Safety

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TRAVEL TIPS

Safety

Travel to Russia is fraught with many unusual challenges, in addition to the normal safety and security issues you would associate with travel to any large city. Terrorist acts such as bombings have occurred in large Russian cities. In January 2011, a suicide bomber set off an explosion in the arrivals hall of Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, killing 35 people. A year before, some 40 people died after two bombs exploded on the capital's metro system during rush hour. Russian authorities have attributed such attacks to an increase in the Islamist insurgency in Russia's troubled North Caucasus region. Be alert for any unusual behavior or packages left unattended in public. Consult government-issued travel advisories before your trip.

Never change money on the street; as with con artists everywhere, counterfeit money, sleights of hand, and the old folded-note trick are practiced by people standing outside official exchange offices. When using money-exchange booths, thoroughly check that you’ve received the full amount. As well as avoiding taxis that already have occupants and avoiding gypsy cabs, never allow your driver to stop to take an extra passenger after you’ve gotten in. It's possible that this is indeed a random passerby; it's also possible that he’s an accomplice of the driver who has been waiting around the corner. If your driver attempts to take another fare, say "nyet" (no) and/or "nye nado" (literally "not necessary," meaning here "I'd rather not"). Better still, team up with a fellow lone traveler and split the fare.

Tourists are a common target for thieves in Moscow and St. Petersburg, so stay alert, particularly in places commonly frequented by visitors (outside hotels, for example, and at bars). If you get in trouble, don't expect much help from the police, who are often called bandity (gangsters) by natives.

Although police in the West are usually considered keepers of the peace, those in uniform don’t enjoy this image in Russia. The reason is partly because of their habit of shaking people down to supplement their meager salaries. The Russian government is attempting to improve relations between the police and the public. Pay special attention when leaving a nightclub—the cops know that these are hangouts for foreigners and have been known to lie in wait to extract "fines" for alleged drunken behavior. If you find yourself in any tricky situations with the police, be prepared to show your passport, migration card, registration card, and visa. In all situations, be polite, allow the police to search you if they require, and stay cool. This is by no means the way all Russian police act, but it happens too frequently to be dismissed as the actions of a minority.

Exercise the same precautions you would in any major city. In the metro, avoid very crowded cars where you could get your pocket picked. If you go to a street market, keep an expensive camera or phone out of sight. In cafés, don't hang your bag on the back of your chair where you can't see it. Moscow has well-lit central streets, and many stores, clubs, and cafés are open 24 hours, so as long as you avoid deserted areas, you should be fine. It's best to stick with a companion if you're out at night.

Distribute your cash, credit cards, ID, and other valuables between a deep front pocket, an inside jacket or vest pocket, and a hidden money pouch. Don't reach for the money pouch when you're in public.

Government Information and Advisories

Advisories

U.S. Department of State. travel.state.gov.

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