letter postage costs, $150 for invitation letter itself).

      For up-to-date, more accurate information, contact the travel company Kyrgyz Concept (http://www.concept.kg/eng/) in Bishkek. They are by far the biggest company dealing with this kind of thing and the most likely to speak good English by email.

  3. 11:29 ampermalink
    24 Dec 2013

    Marissa Albay

    Mr will how about working visa is it available also in bishkek for foreign like us?