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Trans-Siberian Visas – A Necessary Hassle

by | 29 May 2020

The visas required by most of our customers to travel on the Trans-Siberian railway can be a bit of a headache; they are time-consuming and rather costly. The key is to closely follow the embassy/consulate instructions and answer all the questions asked (even the bizarre ones) and there really isn’t too much to worry about. And it will be so worth it in the end, to get the necessary paperwork from the start and then enjoy a hassle-free adventure along the longest railway line in the world.

Your Passport

The first thing you need to do is to check your passport. Do you have enough validity for this trip? You really need a minimum of six months validity from the date you get home. Whilst only a few countries actually restrict entry to holders of passports with less than six months’ validity (e.g. Singapore) the fact is that a passport remotely close to expiry can cause problems upon arrivals at many countries. You might need to renew your passport before you even start planning. Renewing an Australian passport usually takes about three weeks, so you’ll need to factor that time into your schedule.

Next, check how many blank pages you have available in your passport. Each consulate likes a double-page free for their respective visa. This is a trip for real travellers who tend to have lots of entry and exit stamps in their passports. If that is your situation – that’s great, lucky you! But you will need to consider renewing it for this trip.

Most of our travellers coming from Australia start in China and travel from Beijing up through Mongolia to Russia along the Trans-Mongolian rail line. In Siberia, this meets the Trans-Siberian line and then clients continue through to Moscow or St Petersburg with other stops along the route. So for the majority of our clients, we are usually looking at three visas – China, Mongolia and Russia. Below is a brief outline of the process to obtain them.

Note none of these visas are e-visas – you physically need them issued in your passport.

How to obtain a tourist visa for Russia

We usually start with the Russian visa, partly because it’s the most complicated and time-consuming so we like to get it out of the way first but also because it can be obtained with a little more lead time than the other two visas. Most nationalities including Australians and New Zealanders require a visa for Russia.

Here are the three most important facts you need to know before applying for a Russian visa:

  • You cannot apply for a Russian visa without a formal letter of invitation – issued by a Russian Licensed Tour Operator (this we provide when your land package is finalised). This is a formal document issued for the purposes of obtaining a visa. A simple booking confirmation is not enough.
  • Russian visas are date specific and based on the dates of your letter of invitation. The visa will have an arrival date and departure date. You can enter Russia on or after the arrival date on your visa and depart the country on or before the departure date. But the Russians won’t let you in before the official entry date on your visa and they will give you a very hard (and expensive) time if you depart afterwards.
  • The maximum duration you can be in Russia on a tourist visa is 30 days. Even a double entry visa is only valid for a total of 30 days from your first entry into Russia.

The Russian visa form is an online process. We will send you a link to the form for you to do yourself or we can handle it as part of our ‘done for you’ service. This form is painfully long and has many questions that clearly are not relevant to your trip but you will just need to answer them truthfully and in full. You cannot leave any answers blank. The itinerary information you enter on the form needs to match what is on your official letter of invitation. At the end of the form, you can save it as a PDF then print it off.

Then you need to attach a passport size photo and sign/date the form where indicated. Note this is the only part of the form which you are allowed to write on.

How much does it cost to get a Russian Visa?

Russian Tourist Visa for Australian or New Zealander passport holders

  • 7 processing days $283
  • 13 processing days $163

This timeframe is a guide only. Processing days are working days excluding holidays (Russian holidays and usually the local holidays as well)

How long does it take to get a visa for Russia?

It is about a three-week turnaround for processing and your passport and paperwork usually goes to a visa service in Sydney outsourced by the Russian consulate for this unless you are a resident of the ACT where it will be handled by the Russian Embassy in Canberra.

Two more things to consider before applying for your Russian visa.

  1. Some of our clients organise some of their own arrangements in Russia in conjunction with our reservations. Such arrangements must be covered by a Visa Invitation letter. If you cannot obtain a letter for your own arrangements, we can usually ask our partners to issue an extension letter for a small fee (approx. US$30).
  2. We normally add a day or two to the end of a visa – just to give a bit of wriggle room in case of travel delays. Russian border guards have no problem with you leaving Russia before the visa expires.

How to obtain a tourist visa for China

We usually recommend clients get the Chinese tourist visa next before Mongolia but it doesn’t matter too much. The main issue with both of these visas is that they are valid for entry within ninety days from the date of issue. You cannot get them too early or they could expire before arrival.

Look at a calendar and work out the earliest date you can apply that still has the visa valid for your arrival in China. Once you arrive into China your visa is then activated and you have 30 days visa validity. Again, you will need a formal invitation letter to accompany your Chinese visa form and we supply it for clients who have booked their Chinese programme with us. Otherwise, it is straightforward to obtain from any company that you are making your Chinese arrangements with.

The visa invitation document shows where you will stay in China, hotel addresses, dates and the details of the inviting tour company. There is then a four-page visa form to complete. You need another passport photo with very precise sizing requirements. An itinerary showing your flight itinerary also has to be included with the application.

How much does it cost to get a Chinese Visa?

China Tourist Visa for Australian or New Zealander passport holders

  • 2 processing days AU$209/NZ$199
  • 3 processing days AU$167/NZ$157
  • 4 processing days AU$110/NZ$100

This timeframe is a guide only and may vary from state to state. Processing days are working days excluding holidays (China holidays and usually the host country holidays as well)

How long does it take to get a visa for China?

China has outsourced its visa issuance and there are Chinese Visa Application Service Centres in most capital cities. It normally takes about a week to get the visa. You are well on your way now!

Important – the visa-free transit period offered by the Chinese government only applies to tourists arriving and departing by air. It is not suitable for travellers crossing the Chinese border overland.

How to obtain a tourist visa for Mongolia

This is definitely the easiest of the three visas to obtain. The form is extremely straight-forward and we have never had any issues with obtaining Mongolia visas. The price has rocketed up in the last few years reflecting an increase in tourism to this country. The ninety-day validity rule does apply so don’t try and get the visa too early. Processing is in Canberra for all states of Australia. You can deal direct or use our processing service. There is an easy form to complete and we will supply a letter of invitation. Another passport photo and an itinerary with flights are required (even though you probably are not flying onto or out from Mongolia!).

Incidentally, this is the easiest of the three visas to obtain outside your country of residence.

How long does it take to get a visa for Mongolia?

It takes about five working days to get a Mongolian visa – see costs below

How much does it cost to get a Mongolian Visa?

  • 2 processing days $280
  • 5 processing days $230

This timeframe is a guide only and may vary from state to state. Processing days are working days excluding holidays (Mongolian holidays and usually the host country holidays as well)

Our “Done for You” Visa service

Many of our clients choose our ‘done for you’ visa service (at an additional fee) where we complete the forms on your behalf. If we handle the three visas for you the passport will move between consulates by secure courier and we will check all the paperwork before submitting anything.

Realistically the whole process takes about six weeks but if you do not have that amount of time you can pay more for urgent processing to get them quicker (we have managed to obtain all three visas in 10 days once for a client who was keen to leave as soon as possible).

If you hold a passport from another country but are resident in Australia there is a little more paperwork involved but there is usually a way around.

Please note we do not offer a stand-alone visa service and can only assist our own customers with obtaining visas for Russia, China and Mongolia.