St Petersburg

Russian visas - latest news

For voyages starting or finishing in St Petersburg

Update (27 May): I have my visa! The system below definitely works! We also know that it works for people using the urgent, quick turnaround version - two people used this as they needed their passports back for a holiday later this week. Can all John Laing crew members and sea staff email us or leave a message on the Facebook group when you have successfully got your visa? Then we can keep a record of those who are fine and those who might still need help or advice.

Update (27 May): New information for people applying by post.
Update (25 May): New guidance for crew members aged under 18.

I can't give any guarantees about this as an approach to getting a Russian visa for Tall Ships: all I can say is that I took as much advice as possible, and this is the procedure I ended up following. I delivered my application to the visa centre in London by hand (20th May) and watched them check through all the paperwork. They confirmed that they couldn't see any errors or omissions, so I am hopeful that all will be well, but the final proof will come on Wednesday 27th May when I have to go back to collect the visa! If there are any problems or I learn anything new at that stage I will add more information here.

What follows applies to UK citizens - there may be other issues for other people, but I had to start somewhere.

If anyone spots an error, please email and I will amend this page.

To start

Go to

Go straight to “Apply Online” on the left-hand menu. You don't need to get sidetracked by links about preparing and submitting your application - that only led me down confusing paths about which type of visa I needed, all of which should become clear below. Clicking "Apply online" takes you here:

Hit “click here” in the first paragraph. This brings up:

Hit “I agree”. This brings up:

Tick “I agree” and then hit “Continue”. This brings up:

Hit “create online visa application”.

A warning before you proceed

PLEASE NOTE: at many stages from now on, when you complete a box on the online form, there is a short pause while the system absorbs the information you have just given (sometimes it has to add or take away supplementary boxes depending on your last answer). DO NOT try to rush this: wait for the system to settle. I tried to go on to the next question before it was ready, and the whole thing crashed. You also get a problem if you try to hit the back button on yuor browser at any point: you get a “page expired message” and then it doesn’t seem to let you back in!

If you do get a crash or get locked out, don't worry - there is a solution!

If you simply start again from the beginning, it lets you get almost to the end of the application and then tells you it can’t proceed as that passport number is already the subject of an earlier application. You might think you can hit “modify/retrieve visa application” at this stage, but that requires you to enter a web reference number which you only get after you have completed the application, so you won’t have one if it crashed part way through….

The solution the Visa office then gave me was to add a zero in front of my passport number – then it allowed me to create a new application. You can add one, two or more zeros if you get additional problems. They key thing is that you MUST then attach a letter with the application explaining why you did this. Apparently this happens all the time so they will understand!

Now it is safe to start answering the questions:


Where would you like to submit your application? You get a choice of London or Edinburgh – London is the one which knows all about the Tall Ships festival and is expecting to deal with applications, but (22 June update) I have just been told people have successfully used the Edinburgh office too.
How would you like to submit it? Choice of “in person” or “Royal Mail” – I chose “in person”, but then I live in London and wanted to check out the system so I could report back to others!.
How would you like your application returned? I chose “collect in person”
How would you like it processed? Choice of Normal (5 days) or Urgent (next day). I chose Normal – urgent is more expensive.

They also ask for an email address and to solve one of those security codes where you have to type in a series of letters and digits as seen in a box they give you (these things are known as Captchas). This is case sensitive and does not seem to require any spaces between letters.

Successfully completing all fields on this page takes you to a new page with questions about your passport – the number and the expiry date. Make sure this is the same as those on your supporting document confirming your status as a crew member (I believe the OYT South office issued these with passport numbers already filled in for our crew members, but you need to add date and place of issue, and date of expiry, on that document).

Completing this automatically takes you to a page asking for visa information.


Present passport – drop-down menu with a choice of countries. Mine selected “United Kingdom” automatically, but other options are all there.

How long have you lived in the UK? The only choices are “less than 1 year” or “greater than one year”.

Select visa category: Tall Ships participants have been told to select the Humanitarian category – I confirmed this personally with a phone call to the visa office. This category covers all cultural activities, and this is how the Tall Ships festival has been classified.

Select visa duration: only options are 3 months or 1 year, so you need to choose 3 months.

Select type of entry: choices are single or double entry. We only need to enter and leave the country once, so need to select single entry (again, this was confirmed by phone call to the visa office).

Personal details: you need to fill in sex, title, occupation, surname (exactly as shown in passport), name/patronymic (For those not familiar with Russian names and patronymics, all Russians have a middle name based on their father’s name – so John Smith son of Alexander would be John Alexandrovich Smith, for example. For non-Russians, just put your forename(s) exactly as shown in your passport.) The website gives you an automatic message reminding you to double check that the spelling is identical to your passport!

Also need date and place of birth, and any other surname used (eg a maiden name). I tried putting N/A, but it wouldn’t accept that, so just leave it blank if you have no other surname.

Next section: Visit details.

Purpose of visit: we have been told to put “Cultural Exchange”

Russian Organisation to be visited: “Port of St Petersburg”

Route of journey (points of destination): Put St Petersburg in the first box and leave the other boxes blank, unless you are flying in or out of any other airport.

Date of entry and departure: These have to coincide with the dates given on the letter of invitation from the St Petersburg government (everyone should have a copy to include with their application): this says 11 July to 14 July, to coincide with the St Petersburg festival. Even if you are arriving or leaving on other dates WITHIN THIS PERIOD, you should apply for a visa from 11 to 14 July. I'm not sure of the procedure if you are travelling outside this period. [NB when my visa turned up, it was dated 7-17 July, so they are allowing a bit of a margin for error].

Passport number, date of issue and expiry date – your passport number and expiry date will have been filled in automatically as you entered the information earlier in the process. You still need to fill in the date of issue here.

Next section is headed Tourist Group. Leave both these boxes blank – you only need them if you are applying for a Tourist Visa, which we are not.

The next section asks if you have a medical insurance policy valid in Russia. With OYT South, the boat has medical insurance; if you want to make your own arrangements for insurance while travelling to and from the boat, that is up to you. The visa advice centre told me that UK citizens are not required to produce evidence of medical insurance, so you can just tick “yes” because of the boat’s insurance. A box then appears for details: you just need to type “Ships medical insurance”. I originally typed “Ship’s medical insurance”, with an apostrophe, as it is better grammar, and when I got to the end of the page and tried to hit Continue, I got an error message saying no “special characters” were allowed in this box. I tried again without the apostrophe and it was accepted!

Number of previous trips to Russia: I typed “0” and the other boxes for giving dates of previous visits automatically disappeared.

Next section asks for the name and contact details of your employer or school. I understand there are some issues with crew members who are perhaps between school and work, or university. One of John Laing’s crew members in that position has offered to be a guinea pig and test how the system works for him, and will report back to anyone else who needs to know. If you are at school or college or in employment, this seems to be totally straightforward; but they may need extra information if you aren't in either category. Self-employed people need to submit 3 months' bank statements, for example.

Next it will ask for your home address details.

Next section asks about relatives in Russia – I left all this blank.

Next section asks if any children under 16 are travelling with you – I ticked no.

You have now finished that page and can click “Continue”.

Next page allows you to attach a second application if travelling as a family. I clicked “no” and hit “Continue”.

It then gives you some details on terms and conditions and asks you to click “I agree” (do read them, though).

Then you can click “submit”.

You will then get a page saying “you have successfully created online Visa Application Form” and giving some details. There is a Web Reference Number, which is now associated with your name and passport number – guard this with your life as it is the only way of getting back into the application form if you should need to – for example if you lose your printed copy and need another one.

This page also details costs. Mine cost £50 in visa fees, £22 in service charges, and £3.30 in Service VAT – total £75.30. Costs will be different if you have chosen next-day service or courier postage.

If I were you I would print a copy of this page before proceeding.

Now press “continue”.

Download/print form

Now it gives you a choice of “cancel application” or “download/print documents”.

If you choose “download/print” you get another page including “printing tips for visa application form”. This is worth looking at to make 100% certain you print it in the form they want. You will have to set the page size to A4, which it will probably do automatically, and the orientation to “portrait”. Set "Page Scaling" to "None". Option "Choose Paper Source by PDF page size" should be ticked. Option "Auto Rotate and Center" should NOT be ticked. Printing color should be black and white with white color as background.

Now click on download/print form, and they will ask if you want to open or save the file. Click “open”. Follow print instructions as above and hit “OK”.

Submitting form and supporting documents

You now have your application form ready to be posted or taken to the Visa Centre.
You will need to sign the form (bottom left) and attach a photo. This should be “1.18 by 1.57 inches (3 by 4 cm) {standard passport size}, in colour taken against a light background (white or off - white). The photo needs to display a full frontal view of the face. The facial image must be sharp and clear. Sunglasses or tinted glasses are not permitted. Head coverings and hats are only acceptable due to religious beliefs, and in this case there shall be a similar photo with a head covering in the applicant's passport."

You also need:

1) Valid international passport or another ID recognized as such in the Russian Federation. At least 2 blank pages for visas. The passport should be valid for a minimum of 6 months after visa expiration date.

2) Proof of purpose of visit. This should consist of 2 letters. The first is from the Saint Petersburg government, addressed to the vessel’s captain, confirming that the vessel has been invited to take part in the Tall Ships event. The second is a letter from the sail training operator (e.g. Ocean Youth Trust South, confirming that you as an individual are a member of the crew for the relevant voyage. This letter includes your name, nationality, date of birth, passport number, date and place of issue, date of expiry, vessel’s name and nationality, and details of voyage. Please check that all details are correct, and insert any missing information as required. Confirmed crew members should have these letters by now. Contact the OYT South office if you are sailing with us and haven't received your letters.

3) If you had problems with the online form and had to start from scratch, adding a zero in front of your passport number, don’t forget to add a letter explaining this! (see above)

4) Payment: They accept the following payment options

  • Credit Cards
  • Debit Card
  • Cash also accepted at the Russia Visa Application Centre. OR
  • Applicants can also make payments via bank drafts or postal orders payable to "RNT Limited"
  • NB they do NOT accept cheques

5) New (25 May): I now understand that there is an additional requirement for crew members who will be under 18 at the time of the voyage. One crew member and parent visiting the visa office in person were told that the office also needed to see a parent or legal guardian's passport, plus a letter stating the following:

"My name is .............. and my passport number is ............................
I am the parent/guardian of .........................whose passport number is................. ; (s)he will be travelling to St Petersburg on 11-14 July on board the vessel John Laing as part of the events organised by the Port of St Petersburg, as outlined in the accompanying letter of invitation,, and is applying for a humanitarian visa. " Fortunately the mother in question had her passport with her "and the lady behind the desk very kindly gave me a sheet of paper and I wrote the letter there and then. " Do make it clear that the parent /guardian is NOT travelling to Russia and dosn't also require a visa!

You need to send or take all this to
Russian Visa Application Centre
RNT  Ltd.
15-27 Gee Street,
London, EC 1V 3RD

If you are going in person, the hours of operations for application submission are 0830-1500 Mon-Fri, except holidays. Hours for collecting passports are 1530-1730 Mon-Fri, except holidays.

(I don't have details for the Edinburgh office but their address is 16 Forth Street near Edinburgh Waverly Station).

Delivering the application in person in London proved to be very easy, once I had found the right door and realised it just needed to be pushed open, so the array of buttons to press on the keypad by the door were irrelevant! Next, there was a brief security search (they found the scissors I'd used to cut my photo to size, asked what they were for, and then let me keep them). There was no queue (this was around 11am ona Wednesday) and I was seen straight away. The desk officer was extremely friendly and helpful, and the whole process of checking my paperwork and paying took about ten minutes.

Someone else who has done the whole thing by post wrote to say: "you must supply a postal order and a special delivery return envelope. All of this must be sent special delivery. The cost was £93 in total at the post office, and you need cash to buy a postal order. "

Meanwhile, please send feedback to let us know whether or not this system is working for you!









“I have learnt and seen loads of new things and I will remember for the rest of my life! ” Jemima, aged 12