ManGo Travel

Travels to St. Petersburg and all Russia

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Before you go (30)

OK, so, you decided to travel to Russia! Congratulations! Your trip to Russia will definitely be an experience. And here you can find a lot of useful information and travel tips about Russian travel, which you should know before you go to Russia. These Russian travel tips will also be helpful to you while your Russian travels.

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Arrival to Russia

Arrival to Russia (0)

Choose among different ways of coming to Russia. Moscow, St. Petersburg and other big cities have a variety of international connections by air, train, bus or ship.

 

 

 

By plane


Moscow and Saint Petersburg are served by direct flights from most European capitals, and Moscow also has direct flights from many cities in East Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and North America. There are airports in all large cities in Russia. Some international servicecan be found in Novosibirsk, Sochi, Vladivostok, Kaliningrad and Yekaterinburg. International service to other destinations is limited, however you can travel there via Moscow or other bigger cities. There are a lot of regular Russian domestic flights. For details on flights and airports see our air travel section.

 

What to do when you've arrived

Non-Russian citizens, upon arrival in Russia, will be expected to fill in two copies of the migration card. Passport control officers will tear off one half of the migration card and leave you with the other half, and it should be stamped. Keep track of this card as you will need it to register your visa and for your departure from Russia. Not being able to present a migration card when leaving Russia can result in fines and can potentially result in a wait of several days while the authorities decide what to do with you.

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Visa to Russia

Visa to Russia (5)

Citizens of most non-CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries must obtain a Russian visa prior to arriving in Russia. Citizens of Croatia (3 months, invitation required), Israel (90 days), Montenegro (90 days), Cuba (30 days), Thailand (30 days), Venezuela (90 days), Argentina (90 days), Hong Kong (14 days), Japan (only for Russian islands in north of Japan) , Serbia (30 days, only biometric passports), Brazil (90 days), Nicaragua (90 days), Turkey (30 days), Uruguay (90 days) do not need a visa.


To get the Russian visa, you need to get an invitation (also called visa support) first. The invitation can be for a tourist or a business Russian visa


Russian tourist visa is usually valid for up to 30 days and can be single- or double-entry (double-entry only valid if you travel to/from CIS countries the second time)


Russian business visa can be valid for up to 1 year and can be multiple entries. You don't need to be in a business to get a business visa, but you should be careful to specify the information consistent with the type of your invitation when you apply for a Russian visa at the Russian consulates (e.g. you can't say you're visiting friends if you're getting a Russian tourist visa or that you're going for sightseeing if you're getting a Russian business visa). A Russian business visa is far more flexible and desirable for an independent traveller than a Russian tourist visa. To obtain a Russian business visa you must have a letter of invitation from a registered Russian company or organization, and a covering letter from your company (or you) stating the purpose of your trip. We will be happy to provide you with more information about Russian business visa - simply tell us your needs and we will advise you the Russian visa that suits your needs in a best way.

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Russian customs

Russian customs (1)

Once you've got the visa, things become really simple (unless you bring your own car). The regulations are not much different from anywhere else. There are limits on how many cigarettes, how much alcohol you can bring in. You can also bring in up to $3000 US in cash without declaring it, if you've got more on you make sure it's declared, so that when you leave they don't charge a tax on it. Regarding equipment, you can bring stuff worth not more than $2000 US without a tax. If you've got more expensive items, you'll have to pay 30% tax on them. So if you want to avoid that say it's for your personal use, very old, crappy, and cheap. If you're taking any medicines, make sure they are allowed in Russia and always carry your prescription with you, so the customs don't think you're carrying drugs.

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Russian money

Russian money (5)

Information on Russian currency and how to keep your money - Cash, Travelers Cheques, Credit Cards in Russia

The official currency of Russia is the Ruble (RUB), divided into 100 kopeks. Coins are issued in 1, 5, 10, and 50 kopek and 1, 2, 5, and 10 ruble denominations. Banknotes come in 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000, and 5000 ruble values. The 1 and 5 kopek coins are of little use, as their value is low; in many stores prices are rounded up to the nearest 10 kopeks and many people refuse to accept these coins.


Rubles only: All payments in Russia are officially made in rubles. Payment is made in Rubles at all shops while some smaller owner operated shops and stalls may still allow foreign currency (USD or Euro). The legal tender for all payments is the Ruble and foreign currency is not supposed to be accepted for payments.  Supermarkets, restaurants and all major stores will not even consider foreign currency, but most will have either a money changer very close by or possibly a money changing machine in the vicinity.

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Safety & Health

Safety & Health (3)

Russia is a relatively safe place, but sometimes there may be annoying situations.

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Public transport

Public transport (3)

Public transportation system in main Russian cities is quite extensive. Public transport is pretty cheap, and you can get around by metro (subway), bus, tram and taxi. Getting around Russian cities buying a good dual-language map is essential, since the street names and metro signs are posted in Cyrillic only.

Find public transport routes

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Go through Russia

Go through Russia (5)

If you are not sure about the best way to the place of your destination we will help you to choose the optimal route at the best price and make your trip comfortable.

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Russian language

Russian language (0)

What makes Russia such an interesting country to visit is that the Russian language is based on a different alphabet. And as an English speaker, planning to go to Россия or Russia, the Cyrillic script can be daunting.

Many of the Cyrillic characters look backwards or upside down and are seemingly switched around. What looks like a “р” is really the equivalent of a Latin “r”. What looks like a “в” is really the equivalent of a Latin “v” and what looks like an “н” is really the equivalent of a Latin “n”. But, fortunately, many Russians -- though they may not be fluent in English -- are familiar with the Latin alphabet despite the quirky differences, and are able to read or sound out a European or English word anyway, so you can be sure that it’s not that difficult for you to reverse the process. 

You will feel much more comfortable and secure in a distinctly foreign region, with some background knowledge of the Cyrillic script. It won’t be difficult to remember the letters, because there are many words that are familiar to English ones - the only problem is that the characters initially look very different. For instance, the word “банк” will look a little strange the first time you see it, but gradually you’ll recognize that “н” is really the equivalent of the latin “n” and that this is almost exactly the same as the English word “bank.” And as you gradually integrate words like these into your memory, you will be able to sound out or recognize many more words, and even some that are completely unfamiliar to you. 

One of the greatest advantages of knowing the Cyrillic script is that you will be able to understand many more words than you predicted, just by their similarity to American words. “турист” being one -- which is transliterated to “tooreest” and becomes a familiar word, once you understand the Cyrillic script. “туалет” is another, which is what they might say to you if you’re looking for public restrooms and transliterates to “tooahlyet.” Now you can see that “у” in the Cyrillic script makes the sound “oo” in English, not “yuh,” and that “e” in the Cyrillic script actually makes a “yeh” sound! 

The Cyrillic script is just one of the first gates into the Russian cultural experience, and you might find your environment much more enjoyable once you’ve learned it.

The Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet has 33 letters (20 consonants, 11 vowels and 2 others that don't have their own sounds)

А Б В Г Д Е Ё Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Ъ Ы Ь Э Ю Я

And these words you’ll be sure to see many times around the cities you visit:
аптека - aptyeka -- pharmacy
музей - moozey -- museum 
банк - bank -- bank
рубль -- roobl -- ruble (Russian currency)
парк - park -- park
почта -- pochta -- post office
цветы - tsveti -- flower shop
ресторан - restoran -- restaurant
магазин - magazin -- not to be confused with magazine, it actually means a small shop or a store.
три -- tree -- and actually it’s the number three, not a tree!
царь - tsar -- sometimes transliterated as tsar or czar 
я турист - ya tooreest - which means ‘I am a tourist’

Knowing the language of the foreign country you expect to be traveling in is always valuable to make the most out of your experience.

Although in large airports and popular museums, you hardly need worry because they will probably have signs in English, you still might be surprised how little you can find an English speaker on the street when you most need it, or even in the metro or airport. Because of Russia’s political history, it has not been open to tourists for very long and has only begun developing good relationships with English-speaking countries and their tourism.

A good tip when you need directions or help is to search for someone in their youth. A group of students, for instance, will have a better chance of knowing enough English to point you in the right direction, rather than a group of adults from the Soviet Era. 

Though most Russians in big cities understand English, learning a few words of Russian will help prepare you for your trip.

Hi

PriVET

Hello (formal)

ZDRASTvstvujte

Good Morning

DObroe OOtra

Good Day

DObriy DYEN

Good Evening

DObriy VYEcher

Good Night

DObroy NOchee

Bye

Poka

See You Tomorrow

daZAftra

Please

paZHAluhsta

Thank-You

spaSEEba

Yes

DA

No

NYET

Where is...?

GDYAY...?

Do you speak English?

GavaREEtye lee VOY pah-anglEEskee?

I don't speak Russian. 

ya Ne gavarYOU pahROOskee

My name is...

meenYA zaVOOT...

What is your name?

kahk vas zaVOOT?

I have a hotel reservation here

Ya zakazal nomer

I am looking for my driver

Ya ishu moego voditelya

Where can I make a phone call

Kak mne mojno pozvonit’

Can you please call this number for me

Naberite etot nomer

It’s a pleasure to meet you

ochen’ priyatno poznakomitsya

This meal is delicious

ochen’ vkusno

How much

Skolko

This is too much

Dorogo

Learn to read the Russian Alphabet in 75 Minutes

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Weather and When to Go

Weather and When to Go (0)

You can visit Russia in every time of the year. All year long you can find many interesting places to see and things to do.

The immense geographic area of the Russian Federation has a variety of seasonal weather conditions. April through to October is considered by many to be the best overall time to visit; from June till September are the busiest tourist months. However, the winter months also have appeal. St Petersburg is always a few degrees cooler than Moscow and often has a breeze blowing in from the Gulf of Finland.

The coldest months are January and February with an average temperature of -9C degrees.  The first snow falls at the end of October and remains until the beginning of April. In summer average temperature is about 20C degrees, with much warmer temperatures in July and August.  The rainiest months are July and August, although these months can often be quite dry and pleasant. October is often a dry, pleasantly cool and colorful month, although rain is still common. Autumn and winter have a charm of their own.

If you come in winter time you can visit all the museums, theatres and places of interest, participate in the Russian national festivals and spend unforgettable time. Moreover, accommodation in winter is cheaper than in other seasons, so you can save money. Hotels in Russia offer a wide range of opportunities both for business and leisure travelers, comfortable rooms and irreproachable service. And for sure, by the chance being in the city you will have time for visiting its famous museums...To tell you secretly, there are no awful lines in the museums in winter, and theaters do their best indeed in that time! Russian vacations will give you a lot of impressions that you will keep in your memory for all your life. It would be wonderful idea to see Russian New Year or Maslenitsa, to be congratulated by Father Frost and Snowmade, to explore Russian winter entertainments such as ice fishing, skiing, skating, snowboarding, snowmobiling, huskies, Russian troika with sledge, Russian banya with contrasts of steam and snow... It's not very cold, though sometimes it might be quite freezing. But if you have warm clothes, you'll be ok. Generally, the lowest is minus 10 or 15 Celsius in the winter, though it might sometimes (rarely) go as low as minus 25 or 30. And the true thing about Russian winter is that it's very beautiful.  If you don't like cold, your safer bet is to travel to Russia in summer.

If you would like to come in summer, you can visit also famous resorts, residences of the Russian Tsars and make Russian river cruises. Summer is also the time of renowned White Nights in St. Petersburg with unique chance to feel deeply this time of the year and enjoy fabulous strolls all nights long and the famous bridge partings. July and August are the warmest months and the main holiday season for both foreigners and Russians (which means securing train tickets at short notice can be tricky). The drawback of the summer, however, is that the airfares and hotel prices skyrocket and museum lines lengthen. By booking a private tour in advance, you reserve good rates and bypass museum lines with the help of your personal guide

If you are interested in a budget vacation, we recommend visiting just before travel season, in late April or early May, or right after it ends, in late September or early October. The museum lines will be short, but you will need to bring warm clothes as weather gets surprisingly chilly, especially in the evenings. Golden autumnal colors of September and early October can be stunning. Avoid, though, the first snows (usually in late October) and the spring thaw (March and April), which turn everything to slush and mud.

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Keeping in touch

Keeping in touch (3)

While on vacation, most people don't want to be distracted by things back home. However, sometimes, it is important to keep in touch with friends and family members while you are on the go, traveling out of state or out of the country. Learn about the ways of communication in Russia.

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Russian Food

Russian Food (0)

One of the purest forms of cultural immersion is diving stomach-first into a country’s cuisine. Whether you are being adventurous with aspic or enjoying a pot of borsch, you are guaranteed to find something that will fill you, heart and soul.

Russian national cuisine uses lots of grains and roots, vegetables and lots of fish, mushrooms and berries. Because of the harsh climate, Russians have a limited variety of ingredients, but this hardship has been compensated with creative recipes and combinations. Russians have invented a mind-boggling variety of soups and, because they had to preserve food for cold winters, they have made a science out of pickling vegetables.

Contemporary Russian cuisine is truly delicious. It is also healthy because it mostly relies on naturally grown ingredients. It is also very filling because Russian dishes have tons of vegetable oil, sour cream and mayo.

Russian breakfasts are very similar to those in some western countries. For breakfast, Russians almost always drink tea with a sandwich with meat (kolbasa), fried eggs or omelets (but without bacon). Sometimes they make blini, which are thin pancakes, which are similar to French crepes.

Russian lunch is somewhat different from what you are used to. Russians have great variety of soups: rassolnik - chicken soup with pickles, salanka - meat soup with olives and sausages, okroshka - cold soup made of kvas andchopped vegetables, red borsh - beet soup, shchi - cabbage soup, soup s frikadlkami - meatball soup, uha - fish soup and the list goes on.

Russians dinners are similar to any western cuisine as they feature variety of fried meats and fish. Meals are served with rich salads, pickled vegetables, and boiled of fried potatoes. Some dishes are more creative than others and take a while to make. Golbuci is another time-consuming dish. Golubci is ground beef with rice wrapped in cabbage leaves and stewed in an oven for 3 hours.

One of the best ways to taste Russian cuisine is during large holidays such as birthdays or New Year's Eve. For holidays, Russians tend to cook five times more food that they can actually eat. There are usually three or four delicious courses in a typical holiday feast.

Russia is not without its unusual cuisine. Two of its most unique foods are salo (pig fat)  and cow's tongue. Many Russians consider these dishes to be delicacies. There is also stooden (студень), or aspic. Aspic is a gel made by letting cooked meat sit in a refrigerator until the broth hardens into a gel. The gel is then taken out and eaten cold.

Russian specialties also include:

  • Pelmeni (meat-filled dumplings, especially popular in Ural and Siberian regions)
  • Blini (pancakes)
  • Black bread (rye bread)
  • Piroshki (small pies or buns with sweet or savoury filling)
  • Ikra Baklazhanaya (aubergine spread)
  • Vinegret (salad of boiled beets, potato, carrots and other vegetables with vinegar)
  • Olivier (Russian version of potato salad)
  • Shashlyk (various kebabs from the Caucasus republics of the former Soviet Union)

While Russians are most famous for vodka, there are a number of other delicious national drinks as well. Aside from alcoholic beverages, many Russians drink tea, coffee, and a variety of juice. They also produce a beverage called Kvas, a drink made from fermented bread.

Both Saint Petersburg and Moscow offer sophisticated, world class dining and a wide variety of cuisines including Japanese, Tibetan and Italian. They are also excellent cities to sample some of the best cuisines of the former Soviet Union (e.g., Georgian and Uzbek). It is also possible to eat well and cheaply there without resorting to the many western fast food chains that have opened up. Russians have their own versions of fast food restaurants which range from cafeteria style serving comfort foods to street-side kiosks cooking up blinis or stuffed potatoes. Unlike Europe, cafes in Russia (кафе) do not serve only drinks, but also a full range of meals (typically cooked in advance unlike restaurants where part or whole cooking cycle is performed after you make an order).

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Russian Souvenirs

Russian Souvenirs (0)

Russian souvenirs reflect the national character and soul of Russian people. Lively, carved and painted figurines, nesting dolls, birch boxes and accessories, Gzhel and Majolica Ceramics, Mstera, Kholuy, Palekh and Fedoskino wooden boxes, tin soldiers, clocks, wooden figures are to everyone's liking. These examples of Great Russian culture will decorate your house and bring you back memories of Russia. 

Looking for something unusual and yet beautiful? Our Russian Souvenirs Stores offer you highly artistic articles handcrafted by gifted masters. In every piece you will find reflections of millennium long traditions of Russian folk and decorative art. Every item will make a great addition to any collection or a perfect gift for any occasion.

Nesting dolls - Matreshkas, or nesting dolls, are the most popular national Russian souvenirs. It is a collection of traditionally painted wooden dolls, each one stacking neatly within another. Matreshka is a descendant of traditional peasant toys that parents used to make for their children.

Birch Boxes - Birch bark items are made of pure birch or can be decorated by cutting through birch and stamping. Stamping on birch is one of the oldest handicrafts. The production of birch bark items was very popular in Russia.

Ceramics - porcelain, faience, majolica, and pottery - are made of fired clay with mineral components. Ceramic items are performed in traditional national style but with artists' individual vision

Lacquer boxes - the first lacquer boxes appeared in Japan and China. Starting from the 16th century, the art of making such boxes spread in Western Europe. First Russian lacquer boxes appeared at the beginning of the 18th century.

Samovar - an indigenous design for brewing tea. Note that when purchasing samovars of value (historical, precious gems or metal, etc.), it is wise to check with customs before attempting to take it out of the country

Ushanka  - a warm hat with ears (ushi)

Honey  - produced around the country; sorts and quality vary dramatically, but the higher-quality are worth seeking. 

Caviar -  only red since 2007 (producing and selling black caviar is prohibited for ecological reasons) most easy to find in large stores

Be advised, however, that the law prohibits anyone from taking artwork of historical significance out of the country, so buyer/exporter beware of any older works of art or antiques.  This rule is applied especially to icons.  If you purchase artwork that is not old, you should get a certification from the seller which states the age of the item and the cost, in case you are questioned about it at the border.  Don't worry, the merchants are familiar with these rules and will know what you want and why you are asking for it.  If you buy something that is, or appears to be old, and the seller won't certify it, you might be well-advised to pass it up.
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Useful facts about Russia

Useful facts about Russia (5)

That's the kind of information you think you don't need until you realize that your notebook cannot be charged or the time on your ticket actually meant 5 o'clock in the morning, not in the evening. So here's some of that useful information

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Friday, 18 March 2011 14:35

By car

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Driving a car is not a very enjoyable experience in Russia, as the distances are long, the roads are not very good quality, and the road police always tries to stop you and fine for something. Traveling in Russia by car can be difficult. Roads may be poorly marked, if marked at all, and poorly maintained, especially outside the cities and towns. Car rental services are only starting to develop in major cities such as Moscow or Saint Petersburg, and are expensive

Friday, 18 March 2011 14:34

By bus

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Most Russian cities have bus links to cities as far as 5-6 hours away or further. Though generally less comfortable than the train, buses sometimes are a better option time-wise and are worth looking into if the train timetables don't suit you. A small number of cities, notably Suzdal, are not served by train, and thus bus is the only option besides a car

Most cities have just one bus station for long distance buses and the state buses depart from there. However, in Moscow and in some other Russian cities, a number of commercial buses are available, and they generally don't depart from the bus station. Quite often, you'll see commercial buses near train stations. Sometimes they run on schedules, though for popular routes (such as Moscow-Vladimir, Moscow/Yaroslavl, etc.) the buses simply wait to fill up. On these buses payment is usually to the driver

Russian buses have luggage storage, but if it's an old Eastern-bloc bus, you may find your luggage wet at the end of the trip

Friday, 18 March 2011 14:33

By plane

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The tremendous distances of Russia make plane travel highly desirable if you plan to travel to some of Russia's more far-flung attractions. It's worth considering for any destination that is farther than an overnight train ride. Travelling across Russia by train can sound awfully romantic, but it's also time-consuming and rather monotonous. Nearly every major destination of interest has an airport nearby. The great majority of domestic flights are to/from Moscow, but other services exist.

We can book air tickets for internal travel as well as for some international sectors. Care should be taken as many of the newly opened airlines have old aircraft with poor service records. We will be happy to advise on and book the more reputable airlines that have working schedules

Friday, 18 March 2011 10:16

By train

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Russia has an extensive rail network linking nearly every city and town. For intercity travel, the train is generally the most convenient option for trips that can be covered overnight. Although accommodations may not be the best, Russian trains have efficient and courteous staff as well as timely departures and arrivals. The train is an option for longer trips (many Russians continue to use it for trips of 2 days or more), but mainly if you appreciate the nuances and experience of train travel in Russia. For the complete Russian rail experience the one-week Trans-Siberian Railway has no equal

Russian trains are divided into types: Long-distance trains generally cover trips more than about 4 hours or 200 kilometers (120 miles). Note that all long-distance trains in Russia run on Moscow time (which may be up to 9 hours off local time in the Far East). Shorter distances are covered by the commuter trains. Most train stations have separate areas for selling tickets for these types.

Most long-distance trains are set up for overnight travel. In these trains, three main kinds of cars are available

First class


The first class is called SV, and consists of compartments for two persons. Note that several Russian trains, including many international routes, have only 1st and 2nd class available. NB - To guarantee single occupancy of a cabin, for single travellers, you need to pay double the twin share cost; otherwise, there is a strong possibility that you will have to share your twin cabin with a stranger

Shared bathroom facilities are located at the end of the train car. There are special hatches that one may use to secure the door of the compartment from the inside during the night

Conductors always provide free water in samovars in every car and will usually sell you tea and lend you a mug and spoon. Most long-distance trains also have dining cars. The dining car of the express train is nicely appointed with real table linens, and an impressive menu and wine list, but is 3 to 4 times more expensive than eating in the city before and after you travel.

Note that there are more types of train between the two capitals than between any other two cities in Russia. Apart from ordinary trains, there are rapid trains (Sapsan) that run by day only and cover the 650 km between Moscow and Saint Petersburg in 4 hours. Some of the overnight trains are quite luxurious - these include the traditional The Red Arrow service and the newer, fake-Czarist-era Nikolaevsky Express, complete with attendants in 19-century uniforms. Sheets, towels and prepacked breakfasts are included in all the better trains

No one at Russian train stations speaks any English, so if you are not familiar enough with Russian to purchase your train ticket in person, it is suggested that you purchase online or through your travel agent before you depart. Also, note that all signage inside the train station is in Russian only, so finding your correct platform can be challenging 

Tickets can be bought at the train station, at travel agencies and online. You can purchase Russian train tickets at any Russian train station before your departure. However, demand on certain routes is extremely high so it makes a lot of sense to book your Russia train tickets ahead. We welcome you to use our advance reservation service and our electronic ticketing service that makes purchasing Russia train tickets convenient and simple

Friday, 18 March 2011 08:59

Money Transfer

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The most widespread international system of money transfer in Russia is Western Union. The transfer can be made through almost any bank and it takes only 20 minutes. There's a commission for the transfer.  Citizens of the United States, Canada, and some EU countries can make a Western Union transfer through the internet, using their credit card 

Another relatively wide spread money-transfer system in Russian is MoneyGram (mostly in Moscow and St. Petersburg)

Both Western Union and MoneyGram charge quite much for their services, so you may consider using other cheaper options. Normally, they take longer, but commission is much lower

There's also a local money transfer system called Contact.  They seem to have very low commission (2-3%)

Friday, 18 March 2011 08:36

Credit cards

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There're many cash machines (ATM's) in Moscow, St. Petersburg and major Siberian cities, and a lot of shops and restaurants accept cards in the big cities. They usually offer services in multiple languages, and some give out U.S. dollars. We recommend making withdrawals in Russian rubles to avoid the hassles of exchanging currency. Don’t worry – ATMs use a favorable exchange rate. In smaller towns and villages they are often difficult to find or non-existent. If you don't know where to look for an ATM ("bankomat" in Russian), go to any big and expensive hotel. However, it's better if you withdraw your money in the cash machine, which is at some bank's office, in that case if your card gets swallowed you'll deal with the problem faster. It's better to avoid street ATMs (or at least to be very careful), as sometimes swindlers attach spy devices to them, to get your PIN and card details; the safest option is the ATMs in hotels, banks or big shopping centers.Train Stations outside of major cities only accept rubles also. In Moscow and St Petersburg you can pay by card at some ticket counters - look out for the Visa/Master Card stickers on the windows. The ATM machines at the train station are often out of cash, so obtain your rubles in the city (where ATM's appear on practically every corner) before you go to the train station

Usually banks charge 0 to 1% commission if you withdraw money with the card of the other (foreign) bank, but your bank - the issuer of the card - will take from $2 to $5 US for this operation. Russian ATMs will often limit withdrawals to about USD$1,000 per day

Visa, MasterCard are accepted almost in any ATM, Visa Electron and Cirrus / Maestro - more rarely, and AMEX and Diners Club owners might have problems cashing the cards  

Important: Call your bank before you depart and let them know that you will be traveling so they do not block your cards while you are in Russia (not all banks do this, but we recommend that you look into it). We also recommend that you bring more than one card should one of the cards get locked

Friday, 18 March 2011 08:10

Health issues

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Medical facilities range from modern world class to not much higher level than 3rd world.  Citizens of EU countries should bring their medical coverage card because most of Europe has cross-coverage agreements with Russia to honor the national health coverage of the visitor's home country. A common type of visitor to Russia is the Medical Tourist who can have procedures that are very expensive in their home country done under superior conditions in Russia for a fraction of the cost of back home.  Dentistry is also sought by foreign visitors due to the remarkably low cost and quality care.  English and European languages are spoken in most clinics and hospitals.
The major state hospitals have good doctors, but you can use them only in case of emergency. Most of the people need health insurance to be treated at a hospital; however, some countries have reciprocal health care agreements with Russia.

Many pharmacies (called "apteka" in Russian) are opened 24 hours a day and there are also many of them online. Some supermarkets have small pharmacy sections as well, usually opened until 8pm. For many types of drugs prescriptions are required, which can be obtained from a doctor ("retsept" in Russian).

The water from the tap passes international standard tests for health but few visitors drink it due to rumors from years past when the city was a major industrial city with all the contaminants that entails. A new modern state of the art water treatment plant in the city center has brought the levels of purity up to high levels.  The water does in places, traverse 100 year old pipes so it might have an off taste.  All hotels and most cafes and restaurants have water filtration systems that produce good tasting water.  The locals use water for cooking and tea but prefer juice, beer and mineral water over plain water.  However, it is not recommended you drink the tap water.

Friday, 18 March 2011 07:51

Safety tips

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• Except for real necessities, don't carry things you would feel bad about losing, leave everything else of value in the hotel safe

• Some people recommend that you carry only a photocopy of your passport, visa and hotel registration document, leaving originals in hotel safe, but others indicate that a police officer who wants to check your papers may not accept a copy.  If you carry only a copy, be prepared to pay a "fine" for invalid paperwork, if you are stopped.  Being stopped by the police and asked for your papers is a thing that many people from other countries do not understand, or want to accept.  They have the legal right to do that, without any reason other than the fact that they don't like the way you look, for some reason.  No probable cause or reasonable suspicion rules apply here, so if you are going to come to Russia, just be prepared for it.  It actually doesn't happen very often, but it does happen 

• Some people recommend that you carry only one credit card and leave the others in the hotel safe.  This might be good advice, if not for the fact that sometimes, depending upon your credit card company, a credit card won't work.  Generally however credit card payments in restaurants, hotels and most retail stores are fine.  American express is accepted in hotels and most restaurants and many stores, but is the least accepted card, so you will also need a Visa or Mastercard as well.  Some stores, especially smaller ones and markets, will only accept cash, but there are literally thousands of ATM's all over Russia (nearly all being in Russian and English language) so there is no great difficulty withdrawing cash.  Not all debit cards will work in all machines - the best networks for foreign debit cards are Citibank, Raiffeisen and Sberbank, but nearly all ATM's will work if you are drawing cash out of a Visa or Mastercard

• Keep any money you do need in different places on your person

• As in any city, watch out for pickpockets. Reporting incidents to the police is not easy. Few speak English and they are not interested. Don't bet on getting a written report for your insurance company very easily if you do have things stolen. You will probably have to get your hotel to help you with that

• Use extreme caution when crossing streets on foot.  While pedestrians may technically have the right of way, many drivers don't seem to recognize that right, and will "challenge" pedestrians with their cars, coming dangerously close to them, sometimes at high speeds.  For all major roads, use the underpasses that are available or cross at traffic lights

• Be aware that "western" safety standards and practices are not necessarily widely accepted in Russia.  Unmarked tripping hazards on the sidewalk, or flimsy scaffolding which holds several workers and lots of heavy equipment, erected on a busy sidewalk, or heavy equipment operating in the middle of a street or sidewalk, with no barriers separating it from the hundreds of pedestrians passing by, are all common examples of safety hazards that many people simply aren't accustomed to watching out for, because the safety rules in their home country are so much stricter than those in Russia.  You also need to be especially careful about the slippery paths in winter - when the snow melts and then re-freezes, the paths will be like skating rinks.  In winter, it is best to wear rubber soled shoes for traction and a soft rubber at that.  Wearing leather soled shoes for anything other than small dashes from car to doorway (and even then it is risky) could see you have great difficulty walking in Russia

Friday, 18 March 2011 07:51

Emergencies

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There are 2 kinds of phone numbers to call emergencies. The difference is from what telephone you call - cellular or land line.
In emergency, please, contact the nearest Consular Office or the Embassy of your country or Russian authorities.
Free from all land line phones:
• In case of dire need a Firemen - call "01" - "Podzarnyie"
• Police - call "02" - "Militzia"
• Ambulance - call "03" - "SkorayhaPomosch"
• In case of Gassing - call "04" - "Sludzba Gaza"
From the last year, all emergency calls might be addressed to "01". "01" became similar to "911".  Exception - Moscow. There is real "911" emergency phone number here. Made special for foreigners.
From cellular to call emergency is free too. Numbers are the same, but in other cellular companies may differ. For example: "02" -> "020" or "02" -> "002". Check it, ask your friends, when arrive here.
Universal emergency number (from cellulars) - "112"

The following items are subject to declaration and limited entry to Russia. These items (or excess) should be declared and you should pass through the "red corridor". Some of the items that are being brought to Russia permanently, for sale or commercial use, may incur customs tax, which can go up to 30% of the total price (that is usually determined by the customs officials).
• Cash foreign currencies (if equivalent or more than $3000 US)
• Stocks and securities, including travelers cheques
• Alchohol (if more than 2 liters),
• Cigarettes (if more than 100), tabacco (if more than 250 gramm), cigars(in more than 50),
• Caviar (if more than 250 gramm), sturgeon(if more than 250 gm),
• Items for commercial activity (including advertising materials)
You can still bring in between $3000 and $10000 (or equivalent), but if you have more than $3000, you need to declare it, so when you leave the country you can prove you're not taking the money out of Russia.
The customs rules and procedures change often, so to get the latest update contact Customs Department of Sheremetyevo II international airport in Moscow at +7 495 578-7653. There are also customs information desks in the airport.

If you have any goods or items that are subject to declaration, you should fill in a special customs declaration form (available upon arrival) and pass through the "red corridor" at a Russian airport or customs point at the border.
If you bring in something that you think may be questioned when you come out of Russia, it's better to declare it directly when you come in. That way you will be able to prove you are not exporting it, but had it with you when you entered the country first place. Always make sure you keep the stamped declaration until the end of your trip to avoid problems when leaving the country.

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