How do I get a Russian work visa and what happens if I get fired?


Russian work visa

Hey readers, I wanted to address two questions today: how do I get a Russian work visa/permit and what happens if I get fired/loose my job?

When people aren't e-mailing with requests for sighed nude pictures of me in an ushanka, I'm usually getting asked about work visas, so we'll start with that.


Work visas - the chicken and egg dilemma

Let's get something clear: to get a Russian work permit and visa, you first need a a job offer. But without a visa, you can't get to Russia to apply for work and go to interviews. Awesome.

This means you have two options: Find work from your home country or get to Russia and find a job from here. 

A) Find and apply for a job from your home country


getting a job in Russia

If you just want to teach English, you can most likely find a company that will offer you visa support, bring you over and even put you up in accommodation. You'll need to research the company first though to make sure you don't get the worst of the worst. The expat.ru forum is the best place to ask questions on specific companies.

You don't want to end up like the chick in this teaching horror story.

On the flip side, It's very hard, nigh on impossible to find any kind of 'interesting' work searching from home unless you have at least some Russian (don't miss my post on how to learn Russian like a boss).

As for teaching companies, most pay a low salary, unless they are agencies targeted at rich Russians (for example Baby Club). The pay is typically so low that you'll be forced to spend all your free time working with private clients and possibly crying.


tears for lube

Also, if you do get offered free accommodation you are tied into living where they put you - you might get a good flatmate and apartment or you might get a total shit box way out in the boonies. 

I have a friend here who works as a teacher for 30,000 roubles per month, spends exactly half of his wages on renting a shitty flat and has to work until 10pm every night, taking whatever client he can get. Basically he earns less than a bus driver.

EXCEPTION TO RULE:
If you already work in a big multinational, you might be able to convince your company to send you to Russia if you really want to live here for a while.

B) Get to Russia and job search 'on the ground'


finding a job in Moscow

To do this, you will need to get a 3 month business visa or (if you're American) a tourist visa will suffice (UK tourist visas only last one month). Some countries like Brazil have an relaxed visa regime with Russia and you can entry the country for three months without a visa.

If you don't have a job to justify the business visa, you will either have to 'create' a company (just make one up and write a letter from a fictitious boss) or say you are self employed  in which case you need to prove you have enough income for your stay (the recommended rate is about 5000 roubles per day if I'm not mistaken).

In either case, Russians don't ever validate or check any of the information on the forms so don't worry too much if you have to fire up Photoshop. 

russian red tape


When you are here, you have the freedom to go to interviews, connect with people and generally get shit done while getting a feel for the city.

You can also arrange your real estate situation so you don't have to be dependant on a company putting you up. Plus, If you just want to teach, you can start building a freelance client base (which is far, far more lucrative).

The downside

A lot of Russian companies don't want the hassle of employing a foreigner. It involves a lot more extra hassle and red tape for them. They'll typically be happy to pay you cash or have you work unofficially, but for the most part, they won't want the bother of getting you that sweet, sweet work visa.

If you do find a company that will hire you officially  you will have to submit your work permit documents and will probably have to wait up to 3-4 months. This typically means you will have to jet back to your home country and wait to receive your invitation, which you then take to the local embassy/visa processing centre and get it turned into a work visa.

For what it's worth, the only place I've ever heard of issuing a visa quickly is Russia Today. Big multinationals are also known for their speed, but this will only be applicable to the kind of expats that are pulling in 10-20,000 USD per month. 


russia exat pay

Something else to bear in mind - a lot of the local jobs really don't pay very well at all. Go look at some of the pay offered on job sites like HeadHunter.ru - it's generally quite depressing.

To financially 'make it' in Russia, it takes some work, some contacts and a dose of luck, but it is doable.

 Work visas - what if I get fired or want to change jobs?

One down side to working in Russia is that your company has you by the balls by virtue of your visa (and sometimes accommodation). Loose the visa and you have to leave!

What happens if I get fired? 

If you loose your job, or decide to quit, your work permit and visa will be annulled and you will be given a a week or two to leave the country. This can be quite stressful if you have been here for a few years and have a wife and kids here etc.

Sometimes your company might not bother cancelling your work permit which will give you breathing space before it runs out.

Just so you know, to annul a visa, your passport needs to go to the Foreign Migration Service where they put a nice 'annulled' stamp on it. 

russian visa annulled

Since this is the only way the visa can be annulled, it might be possible to just not hand in your passport. This is the situation I am in at the moment and, if anyone asks for my passport, they're simply not getting it! (I'll let you know how that goes!).

But what if I just want to change jobs?

As with getting canned, you loose your current visa and permit and have to get a new one from your new employer.

To change jobs successfully, have your prospective new employer start the work permit process BEFORE you change jobs. Once your new documents are ready, you can officially leave your old company and get your new work invitation turned into a new work visa.

If possible, it is better to get the new job confirmed and only then leave your old job.


finding a new job in Moscow

You might get lucky and find a high-paying employer that will get you a new work invitation in a week or two, in which case, you can give notice right away.

I myself just left my job of three years and am waiting to see if they try to cancel my visa. Fortunately  I've been around the block a few times and have a few tricks up my sneaky expat sleeve. 
I'll update you guys in an upcoming post.

In the mean time, drop me a line if you have any questions and leave a comment with your experiences of Russian work visas! 


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35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, really useful article. Thanks for writing it. I’m planning on going to Russia for around 8 weeks to visit some friends there, I’ve been talking to some teaching companies in advance and have sorted some jobs.
The issue is the visa.
Liga (if you know them) are offering me a business visa invitation for a good price. Do you think there will be any risks with the Russian authorities going on this? I don’t want to lie to them! Thanks a lot, Tom

Lt. Columbo on June 25, 2014 at 11:35 PM said...

If the price is right, just go for it. The only way to chill out here for more than 1 month is to get a business visa (unless you're from America)
You'll just have to tell them you work for the guys on the invitation, it's fine tho

Anonymous said...

I am currently in the same boat as you regarding switching jobs (but haven't informed my former employer since its a school and still summer holidays). My new job said my invitation/documents for a new visa will take 1-2 months, while my old job will start again at the end of August. Any advice or tips so that I don't have my visa from my old job revoked before having to leave? My new employer said I can ask my old job to let me keep the visa for an extra month, but that seems too easy and I doubt they will do it.

Lt. Columbo on October 10, 2014 at 12:03 AM said...

well your employer can only cancel your visa if they have your passport. in theory, as soon as you stop working, your visa should be cancelled and you should be given time to leave the country, but this can only happen IF you hand over your passport.

Just get the process started for your next invitation and tell them that you'll stop working on X date and just make sure they dont have your passport. or, alternately, say you have a family emergency and need to suddenly leave the country, then just pretend you left and they wont worry about coming after you

http://www.travelmoar.com/travel-tips/how-to-get-a-russian-visa/ on June 21, 2015 at 2:13 AM said...

Im an aussie in London and I was able to get my Russian visa within 10 working days. Tourist Visas are really quite simple.

I documented some of the requirements here: http://www.travelmoar.com/travel-tips/how-to-get-a-russian-visa/

Hopefully this is of use to someone!

Margaux said...

Hello, thanks for your article it's very useful!
I was wondering, do you need to leave Russia to apply for a new work visa through a new employer (if you quit your old one)? Thanks!

Lt. Columbo on September 4, 2015 at 1:50 PM said...

You do indeed, According to a new (and imo, stupid new law), you now have to leave every time you even renew a work visa. (before you could renew from within Russia)
Hope that helps!

Charlie on November 12, 2015 at 8:27 PM said...

Hey, great article. How is the policy of not handing in your passport going? I'm back in the UK now, I was working in Russia for a couple of years and my latest (Highly skilled worker) visa is valid until 2017. When I left my company didn't get it annulled...

I want to go back in 2 weeks to visit some old friends... should I just turn up with the same visa and hope?

Anonymous said...

I am in the same case as Charlie, I used to work for some time in Russia, even though I am not now, but my visa is valid until 2018 and was not annulled by my company. I plan to go to Russia this summer, should I expect any questions from the customs or not?

Lt. Columbo on March 18, 2016 at 1:25 PM said...

i was fine and you shoudlnt have any problems unless your visa is stamped 'annulled' so just keep rocking until 2018

lee woo on March 21, 2016 at 10:04 AM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

hey, my company is threatening to cancel my visa as i no longer want to work for them (long story). i want to know how possible this si for them to do? first of all i only have a business visa, not a work visa. and you said they need to actually take my passport to cancel it. and the visa is done via a visa company not via the company i work for itself. does this sound to you like they can actually feasibly cancel my visa?

Lt. Columbo on April 16, 2016 at 7:22 PM said...

well, they're just blowing smoke up your ass because, by law, they can't have a foreign employee without a work visa. it would be like complaining to the police that you got injured while burgling someones house
so yeah, they cant touch you so tell them to go f*ck themselves.

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for posting such a useful article. I have a question I hope you can answer:

If one school applies for your work visa, but in the midst of the process you find a better offer, will there be any issues r.e. rejecting the first offer? If two schools apply for your work visa because of this, will you encounter any issues?

Thanks!

Lt. Columbo on June 22, 2016 at 7:15 PM said...

two entities cannot apply at the same time, so, you would have to blow off offer one, and have offer two start up the application process for you from scratch

Unknown on September 15, 2016 at 7:51 PM said...

I have just paid for a 12 month multi entry business visa from UK for Russia.
But have now found work in Moscow and they are offering to get me a work visa.
Questions:
1. What is the process - I believe I have to return to the UK to get it
2. Will they cancel my existing business visa
3. How long do work visas last for typically?

Many thanks Peter Jonstenelle

Lt. Columbo on September 17, 2016 at 10:16 PM said...

Hi Peter, first up, here's what the basic process looked like, last time i did it legit

now, to answer your questions:
1. see the link and , yes, you will have to go to the UK with the invite the company gives you, go to the Russian visa process centre, pay some money, submit the necessary docs (usually a clean aids cert, filled out visa application and photos)

2. yes. you cannot have more than one valid visa at a time

3. one year, unless they are for highly qualified specialists - those work visas are for 3 years

Anonymous said...

Hey, and thanks for a great post. I am looking at possibly getting canned soon and am trying to way my options. I have two questions for you. I'm a US citizen, but I doubt that makes any difference. 1) Is it possible for me to obtain a new work visa from a new employer supposing I still have the old one from my old employer in my passport and it is still "valid"? What are the prospects of this? What about other types of visas? My main concern is to stay in Russia without legal problems, not desperate for work.
2) Since refusing to turn in your passport, have you been able to cross any borders? Should I decide to follow the same path and not give them my passport, am I to expect any issues at border control when my visa expiry date finally comes and it's time to go home?

Lt. Columbo on September 20, 2016 at 12:38 AM said...

Hey man, no worries, to answer your question:

1: yes, but it's not that simple. a potential new employer will need to issue you with an invitation first - then you take that invite back to the US and process it into a new work visa with a new employer - your old visa will be annulled
much like Highlander, there can be only one active, valid visa. as a US cit tho, you could look into getting a 3 year tourist visa and working illegally on that

2. you will be fine. even if you get fired, your visa is valid until someone from the FMS stamps it 'annulled'- which they cant do unless you give them your passport. i never handed over my passport and happily stayed until the end of my visa.

Anonymous said...

Me again. Thanks so much for the quick reply. I have a couple follow-ups.
First, I didn't quite understand-are you saying I have to go to the US to get a new work visa? That is pretty unfeasible for me, as I was hoping to do it all from within Russia. If I need to cross a border, maybe I can just take a train somewhere and come back with the proper documents (my visa is multi-entry). Maybe you meant I must send the invite to the US via mail? Can you clarify?
Second and this is a weird question, I admit. I'm trying to figure out if there is a way I can stay til the end of the visa-assuming I get fired-without pissing my employer off. Unfortunately, I would actually like to keep them as a solid reference on my resume (I won't go into the details of my being fired, but basically it's because I cannot accept additional work load, not because I didn't do my job) because they are a big name. But now I'm wondering if they will just try to screw me over for refusing to hand them the passport. Can you think of a 'sneaky' way I might get around this little problem? Maybe I can tell them I have bought my ticket, so goodbye and no, I don't have time to give you my passport sort of thing.

Lt. Columbo on September 20, 2016 at 7:36 PM said...

If you have residence in another country, you can process a Russian visa there (so for example, i have Bulgarian residency and can thus process a Russian visa here)
But if you dont, you can only apply for a Russian visa in a country where you are a resident, which in your case would be the US - there's no way around it
my US friend managed to do it in Ukraine by paying a sneaky bribe, however, he almost got in serious trouble doing it and, personally, i wouldnt recommend you take that risk

a few years ago you could do it the way you said, ie quick train to Finland and new visa, but alas, no more

as for question 2 - you will probably be fine as your employer probably wont even ask for your passport. in theory, once they annul a contract, the visa should also be annulled, but in practice, most HR departments dont know or dont care.
if they did ask for your passport, just say there's no need as you are leaving Russian in X days - then just dont leave :)

Unknown on September 23, 2016 at 2:40 PM said...

Hi Columbo, Jay here. Nice article. I'm a long time expat and my question is actually about LEAVING with a Russian work visa. I've recently found a job in China and I've decided to leave Moscow. I will apply for a (legitimate) Chinese work visa soon in London but the problem is that my Russian work visa hasn't expired yet. I work freelance and my work sponsor is more of a travel agency so to speak. My question is: would I need to 'annul' myself in Moscow before I leave (and would this threaten future applications), can I cancel my visa in my own country, or can I actually have two work visas for different countries in my passport (amazeballs!) This is probably not a common question but any help would be massively appreciated. Thanks.

Lt. Columbo on September 27, 2016 at 12:57 AM said...

Hey Jay, no you dont need to annul yourself lol. just leave Russia and go get that Chinese visa. makes no difference to anybody if you happen to have an active Russian visa, the Chinese would only care if you had another Chinese visa active, and even if you did, they would just be replaced by the new Chinese visa

Unknown on October 11, 2016 at 8:36 AM said...

Hi Columbo. if i have amulti entry visa sponsored by one school, leave that school and then move to another school, will I encounter any major problems? I was told that I MUST go back to the UK and reapply for a single entry visa with my new school, but if I've already got a multi entry in my passport, why must i do it? What is the likelihood that thye will force me to get it anulled?

Thanks :)

Lt. Columbo on October 12, 2016 at 11:55 PM said...

it depends on your new school - if your old multi entry work visa is still valid and the new employer doesnt mind, you can work for them - technically they should get you a new work permit, but if they are happy to let you work illegally a bit on teh old one, just do it

if you do that, you will want to make sure they have your new work invite ready at least a month before your current visa runs out - then you go home and process that invite into a new work visa

if you want to do everything by the book - you will need to wait for the new company to issue you a new work invitation which you will take back to your home country and process into a new work visa

hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

Hi Columbo,

I am a Telecommunication Expert and i want to work in Russia as a freelancer, i used to receive many offers for working there through recruitment companies but usually didn't complete as they always want someone who already has the visa in hands "as usually the positions are URGENT ones", can the Business visa work for this case and be my solution?

Also please note that i have traveled to Russia many time and hold many Russian Visas on my passport but all was for study and tourism purpose.

Will highly appreciate your feedback,

Regards,


Lt. Columbo on December 3, 2016 at 11:14 PM said...

it's a chicken and egg situation - to work in russia, you need someone to hire you. most companies cant handle all the bullshit needed to actually employ a foreigner
a business visa is no good beacuse, even if it's a year multi entry exit, you can't stay more than 90 days

also , the companies would have to pay you illegally since they could only pay you properly if you have a work visa from them

so, the only real option is to travel to russia on, say a business visa, purchase a work visa via a place i used to use, wait 3 months, process a work visa then, ofically work for this place and unofficially do whatever you want

Anonymous said...

Hi Columbo,

I just wanted to share my experience with a teacher work visa and have your opinion on the matter. After working for one of the major schools in Moscow (low pay, long hours) I decided to work independently as I already had a few privates. A friend suggested teacherworkvisa.com and after a meeting in their office I paid the fee ($1400) for the 12 month multi-entry teacher work visa. I must say the service was very professional and they even helped fill out the paperwork. My question is this: When the visa expires in 5 months, is it possible for me to extend for another year without paying the fee again? I mean its not cheap and maybe there is a way to extend it myself or through another company?

Thanks for your help and for creating this very useful website :)

Lt. Columbo on January 11, 2017 at 10:25 PM said...

Hey, im not sure, probably you will have to pay the fee again. when i used to buy Work permits, they would last a year and i would have to pay every year.
only the company that issues the visa can extend it, so it will have to be them

good luck!

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am considering quitting my job and traveling for about 3 weeks outside of Russia, returning to Moscow after those 3 weeks. If I do not provide my passport to my current employer before leaving, could my visa still be annulled upon returning through immigration?

Lt. Columbo on January 17, 2017 at 11:59 PM said...

hi, no, they can't annul your visa without actually having your passport and taking that to FMS, so you have nothing to worry about :)

Anonymous said...

Hey there, great article.
What about registration? If you leave the employer you work for pretending to leave the country, can they find out if you actually left the country, e.g. by verifying if you're still registered under their name?
Can they cancel your registration?

Lt. Columbo on February 2, 2017 at 6:22 PM said...

they could maybe go to the police and check if you are still registered with them or possibly cancel your registration.
but getting registration is very easy. just take a train to Riga and back and get a fresh registration. then the won't know where you are

G on February 22, 2017 at 10:12 PM said...

How do you go about getting registration? Doesn't it have to be the company listed on your visa to register you? If not what's the other possibilities?

Lt. Columbo on February 23, 2017 at 11:02 PM said...

there are literally thousands of places to get registration for a fee, they're usually used by Russians from other cities and caucus workers etc, but anyone can get registration provided you have your little white migration card you get on the flight over.
so yeah, your company doesnt have to register you

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