Many of my friends and relatives from back home in the United States have visited me here in Russia since I became Ambassador. Most of them knew relatively little about Russia—some carried common misconceptions about Russia and the Russian people. I’ve enjoyed showing my family and friends the Russia that I know and respect, and it has truly amazed me how much each of my guests learned in a short visit. Even my parents, who had not traveled overseas in twenty years, returned home full of stories about the fascinating culture and warm hospitality they experienced in this country.
We need more of those stories to be told, in the United States and in Russia alike. That’s why one of my top priorities during my time as Ambassador is to make it easier for Russians and Americans to visit each other in person, to get to know each other’s countries and cultures as they truly are. Facilitating travel between the U.S. and Russia is also a top economic priority for me, as it is for President Obama, because we know that Russian and American businesses depend on being able to visit clients, conduct negotiations, and purchase equipment abroad. And to do that, they need visas.
Last Tuesday, I joined my colleagues from the Embassy’s Consular Section and the U.S. Commercial Service to speak to a group of over a hundred Russian travel agents and tour operators. I shared some very good news. Thanks to productive cooperation between our two governments, a new visa agreement entered into force on September 9 that will make travel between Russia and the United States easier and cheaper than ever before. The Embassy website has details on the improvements in our bilateral visa regime, but here is the bottom line: from now on, Russians and Americans traveling for business or tourism can apply for three-year multi-entry visas. No official letters of invitation will be required to apply for a visa (and Russians need not present plane tickets or hotel reservations). Meanwhile, the United States has slashed the issuance fee for the new three-year visa from $100 to just $20. The total cost will be just $180, including the $160 application fee charged worldwide.
The people who gathered at our Consular Section last Tuesday included many who have worked in the travel industry for 20 years or more. Several recalled what it was like trying to travel between our countries in the early 1990s (an experience I remember from my own personal history). We have come a long way since then. Today, Russians make over 200,000 trips per year to the United States, a number that has grown tremendously in recent years thanks to the work of groups like VisitUSA Russia
I am confident that even more Russians will choose to visit the United States in the coming years, and we continue to take steps to meet this demand and improve service for Russian applicants. I have already written on this blog
about some of those steps. Russians enjoy free passport delivery, free call center support, and 24-hour online registration for visa interviews. Even more importantly, thanks to an expanded visa renewal program, one in five Russian applicants now receives an American visa without an interview.
With their three-year visas in hand, hopefully more Russians will take the opportunity to visit the United States more than once. If you have traveled before on business, why not take your family to experience New Year’s in New York? If you have seen our big cities, why not soak in the beauty of our national parks—for example, Yellowstone or Glacier? Both of those parks are close to where I grew up in the state of Montana, and I believe they’re among the most beautiful places on earth You can start your U.S. visa
application by visiting ustraveldocs.ru
Meanwhile, more Americans will be taking advantage of the new visa agreement that will make their travel to Russia easier. Do you have advice on what they should see here? Share your travel tips (or your plans for travel to the United States) in the comments below.