As I said in this post, I’m planning a trip to Sakhalin in August and am going through the process of obtaining a visa.
I got the letter of invitation without any problem once we’d agreed I’m not going to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, this document being compulsory and of such importance to the security of the Russian nation that they can be ordered over the internet for $30 and emailed to you within an hour. I then filled out out the application form, which is completely different from the one which is available for download on the embassy websites and if you arrive with that one you get told to fill in the proper one. Fortunately, I knew about this from the last time I applied so had a spare copy with me and could fill it out at home.
Which is just as well when faced with questions such as:
“List all educational establishments you have ever attended, except high schools.” Twenty character spaces are provided for writing the address and phone number of each.
“List your last two places of work, excluding the current one.” and include the name, address, your position, phone number, date of joining and dismissal, and “Your chief’s surname”. Presumably that last one is for native Americans. For your current job, they give you two small lines in which to enter your position, company name, address, phone number, fax number, and email.
“List all countries you have visited in the last ten years and indicate the year of visit.” Three small lines are provided for this information; mine looks like this:
Azerbaijan (2008), Cambodia (2008), Canada (2000), Hong Kong (2010), Ind0nesia (2007, 2010), Japan (2008-09), Kazakhstan (2008), Kuwait (2003-06), Malaysia (2002, 2009-10), Netherlands (2005), Oman (2003, 2006), Philippines (2008), Qatar (2005-06), Russia (2004-10), Singapore (2001-2, 2007, 2009-10), South Korea (2005, 2007), Spain (2008), Thailand (2007, 2009-10), Turkey (2007), UAE (2003-06), UK (2003-06, 2008-09), Ukraine (2005), USA (2000, 2004), Vietnam (2008).
Needless to say, I needed a separate piece of paper and it took a couple of hours of nosing through old passports looking at smudged entry and exit stamps to figure it all out. Not something you want to have to do when you arrive at a Russian consulate.
Anyway, I filled out this ludicrous form and went to Malaysia, where I am sitting now. Why the hell did you go to Malaysia? I hear you all asking. Because there is a daft rule the Russians have invented which says you can only apply for a visa at an embassy in a country in which you hold a residence permit of more than 90 days, which for most people means you can only apply in your home country. But for some reason the Russian embassy in KL accepts visa applications from Brits even if they don’t live there (I blogged about the inconsistency and unpredictablity of Russian embassies when I was last here).
Sure enough, today was no different. I walked in, the admin lady said it would be ready either today or Friday depending on how much I paid. The embassy is closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays so no chance of getting it tommorow, so I chose today. I submitted my documents, then ten minutes later the lady behind the counter came out saying it would take seven days. Seven days?!! Where the hell did that come from? That’s what the consul said, apparently. So I asked why it was going to take seven days and not the usual 1-3, and suddenly the consul burst into view shouting “Vot is ze problem, I say seven days, feeneesh!” and slammed the door shut.
The admin lady looked very apologetic and said she didn’t know why this has happened, and I replied that I did: these are Russia authorities and they are being typically hopeless. As I gathered up my documents with the intention of flying back to Thailand and sending them all off to a visa agent in London (which would probably have been cheaper in the first place), she whispered that maybe I should come back tomorrow because they usually do express visas on a Thursday morning.
“Huh?” I replied “I thought the embassy was closed on Thursdays. And that dickhead in there said it would take seve…”
“Yes, I know,” she said “but call me at 9am tomorrow and we might be able to get your visa for you then.”
Somebody should produce a reality TV show set inside a Russian consulate. It would be certain to generate both entertainment and wide-eyed amazement in equal measure.
I’ll call ’em up tomorrow and see what happens then.