My Personal Travel Tips
for Visitors to Russia

Note: The following is not to be considered an exhaustive and absolute list of rules for visitors to Russia. It is my own personal advice based on my own experiences traveling to Moscow and St. Petersburg. I highly encourage anyone visiting Russia for the first time to seek out as many sources of information as possible, and for what it's worth, here is mine.

VISA: You will need a visa to enter Russia and it is of vital importance to make these arrangements well in advance to avoid the kind of problems I had with mine, which I won't go into. The American Chamber of Commerce in Russia has a very good online document regarding visas. So rather than repeat all their information here, I'll just provide a link. Remember to use your Back button to return here.

MONEY: I did my whole trip using my Visa Check card. Remember this is the card that, unlike a regular Visa card, draws money directly from your checking account. I used it in shops and restaurants that accepted it, and also as an ATM card when I needed cash.

You can use a Visa card in Russia, but it is best to always have enough cash on hand and use the Visa card more as a way to conserve cash if you are in places where it is accepted. I opted for the check card rather than a regular Visa card only because I didn't want to put any expenses from the trip on credit.

ATM machines are available in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but they can be a bit difficult to locate at times. They often will dispense dollars and rubles, but I always got rubles since this is the state currency, and few places do transactions in dollars. Also be sure and check for your card's network system logo on the machine before inserting your card. There are some ATM's in Russia that are intended only for customers of the bank that owns them.

Never trade currency in the streets! These people can be extremely tricky and your liable to end up with a fistful of worthless bills from some strange place you've never heard of, while the guy you got them from is skating away down the sidewalk with your Uncle Sams.

There are plenty of reputable exchange outlets throughout Russia; I usually used the ones located inside the larger banks, just to be on the safe side.

Despite what a lot of Americans think, the Russians aren't dollar crazy. In fact, in the last two years the ruble has stabilized right around 5700 or 5800 per dollar, and it is the best, and usually only, way to conduct your daily business in Russia.

Amex traveler's cheques can be cashed at American Express offices, but I didn't use these so I can't really comment on them.

TRANSPORTATION: If your not experienced driving in Russia, I wouldn't recommend renting a car. There is public transportation, in the form of trolly cars and subway lines, available throughout Moscow and St. Petersburg. Also, professional taxi cabs are readily available.

Never accept a ride from someone offering a private taxi service in their personal automobile. You never know who the guy driving the car is, or what his plans for you might be. Many people in Russia, who own their own cars, are eeking out a living running these private taxi services, but I would imagine a few of them wouldn't mind boosting their profit margins by boosting a few wallets and purses from naive tourists. Your safest bet is the public transport, or professionally marked taxi cabs.

DINING OUT: There are restaurants of all kinds available in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The better ones can be pretty pricy so take a look at the menu first. One of my favorite places was Patio Pizza near Red Sqaure, some of the best pizza I've ever had!

American style fast food, McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, are also available. We ate a McDonalds once in Moscow and the prices were about the same as here in the states, and the food was pretty much the same.

I always drank bottled spring water while there, as well, just to stay on the safe side and it's available in just about every restaurant, shop and kiosk in the city.

SAFETY: Americans all seem to think that Russia is an extremely dangerous place nowadays. Well, I'm happy to report that this simply isn't true. After all, I come from Atlanta, where the city officials had to fiddle with the statistics to move us down from the number one most dangerous city in the country to number two!

Moscow is as safe or safer after midnight that many large American cities at noon!

Why the bad rap then? I'd say the media are largely responsible for the sensational stories coming out of Moscow. But, if you're not in the mafia and don't drive around in supposedly bullet-proof luxury cars, you really don't have much of a problem.

Simply exercise the same caution you would in any large city. Keep cameras and the like out of sight in backpacks. Don't wear expensive jewelry like gold chains, or anything else that would make you stand out. Keep cash stowed away safely and don't carry around large amounts.

Russia is generally a tourist friendly place, despite an air of gloom that hangs overhead much of the time, and with just a little bit of common sense and caution, it is a very safe place.

Extra Tips Well, that's about all I have for now. If any of you are experienced travellers in Russia and have any advice for the first-timers out there email me and I'll post it up.

Have a good trip!

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