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What’s in my bag? [Russian work visa edition]

I’m seriously into the “What’s in my bag?” posts. Call it nosy, call it a way to discover someone else’s much-loved products, call it what you will… I love it. I’ve never done it in the past because I’m frankly not that interesting and my bag usually resembles an explosion more than a curated collection.

But tomorrow’s my visa interview for what feels like the 10,000th time and I thought it might be interesting for you guys to see what’s in my bag for that. Luckily for you all, I switched out to a larger bag so you can miss out on all the receipts and various detritus that’s usually in there.

The Non-Essentials


Sony tablet (highly recommended!) for those boring down times.

The Visa Essentials

Letter of invitation from my new employer
Visa application (available here since it’s kind of hidden in the Russian Embassy’s website)
Criminal-looking passport photo
Cashier’s check ($250 for a 3-day rush)

So that’s my bag! The visa process is kind of tedious but really not that difficult once you get the hang of it. It’s mostly just a time suck if anything. I’m interested to know about all of you other expats working abroad — what’s the difficulty level of the whole process? I’ve only ever worked in Russia, but I’m thinking of new places to go in the upcoming year and I really have no concept of how other countries’ processes work.


  1. China work visas require all kinds of fancy stamped documents and the first time a copy of your diploma and the company business license. Then when you arrive you’ll spend about another month getting the residence permit and work permits. Not the friendliest process.

    • Polly

      Wow, that sounds like a major hassle. I do like the Russian system where most of the burden is on the employer to provide documents, register you, etc.

      Is the process costly, or just time-consuming? I ask because I’ve always had a hankering to work in China. I’d love some first-hand insight. (Aside from your WONDERFUL blog, obviously!)

  2. The Embassy took care of my Mongolian visa, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been – just time-consuming! Though it didn’t help that my primary contact in Mongolia didn’t speak enough English to really explain what she needed from me in order to get the invitation.

    I’m looking to go to Russia in October or so, though – I mean to take the Trans-Siberian through to Europe. How long do you think it’ll take me to get a tourist visa? There’s a consulate here in Erdenet, so I imagine that’ll help, but I’m having trouble finding exact information.

    • Polly

      Oh wow, the Embassy must have been a huge help, regardless of language barrier.

      I think it shouldn’t be too difficult to get a Russian visa. My experience is that rush orders are more costly but very quick (think 2 days) and you can reasonably expect to get a non-rush in 10-14 business days. I’m under the impression that this is pretty universal.

      And, if you make a stop in Moscow, I’ve got a lovely couch that would be happy to see you! (Nobody ever comes to visit me, so I’m constantly issuing invitations!)

      • I will most certainly be visiting Moscow and would love to meet you in person! I’ll mostly likely be making the journey in October; that’s all the info I’ve got at the moment.
        Mongolia, alas, is not on the list of countries available on that list. I guess I just need to find a Mongolian friend to accompany me to the consulate and find out what I need to do. Also I need to figure out where to get that pesky invitation from…

        • Polly

          Invitations can be bought if you do your visa through a company and then have it sent directly to you (might be easier for you in Mongolia, but I’m not sure). The Russky is also Russian (obviously) and registered so he could write you a letter of invitation as an option, even if we don’t meet up.

          Once you figure stuff out you should definitely send me an e-mail and maybe we can help hook you up since I know first-hand what a pain it is.

  3. My bag resembles a rubbish bin most of the time!

    As an EU citizen working in the EU, I’ve (thankfully) never had to do the visa thing. It always sounds like soooo much work!

    • Polly

      You enviable, lucky Schengen area people! I’d love to get my American paws on an EU passport. I clearly came to the wrong part of the world for that, though!

  4. Polly — I’m just as nosy as you and so I super appreciated this post!!! The visas I’ve had were typically arranged by the program I was affiliated with, so they’ve been pretty busy. I don’t think I had to pay for any of them… but then again, Europe and the US have pretty tight relations, so that probably is why.

  5. The Mexico visa process I can only describe as a once a year nightmare. I’ve got my renewal coming up and I’m already dreading it. I’ve done it for five years now, and it’s so stressful that every single time I have ended up crying, either in the immigration office itself, or in the courtyard outside. Waaah. They’ve just changed the process this year as well, so I won’t have a clue what to do this time. Loved having a nosey in your bag! :)

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