Originally published in the AEB Business Quarterly Magazine.

To enter Russia, citizens of most countries are required to obtain a Russian visa. A Russian visa is an official document giving the right to enter, stay for a certain period and exit Russia.

The visa indicates the dates of permitted entry to and exit from Russia, the type of visa and purpose of entry, number of possible entries, passport details of the holder and information about the visa sponsor, i.e., the inviting organization or individual (inviting party). A Russian visa should be sponsored by the actual company a foreign national is visiting in Russia.

There are different types of Russian visas:  

Diplomatic visa, which is issued to foreign citizens who have a diplomatic passport or diplomatic status.  
Service visa, which is issued to foreign citizens who have a service passport.  
Ordinary visa, which includes the following:  
  Business visa, which can be obtained for foreign nationals who enter Russia to participate in negotiations, training and similar business activities.  
  Work visa, which can be obtained for foreign nationals who enter Russia for the purpose of employment.  
  Private visa, which can be obtained upon invitation from a Russian citizen, a foreign national permanently residing in Russia or a Russian legal entity.  
  Tourist visa, including a group tourist visa.  
  Student visa, which can be obtained by students attending Russian educational institutions.  
  Humanitarian visa, which can be obtained by a foreign national entering Russia for the purposes of scientific, cultural, sporting or religious contacts, charity activities or delivery of humanitarian aid.  
  Refugee visa, which can be obtained by a person requiring to enter Russia to seek refuge.  
  A visa to enter Russia in order to obtain a temporary residence permit.  
  A visa to enter Russia in order to obtain Russian citizenship.  
Temporary residence visa, which can be obtained by a foreign national who has received temporary residence in Russia.  
Transit visa, which can be obtained for the purpose of transit through the territory of the Russian Federation or exit from the Russian Federation

Each type of visa has several purposes of entry, e.g., a work visa for highly qualified specialists indicates "highly qualified specialist" as the purpose of entry, a work visa of an accompanying family member of a foreign employee indicates "accompanying family member" as the purpose of entry, and a work visa of a foreign employee working at a representative or branch office of a foreign company indicates "foreign employee" as the purpose of entry, and so forth.

It is impossible to change the type of Russian visa while in Russia. If the purpose of entry has changed, then the foreign national needs to apply for a new visa that corresponds to the new purpose of visiting the country. In this case, the previous visa must be cancelled since it is impossible to have two effective Russian visas valid for the same term in one passport.

It is essential for the Russian visa to match the actual activities a foreign national will carry out in Russia. Declaring an incorrect purpose of visit and obtaining a visa which does not match the actual activities may be interpreted as misrepresenting the purpose of entry. Such misrepresentation is considered an administrative violation and is severely prosecuted if discovered. If the migration authorities reveal that the type of visa does not match the actual purpose of entry, the foreign national may be fined and even deported from Russia. The amount of potential administrative fine is not high (approximately USD 110 in Moscow), but the very fact of any administrative fine being imposed on a foreign national may cause difficulties when visiting Russia and/or obtaining Russian visas in the future.

A Russian visa (except for a temporary residence visa and exit visa) can be obtained at a Russian consulate outside Russia on the basis of a visa invitation sponsored by the inviting party (or tourist voucher for tourist visas). The visa invitation is issued by the Russian migration authorities, and is applied for and obtained by the inviting party. Visa invitations may be issued on the letterhead of the inviting organization on the basis of bilateral treaties, but only for foreign nationals from some countries (i.e., citizens of the European Union (except for the UK), Japan, South Korea, the US and India) and only for business, tourist and humanitarian purposes. There are also electronic versions of visa invitations and telex which are sent by the migration authorities to the respective Russian consulate.

The foreign national may apply for a Russian visa in the country of his/her residence or country where he/she has the right to uninterrupted stay for more than 90 days. To receive a visa, the foreign national should apply to the relevant Russian consulate and present the original visa invitation (or a copy of the invitation) together with other required documents (passport, application form, etc.). The passport must be valid for at least six months (1.5 years for a work visa) after returning from Russia, and should have at least two blank pages designed for visas. To obtain multiple benefits, you must provide a medical certificate declaring you do not have HIV.

A visa is a permit, both for entry and exit from Russia. If foreign national stays in Russia longer than the period specified in the visa or loses his/her passport which contains the visa, then an attempt to leave the country may result in a fine for illegal crossing of the state border. If a foreign national obtains another passport, he/she will have to apply for a new Russian visa in his/her new passport to travel to Russia.

Any foreign national can stay in Russia on the basis of a business, humanitarian or private visa, without having to leave Russia, for up to 90 days in a period of 180 days. Thus, the maximum period of uninterrupted stay in Russia on the basis of a business, humanitarian or private visa is 90 consecutive days, and the maximum period of stay in Russia is 180 days in total per year. Every 90 days, foreign nationals holding one-year multiple-entry visa have to leave the country. Upon re-entry, they can stay in Russia for no longer than another 90 days.

According to the Russia-US treaty regarding simplified visa procedures, the duration of each trip to Russia for a US citizen may be up to six months. However, the period of time that a US business visitor may stay in Russia on a business visa should be determined in accordance with the restrictions indicated on his or her visa, i.e., it may provide for a restriction of 90 days in a period of 180 days.

Current Russian legislation provides for several narrow exemptions when a visa is not required for entry into the Russian Federation. These exemptions apply, in particular, to the following foreign nationals:  

Citizens of all CIS countries, except for Georgia and Turkmenistan  
Permanent residents of Russia holding a permanent resident permit  
Refugees with documents confirming the status of refugee  
Foreign nationals from countries that have bilateral treaties with Russia for short-term visits (such visits do not imply the intention to perform any employment activity, study at educational organizations or residence)
Citizens of all CIS countries, except for Georgia and Turkmenistan  
Permanent residents of Russia holding a permanent resident permit  
Refugees with documents confirming the status of refugee  
Foreign nationals from countries that have bilateral treaties with Russia for short-term visits (such visits do not imply the intention to perform any employment activity, study at educational organizations or residence)