“Is travelling to Russia safe?”
Most of Russian tourism-related employees have been asked this question at least once in their career. In fact, this might be one of the most frequently asked questions. We always answer: “Yes, it is safe”. It is better to say“It is as safe as any other European country”. The current world situation with terrorism doesn’t let us say that it’s absolutely safe anywhere on the planet.
Following the US State Department’s recent recommendation (“Reconsider travel to Russia due to terrorism and harassment,”), we decided to suggest some basic safety recommendations. Here in Russia we have a saying: “Berezhyonogo Bog berezhyot”, which literally means “If you take care of yourself, the God will take care of you as well”. The following tells you how to stay safe during your Russian trip.
- Exercise common sense precautions
Let’s admit it: you are just a traveler who will probably stay in the downtown hotel or apartment, and will visit tourists locations. The general rules like avoiding dark deserted streets in the night and not carrying valuable possessions with you, are as applicable here as in any other country. But the good news is that in big cities like Moscow and St Petersburg, central streets are frequently patrolled, police offices are located almost on every subway station, and if there is no police office, there is always an officer on duty. While in the smaller cities, like Novgorod or Vladimir, the criminal rate is very low. According to the authorities report criminal rate level in all Russia lowered for 12 % against last year. So, we believe there is nothing you should be afraid of.
- Be prepared for a document check
According to Russian law, you are always supposed to have passport with you. In fact, police barely stops anybody who looks like a local or like a foreign tourist. All eyes are on illegal immigrants from Central East and visitors from Caucasus republics. But to be on the safe side, always have at least a copy of your passport.
Remember as well that smoking is banned near public transport hubs and cultural and educational esteblishments, while alcohol consumption in the street is prohibited everywhere and is subject to administrative action.
- Stay away from the crowd
You don’t want to be caught among the participants of unsanctioned protest. Though there are not many demonstrations happening in Russia, there might be some in bigger cities. Once again: common sense rules, don’t get involved into something that you don’t need.
If you happen to be in Russia during big state celebrations like Victory Day (the 9th of May), City Birthday (27th of May for St Petersburg, 8th of September for Moscow) etc., you will see with your own eyes all possible safety measures are taken by authorities. The access to celebration venues are heavily controlled, streets are patrolled by police, no private transport is allowed in the crowded areas. This has been a long time practice in Russia, it wasn’t a new initiative after all the vehicle attacks in Europe took place). The same fact applies to the public transport venues: you can not enter any railway station or airport hall before they scan your luggage. Even before entering the sterile zone you will have to turn your pockets inside out.
- Mind the region of your travel
In the US Department of State alert, the two regions were stated as potentially dangerous: Crimea and Caucasus.
We will not be talking about politics here, but Crimea is on this list simply because of sanctions regime. Crimea is one of the safest regions. However, because of the sanctions, if a US citizens experience difficulties in this region, there is just no diplomatic authorities to help them. Other than that, it is one of the safest regions in Russia.
Northern Caucasus is a different story. It is a place of unrest. Mainly though conflicts are happening between locals and usually don’t involve tourists. It is just a very special locale in general, stunningly beautiful, wild and free, with rich ancient traditions. And by the way, these republics are famous for their hospitality traditions as well! But sadly it’s seldom visited because it is on foreigners’ travel list. We know plenty of cheerful and inspiring stories of travelling in North Caucasus, all having positive plot and a happy end. One of them: a young family (volunteers, vegans, eco-friendly entrepreneurs etc.) with a 2 year old kid set off on a 2 weeks road trip in their Ford Focus, to Dagestan! They came back absolutely loaded with positive energy of Caucasus Mountains and tons of impressive mountain landscapes. They spent two weeks of adventures in the smog free Caucasus air, taking amazing pictures, eating inexpensive natural food and not having any emergencies. If your adventuresome best mountain views hunter, think it over.
- Ignore uptown residents: “Gopniki”
Usually these guys populate districts on the outskirts of the city and gather in “pod’ezdy” after a hard working day usually in the auto service station. Some of them have nothing mean on their mind, but being in big group they might want to ask you for a cigarette or a lighter (sometimes it’s just a reason to start the conversation and to figure out if they could get something else from you). This is a kind of thing that exists in any city, be it London or Barcelona. They are not dangerous themselves, just look creepy. Usually, if you don’t bother them, they will not bother you. If you happen to rent an apartment in the uptown district with “gopniks” around, just ignore them.
- Be alert & aware
#112 – this is the number you call in case of emergency (this is a unified line for firefighting services, police & medical emergencies). It is available 24/7. The call is free; line is available even if your SIM card is blocked.
Stay safe & come to Russia!