How to crack Russia

“Russian visas take time,” warns Neil Hopwood, CEO at Redfern Travel, a £2.7m-turnover online travel firm. “You can get a tourist visa invitation within a day, but business visa invitations take a week or so. Your visa application then needs to be submitted to the Russian Embassy."

Regular business travellers can apply for three-month, sixth-month and one-year multi-entry visas into Russia. But make sure all the is are dotted and ts are crossed – otherwise you’re in big trouble.

“Every form needs to be filled out properly, with official stamps in the right place. Make one mistake and you’ll have to start all over again,” says Tony Goodwin, who founded global recruitment company Antal International in 1993 and entered the Russian market a year later.

“The term ‘flexible Russian official’ is a complete oxymoron," he continues. "I’d been travelling back and forth to Russia for ten years on a multiple entry visa so often that I knew some of the people at immigration. Yet when I once had a slight cock-up – resulting in a six-hour gap between one visa starting and another ending – they still made me wait the full time on a hard bench in a cold room before letting me in.

"They treated me like I was there to loot the Hermitage.”

If you do make it past the boys in uniform, be sure to target Russia’s hottest sectors. The retail sector out there is sizzling, with Europe’s biggest shopping centre currently being built in south-east Moscow.

“Anything related to youth culture, including clothing and sporting goods are all extremely popular,” says Damian McKinney, the founder of £6m-turnover McKinney Rogers, a consultancy firm that works with the likes of Diageo, Barclays, Pfizer and Wal-Mart.

“The Russian love affair for cars is also expected to continue. Last year, Russia achieved the highest sales growth for any car market in the world, ahead of China, India and the Middle East.”

For more tips and tricks on doing business on Russia, read the September edition of Real Business magazine. To subscribe, click here.

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