The Russian Federation covers almost twice the area of the USA, and reaches from the enclave of Kaliningrad in the west over the Urals and the vast Siberian plains to the Sea of Okhotsk in the east. The border between European Russia and Siberia (Asia) is formed by the Ural Mountains, the Ural River and the Manych Depression. European Russia extends from the North Polar Sea across the Central Russian Uplands to the Black Sea, the Northern Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. Siberia stretches from the West Siberian Plain across the Central Siberian Plateau to the Lena River and takes in the Sayan and Yablonovy ranges in the south. East of Siberia stretches the Russian Far East, a region almost as big as Siberia itself, running to the Pacific coast and including the vast Chukotka and Kamchatka peninsulas.
When former President Vladimir Putin stood down from the presidency in 2008 due to a constitutional limit on holding the office for more than two consecutive terms, his anointed successor and long-time protégé, Dmitry Medvedev won a landslide victory, becoming Russia’s third president and appointing Putin as his Prime Minister shortly afterwards.
While many political commentators initially saw Medvedev as a loyal servant of Putin, expecting the Prime Minister to hold the presidency in all but name, the world financial crisis has rather upset the political applecart in Moscow, with Medvedev publicly criticising Putin’s running of the economy as Prime Minister and the two men’s rival power bases increasingly believed to be working against each other. The economic crisis has exposed serious flaws in Russia’s once-booming economy as oil and gas prices have dropped and the lack of infrastructure, investment and financial reform has become gruesomely exposed to the outside world. While the Russian government still has impressive financial reserves as a result of vast oil and gas revenue over the past few years, much of this has gone on propping up the weakening Rouble.
The country is inhabited by one of the widest varieties of nationalities and ethnic groups in the world, and many of the country’s national groups have their own administrative territories. More than 100 nationalities inhabit Russia, making it one of the most multinational states in the world. The country contains 32 ethnic divisions that are scattered throughout its territory. Three-quarters of the total population constitutes are concentrated in European Russia, while urban populations constitute over two-thirds of the total. Moscow, the capital, and St Petersburg are the two most populated cities.
It is customary to shake hands when greeting someone, though never across a threshold. Company or business gifts are well received. Conservative wear is suitable for most places and the seasonal weather should always be borne in mind. Smoking and drinking is acceptable unless stated otherwise.
Russian is the official language, although there are over 100 other languages. English is widely spoken by younger people as well as some educated older people.
Republic since its independence from the USSR in 1991.
The Russian Federation is divided into 11 time zones.
- Kaliningrad: GMT +2 (GMT +3 from the last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
- Moscow, St Petersburg, Astrakhan: GMT +3 (GMT +3 from the last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
- Izhevsk and Samara: GMT +4 (GMT +5 from the last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
- Perm, Ekaterinburg, Surgut: GMT +5 (GMT +6 from the last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
- Omsk and Novosibirsk: GMT +6 (GMT +7 from the last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
- Abakan, Norilsk, Tura: GMT +7 (GMT +8 from the last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
- Bratsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude: GMT +8 (GMT +9 from the last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
- Mirnyy, Tynda, Yakutsk: GMT +9 (GMT +10 from the last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
- Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Yuzhno- Sakhalinsk: GMT +10 (GMT +11 from the last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
- Magadan, Chirskiy: GMT +11 (GMT +12 from the last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
- Anadyr, Petropavlosk-Kamchatskiy: GMT +12 (GMT +13 from the last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
220 volts AC, 50Hz; Russia uses a standard two-pin European plug.
Throughout the country, the warm summer months of June, July and August are the best time to visit.
Northern and Central European Russia: The most varied climate; mildest areas are along the Baltic coast. Summer sunshine may be nine hours a day, but winters can be very cold.
Siberia: Very cold winters, but summers can be pleasant, although they tend to be short and wet. There is considerable seasonal temperature variation.
Southern European Russia: Winter is shorter than in the north. Steppes (in the southeast) have hot, dry summers and very cold winters.
The north and northeastern Black Sea has mild winters, but heavy rainfall all the year round.
Clothes to Wear:
As far as clothing is concerned, in Russia, casual clothing is more likely to identify you as a tourist since the locals tend to be a bit dressier, especially women. Jeans and sneakers might also make it difficult to enter some nightspots. Obviously check temperatures and pack accordingly, especially if you’re going in the freezing winter months.
Entry & Exit Requirements:
The Russian government maintains a restrictive and complicated visa regime for foreigners who visit, transit, or reside in the Russian Federation. A U.S. citizen who does not comply with Russian visa laws can be subject to arrest, fines, and/or deportation. Russian authorities will not allow a U.S. citizen traveler with an expired visa to depart the country until a new visa is approved, which may take up to 20 days. Please be sure to leave Russia before your visa expires!
Sponsorship: Under Russian law, every foreign traveler must have a Russian-based sponsor, which could be a hotel, tour company, relative, employer, university, etc. Even if you obtained your visa through a travel agency in the United States, there is still a Russian legal entity whose name is indicated on your visa and who is considered to be your legal sponsor. Russian law requires that your sponsor apply on your behalf for replacement, extension, or changes to a Russian visa. You should ensure that you have contact information for your visa sponsor prior to arrival in Russia, as the sponsor’s assistance will be essential to resolve any visa problems.
Entry Visas: To enter Russia for any purpose, you must possess a valid U.S. passport and a visa issued by a Russian embassy or consulate. You cannot obtain an entry visa upon arrival, so you must apply for your visas well in advance. U.S. citizens who apply for Russian visas in third countries where they do not have permission to stay for more than 90 days may face considerable delays in visa processing. If you arrive in Russia without an entry visa you will not be permitted to enter the country, and could face immediate return to the point of embarkation at your own expense. A Russian entry/exit visa has two dates written in the European style (day/month/year) as opposed to the American style (month/day/year).
The first date indicates the earliest date a traveler may enter Russia; the second date indicates the date by which a traveler must leave Russia. A Russian visa is only valid for those exact dates and cannot be extended after the traveler has arrived in the country, except in the case of a medical emergency. Russian tourist visas are usually granted only for the specific dates mentioned in the invitation letter provided by the sponsor. U.S. citizens sometimes receive visas valid for periods as short as four days.
You may wish to have someone who reads Russian check the visa before departing the United States. Please ensure that your visa reflects your intended activities in Russia (e.g., tourism, study, business, etc.). If you are denied a visa, you may seek clarification from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 32/34 Smolenskaya-Sennaya Pl., Moscow, Russia, 119200, e-mail.
Limitations on Length of Stay: Most foreigners may remain in the Russian Federation for only 90 days in a 180-day period. These provisions apply to business, tourist, humanitarian, and cultural visas, among other categories. U.S. citizens and other foreigners whose visas permit employment or study are not normally subject to this rule. Any person contemplating a stay in Russia of more than 90 days should consult with his or her visa sponsor to ensure that remaining in the country will not result in a violation of visa regulations.
Exit Visas: A valid visa is necessary to depart Russia. If you overstay your visa validity by no more than three days you may be granted an exit visa at the airport (at the discretion of the Russian Consular Officer). If you overstay your visa by more than three days, you will be prevented from leaving until your sponsor intervenes and requests a visa extension on your behalf. Russian authorities may take up to 20 calendar days to authorize an exit visa, during which time you will be stranded in Russia at your own expense. You may also have difficulty checking into a hotel, hostel, or other lodging establishment with an expired Russian visa. Again, please be sure to depart from Russia before your visa expires. If you lose your U.S. passport and Russian visa by accident or theft you must immediately replace your passport at the U.S. Embassy or one of the Consulates General. You must then enlist the assistance of your visa sponsor to obtain a new visa in order to depart the country. It is helpful to make a photocopy of your visa in the event of loss, but a copy is not sufficient to permit departure.
Migration Cards: U.S. citizens entering Russia must fill out a two-part migration card upon arrival. You should deposit one part of the card with immigration authorities at the port of entry, and keep the other part for the duration of your stay. Upon departure, submit your card to immigration authorities. You may also be required to present your migration card in order to register at hotels. Migration cards are available at all ports of entry from Russian immigration officials (Border Guards). The cards are generally distributed to passengers on incoming flights and left in literature racks at arrival points. Officials at borders and airports usually do not point out these cards to travelers; it is up to the individual travelers to find them and fill them out. Replacing a lost or stolen migration card is extremely difficult. While authorities will not prevent you from leaving the country if you cannot present your migration card, you could experience problems when trying to re-enter Russia at a future date. Although Russia and Belarus use the same migration card, each country maintains its own visa regime. U.S. citizens wishing to travel to both nations must apply for two separate visas.
If you enter Russia directly from Belarus you are not required to obtain a new migration card.
Visa Registration: If you intend to spend more than three days in Russia you must register your visa and migration card through your sponsor. If staying at a hotel, the hotel reception should register your visa and migration card on the first day of your stay. Even if you are spending less than three days in one place, we still encourage you to register your visa. If you choose not to register a stay of less than three days, we advise you to keep copies of tickets, hotel bills, or itineraries in order to prove compliance with the law. Russian police officers have the authority to stop people and request their identity and travel documents at any time and without cause. Due to the possibility of random document checks by police, you should carry your original passport, migration card and visa with you at all times.
Transit Visas: If you intend to transit through Russia en route to a third country you must have a Russian transit visa. Even if you are simply changing planes in Russia for an onward destination you will be asked to present a transit visa issued by a Russian embassy or consulate. Russian authorities may refuse to allow you to continue with your travel if you do not possess a valid Russian transit visa, and oblige you to return to the point of embarkation at your own expense.
Restricted Areas: There are several closed cities and regions in Russia. If you attempt to enter these areas without prior authorization you may be subject to arrest, fines, and/or deportation. You must list on the visa application all areas to be visited and subsequently register with authorities upon arrival at each destination. There is no centralized list or database of the restricted areas, so travelers should check with their sponsor, hotel, or the nearest office of the Russian Federal Migration Service before traveling to unfamiliar cities and towns.
International Cruise Ship Passengers: International cruise ship passengers are permitted to visit Russian ports without a visa for a period of up to 72 hours. Passengers who wish to go ashore during port calls may do so without visas, provided that they are with an organized tour at all times and accompanied by a tour operator who has been duly licensed by Russian authorities. These special entry/exit requirements do not apply to river boat cruise passengers and travelers coming to Russia on package tours. These travelers will need to apply for visas prior to entry, and should follow the general guidelines for entry/exit requirements.
Embassy of the Russian Federation: For additional information concerning travel to Russia, American citizens may contact the Embassy of the Russian Federation, Consular Section, 2641 Tunlaw Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20007. Tel: 202-939-8907.
In addition, there are Russian Consulates in:
Houston: 1333 West Loop South, Ste.1300, Houston, TX 77027, tel. 713-337-3300; New York: 9 East 91 St., New York, NY 10128, tel. 212-348-0926; San Francisco: 2790 Green St., San Francisco, CA 94123, tel. 415-928-6878 or 415-202-9800; and Seattle: 2323 Westin Building, 2001 6th Ave., Seattle, WA 98121, tel. 206-728-1910. If you are going to visit Russia, please take the time to tell our Embassy or Consulates about your trip. If you check in, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.
U.S. Embassy in Russia
Novinskiy Bulvar 21
Tel: (7) (495) 728-5000
American Citizen Services Unit Tel: (7) (495) 728-5577
ACS Unit Fax: (7) (495) 728-5084
Embassy of Canada in Russia
23 Starokonyushenny Pereulok
Moscow 119002 (near the Old Arbat street, Metro: Kropotkinskaya)
Tel: + 7 (495) 925-6000
Fax: + 7 (495) 925-6025
Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to, and foreign residents of, Russia. Short-term visitors (under three months) are not required to undergo an HIV/AIDS test, but applicants for longer term visas or residence permits may be asked to undergo tests not only for HIV/AIDS, but also for tuberculosis and leprosy. Travelers who believe they may be subject to the requirement should verify this information with the Embassy of the Russian Federation.
Outbreaks of diphtheria and hepatitis A have been reported throughout the country, even in large cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend up-to-date tetanus and diphtheria immunizations before traveling to Russia and neighboring countries. Typhoid can be a concern for those who plan to travel extensively in the region. Rarely, cases of cholera have also been reported throughout the area. Drinking bottled water can reduce the risk of exposure to infectious and noxious agents. Outside of Moscow, tap water is generally unsafe to drink. Use bottled water for drinking and food preparation. Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Russia. For further information, please consult the CDC’s information on Tuberculosis.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Banks & Currency:
Rouble (RUB; symbol руб) = 100 kopeks. Notes are in denominations of руб5,000, 1,000, 500, 100, 50 and 10. Coins are in denominations of руб10, 5, 2 and 1, and 50, 10, 5 and 1 kopeks.
Foreign currency should only be exchanged at official bureau and authorized banks. You will usually need your passport to change money. It is wise to retain all exchange receipts. Bureau de change are numerous and easy to locate. Large shops and hotels offer their own exchange facilities. All major currencies can be converted in big cities. Outside the main cities, travelers are advised to carry US Dollars or Euros. It is illegal to settle accounts in hard currency and to change money unofficially, although in practice both sometimes happen and are not risky. However, in general everyone will want to be paid in Roubles.
Major international credit and debit cards, including Visa and MasterCard, are accepted in the larger hotels and at foreign currency shops and restaurants, but cash (in Roubles) is more reliable. American Express cards are rarely accepted outside Moscow and St Petersburg. ATM’s are widely available. Cash is preferred. If carrying travelers’ checks, major currencies are accepted in big cities, but US Dollars and Euros are preferred elsewhere.
The import and export of local currency is prohibited. The import of foreign currency is limited to руб10,000, but sums great than руб3,000 must be declared. The export of foreign currency is limited to the amount imported.
Banking hours: Mon-Fri 09:30am-05:30pm.
Country code: 7. When dialling the Russian Federation from abroad, the 0 of the area code must not be omitted. Most Moscow hotels have telephone booths with IDD. For long-distance calls within the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), dial 8 then wait for the dial tone before proceeding with the call. Collect calls, calls placed using credit cards and calls from direct dial telephones in hotels can be extremely expensive. International calls can be made from phones in the street and phonecards are available from many shops and kiosks in the street. The emergency services can be reached as follows: fire – 01; police – 02; ambulance – 03. For enquiries regarding Moscow private telephone numbers, dial 09; for businesses, 927 0009.
Roaming agreements exist with international mobile phone companies. All major cities are covered by at least one operator. Handsets can be hired from some companies and local SIM cards are easily purchased for use within Russia if you have an unlocked GSM handset. Internet: Public access is available in hotels in larger cities and in Internet cafes.
There are postboxes and post offices in every hotel. Inland surface mail is often slow. Post office hours: 9am-7pm.
Cell Phone Usage:
Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.
Food and Drink:
The kind of food visitors will eat from day to day depends on which city they are visiting and the time of year. Breakfast is often similar to that eaten in Scandinavian countries, with cold meats, boiled eggs and bread served with Russian tea. For the midday and evening meal the food is often more traditional, again depending on the region. In Moscow, St Petersburg and many other larger cities good quality (if expensive) international cuisine is readily available. City-centre bars are usually open until the early hours. Drinking on the street is considered perfectly acceptable.
- Kasha (porridge) is a staple breakfast dish, made with milk and oats, buckwheat or semolina
- Blini (small pancakes filled with caviar, fish, melted butter or sour cream)
- Ponchiki (hot sugared doughnuts)
- Pirozhky (fried rolls with different fillings, usually meat)
- Borshch (a beetroot soup served hot with sour cream)
- Pelmeni (meat dumplings).
- Chai (sweet tea served without milk)
- Vodka is often flavoured and coloured with herbs and spices, such as zubrovka (made with a kind of grass), ryabinovka (steeped with rowan-tree berries), starka (a dark, smooth, aged vodka) and pertsovka (made with hot pepper). Russky Standard, Stolichnaya and Gzhelka are popular brands
- Krushon (cold ‘punch’; champagne, brandy and summer fruits are poured into a hollowed watermelon and chilled for several hours)
- Nalivka (sweet liqueur made with fruit or berries)
- Nastoika (fortified wine made of herbs, leaves, flowers, fruit and roots of plants with medicinal properties).
Theatre, circus, concert and variety performances are the traditional evening entertainments. Tickets are available in advance or from ticket booths immediately before performances. Visitors should note that prices for foreigners are usually much higher than those paid by Russian nationals. The repertoire of theatres provides a change of programme almost nightly.
In the course of one month, 30 different productions may be presented by the Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Company. Visitors can get more information at the service bureau of their hotel. Nightclubs and bars are also very popular, particularly in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities.
A wide range of goods, such as watches, cameras, wines and spirits, ceramics and glass, jewellery and toys may be bought in Moscow and St Petersburg. Shops take payment in Roubles and, usually, by credit card.
It is necessary to allow extra time for souvenir hunting: shopping can be a time-consuming activity, owing to the relatively chaotic state of the retail trade in the Russian Federation. It is also advisable to shop around, as prices vary significantly. A good strategy is to choose your souvenirs in a department store such as GUM (on Red Square), and then buy them in a smaller, less centrally located shop. Kholui and Palekh lacquered boxes make attractive souvenirs. Traditional and satirical Matryoshka dolls (wooden dolls within dolls) are widely available. Khokhloma wooden cups, saucers and spoons are painted gold, red and black. Dymkovskaya Igrushka are pottery figurines based on popular folklore characters. Engraved amber, Gzhel porcelain, Vologda lace and Fabergé eggs and jewellery are highly sought after. A samovar (typical metal container used to boil water for tea) makes a good souvenir. Antiquities, valuables, works of art and manuscripts other than those offered for sale in souvenir shops may not be taken out of the Russian Federation without an export licence.
Shopping hours: Mon-Sat 9am-7pm. Most food shops are also open on Sunday. Department stores and supermarkets are open throughout lunchtime. Stores that are open 24 hours a day are becoming more common.
Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.
Hotels in Moscow and other large cities include a 10 to 15% service charge. Otherwise 10% is customary.
Most hotels will arrange affordable laundry services for guests.
PHOTOS & VIDEOS
In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.
USE OF DRONES
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.