Obtain a visa. Check.
It's unbelievable the hoops you have to jump through in order to cross the Russian border. First, receive an invitation from the country in order to apply for a visa. You can get one through the travel agent you booked with, the hotel you're staying at, or online (like I did) if you are staying with friends of a friend and found a flight on your own. In the end, all the whole purpose of the invitation is all about money.
Second, tackle the visa application. I've dealt with my share of visas in the past few years, but never have I gone through such an intensive process as I did to get this one. I tried contacting the Russian Consulate a number of times to request clarification on which documents were needed for the visa, but to no avail. Each attempt would result in a busy signal or 20 minutes worth of a recording, which in the end would get you no where. Frustrated, because I didn't want to go all the way to Den Haag only to be rejected due to not having all the correct documents, I scoured the internet for 3rd party agencies that could handle the entire process for me. It was then that rain ceased, the clouds parted and sunlight shone upon me... because I found an agency that would help! They stated that I would need to bring the filled out visa application, 2 passport photos, my passport, the invitation, a copy of my residency permit, and (since I'm living in Europe) proof that my insurance will cover me in Russia.
I filled out the visa application provided on the Den Haag Russian Consulate website, made a copy of my travel insurance that I had (thankfully) gotten a few months prior, grabbed the rest of the required items and biked my way over to the 3rd party visa agency after work. I was on a time constraint though, in more ways than one. I arrived 40 minutes before the agency closed for the day and I only had 9 working days to get the visa before I needed my passport again. The agent took my paperwork and started looking over them. Within 30 seconds his face scrunched up as he said "um, there's a slight problem here." Oh geez, of course. Apparently, I filled out the visa application for European citizens. The application for American citizens is different.
The American citizen application is an entire page longer and essentially asks for your life story in 500 words or less. I had to provide my parents full names, the name and address of the schools I attended- indicating the years I graduated, the names and addresses of my previous employers and the positions I held, all organizations with which I belong or ever have belonged to. *(Slight pause to avoid an even longer run-on sentence.)* I had to verify that I don't have skills or experiences relating to fire-arms, explosives, or nuclear matters, that I was never in the military, that I have never been involved in an armed conflict either as a member of the military or as a victim, along with listing all the countries I had visited in the past 10 years.
During the 30 minutes it took me to fill out that form, the agent again scrunched up his face and said, "um, there's another problem... about your health insurance." The insurance did not clearly state that it was world wide coverage, or more specifically, that the coverage included the Russian Federation. I called the insurance company and requested a certificate proving such, and was told I probably wouldn't receive it until the end of the week. So, not only did I leave the 3rd party visa office after closing hours, I ran into the possibility of not receiving my visa by the 14th.
But, as luck would have it, my insurance certificate arrived last Thursday, all documentation was sent to the consulate on Friday and I was approved for a visa. So, I don't mind the fact that I had to pay the astronomical fee it took to put a rush on the visa process along with the 3rd party fee, since I received my visa yesterday. Because the cost of having my passport back just in time for my Norwegian birthday extravaganza is... well, priceless.