A vast country with so many different distinct peoples, culture, and history - Russia has captured many a heart. While there are downsides and limitations to living in any country, there are many distinct advantages that a large population of expats have come to love and understand.
While the image of a cold arctic tundra isn’t totally untrue if you’ll be living in the northern region, Russia does enjoy beautiful summer months. Not to mention, there are parts of the country that are near-tropical. And the green, hilly landscapes that span the entire nation are stunning. If you’re not an outdoorsy person, you may also find the diverse and historic architecture in Russian cities to be interesting and aesthetically pleasing.
Another huge draw for foreigners is the low cost of living in relation to the relatively high salaries paid by international companies operating in the country. In the recent past, startup and tech communities are booming. As such, it’s no surprise that many expats are looking into cementing their ties with the nation in the form of citizenship as they start businesses, seek jobs and simply enjoy the Russian way of life.
This guide will walk you through the most important steps and processes for obtaining citizenship, so you can get started on building your life and business in Russia.
Ultimately, there isn’t much of a difference between holding a permanent residence permit and a citizenship in Russia. Permanent residents have almost identical rights to natural citizens, and hiring permanent residence permit (PRP) holders may actually be advantageous for Russian businesses over hiring citizens. A PRP is valid for 5 years and can be renewed an indefinite number of times.¹
Unlike a PRP, however, a citizenship never needs to be renewed, and you won’t be faced with the possible loss of your visa. Citizenship also means visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 105 countries with your Russian passport², many of which require visas for American and UK citizens specifically.
Many expats do choose to remain in the country on a PRP rather than apply for citizenship, however. One reason for this is the belief that becoming a Russian citizen means leaving behind your homeland permanently. While this is widely believed to be the case, most expats aren't required to revoke their citizenship in order to obtain a Russian one, unless their home country doesn’t allow them to hold dual nationality.
Gone are the days with strict travel restrictions inside Russia. However, one slight downside to PRP holders versus Russian citizens is the travel restriction to closed Russian cities and territories, which are often locations that have specific military purposes. If you’re a PRP, you won’t be able to visit these places under any circumstances³. In reality, though, you likely won’t ever need to visit any of these 44 closed cities anyhow. Russian citizens themselves would need to get permissions either by being officially invited to the city by one of its residents or have a government-approved reason to go there⁴. But this restriction is something you probably won’t lose sleep over.
Like many countries in Europe, though, regardless of whether you’re a citizen or not, you’ll need to register where you live in Russia if you reside in a place for over 90 days⁵. If just visiting Russia to begin with, bear in mind that your host will need to register you with the immigration registry if you stay for more than 7 business days⁶.
Yes, dual citizenship is recognized in Russia⁷ and there are over a million people who hold Russian citizenship in addition to another passport. It’s important to check your home country’s laws on dual citizenship before you begin your application, however. In many countries that don't allow dual citizenship, merely applying for a second nationality is just cause to have citizenship revoked.
Many sources on the web claim that a step in the citizenship application process is revoking your previous citizenship⁸. However, rest assured, as long as your home country allows dual citizenship, this isn't the case. Foreign nationals shouldn't worry about being able to keep their previous citizenship as they apply for their Russian one.
There are a few ways to gain Russian citizenship, depending on your circumstances. They are generally split into 3 categories⁹:
- citizenship by birth
- citizenship by naturalization
- through restoration of citizenship
But, overall, there are a number of different ways many obtain their Russian nationality. Read on to find the different options.
The first and foremost way you can obtain most any citizenship is by birth. But even if you weren’t born in Russia, but one of your parents is a citizen, you may still possibly be granted Russian nationality⁸.
Under Article 12 of Russian law regarding citizenship there are several points laying out what qualifies you, but they can be summed up under 3 points. You can claim Russian citizenship by birth if any of the following are true⁹:
- At least one parent is a Russian citizen (regardless of where the child was born)
- Both parents reside in Russia are non-citizens or stateless persons, the child was born in Russia, and neither parent claims the child’s citizenship in another country
- A child is found in Russia, his/her parents are unknown, and his/her parents do not show up within 6 months after the child was discovered
These conditions are often called jus soli (right of soil) and jus sanguinis (right of blood).
If you’re a foreign national and you're over 18, according to article 14 of the Russian Federation Federal law on citizenship of the Russian Federation, you can apply for citizenship under the simplified procedure if at least one of your parents is a Russian citizen and is living in Russia⁹.
If you're under 18 you can get citizenship in the simplified manner if one of your parents is a Russian citizen and the other parent gives their consent, or when your only parent is a Russian citizen⁹.
Alternatively, citizenship through parents is also applicable if you’re born to non-Russian parents, but one of your parents becomes a Russian citizen and your family lives in Russia before you're 16 years old. This is called citizenship by lineage, and helps families who are moving to Russia together become citizens all at once.
Obtaining Russian citizenship through marriage may allow you to go through the process a bit faster. You do still have to obtain a temporary residence permit (TRP) first, but when you’re married to a Russian citizen the annual quota for granting TRPs doesn't apply. So even when this quota has been met, you can still apply for, and be granted, temporary residence when you’re married to a Russian citizen.¹⁰
Normally you can apply for Russian citizenship after having lived in the Russian Federation for 5 years since you obtained a TRP. During those 5 years you can't travel outside of Russia for more than 3 months per year. But if you’ve been married to a citizen of the Russian Federation for at least 3 years, you can apply for citizenship through a simplified procedure. Which means you don't have to wait 5 years, and can start the procedure straight after you’ve obtained your TRP⁹.
You can submit your application either to your local Federal Migration Service office, or with the Russian diplomatic mission or consular located in your home country. Even though the process might be a bit faster when you’re married to a Russian citizen, it's not necessarily less work. You should still keep in mind that you have to provide a lot of documents and that the whole process will take some time.
Obtaining Russian citizenship can be fairly straightforward if you have a business you want to move to Russia, you’re thinking of setting one up on the spot, or you’re simply interested in investing in Russian businesses.
To qualify for citizenship based on investment, you’ll need to fulfill the following requirements¹¹:
- Own a business in Russia that’s been active for at least 3 years prior to the year you file your application. Have paid taxes and insurance contributions to the Pension Fund in the name of the business in the amount of at least 1 million rubles during the specified 3 years.
- Have owned for the 3 years prior to the year of filing the citizenship application at least 10% of shares of a Russian business that operates in Russia in a government-specified economic field. The business’ total share capital must amount to 100 million rubles and the yearly taxes and insurance contributions paid by the business must amount to at least 6 million rubles per year.
Technically there are two types of naturalization processes, “general” and “simplified,” however, despite their names, there's little difference between the two processes speed or simplicity-wise. Regardless of the name, the simplified process is not simpler. To apply, you’ll need to be a resident of Russia, which means you’ll need to hold a temporary residence permit (TRP) and therefore, the whole process of receiving citizenship through simplified naturalization can still take a minimum of 2-2.5 years⁸.
You can go through the simplified process for naturalization if at least one of the following circumstances applies to you¹²:
- Having been born in Soviet Russia and/or having formerly been a Soviet citizen.
- Having at least 1 parent who is a Russian citizen and who currently lives in Russia.
- Being married to a Russian citizen for a duration of no less than 3 years.
- Having a disability that doesn’t allow you to work, and having a “legally competent adult child” who is a citizen of Russia and is willing to act as a sponsor.
- Having a minor child who is a Russian citizen (was born in Russia, “right of soil”) whose second parent is either deceased or has lost guardianship and rights to the child in question.
- Being a former citizen of the Soviet union who has been living in a formerly soviet country without obtaining citizenship. This is a person who doesn’t hold citizenship anywhere.
Should the circumstances above not apply to you, you’ll need to go through the general process with the following requirements¹³:
- You must hold a permanent residence permit (PRP)
- You must have lived in Russia uninterrupted for at least 5 years. With an exception of 3 months spent abroad each year.
- A certificate or high school diploma proving your command of the Russian language
- A steady income in Russia
- Application to give up your current citizenship (if your home country does not allow dual citizenship)
Applying for Russian citizenship isn't easy and you have to keep in mind that in the application package you’ll have to fill in forms that are in Russian, provide documentation which need to be provided in a notarized translation to Russian as well as have been notarized in Russia. You may also have to include results from medical test done by Russian state clinics. Should you not have a high school diploma proving your level of Russian, you will also need to take a test in order to prove your proficiency in Russian.
In order to make this process as smooth as possible, check with your local office in Russia for specific instructions and requirements for your situation. However, even if you have done your research on official government websites and you have looked through legislations to thoroughly prepare, you may find that they give you entirely different information and requirements in your local office. This is simply how it works in Russia and in order to make sure the officials follow protocol, there are law firms that can help you with the application process¹⁰.
Here is a general outline of the different ways in which you can apply for Russian citizenship:
- You can't apply for Russian citizenship directly upon arrival
- You first have to apply for a temporary residence permit (TRP) which is valid for 3 years
- If you want to be able to work in Russia with your TRP, you have to apply for a work permit separately, even if you are married to a Russian citizen
- After having lived in Russia for 1 year you can apply for a permanent residence permit (PRP), which is valid for 5 years. You can renew it as many times as you wish and it gives you the right for visa-free entry into the Russian Federation. You also don’t need a separate work permit in this case.
- If you have been married to a Russian citizen for at least 3 years, you can apply for citizenship through the simplified procedure, as soon as you get your TRP. You’ll have to provide your marriage certificate along with your spouse’s passport. If you got married outside of Russia the marriage certificate has to be apostilled in the country it was issued, and you will have to provide a notarized translation of the document in Russian, which also has to be notarized in Russia
- If you're applying for citizenship through the general procedure, you can start your application process only once you have your PRP and have not left the country for more than 3 months per year, within the last 5 years.
While the fees around this process vary and will largely be spent on document certification and translation, it’s important to remember that even small costs can add up if you’re making expensive international transfers in order to pay for them. As such, it’s a good idea to use TransferWise to get the real exchange rate - the same one you find on Google - and cut out expensive international bank transfer fees.
All in all, finding good information about the Russian immigration process can be fairly difficult. A good place to start is at your local consulate. If you’re not sure where it is, this site has compiled a comprehensive list of Russian embassies around the world.
For American citizens, the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Washington DC has a plethora of information regarding immigration available online. While the Russian government’s website is a good resource and those who are currently in Russia may have the easiest time accessing the site, it's not available everywhere.
With that, you’re all set. Good luck on becoming a Russian citizen!
¹http://www.timadvisers.ru/images/permanent-residency-in-russia.pdf (May 25, 2018)
²https://www.quora.com/What-would-be-the-benefits-of-having-Russian-citizenship-besides-a-passport-that-can-be-used-to-travel-to-many-countries-without-a-visa (May 25, 2018)
³http://www.atomic-energy.ru/smi/2012/07/30/35162 (May 25, 2018)
⁴https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closed_city (May 25, 2018)
⁵http://www.tvoiprava.info/obzory/foreign#TOC--24 (May 25, 2018)
⁶https://russiau.com/registration-visa-russia/#When_is_it_not_mandatory_to_register (May 25, 2018)
⁷https://www.rbth.com/society/2014/08/12/hiding_dual_citizenship_now_a_criminal_offense_in_russia_38929.html (May 25, 2018)
⁸http://77rc.ru/eng/live/russian-citizenship/ (May 25, 2018)
⁹http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/50768e422.pdf (May 25, 2018)
¹⁰http://blog.acg.ru/en/legal-consultancy-support/residency-and-citizenship-privileges-held-by-foreigners-married-to-russian-citizens/ (May 25, 2018)
¹¹http://www.consultant.ru/cons/cgi/online.cgi?req=doc&base=LAW&n=221456&fld=134&dst=1000000001,0&rnd=0.3969648248433135#0 (May 25, 2018)
¹²http://77rc.ru/eng/live/citizenship-simplified-procedure/ (May 25, 2018)
¹³http://77rc.ru/eng/live/citizenship-general-procedure/ (May 25, 2018)
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