If you decide to change your full-time job to freelance work or Russia simply sounds like a good digital nomad destination, you will need a visa to stay long-term.
Feb 25, 2021 · 5 min read
Traditionally, Russia has always been considered a dangerous country thanks to bad PR in the Western media. Generally, most information about Russia on Nomadlist is outdated and more relevant to the late 200X. Ask a friend currently living in Russia when was the last time they experienced an issue with safety.
What type of visa should I choose to stay in Russia long-term?
A Business visa to Russia will give you a maximum of 90 days of stay each 180 days. You still might be lucky and make a few visa-runs but if you want to avoid the risk of being banned, you will need a more stable solution, like a work visa.
As a foreigner, you’ll need to apply for a work visa, which is provided by your employer. This is done via an invitation that allows you to apply for a work visa.
Here are a few options to consider:
- Obtain a work visa through an agency
- Get a high-qualified employee visa
- Become a general manager of an LLC
- Work in Russia as a self-employed person
Let’s review each option in more detail.
Work visa via an agency
One of the options that you could try using is an agency (technically, an umbrella company) that registers you as an employee for a fee. This service usually doesn’t come cheap — expect to pay $1000 and up, but involves less hustle from your side. With this option, you will get a so-called “common” work visa, which you need to renew every year.
Learn more about the process.
High-Qualified employee visa
It’s not really an option for a freelancer, but from time to time, you might see offers to get this type of visa.
With a high-qualified employee visa, you can stay longer than with a common work visa — for up to 3 years. It’s much harder to find a company/agency that will create this visa for you, and the chance of this company going out of operation or closing within these three years is quite high.
Consider this option if you have a real employer ready to hire you and pay the necessary salary amount (~$2500/month) and taxes. The HQS visa process is usually easier as your employer doesn’t need to apply for quotas to hire foreigners — a high salary gives you the green light.
Become a general manager of an LLC
When you are using this option, you technically invite yourself to be a general manager of your own company. It works well when you have clients in Russia who want to buy your services and require you to have a legal presence here, as from your client’s perspective, it’s much easier to work with your legal entity — fewer taxes and clear invoicing.
The process of opening a company is not complicated, but it’s recommended that you hire a Russian-speaking person or agency to deal with registration paperwork. Opening a company via an agency would cost $100–200, and it’s much more complicated to shut down a company than to open it.
You will also need a permanent address to use as the legal address for your company — it can be the apartment you own. Renting a legal address is also possible, but it might cost you about $300–500 per year to have a legal address for your company and postal address to receive correspondence.
You will need to know Russian in order to do accounting for your company, even if you don’t think it’s that complicated. This can be done via services like Kontur Elba which offer monthly, quarterly, and yearly reports. Hiring an accountant could cost you $50–100 a month if you have a small business. Even if you don’t generate any revenue, you still need to pay yourself a salary as the CEO (you are technically an employee of the company).
As you can see, this option is not very convenient when you simply need a visa and no other incentives to register a business in Russia. In case you already have a resident permit and want to start a business in Russia, here’s the detailed instruction on how to become an individual entrepreneur (self-employed person).
Work in Russia as a self-employed person (freelancer)
To work as a self-employed individual (freelancer) in Russia, you can apply for a Russian work permit and visa. You still need a visa invitation, which you can apply for via the General Directorate of Migratory Affairs (GUVM), which is a part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD).
When applying for the Russian work visa, you will need to explain the benefit of your self-employment in the country. Russian individuals or organizations can provide an introductory letter, helping you to justify your employment.
Even though this option sounds appealing, it will require preparation, and some connections that help prove your work as a freelancer in Russia would be beneficial. If you are looking to start a business, it might be easier to apply for a Business visa at first and then change your type of visa as soon as you have a clearer understanding of your business in Russia.
Getting a work visa to Russia is not easy, but let’s look at the options based on complexity.
The easiest way for a freelancer to obtain a visa is via an agency, and the second is to apply for a work visa as a self-employed person. It’s also the cheapest option, especially if you have friends or business partners who are willing to help you with that.
Opening a company and becoming a general manager is feasible when you want to start a business in Russia. And a high-qualified specialist visa via a respectable employer will allow you to stay in Russia and establish various income streams when working as a freelancer.