Working visa to Russia for foreign teachers.

All legal (and almost legal) ways of getting it.
In this article, I will share my experience working with agents, agencies, and schools and reveal details they usually omit and prefer you not to know.

If you are an experienced teacher and are tired of working for a school, kindergarten or any other institution — obtaining a working visa for yourself is a logical step to an independent freelance career. It can be hard to find and keep private students, in particular here in Russia, they are quite picky. So before we begin, if you have zero teaching experience (helping your younger siblings with their homework doesn’t count), finding a job on our career page is a good place to start.

If you have a queue of students who are ready to go (not from your school, of course) — let’s begin.

Throughout this article I will include Russian abbreviations or translations — (cursive in parenthesis). Also, figures like taxes, minimum salary and visa prices are given at the time of writing — March, 2018. I will only write about visas for foreign teachers from countries outside the former Soviet Union. I will also skip details about miscellaneous documents — copies of passport, immigration card, registration, photos and so on — if you are an experienced teacher these should be a no-brainer. I will, however, describe in scrutiny important details about taxes.
Disclaimer: In Russia, the severity of laws is compensated by the lack of commitment to their execution. Most of the approaches listed here are not 100% legal but nobody cares.

Types of working visas.

Single-entry working visa (однократная, обыкновенная рабочая - ОР). Issued during your first employment term with a company, lasting a maximum of 90 days. This type of visa is issued by a Russian embassy outside of Russia, based on the letter of invitation from your employer.
Single-entry working visa (teacher)

Multiple-entry working visa (многократная). Issued in Russia following the single-entry working visa, when you don’t change employer who provided you the initial visa, meaning you don’t need to leave Russia to have it renewed. Accordingly, if you have your working visa renewed by a different company then you must leave Russia to have it issued.
Multiple-entry working visa (employment)

Now, If you have either one of these visas or are in the process of applying for them, there’s no difference in "purpose of visit" as mentioned in the invitation or visa. It can be "teacher" (ПРЕПОДАВАТЕЛЬ) as in the first picture, which means the company has an educational license or "employment" (РАБОТА ПО НАЙМУ) as in the second picture, which means a company doesn’t have an educational license but has obtained a certain quota to hire foreigners. Most English schools will provide you with "teacher," agencies — with "employment."

Highly-Qualified Specialist Visa ("HQS") (высококвалифицированный специалист - ВКС). This type of visa is reserved for foreigners making an official salary of more than 2.000.000 rubles a year. This also means your company will pay all taxes including social and income tax. HQS status is therefore given more preference, e.g. 3-year stay, immediate issue of visa (without 3-months single-entry working visa). If this type of visa is offered to you by an agency, it usually means they have registered a fake company. After some time, the Federal Migration Service could put the company under investigation. The good news, you will have already entered Russia. The bad news, you could face deportation, this is highly unlikely but the risk is there. HQS visa looks just like a multiple-entry working visa but the duration is longer.

Processing time

Single-entry working visa — it usually takes the school a week to process a letter of invitation (not including shipping to your country). From then, it depends on the teacher’s country/embassy for visa processing, normally 7−10 business days. Some embassies offer faster delivery, 2−3 days, but you will have to pay a handsome fee.
Multiple-entry working visa As of 2018 — the major rule change is that your employer needs to apply for a multiple-entry visa with a 20 working days waiting period, (not 20 regular days as before). During this time you are provided with a document stating your passport is being processed for a visa renewal. Keep in mind long Russian holidays, they can prolong your visa wait.
You can also pay for 1-day processing, ask the agency/school for pricing.
Visa for highly-qualified specialist Generally, the process for HQS is the same for single-entry working visa, because you also get a letter of invitation and apply to an embassy abroad.

Registration (of staying)

Every time you travel in and out of Russia or change visa, you should be provided with new registration of stay, with a physical address of your employment. Timely notification to your agency/company about arrivals/departures is your responsibility.

Other types of visas

Contrary to popular belief, business visas (both single entry and multiple entry) don’t allow you to work in Russia. However, many people do work and overstay their allotted time, 90 days during each 180 days, as stated by Russian law (the blue box in the picture). I don’t recommend this practice. The reason why is because custom agents are now paying more attention to period of stay and purpose of visit. Odds are, nothing will happen but please beware. A quick heads up, just don’t look like a construction worker when arriving with a business visa and everything should be fine.
Business visa. Valid for 90 days.

Ways of getting a visa

Umbrella companies/agencies

Too obvious to mention, but a working visa is issued by a company that is registered in Russia and confirms your legal status as an employee of this company. Which means a company (and Russian Government) treats you as any other local employee with minor differences to tax obligations. And Labor law is equally applicable to any person working in Russia.
In a perfect world, when a company hires you, it supplies all the necessary documents and pays all taxes. In reality, half or 2/3 of your salary is paid in cash, "under the radar" of tax service. For an umbrella company that you are not really working for, there’s no reason or incentive to make everything legal and proper. With that being said, during your first month of employment, your company should apply for a Pension fund and issue you a social security certificate (in Russian — СНИЛС).
Social security certificate


There are some agencies though, who do issue a social security certificate and pay minimal taxes, they of course charge more for their services.
Important: 3-months single-entry visa is crafted mainly for internships and trial periods. So, if you were hired by a Russian company these first 3-months can be non-paid internship without a working contract, but multiple-entry visa application is always submitted with a copy of the contract that states your salary and conditions of employment.
Applying for a visa through an umbrella company will get you the visa, but doesn’t guarantee the formalities of your employment — minimal social and income tax paid by the company, notification to Federal Migration Service (FMS) and properly filling a registration of stay. Since 2017, FMS has integrated with Ministry of Internal Affairs (Министерство Внутренних Дел — МВД). The good news — the responsibility for employment formalities lays with the employer. Hiring or firing a foreign citizen without notice to FMS makes the company subject to a fine of 1,5 million rubles. The Bad news — you can be denied entry or expelled from Russia if the company that issued your visa is closed or under investigation.
For agencies, the process of opening and liquidation is a normal business practice.

Visa friendly schools

Visa friendly schools don’t advertise this service but asking the right people helps find a reputable company and reasonable price. Since 2015 educational licenses have been issued to LLCs (not solely for educational entities), so there are plenty of companies that have received licenses solely to make visas.

Become a General Manager of an LLC

"If nobody will provide me with work (and visa), then I will provide it myself." Personally speaking, having been the GM of several LLCs, I would not recommend this approach. Firstly, there are plenty of agencies who will assist you in opening a company for roughly $ 100−200. However, you then become responsible for managing the company and reporting incomes and file accounts on a timely manner.

Secondly, to keep your company alive you need to open a bank account (costs from 10 to 50 USD a month) and pay minimal taxes for yourself as the GM of your company. The government doesn't like inactive companies, especially without any cash flow, so without the aforementioned steps, your LLC will be closed and you'll be banned from any GM post of any other company for 3 years. Thirdly, with exception to company forced liquidation by the government as I said before, it's much more complicated to close a company and open a new one, especially if you suffer losses are in debt.

Please remember, a GM doesn't own company funds and simple money withdrawal from a bank account (even after paying income/corporate tax) is considered tax evasion. To make "everything clear" you need to pay an additional 9% tax on dividends and then 13% income tax as an individual (30% instead of 13% if you are have been living in Russia for less than 180 days, which makes you a Russian tax resident).

Permanent residency.

The easiest way to become a Russian resident is through a fake (or real) marriage but it takes 1 to 2 years and requires a lot of paperwork. Consider this as the last option until you meet your soulmate in Russia.

Prices

Prices will vary, you are basically paying for people's time and risks.
Below are prices I have seen:
Single-entry working visa — Commonly sold as a package with a 1 year multiple-entry visa. If you plan to work freelance, cash-in-hand, for 3 months or less, it's easier to come with a business visa.
Multiple-entry working visa - 500−2000 USD. The price depends on if the agency plans to pay taxes and how much money they want to make, you can expect to pay $ 1000−1200. To have it rushed (1 day): another $ 100−200.
High-qualified specialist visa: 2000−2500 USD.
Remember, the taxes a company should pay equals about 46% of gross salary. So, if your official salary is 10.000 rubles (181 USD) a month, the company will pay 180*0,46*12=1000 USD. At least they should pay that amount. You can ask for your official salary and do the math. Can they actually pay 46% of your gross salary?

Registration: 30-50 USD. Every time you travel in and out of Russia (have a new arrival stamp in your passport).

Your checklist for getting a working visa:

1
Ask for recommendations from your fellow teachers/friends
2
Check how long the company has been operating
3
Ask for details you have just read here, e.g. social security certificate and taxes
4
Avoid middlemen
Visa service is widely practiced but still has its risks.
On teach.fm
you can look for schools who provide working visas, if they employ you. Check benefits section.
In case you have some information to add please leave it in the comment box.
Posted on March 21, 2018 · by teach.fm team
Thanks to Oscar Delgado for finding the time to correct this.
Photo by Tom GRIMBERT on Unsplash