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Travelling to Russia. Hints on customs, going out, safety, etc.

Article by Evgenia Burilova.

If you are going to visit Russia, there are things you’d want to know.

Russia is a countriy shrouded in bizarre myths. There are plenty of stereotypes connected with Russia, most of them completely or partially untrue. Russia has always been a unique country with its own mentality which can be mystifying to foreigners. This feeds the various stereotypes and myths about the country. So many contradictory facts surround Russia that finding the truth may be hard. Although Russia is not cut off from the rest of the world by the Iron Curtain anymore and has been open for foreign visitors for more than 10 years now, people are still wondering what Russia really is like, what to expect of it. Questions of safety, of attitude, standards of living are very important to people. They want to know the truth, and the best way to learn it is talking to a native who was born in Russia and has an intimate knowledge of it. You have to know what to bring, how to travel in and about Russia, how to behave, what to beware of. I will play the role of a Russian guide and tell you everything you need to know. I will start with safet issues, since they tend to concern people the most.

Safety in Russia

There is a stereotype of Russia as one of the most dangerous places in the world, a stereotype as common as it is false. There have been several terrorist attcks in Moscow, but they happen in other countries as well. Terrorism is the common scourge of countries that have some political weight. There are special organizations that combat terrorism and protect the citizens and visitors to Russia. Many European countries and the USA, as well as Russia have suffered from severe terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, they are considered safe. Actually, a person's safety is more a matter of their common sense. If a person behaves appropriately, they have fewer chances to become a victim of terrorists.
According to the statistics, the crime rate in the USA is higher than in Russia. Of course, after the USSR ceased to exist, the crime rate in Russia soared; it was especially noticeable during the hard times in the 90s. But a lot has changed since then. Russia is now a more stable country than it used to be. If you are travelling in Russia, take the preventive measures you’d follow in any country, including the US. First, you should not flash your cash unless you want to be robbed. Second, keep away from deserted and secluded places, do not walk alone at night (this applies to any country, not just Russia). Third, be careful mingling with strangers. Remember that a person in a foreign country is an easy target. Try not to attract unwanted attention to yourself. It is in your best interest. Russia is not a den of criminals, but there are always people who are after other people’s money. Be reasonably careful, and trouble will never find you.
There is no need to be afraid of your own shadow. Most Russians are very hospitable, but still, people are all different, and not everyone would welcome you with open arms. Treat people with respect, and they will treat you in the same fashion.  
The Russian polioce emergency phone is 02, Medical Emergency phone is 03. You can dial them toll-free from any public phone. Hopefully, you will never have to use them, but it is better to know them just in case; remember that you can always find help when you need it.

Customs service in Russia

Overall, the Russian customs system is not much different from that of other countries. Bringing weapons, dangerous chemical substances and drugs is obviously not recommended, but you can bring in all other things in quantities that prove that you are not going to sell these things in Russia. You are free to bring in up to 250 cigarettes, one bottle of liquor, and two cameras duty-free. To avoid future inconvenience, make sure you declare all valuable things you are bringing: jewelry, computers, electronics, etc. If you bring in more than 50 kilograms (110 pounds), you may have to pay a custom tax of $5 per kilogram. This rule is somewhat lax and not always observed, but it does exist. There is also a set of strict and complex limitations on the importation of medication that is not intended for personal use. If you bring prescription medication, take your prescription with you. If you bring in more than $500 of curency, you should declare the sum. (If you fail to do that, you will not be allowed to take more than $1500 out of Russia). Upon your arrival at the airport you will be given two forms. One of them you’ll have to fill out immediately, and the other one you must keep until your departure to declare the things you are taking out. Do not throw away the receipts if you buy something more or less valuable during your stay. According to the rules of Russian customs service, you cannot leave the country if the total value of your baggage exceeds $3,000. It is best not to purchase any antiques or pieces of art in Russia if you can help it. Otherwise you’ll need official documents which confirm that those items have no substantial historical or cultural value. This rule applies to old religious icons and paintings.
A little tip: Russian laws change quite often (including the customs laws), so check this page from time to time to keep up with the changes. This will help you avoid unpleasant situations.

Finding accomodation in Russia

Finding accomodation in Russia is not a problem nowadays, especially in big cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Ther are plenty of hotels, the prices depending on the location, the class of the suite and the rank of the hotel. Actually, the prices are approximately the same as in the US. For instance, you can have a standard single suite in three-star Izmaylovskaya hotel for only $47 per night. Four-star hotels will offer you business suites for about $364, while a presidential suite in five-star Metropol will cost up to $2191. The average hotel suite price is from $200 to $300 per night. Ypu can also rent an apartment for a period of 3 nights to 6 months. It will be less expensive and will cost you around $60-70 per night.
Of course, the choice of hotels in small towns is more limited, but you still can find very nice suites and apartments for lower prices. The rates in small cities may be as low as $12 per night. The average price is $20-30 per night.

Using electricity in Russia

Foreigners usually want to bring some electronic devices in Russia, especially cell phones, laptops, etc. Having access to the Interent while you are away may be important to you, but that may present a problem. If you know what a European standard for home outlets is, you already know the information below. Russia uses the European standard, and this means the following:
European standard uses 220- 240 volt/50 Hz (while in the USA it is 110 -120 volt/60Hz). The  “Hz” part is not that important, it is frequency, and for most appliances, including computers and monitors, a slight variation in frequency matters little. The voltage, however,  DOES matter. Your American electronic device which is designed for 110 volt will be fried if you plug it into a European (or Russian) outlet designed for 220 volts.
As a matter of fact, the outlet itself is also different.
Most laptops do not need step-down transformers, but you will need a cheap adaptor anyway. Her you will find
You will most likely need a step-down transformer to be able to use other electronics. More details on other devices.

Going out and spending your quality time

Big cities offer more entertainment options. "Quality time" has a different meaning for different people, but big cities cater to all tastes. In Moscow and Saint Petersburg you will find plenty of clubs, as well as of museums and galleries. The restaurants in Moscow offer first-rate food and service. The number of reastaurants is already great and growing. There is no cuisine Moscow doesn’t have: Russian, European, American, Ethnic, Asian – you name it. The prices depend on the rank of the restaurant: you can have a quick lunch in a fast food place for $4-5, or enjoy excellent food and exotic surroundings for $100 per person. There are also lots of bars where you can relax with a beer or a cocktail. Everything depends on your taste and your budget.
Nowadays Russian cities have a variety of fast food places, McDonald's, of course, being the leader. However, taking your lady there is not a good idea. Like everywhere else, fast food is unhealthy and cheap, the place may be noisy, if clean, and your date will be surely ruined.
There are not many places to have breakfast in Russian cities, but the average price is $6. On the other hand, business lunches are widely advertised; they may cost from $5 to $20, the average price being $12. A good reastaurant will offer you a dinner for $15-50 (depending on the rank of the restaurant).
If you like to go clubbing, the dance floors are about $2-8. The price depends on the day of the week and the program. Some dance floors do not have entrance fees at all. In Moscow the best parties cost $10-16.
Drinking at a party is only encouraged in Russia. In Moscow clubs a drink usually costs $5-10. Drinking much and staying clear-headed is greatly respected in Russia.

Conclusion

Russia is a land of contrasts. This is both amazing and frightening a little. It may frighten only because you do not know what to expect, but Russia is a very hospitable country with good attitude to foreign guests. Some things about it you will like, and some you will not, but you need to discard the old stereotypes, which in most cases have nothing to do with reality, and come see everything with your own eyes. Russia is a peculiar country, a mix of Asian and European influences. It stretches over a vast territory, and people in different parts of the country are different. This makes traveling in Russia and getting to know people from the provinces interesting and exciting. Come to our country, be open-minded, and you will see a beautiful country, its contrasts only adding to its splendour.


Editor's comments: Russia is a beautiful country, and visiting it is an unforgettable experience. It is safer in Russia than in New York, especially in small towns. Every Russian city has much to offer in terms of culture and entertainment. Winters in Russia are a sight to behold: snow-covered trees and streets will make you feel like you are in a fairy tale or in a snow kingdom. If you come in summer, you will have an opportunity to go to the country and enjoy the Russian nature.  
Russian hospitality is renowned all over the world. Russian people do not smile as much as people in America, but when they do, you can be sure the smiles are sincere. Russians treat foreigners with great politeness and cordiality.  
It is a good idea to print out and take with you our basic
Of course, safety is the main concern of foreigners planning a trip to Russia. It is quite natural to fear the unknown, but Russia is not dangerous anymore. You should be reasonably careful and use your common sense, and nothing will happen to you. According to the statistics, the crime rate in Russia is the same as in America. Most foreign visitors stay in expensive hotels, use official metropolitan taxi cabs and go to night clubs with a soild reputation. Nothing happens to them, they are careful. In the seven years that we have been in this business, none of our clients has been a victim of illegal activity.
     
Some safety guidelines:
1.       Do not flash your wallet with a lot of cash in it for all to see. There is no shortage of ATM machines, use them to get small amounts of cahs. If you do not have much money on you, you will not attract the unwanted attention of criminals. 
2.       Travelling by plane is faster and safer than going by train. Take a plane if possible. It is more expensive, but it is safer as well. 
3.       It is good to have a Russian speaking friend with you. She/he will talk to drivers, clerks and shop assistants for you, and you will not attract attention.
4.       Use your common sense and remember that pickpocketing is widespread in Russia. Do not put your wallet and valuables in an outside pocket of your raincoat, or in the back pocket of your jeans. The best place is the side pocket of your jeans. Remember that when you are in crowded places and in public transport. 
5.       Drinking is not prohibited in Russia. Although drinking in public places was prohibited recently, everyone ignores that, including the police. But drunk people have worse reactions and become easy prey for robbers and other criminals.  
We wish you a nice trip and the best impressions!

 

Russian phrasebook.  (Free of charge).
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