Russian Visa Invitation
Russian visa requires a visa support document, or invitation. Now, here you can take two routes: either get a personal invitation from somebody you know in Russia (citizen or resident), or order an invitation from an authorized agency.
The problem with personal invitations is that they might take a very long time to process: we are talking one month or even more. Your friends would need to queue for a couple of hours in the local immigration office, pay a fee of $30-$50, wait for around 30 days, and then send the invitation to you by post (fax or scanned copy will not be accepted at the consulate). If you have a lot of time and patience on your hands, personal invitation may certainly give you more flexibility when you visit Russia. Another option for your Russian friend is to write an invitation letter and send you a notary certified copy of it, in which case the time of delivery depends only on the postal service.
Visa invitation from an agency costs the exact same money, but will land in your email within 24 hours upon application. The agency that issues it must be approved by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), which actually makes sense and saves you from the possibility of being scammed. Technically, you can get an invitation from your hotel, too, but only for the days you’ve booked in that very hotel. Invitation from an agency, essentially, gives you more flexibility with the dates of your stay and accommodation.
Tourist Visa Invitation
Tourist visa is the easiest and cheapest one you can get, so it is perfect for independent budget travelers. However, the tourist visa is only valid for a maximum of 30 days, with single or double entry, and you cannot extend it while in Russia. Mind that when you apply for an invitation, the dates you indicate on the application form will be the ones your visa will be issued for: if you write that you want to stay from January 1st until January 7th, the visa might be issued for these 7 days only. The point is, if you want to be flexible with your departure date, ask for a 30-day visa, and make sure the dates of entry and exit on your invitation and visa application form are the same. Do not write ‘visiting friends’ as the purpose of your trip, because this requires a different type of visa, the one with personal invitation, as described above.
Business Visa Invitation
Business visas are reserved for people who visit Russia with business purposes (setting up a business or exploring business opportunities), or for travelers who need more time to traverse the country . It is issued for a period from 3 to 12 months, single, double, or multiple entry, but each stay may not be longer than 90 days. Basically, if you have a business visa valid for a year, you can stay for 3 months, then leave the country for 3 months, and then return for 90 days again. When you apply for a business invitation from a travel agency, the cost and processing time depends on your preferred length of stay (3-12 months).
Work Visa Invitation
Work visas are issued for foreign citizens who have been employed by a Russian company to work in the country. It is quite a cumbersome and lengthy process, as most companies have only a certain quota for foreign employees per year, but the visa will be valid for the length of your contract, with the possibility of extension and renewal. You can only obtain work visa through your employer, which means you need to find a job first, and then the hiring company will issue your invitation letter and deal with most of bureaucracy.