Work visa to Russia for foreign English/ESL teachers.
How to make a work visa and work as a freelance English teacher in Moscow. All legal (and almost legal) ways of getting a work visa.
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 work 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), checking available teaching jobs in Russia 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.
Here’s a short version of the story of how to make a work visa to Russia via an agency — if you are freelance teacher or digital nomad.
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 work visas.
Single-entry work 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.
Multiple-entry work visa (многократная). Issued in Russia following the single-entry work visa, when you don’t change the employer who provided you the initial visa, meaning you don’t need to leave Russia to have it renewed. Accordingly, if you have your work visa renewed by a different company then you must leave Russia to have it issued.
Now, If you have either one of these visas or are in the process of applying for them, there’s no difference in “the 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), 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, the immediate issue of visa (without 3-months single-entry work 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 work visa but the duration is longer.
Single-entry work 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 work 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, which 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 a single-entry work 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 your 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 entries) don’t allow you to work in Russia. However, many people do work and overstay their allotted time, 90 days during every 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 the 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.
Ways of getting a visa
Too obvious to mention, but a work visa is issued by a company that is registered in Russia and confirms your legal status as an employee of this company. This 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).
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 a non-paid internship without an employment contract, but a 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 the 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 a 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 in 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 the exception of the company's 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).
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 will vary, you are basically paying for people’s time and risks.
Below are the prices I have seen:
Single-entry work 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 work 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 167.000 rubles (~2.200 USD) per month (minimal possible amount for this type of visa), each month the company will pay 2.200*0,46=1000 USD in taxes.
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 work visa:
- Ask for recommendations from your fellow teachers/friends
- Check how long the company has been operating
- Ask for details you have just read here, e.g. social security certificate and taxes
Visa service is widely practiced but still has its risks, please don’t consider this as legal advice.
Get in touch and I will recommend a trusted visa service provider