The True Costs of Visas

(note: this post was updated in 2019)

The Visa applications for China and Russia are filled out, documentation copied, and passports shipped for our Round the World trip! And now we wait for everything to come back processed with green checks. Getting everything together for the applications took quite some time. Little did I know when I booked the trip what the true costs of Visas would be.

China’s Visa Process

For China, although the application was fairly straight forward, we had to complete all of our planning in order to complete the application. This included making our reservations for our hotel and identifying the train numbers of our overnight trains. Thanks to the good folks at Marriott, where we have cashed in points for two stays, after much email back and forth and one overseas call, we received email letters confirming our stay!

The Chinese train numbers were a bit more challenging. We will arrive in Beijing, stay one night at the Marriott, take an overnight train to Xian to see the Terra Cota warriors, take the overnight train back, and then stay our fourth and final night again at the Marriott. The Chinese want to know where we are every night, which required me to research the train numbers, departures, etc. Well, thanks to a brilliant website and big kudos to the Man in Seat 61, I was able to glean all the Chinese train info I needed from his wonderful information.

China also wanted proof of our departure, which we easily provided with our airline itinerary. I thought it was funny that we had to prove we were leaving. Good thing we don’t  have any relatives in China, as we would have had to prove our relationships. I can’t imagine the paperwork involved in that endeavor!

Russia’s Visa Process

As for Russia, its application was a bit more interesting–it doesn’t ask for all the itinerary details, but Russia does want to know where we are staying and an official “Letter of Invitation.” We are staying at an AirBnB apartment, which is owned by a single Russian citizen. She is unwilling to supply us a letter of invitation, which is a required portion of the Russian application. For her to supply it, she has to go to the local police and fill in a bunch of paper work. I don’t blame her for not wanting to supply an invite.

But thank goodness for good old Russian red tape camouflaged as capitalism. For a measly $30 per person, there are many websites that will furnish an “official invitation.” It just takes a credit card and a passport number, and voila, one arrives in your email box in less than 30 seconds. The cheapest provider I found was at I paid my $90 and got three properly addressed letters in 20 seconds.

Russia also wanted to know where my husband and I both completed our secondary education. Plus, they wanted to know our current employer and two previous employers, but not necessarily the most recent. So, prior to my working at Pearson, I worked at American Express and the Florida Democratic Party. I’m not sure what Russia is looking for, but I imagine my employment at the Florida Democratic Party could raise a few eyebrows. Thus, I listed another employer.

Russia asked a few interesting questions; do we have any hazmat, biochemical, or electrical skills? Do we have mental illness? Do we belong to any organizations opposing Russia? My answers were all no, but seriously, why would you answer yes if you wanted to really enter the country? I wonder if the US asks any of these questions on its Visa applications.

Using a Visa Service

I spent the morning at Office Depot making the required copies, including some other supporting documentation. By the time it was all compiled, the stack of copies was almost a ream of paper. See the picture below.

I decided to use Travisa in order to process our Visas. They will manage the Chinese and Russian Visas for us, doing China’s first, followed by Russia’s. China’s will be done at the Chicago Consulate, and Russia’s at San Francisco’s. They normally charge about $69 per Visa per person, but AAA has a relationship with Travisa, where the processing fee is reduced to $44 per Visa per person. In addition, we had to pay the Consulate fees, the overnight mail and the signature fees.

The Breakdown of Costs

Here’s a break down of our total costs:

$90 3 (3 x $30) Russian Letters of Invitation
$132 (3 x $44) for Russian processing by Travisa
$525 (3 x $175) Russian Consulate fees
$132 (3 x $44) for Chinese processing by Travisa
$435 (3 x 145) for Chinese Consulate fees
$29 return shipping of Visas to us
$8 priority shipping of Visa to Travia
$3 signature fee
$15 copy fees
$5 photo copying

Total for Visas:

The next time I plan a RTW trip, I’ll be sure to factor in Visas as I map out my itinerary, as the true cost of Visas put us way over our original budget.


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handsome hiking couple

Chris and Steve, the empty-nesting nomads, travel the world, one month at a time, housesitting and Airbnbing along the way. We uncover urban walks, great hikes, and vegan/vegetarian eats that other guide books miss. And we throw in a bit about Forex trading along the way.

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