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Visiting Russia. Hints on customs rules, safety, lodging and going out and more

Article by Evgenia Burilova. You can send her your opinion at evgenia@1st-international.com. All letters will be given a thorough consideration. Editor's Comments by Art Gratchoff

If you have decided to travel to Russia, you probably would like to get some answers to the questions you may have .

Russia has always seemed a mystery to foreigners. A great number of stereotypes and controversial facts arise in mind when a person hears the word Russia. These stereotypes, cultivated to a great degree by mass media, may even scare a foreigner who has never visited our country. When one tries to find answers to all the questions about Russia one may have, he may face a lot of difficulties. Russia is not behind the iron curtain any more, nevertheless, people from other countries cannot understand Russian way of living, Russian strange but so wonderful character. What is Russian life like? What do I need to bring with me? What should I be afraid of? Is it expensive to live in Russia? Is it safe there? These and other questions call for immediate answers when a person is going to Russia. Let me assure you - only a native can give you correct answers. Only a native who has been living in this country all his life and knows how things are there may help a foreigner and give him a most realistic picture of Russian reality. I think the issuae that concerns everyone nowadays is safety.  

How safe is it in Russia

Russia is considered to be a dangerous place with a lot of criminals walking on the streets and numerous terrorist attacks. Mass media contribute greatly to creating this false stereotype. Terrorist attacks in Moscow have only added fuel to the fire. But do not let us forget that Russia is not the only country that has suffered from terrorists. Terrorism is a global problem, and the USA and European countries also struggle against it. Other countries have also had losses because of terrorists attacks. It is important to understand that a person may become a target of terrorists anywhere in the world if he is not careful. Your life is in your hands, so keep yourself away from a possible danger - and everything will be just fine.

According to the statistics, the crime rate is considerably higher in the US than in Russia. The crime rate in Russia has increased after the fall of the Soviet Union, but comparing to America, it is still lower. This leads us to the thought that an individual should be careful in Russia just like elsewhere in the world. There are no special instructions as to how to behave in Russia especially, the basic safety rules are just the same. Of course, a foreigner is an easy victim, but - forewarned is forearmed. First of all, use your common sense. Do not do things you would be afraid to do in your homecountry. Do not flash your cash or flaunt valuables. Secondly, stay away from deserted and secluded places at daytime and avoid walking at night. Just like everywhere dirty things are done under cover of night. Third, avoid associating with strangers. Do not attract too much attention to yourself either, especially in crowded public places (otherwise you will not find your wallet in its place later on).

There is no need to be too afraid, though. Just be careful. Russians are very friendly and easy-going, but there are criminals in Russian society as well, and it would be careless to attract their unwanted attention. Thus, watch your step as you go and you will be safe and sound.

The important numbers to know: Russian police – 02, Russian Medical Emergency – 03. You can dial them toll-free from any public phone. I hope you will never use them, but  it is better to memorize them just to be on the safe side.

Russian Customs

Russian customs system is pretty much the same in terms of allowing some things and not allowing others. Naturally, weapons, drugs, and dangerous chemical substances are not allowed aboard. Everything else you can bring in, but the quantities should make it apparent the item is not brought here for sale. These quantities are: not more than 250 cigarettes, one bottle of liquor, and two cameras. If you want to bring in more, be ready to pay duty on them. It is useful to declare all valuable things you bring in, that is jewelry, computers, electronic devices, etc. Your baggage should not be more than 50 kilograms (110 pounds), otherwise you will have to pay custom tax. It is usually $5 per kilogram. This rule works not all the time, but just do not forget about that. If you plan to bring in medication that is not intended for personal use, you may face certain problems at the customs, for there are serious limitations on that. If you bring in a prescription medication, be sure to take your prescription with you. If you decide to bring in more than  $500 in cash, you should officially declare the sum (it is not allowed to take more than $1500 outside the country if the money was not declared before that). When you arrive in a Russian airport, you will get two forms. You should fill out one of them then and there, and you must keep the other one with you until your departure to declare the things you are taking out. Please keep the receipts of valuable things you buy in Russia. A person may not leave Russia with items which all in all are more than $3000 in value. We would not recommend you to buy any antiques or items of historical and cultural value, because in this case you will have to provide the supporting documents to the customs officers. Since the requirements of these supporting documents are not defined exactly, you may have some unpleasant moments. So it is better to avoid buying things like that unless you absolutely must. Religious icons and paintings are items which cause the greatest number of problems

Keep it in mind that Russian laws change rather often (this applies to the customs laws as well). Thus, it would be useful to check on the laws before you go to avoid unpleasant and embarrassing situations.

Lodging in Russia

Nowadays it is really easy to find a suitable accommodation in Russia, especially in such big cities as Moscow and Saint Petersburg. There are a lot of hotels of different ranks. A standard single suite in 3-star Izmaylovskaya hotel  will cost approximately $47; for a business suite in a 4-star hotel you will have to pay $364 while a presidential suite in 5-star Metropol will cost as much as $2191 per night. So you see that the price depends on the rank of the hotel, its location and the class of the suite itself. The average price is in between, of course, and usually our clients pay $200 - $300 per night. There is also an opportunity to rent a room for $60-70 per night. You can rent a room for 3 nights and up to 6 months.

Smaller cities, naturally, have fewer possibilities, but still you will be able to find a decent accommodation. The price is usually lower in small cities - $20-$30 per night on the average. However, it is possible to find a room for even as little as $12 per night.

Connecting to electricity in Russia

For many people it is absolutely impossible to live even a day without the Internet or cell phone. Since they need to be in the course of events, they want to bring their electronic devices in Russia. Of course, they can do it, and there are no customs restrictions about that. However, they need remember that Russia uses European standard for home electrical outlets. If you know what it is – then you know what you need to do. Those who do not imagine what European standard is, read on.

The main difference is that European standard uses 220- 240 volt/50 Hz (while in the USA it is 110 -120 volt/60Hz). The difference in frequency (the Hz) does not play an important role for most electrical devices. What does matter is the voltage. A regular American appliance uses 110 volts, so it will simply burn if you plug it in a standard Russian outlet which gives 220 volts

Another thing you need to know is that the outlet itself is different, and you just will not be able to plug an American appliance in.  

To be able to use your laptop, you will most likely need only an adaptor. It is cheap and just lets you plug an American device into Russian outlet. More details on laptop use and  connecting to the Internet.

For other electronics you will probably need a step-down transformer which is a little more expensive. More details on that.

Having quality time

The biggest Russian cities - Moscow and Saint Petersburg - offer plenty of opportunities to spend your free time the way you like it. Whether it is a museum excursion or a club disco, a romantic evening out or a tour around the city – you will be aиду to find all of this and in great amounts. Russian restaurants have all cuisines – Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Italian – you name it! The number of the restaurants is huge and still growing! You may have a meal corresponding with your taste and your budget. There are also bars, cafes, fast food places – just like in your country. A modest lunch in McDonalds will cost just like in America - $4-5. A grand dinner in a magnificent restaurant will call for $100 per person. Thus, everything depends on the rank of the place and the degree of your hunger.

Now in Russia there are also a lot of fast food chains. McDonalds is the biggest one, of course. The food in these places is just like everywhere – cheap and unhealthy. Think twice before bringing your lady there – you will definitely not impress her this way.

A decent breakfast costs around $6, a pretty nice business lunch will on average call for $12. Depending on the place, however, business lunch can be for as little as $5 and as much as $20. A dinner at a good restaurant can be up to $50, but usually less. Not less than $15 though.

And if you like night life and want to know what Russians night clubs are like, you are welcome to most dance floors for $2-8. The price depends on the day of the week and on the artist performing. The best Moscow parties are a little more expensive, but they are of the highest quality. The admittance costs $10-16

Drinking and partying go hand in hand in Russia. Moscow clubs are rich in different drinks. An average drink costs usually $5-10.

Conclusion

Russia is a country of contrasts, and probably that is why there are so many rumors, based on real and made-up events. Foreigners find Russia amazing and odd at the same time. A lot of things going on in Russia make a foreign mind swell with questions and still remain incomprehensible. Some of these things may disappoint you, some may astonish you, but I can say one for sure: you will never forget this wonderful journey. It will be one of the most exotic ones you have ever had. In fact, Moscow is different from the rest of the country since it is the capital. It is closer to Europe in its development than to the rest part of Russia, so if you want to get an idea what a real Russian town is like and what Russian people are like, go outside Moscow and St. Petersburg, travel somewhere further inside the country, and you will see what I mean here. Remember, Russia is multinational and, consequently, multifaceted. It would be wrong to treat all Russian people alike if they are of different nationalities. Come and see everything yourself. After all, seeing is believing. We are looking forward to meeting you in our country


Editor's comments: Russia is a wonderful country. You will have unforgettable memories and you will definitely wish to tell your kids, friends and relatives about your trip thousands miles away. It is safer in Russia then in New York, that is for sure. Russia is nice to visit in all seasons: in winter you will see the marvelous Russian winter with trees covered in snow, thick snow carpet under your feet – you will feel just like in a fairy-tale. In summer you will have a wonderful opportunity to go outside the city and have a picnic with your favorite lady and enjoy the rich Russian nature. 

Russian hospitality is really the talk of the whole world. People in Russia do not smile as much as the Americans, but still they wish you well and are very kind.  

It is a good idea to print out and take with you our basic Russian phrasebook. For free.

Safety in Russia still stays the main concern of most of our client. Here I can assure you that Russia is a safe country. The crime rate is even lower than in the US. The basic rules of safety will prevent you from even encountering an unpleasant situation. Russia is not a wild country, there are no criminals walking in the streets and threatening everyone. If you stay in a major hotel, use an official taxi-cab, go to reputable places, nothing bad is going to happen. Just as always, use your common sense and do not ask for trouble. Our company has been working for you for many years already, and we have never had any complaints about safety issues yet.   

If you are concerned about safety, here are a few recommendations:

1.       Do not attract unwanted attention by flashing your thick wallet if you do not want to be eased of it. Try not to carry too much cash with you. There are ATMs in Russia – feel free to use them

2.       Travel by plane. Not only is it faster, but less dangerous from crime standpoint as well. A train will allow you to see more of the country, but it is easier to become a target of robbers there.  

3.       The nicest thing will be to have a Russian-speaking person with you. It may be an interpreter or your lady who will show you around the city, get better prices for you. Moreover, you will not have to speak to clerks and shop assistants, and you will not seem a foreigner in this case.  

4.       Unfortunately, pocket pinching is wide spread in Russia. You may become an easy victim in a crowded place especially if you are not careful. Keep your money and your documents in a tight pocket close to your body. Probably, the best place is the side pocket of your jeans. Do not put anything valuable in a back pocket or, what is even worse, in an outside pocket of your coat. There you will not even feel if someone wishes to take your money out

5.       Drinking in public places is not prohibited in Russia yet, although Russian government are discussing this question. However, drunken people are easy targets for criminals. 

Have a safe and fun trip.