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I'm planning to visit Russia as a tourist for 4 days in March, I already booked a (refundable) stay at an hotel, and I'm now in the process to apply for the visa.

According to some official documentation, I need

A 'Tourist voucher' and a 'Tourist confirmation' document stamped and signed by authorized person. They can be obtained through your hotel or an approved travel agent who deals with trips to Russia, and should be valid fo r the entire duration of your trip. The stamp and all details should be clearly readable

The "stamped and signed" requirement seems weird and unworkable, since I obviously cannot visit the hotel before getting a visa, and I'm not using a travel agent, the only way to get the original signed document would be via snail mail (which would add even more time to the one required to plan this trip). But upon reading online it seems that these documents don't need to be in their original form, and thus, even if I'll be presenting a printed pdf to the consulate that should be fine.

While looking information about it online, I found some websites that can provide me with such documents, but I'd rather go directly with the hotel that I booked.

I contacted them, and they're asking me to send a

both-sided credit card copy

I'm frankly shocked that they would ask this, and this never happened to me (granted, this is the first visa that I ever applied for in my life and I never had to deal with Russian bureaucracy).

I looked up the hotel's parent company privacy statement, and briefly had a look at all its blurb concerning security and treatment of personal information... and thinking about it they should still comply to the PCI DSS (ok, this might start to be more of a topic for https://security.stackexchange.com/ ).

I'm waiting for them to tell me the secure channel over which I could send them the documents, but I'm not holding my breath. So I'm considering again other venues to obtain the needed documents, but I'm a bit concerned after reading in the FAQ things like:

The name of the hotel in my voucher differs from the name of the hotel I plan to stay at, is this a problem?

No. Our company has agreements with certain hotels and we can arrange visa support documents for the hotels we work with (in Moscow it is normally Hotel Cosmos and in St. Petersburg - Hotel Nevsky Grand). The hotels will be indicated in your voucher and you must enter exactly the same details in your Russian visa application form. Please note, the information about your hotel is only displayed in your voucher and your application form, there will be no indication of the hotel in your visa. You will be able to stay at different accommodation.

As much as all the security rationales behind border bureaucracy are ultimately just security theater, it just feels wrong that the visa will have associated information about hotels with which I won't be staying. Maybe the kdmid doesn't really care about this detail, or maybe they always turned a blind eye on this and it'd actually be illegal to use these services. I don't know.

So, is there a reputable entity that I could use to obtain the needed documents, and is not affected by the problems I just mentioned? What have you relied upon/has worked in your experience?

  • The hotel answered, and proposed using a fax which, needless to say, it's not much of an improvement: security.stackexchange.com/questions/8824/… – berdario Jan 26 '16 at 17:24
  • Ok, by calling with the UK customer service, they told me that there's also the possibility of confirming my bank account with a bank transfer. I should receive details about it tomorrow, but I probably won't rely on it, especially if I'll need to do an international wire transfer. Really disappoing that they won't let customers know unless they bother to be on the phone for 30 minutes. – berdario Jan 26 '16 at 18:25
  • I am just applying for a business visa for Russia, and all processes anfd requirements have changed significantly on Jan/1, 2016 - it has become 90 % easier, in my opinion. If your info is from before that date, I recommend you make sure to get up-to-date info, just as a tip. Yes, that might not apply to the visa type you want, but it could. – Aganju Jan 26 '16 at 19:44
  • I assume you know their official site, visa.kdmid.ru ? – Aganju Jan 26 '16 at 19:45
  • @Aganju It's significantly easier for Americans. I don't know if it has become any easier for any other nationality. – Michael Hampton Jan 26 '16 at 19:50
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Here's what I've seen in my (extensive) Russian travels - please take with a grain of salt, this is obviously not the official position:

The entire "voucher / tourist confirmation" system is a bit anachronistic now, a vestige of the Soviet days when there was tight control on what foreign tourists were and weren't allowed to see in the country. No one takes it seriously anymore (unless you are visiting "closed" cities or those close to border areas, in which case it is a different approval system anyways). Yes, formally speaking it is a requirement, but normally independent tourists would just get this from a service company (e.g http://www.visatorussia.com/ or http://realrussia.co.uk/ or http://waytorussia.net/ ), and it really doesn't matter what hotel is listed there - it's never checked - not when you enter Russia, and not when you actually register at your real hotel. It's just a way to extract a little bit of extra revenue from foreign tourists.

I am guessing that realistically, the only time vouchers would be arranged through your actual hotel is for things like business meetings and conferences where your host in Russia will do the legwork to arrange it with the hotel.

By the way, don't expect credit card data to be treated in Russia with the reverence you're used to. Even if you find a secure way to transport the data to the hotel, remember that you have no control on how they treat your data afterwards.

Remember also that many tourists in Russia successfully stay in small hotels/hostels that don't issue vouchers, private residences/CouchSurfing, camping, etc. - all this despite having a different hotel listed on their voucher.

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    Thanks, I'll probably just use one of these services then. I'm nonetheless trying to complain with the hotel customer service, after all they are a multinational company, and they should comply to PCI-DSS. Even if they won't fix it for me, they need to be made aware that what they're doing is not-OK – berdario Jan 26 '16 at 18:08

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