We are learning that Russia is a difficult country to travel to as American passport holders. Not only do we need a tourist visa but we need a “letter of invitation” in order to get our tourist visas. I wish obtaining a “letter of invitation” was as easy as serving Peter’s Russian colleague vodka and steak and handing him a pen and piece of paper but it is not.
Since invitation letters are required for Russian tourist visas, there is an entire industry built around charging the living daylights out of people who need invitation letters so they can obtain their Russian tourist visas so they can visit Russia and spend their hard-earned cash supporting the Russian economy. After learning a little bit about Russian culture through Peter’s colleague, none of this really surprises me. Luckily, our hotel provides “letters of invitation” for its guests for free!
Our hotel’s “letter of invitation” process was as follows:
- Fill out a form.
- Fax the form to the hotel.
- Receive the invitation letter within one business day via fax.
Peter and I tried tirelessly for two weeks to get the fax to send from the United Kingdom to Russia. I have very little experience with domestic faxing much less international faxing. We tried from Peter’s office, from various online faxing services, and from the local Mail Boxes Etc. branch. All attempts failed.
Finally fed up with all the faxing nonsense, I emailed the hotel and informed them of our faxing woes. I received a response explaining that they received two of the three pages (the cover sheet and Peter’s form) a couple of days ago but there wasn’t an email address or phone number on the cover sheet so they had no way to contact Peter.
This is one of my frustrations about Europe and now Russia. From the form they received, they had Peter’s first name, last name, date of our reservation, and other information that could help locate Peter (and contact details) in their reservation system. There is a general lack of thinking outside of the box and desire to make customers happy on this side of the Atlantic.
The hotel response went on to state that we could scan the forms and email them to the hotel as an alternative to faxing the forms. The hotel would then send our invitation letters back to us via a method of our choice (email or fax). A win-win situation as we didn’t have to pay to fax the forms to St. Petersburg nor have to pay to receive the faxes at Mail Boxes Etc.
I’m happy to report that, as of an hour ago, we have received our invitation letters! I cannot put into words how special I feel now that I have been finally invited to visit Russia! I wonder how many other countries need to invite you to their country before you can choose to visit their country?
The next step is to deliver the invitation letters, our passports, and proof of our flights to the Russian Embassy in London.
“When you send an idiot to the store to buy vodka, the idiot only buys one bottle”. – Peter’s Russian colleague, Sergei.
Click here for the next post in the ongoing Russia saga.