As of 14 September 2015, first-time visa applicants will always have to appear in person to a consulate or an authorised visa centre when lodging an application for a short-stay Schengen visa in order to provide their biometric data (10-digit fingerprints and digital photograph). This change is due to the introduction of the Visa Information System (VIS) in Russia.
The VIS is a system for the exchange of visa data among Schengen Member States which aims to facilitate visa procedures, enhance the security of the visa application process and facilitate visa checks at the external borders of the Schengen Area. Since 2011, the VIS has been progressively deployed, region by region, by all Schengen consulates worldwide.
The procedure of collecting a visa applicant's biometric data is simple and discrete and takes a few minutes. Frequent travellers to the Schengen Area do not have to give new finger scans every time they apply for a new visa. Once finger scans are stored in the VIS, they can be re-used for a further visa application over a 5-year period even if a visa application is lodged with another Schengen Member State.
10-digit finger scans are neither required from children under the age of 12, nor from those who cannot physically provide finger scans.
Other visa procedures as well as a visa fee and a service fee will not change.
Russian citizens need to be in possession of a valid visa to enter the Schengen area. Today, the Schengen Area includes most EU States, except for Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom. The non-EU States of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein have joined the Schengen Area. The visa should be applied for at the consulate of the country of destination and can be for single or multiple entries.
Travel between the EU and Russia was eased in 2007 when the EU-Russia visa facilitation agreement entered into force. This agreement lowered the cost of a visa, allowed for a wider distribution of multiple-entry visas, simplified supporting documents, and waived visas for diplomats. A joint EU-Russia committee monitors the implementation of the agreement, and Schengen consulates in Russia actively aim to further harmonise their visa-issuing practices.
In 2012, Schengen countries issued some six million visas for Russian citizens. 6.9 million were issued in 2013, and 5.7 million were issued in 2014.
The EU and the Russian Federation are discussing future visa regimes. But for the moment the talks are suspended (see info on Visa and Readmission).
For any practical questions relating to the application and distribution of visas, applicants should contact a relevant Schengen consulate.