COUNTRY DESCRIPTION ^
Russia is a vast and diverse nation that continues to evolve politically and economically. T ravel and living conditions in Russia contrast sharply with those in the United States. Major urban centers show tremendous differences in economic development compared to rural areas. While good tourist facilities exist in Moscow, St. Petersburg and some other large cities, they are not developed in most of Russia and some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available. Travelers may need to cross great distances, especially in Siberia and the Far East, to obtain services from Russian government organizations, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or one of the three U.S. Consulates General in Russia: St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok. The Russian visa regime is very restrictive and complicated. A valid visa is necessary not only to enter Russia but also to transit or leave. U.S. citizens without valid visas, whether the visa is lost, stolen, or expired will be unable to leave Russia. Resolving this situation may take up to twenty days. At the same time, travelers without valid visas may not check in at any lodging establishment (i.e. hotel, guesthouse, hostel) in Russia. U.S. citizens without valid visas face long delays before they may leave and during this time may have trouble finding adequate accommodations. Travel to the Caucasus region of Russia is dangerous. The Department of State recommends Americans not travel to Chechnya and adjoining areas, and recommends that Americans who are in these regions depart immediately.
SECURITY AND SAFETY ^
Due to continued civil and political unrest throughout much of the Caucasus region, the Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to Chechnya and all areas that border it: North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya and Kabardino-Balkariya. The U.S. government�s ability to assist Americans who travel to the northern Caucasus is extremely limited. Throughout the region, local criminal gangs have kidnapped foreigners, including Americans, for ransom. U.S. citizens have disappeared in Chechnya and remain missing. Close contacts with the local population do not guarantee safety. Recently, there have been several kidnappings of foreigners and Russians working for non-governmental organizations in the region. United States government personnel are prohibited from traveling to these areas, and American citizens residing in these areas should depart immediately as the safety of Americans and other foreigners cannot be effectively guaranteed.
Acts of terrorism, including bombings and hostage taking, have occurred in large Russian cities over the last several years. Bombings have occurred at Russian government buildings, hotels, tourist sites, markets, residential complexes and on public transportation. In October 2002, terrorists seized a Moscow theater and held its audience captive for several days before Russian Special Forces stormed it. Over 130 persons died in the seizure and subsequent rescue operation. In the summer of 2003, several venues, including an outdoor music festival, were targeted by suicide bombers, and in December 2003, a bomb exploded adjacent to the National Hotel in downtown Moscow, killing six people. In 2004, several incidents occurred: in February, a bomb exploded in a Moscow subway train killing over 40 people; in August explosives on two Russian domestic flights caused them to crash claiming 90 lives, the same week a bomb outside a Moscow Metro station killed another 9 people and injured dozens more; in September, the seizure of a school in the Russian Republic of North Ossetia by armed terrorists resulted in over 300 deaths.
Demonstrations occasionally occur in large cities, and sometimes in front of the U.S. Embassy and Consulates. While these demonstrations are for the most part peaceful and controlled, it is best to avoid such gatherings.
The Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747 can answer general inquiries on safety and security overseas. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.
As a visitor to Russia, be alert to your surroundings. In large cities, take the same precautions against assault, robbery, or pickpockets that you would take in any large U.S. city. Be aware that women and small children, as well as men, can be pickpockets or purse-snatchers. Groups of children and adolescents have been increasingly aggressive in some cities, swarming victims, or assaulting and knocking them down. They frequently target persons who are perceived as vulnerable, especially elderly tourists or persons traveling alone. Some victims report that the attackers use knives. Persons carrying valuables in backpacks, in back pockets of pants, and in coat pockets are especially vulnerable to pickpockets. Keep your billfold in an inner front pocket, carry your purse tucked securely under your arm, and wear the shoulder strap of your camera or bag across your chest. Walk away from the curb and carry your purse away from the street. The most vulnerable areas include underground walkways and the subway, overnight trains, train stations, airports, markets, tourist attractions, restaurants, hotel rooms and residences -- even when locked or occupied.
Foreigners who have been drinking alcohol are especially vulnerable to assault and robbery in or around nightclubs or bars, or on their way home. Some travelers have been drugged at bars, while others have taken strangers back to their lodgings, where they were drugged, robbed and/or assaulted.
In many cases involving stolen credit cards, thieves use them immediately. Victims of credit card or ATM card theft should report the theft to the credit card company or bank without delay.
Travelers are advised to be vigilant in bus and train stations and on public transport. Always watch for pickpockets in these areas. Travelers have generally found it safer to travel in groups organized by reputable tour agencies. Robberies may occur in taxis shared with strangers. Crime aboard overnight trains has occurred as thieves, on some trains, have been able to open locked compartment doors. U.S. citizens should never hitchhike or accept rides from strangers.
To avoid highway crime, travelers should try not to drive at night, especially when alone. Never sleep in vehicles along the road. Do not, under any circumstances, pick up hitchhikers, who not only pose a threat to your physical safety, but also put you in danger of being arrested for unwittingly transporting narcotics or narcotics traffickers in your vehicle. Your vehicle can be confiscated if you are transporting marijuana or other narcotics.
Violent, racially motivated attacks on people of color and foreigners have become widespread in Russia. Many of these attacks target university students, particularly those of Asian and African origin, but older tourists have also been targeted. Travelers are urged to exercise caution in areas frequented by "skinhead" groups and wherever large groups have gathered.
It is not uncommon for foreigners in general to become victims of harassment, mistreatment and extortion by law enforcement and other officials. Police do not need to show probable cause in order to stop, question or detain individuals. Be wary of persons representing themselves as police or other local officials. Try to obtain the officer�s name, badge number, and patrol car number, and note where it happened, as this information assists local officials in identifying the perpetrators. Authorities are concerned about these incidents and have cooperated in investigating such cases. Report crimes committed against you by persons presenting themselves as police or other governmental authorities to the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. Consulate.
Extortion and corruption are common in the business environment. Organized criminal groups and sometimes local police target foreign businesses in many cities and have been known to demand protection money. Many western firms hire security services that have improved their overall security, although this is no guarantee. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable. U.S. citizens are encouraged to report all extortion attempts to the Russian authorities and to inform consular officials at the U.S. Embassy or nearest Consulate.
Travelers should be aware that certain activities that would be normal business activities in the United States and other countries are either illegal under the Russian legal code or are considered suspect by the FSB (Federal Security Service). Americans should be particularly aware of potential risks involved in any commercial activity with the Russian military-industrial complex, including research institutes, design bureaus, and production facilities or other high technology, government-related institutions. Any misunderstanding or dispute in such transactions can attract the involvement of the security services and lead to investigation or prosecution for espionage. Rules governing the treatment of information remain poorly defined. During the last several years, there have been incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens. While the U.S. Embassy has had consular access to these individuals, arrested Americans faced lengthy sentences -- sometimes in deplorable conditions -- when convicted.
The U.S. Embassy receives reports almost every day of fraud committed against U.S. citizens by internet correspondents professing love and romantic interest. Typically, the Russian correspondent asks the U.S. citizen to send money or credit card information for living expenses, travel expenses, or �visa costs.� When the U.S. citizen asks to arrange a face-to-face meeting, the Russian correspondent often �dies� in a sudden accident. The anonymity of the Internet means that the U.S. citizen cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent. Several citizens� report losing thousands of dollars through such scams. U.S. citizens may refer to
for authoritative information about the immigration process and the true costs involved. For example, U.S. law does not require Russian visitors to have a certain amount of �pocket money� or �walking around money� in either rubles or dollars.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES ^
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens are subject to that country�s laws and regulations. In some instances, laws in Russia differ significantly from those in the United States and do not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, expelled and forced to forfeit the unused part of a pre-purchased tour. Serious transgressions of the law can lead to arrest and imprisonment. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Russia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.
Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.
MEDICAL FACILITIES ^
Medical care is below western standards, with shortages of basic medical supplies and equipment and inferior standards of care and hygiene. The few �quality� facilities in Moscow that approach acceptable standards have limited spaces and do not accept all cases (i.e., they may reject cases of infectious illnesses or trauma). Access to these facilities usually requires cash payment at western rates upon admission.
The U.S. embassy and consulates maintain lists of such facilities and English-speaking doctors. Many resident Americans travel to the west for their medical needs. Such travel can be very expensive if undertaken under emergency conditions. Travelers should check their insurance coverage and purchase supplemental coverage for medical evacuation. A medical evacuation from Russian can cost between 50,000 to 100,000 U.S. dollars, depending on the complexity of the situation. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at particular risk. Elective surgery and non-essential blood transfusions are not recommended, due to uncertainties surrounding the local blood supply. Most hospitals and clinics in major urban areas have adopted the use of disposable syringes as standard practice; however, travelers to remote regions should bring a supply of sterile, disposable syringes for eventualities. Travelers should refrain from visiting tattoo parlors or piercing services due to the risk of infection.
Rates of HIV infection have risen markedly in recent years. While most prevalent among intravenous drug users, prostitutes, and their clients, the HIV/AIDS rate in the general population is increasing. Reported cases of syphilis are much higher than in the U.S., and some sources suggest that gonorrhea and chlamydia are also more prevalent than in Western Europe or the U.S. Travelers should be aware of the related health and legal risks and take all appropriate measures.
Information on appropriate health precautions can be obtained from local health departments or private doctors. General guidance can also be found in the U.S. Public Health Service book, "Health Information For International Travel," available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. Tourists in frail health are strongly advised not to visit Russia because of the harsh conditions and lack of adequate medical facilities.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS ^
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Russia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: poor
In some areas of Russia roads are practically non-existent. Persons planning to drive in Russia should adhere to all local driving regulations. These are strictly enforced and violators are subject to severe legal penalties.
A valid U.S. driver�s license with a notarized Russian translation of it or a valid Russian license is necessary to drive a vehicle in Russia. International driver�s licenses issued by the American Automobile Association are not accepted in Russia. Tourists may use international driver�s licenses issued by the American Automobile Association to drive in Russia. Foreigners who are in Russia on a business visa or with a permanent residence status in Russia are required by law to have a Russian driver�s license. In order to obtain this license one has to take the appropriate exam. An American driver's license cannot be exchanged for a Russian license. Travelers without a valid license are often subject to prolonged stops by police and fines.
Drivers must carry third party liability insurance under a policy valid in Russia. U.S. automobile liability insurance is not valid in Russia nor are most collision and comprehensive coverage policies issued by U.S. companies. A good rule of thumb is to buy coverage equivalent to that which you carry in the United States. Drivers should be aware that Russia practices a zero tolerance policy with regard to alcohol consumption prior to driving.
Avoid excessive speed and, if at all possible, do not drive at night. In rural areas, it is not uncommon to find livestock crossing roadways at any given time. Construction sites or stranded vehicles are often unmarked by flares or other warning signals. Sometimes cars have only one headlight with many cars lacking brake lights. Bicycles seldom have lights or reflectors. Due to these road conditions, be prepared for sudden stops at any time. Learn about your route from an auto club, guidebook or a government tourist office. Some routes have heavy truck and bus traffic; others have poor or nonexistent shoulders. Also, some of the newer roads have very few restaurants, motels, gas stations or auto repair shops along their routes. For your safety, have your vehicle serviced and in optimum condition before you travel. It is wise to bring an extra fan belt, fuses and other spare parts.
Law enforcement checkpoints aimed at detecting narcotics, alien smuggling and firearms traffic are located at various places throughout the country. Many checkpoints are operated by uniformed officials; however, others will not be marked and are manned by police or military officers not in uniform. Traffic police sometimes stop motorists to extract cash �fines.�
For specific information concerning Russian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Russia national tourist organization offices in New York via the Internet at
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT ^
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Russia�s civil aviation authority as Category 1 �- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Russia �s air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA�s Internet website at
Travelers should note that air travel within Russia, particularly in remote regions, could be unreliable at times. Some small local airlines do not have advance reservation systems but sell tickets for cash at the airport. Flights often are canceled if more than 30% of the seats remain unsold.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.
Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.
October 19, 2004