Every source I came across warned me how difficult it is to obtain a Russian visa. I was told by some that the embassies are extremely bureaucratic and one needs a machete to get through all the red tape. I was told by others that, being Canadian, I would probably have to do the application twice because Russia and Canada aren't getting along right now (it's that old Arctic dispute). Even the Russian Embassy website said that there was a mandatory 15-day waiting period for all Canadians.
So I was pleasantly surprised to receive the visa without hassle in 5 business days! Here's what I had to do to obtain a Russian visa.
First off, I required an Official Letter of Invitation (OLI). Everyone who travels to Russia, be it for business or just passing through for a night, requires an OLI to obtain a visa. The OLI is issued by some Russian government agency in Russia and a certified sponsor is required to obtain it. For tourists, you need to pay a Russian company to get one. For ESL teachers, your sponsoring employer obtains it. Either way it can't be copied or printed but has to be the original. Mine was sent by UPS.
There was also a Russian health card (cool) and a letter from my employers, all in Russian, included in the UPS package.
Next I printed off the application form from the embassy website, had a passport photo taken, and an HIV/AIDS test done with an official letter from the clinic stating that I was AIDS-free (whew...I had one done after my ex started sleeping with fishermen but I've been with a few girls since then...of course I use protection but you never know...).
Then I had to get a money order for $75 CAD and a return-express post envelope and send everything to the Russian embassy in Ottawa via registered mail. The whole process cost me about $200.
Then I prepared to wait for 15 days so I can find out it had been denied or I was missing something or didn't pay enough or whatever. All that negative talk had shaken me a bit.
So I was pleasantly surprised when, 5 days later, my passport arrived with a shiny Russian visa in it! They also returned the health card because I imagine it's more useful in my hands than theirs.
Yesterday I bought a one-way flight to Moscow with a stopover in Vienna. I have less than two weeks left!
Getting a Russian visa was a lot simpler than all the nay-sayers on Dave's ESL cafe and other forums said it would be.