Why Did Russia Just Lower Its Visa Fee for US Tourists?
As of Feb. 1, Russia has conspicuously decreased its visa entry fees. A single entry embassy fee, the most popular tourist visa, has dropped from $123 to $113 for a US citizen. Similarly, the multiple entry fee decreased from $303 to $273.
The price drop could be attributed to a multitude of factors. One reason behind the cheaper fees? An effort to entice travelers back to Russia after recent plunging numbers of inbound tourists. Statistics by the World Tourism Organization show Russia's tourism numbers have taken a significant hit in the last couple years.
In 2016 and 2017, the most recent years for which data are available, Russia saw a drop in its inbound visitors.
The country had a steadily growing number of visitors from 2013 to 2015, with a jump in "overnight visitors" from 30.8 million people to 33.7 million people respectively. Then in 2016, that metric plummeted to 24.6 million people, and dropped even lower in 2017 to 24.4 million overnight visitors.
While Russia currently has a US State Department travel advisory level 2 out of 4, that's not necessarily a huge tourism deterrent -- popular travel destinations such as Italy, Thailand and the Bahamas have a level 2 rating as well. It's possible recent political disturbances, including accusations of interfering with the 2016 US presidential election, have caused the drop in tourists.
"I've been doing this for eight years now, and I've never seen a country drop their prices down when they're going through some political turmoil," Steve Gempeler from Allied Passport service told TPG. "Often visa fees simply increase due to annual inflation. There are also occasions when relations between countries deteriorate and often this is when governments increase their fees dramatically or make the application process painstakingly difficult and/or process visas for some nationalities at a much slower pace."
While it is unlikely Russia will ever provide answers as to why it has decided to lower its visa prices (it's virtually unheard of for foreign governments to explain why they might change their visa/immigration policies), it's surely something to look at if you're in the market for a trip out east.