SOCHI WINTER OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC GAMES: The XXII Winter Olympic Games and XI Paralympic Games will be held from February 7 to February 24, 2014, and March 7 to March 16, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. For information regarding travel to Russia for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, please see our Sochi Fact Sheet.
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Russia is a vast and diverse nation that continues to evolve politically, economically, and socially. Most U.S. citizens find their stay in Russia both exciting and rewarding, but travel 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. Russian visa requirements are complex, and U.S. citizens must take care they do not unintentionally violate entry and exit regulations. Travel to the North Caucasus region of Russia is dangerous; the Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens do not travel to Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus region, including Mt. Elbrus. When traveling in Russia, U.S. citizens are subject to Russian law, and may not enjoy the same legal protections they have in the United States. Read the Department of State's Background Notes on Russia for additional information.Back to Top
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit the Russian Federation, please take the time to tell our embassy about your trip by enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This allows the Department of State to keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements and also helps your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. For more information about STEP or to enroll in the program, visit the following link: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State's list of embassies and consulates. The U.S. Embassy Moscow's consular section is located at Novinskiy Bulvar 21, Moscow. The nearest metro stations are Barrikadnaya and Krasnopresnenskaya. You can reach the embassy's switchboard at (7) (495) 728-5000, and the American Citizens Services office at (7) (495) 728-5577. In the event of an after-hours emergency, please contact the main switchboard. You may also contact the American Citizens Services office by fax at (7) (495) 728-5084, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and through the embassy website.
U.S. Consulates General are located in:Back to Top
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: A visa agreement between the United States and the Russian government entered into force on September 9, 2012, and is intended to reduce complications for U.S. citizens who visit, transit, or reside in the Russian Federation. Please monitor the Bureau of Consular Affairs website and the U.S. Embassy Moscow website for additional information about the new regulations and their implementation. While general visa information can be found
below, U.S. citizens should contact the Embassy of the Russian Federation or visit its website for the most up to date information regarding visa regulations and requirements.
Travelers should be aware that U.S. citizens who do not comply with Russian immigration laws could still be subject to arrest, fines, and/or deportation. Russian authorities will not allow U.S. citizens to depart the country if their visa has expired; travelers must wait until a new visa is approved, which may take up to 20 days. Please verify the expiration date of your Russian visa, and leave Russia before your visa expires. Travelers should also keep a copy of their U.S. passport biography page and Russian visa with them at all times, and separate from the original documents.
Entry Visas: To enter Russia for any purpose other than short transit by air, or some cruise ship and ferry passengers (see below), you must possess a valid U.S. passport and a visa issued by a Russian embassy or consulate. You cannot obtain a visa upon arrival, so you must apply for your visa well in advance. 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 U.S. 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.
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 denied a visa, you may seek clarification from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 32/34 Smolenskaya-Sennaya Pl., Moscow, Russia, 119200, email@example.com.
Limitations on Length of Stay and Exit Visas: The September 2012 visa agreement permits U.S. citizens to remain on the territory of the Russian Federation for up to six consecutive months as long as their visa is still valid. Under this agreement, it is expected that qualified U.S. applicants for humanitarian, private, tourist, and business visas may receive multiple-entry visas with a validity of three years, but will still be subject to the six-month rule. (Please note that other types of visas are not part of the agreement and those visa holders should pay close attention to the terms of their visas.) All visa holders should exit Russia before their visa expires.
You need a valid visa to depart Russia. If you overstay your visa validity by less than three days, you may, at the discretion of the Russian Consular Officer,
be granted an exit visa at the airport and charged a fine. However, this process may not be available in non-capital cities,
as it requires transmission of documents from Moscow to outlying departure points on a case-by-case basis, which can cause
significant delays to the traveler. If you overstay your visa by more than three days, you will be prevented from leaving
Russia 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 have to remain 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, be sure to verify the expiration date of your Russian visa and leave Russia before your visa expires.
Under the terms of the new visa agreement, U.S. citizens holding tourist, private, business or humanitarian visas no longer need to replace a lost or stolen Russian Visa. However, a lost or stolen U.S. passport must be replaced at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or one of the Consulates General. The Russian government may also request a police report. Please note that under the new visa agreement, travelers will only be allowed to exit with a new U.S. passport if their Russian Visa in the lost/stolen passport is still valid (i.e. unexpired) at the time of departure. Again, it is a good idea to keep copies of your U.S. passport biography page and Russian visa with you, but separate from your original documents, in order to have some proof of the validity of your Russian visa.
At times, visas for students and English teachers only allow one entry. In these cases, the sponsoring school is responsible for registering the visa and migration card, as well as obtaining an exit visa. It can take up to 20 calendar days to obtain an exit visa, so students and teachers need to plan accordingly. Please see the section below regarding Teaching in Russia for additional information.
As of June 2013, Russia has seven types of temporary visas - private, tourist, business, humanitarian, work, student, and transit - each with different application requirements. Only tourist, private, business and humanitarian visas are covered by the new visa agreement.
Under the terms of the new visa agreement, U.S. citizens applying for a tourist visa no longer need a formal letter of invitation from a Russian party. However, tourists must have advance lodging reservations and arrangements with a tour operator for their first entry request/visa application. These arrangements must be in writing and presented with the visa application. While tourists should not be required to present this documentation on subsequent entries, travelers are advised to have this information available and with them. Travelers are also advised to have their travel reservations and itinerary with them at the point of entry into Russia, even though the visa agreement does not specify whether tourists will need to have this information available.
U.S. citizens traveling for business and humanitarian purposes are still required to produce a written statement from the hosting Russian organization. U.S. citizens traveling on private or "homestay" visits must also present anotarized written statement in Russian from the hosting individual (see next section for further detail). In these cases, please ensure the name of the sponsor indicated on your visa corresponds with the organization you intend to visit, or those who are arranging your travel in Russia. If the sponsor named on your visa is not the person or entity you intend to visit, you may encounter problems with Russian immigration authorities, particularly on your first entry into Russia on a multiple entry visa. If you intend to work for a non-government organization (NGO) or engage in religious work, be sure to apply for the specific type of visa required by Russian law (usually a humanitarian visa). 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.
In addition, 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 (see sections on Migration Cards and Visa Registration for additional information).
Please note that this is not intended to be a complete list of documents. Applicants for Russian visas should consult with the Embassy of the Russian Federation or Consulates General for detailed explanations of documentary requirements.
The Russian Embassy or Consulate receiving the visa application may ask for additional documentation, including:
Transit Visas: If you intend to transit through Russia by land en route to a third country, you must have a Russian transit visa issued by a Russian Embassy or Consulate. Russian law does not require you to have a transit visa if you are transiting through one international airport in Russia, whereby you will not leave the customs zone, and will depart within 24 hours to an onward international destination. However, travelers and customs officials alike often misinterpret this law. Therefore, we strongly recommend that all travelers obtain a Russian transit visa even if you are transiting in less than 24 hours, given the possibility of unexpected flight delays, rerouting, or other unforeseen travel challenges that could cause you to be stranded in an airport for an extended period of time or create other complications. U.S. citizens need a transit visa for flights from Russia to Belarus, which are considered domestic flights by Russian and Belarusian bilateral agreements. Foreigners who arrive in Russia without a valid visa and who do not meet visa-free transit requirements, may be forced to return to the point of origin at their own expense.
International Cruise Ship/Ferry Passengers: You are permitted to visit Russian ports without a visa for a period of up to 72 hours. You may go ashore without a visa during port calls, but only if you are with an organized tour and accompanied at all times by a tour operator who has been duly licensed by Russian authorities. Cruise ship and ferry lines offer shore tours that meet these requirements. If you want to do sightseeing on your own, you must have a visa. A visa is also required if you arrive in Russia by ship or ferry, but want to depart by air, train, or other mode of transportation. A U.S. passport must be presented to Russian immigration officers each time you depart or return to the ship during your port call in Russia. If your U.S. passport is lost or stolen while you are ashore, you will not be allowed to return to the ship until you obtain a replacement passport from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or one of the Consulates General. If your ship leaves Russia without you onboard, you must obtain an exit visa to depart Russia by alternative transportation. Russian authorities may take up to 20 calendar days to authorize an exit visa, during which time you will have to remain in Russia at your own expense.
Please note that these special entry/exit requirements for international cruise ship and ferry passengers do not apply to riverboat cruise passengers. Riverboat cruise passengers must have a visa and should follow the general guidelines for entry/exit requirements.
Visa Registration: If you intend to spend more than seven days in any locality in Russia, you must register your visa and migration card through your sponsor at FMS or through your landlord at his/her local post office. If staying at a hotel, the hotel reception should register your visa and migration card on the first day of your stay. If you choose not to register your visa and migration card for a stay of less than seven days, we advise you to keep copies of tickets, hotel bills, or itineraries in order to prove compliance with Russian law.
Russian police officers have the authority to stop people and request their identity and travel documents at any time and without provocation. Due to the possibility of random document checks by Russian police, you should carry your original U.S. passport, migration card and Russian visa with you at all times.
Migration Cards: U.S. citizens entering Russia must carry a migration card while in Russia. Traditionally, these two-part cards are provided to foreign passengers to complete before landing in Russia. Upon arrival, Russian immigration authorities retain one of the identical halves, and the other half is carried in the traveler's passport for the duration of their stay in Russia.
In 2011, Russian authorities launched a new program in Moscow's Vnukovo and Domodedevo Airports, by which migration cards are electronically completed and provided by immigration officials. The new program has also been expanded to the Sheremetyevo airport. If you receive an electronic card, continue to carry your migration cards in your U.S. passport and submit it to immigration authorities upon leaving. The Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) plans to expand their use of electronic migration cards to other international airports in the future.
If you lose your migration card, you should report it to the Federal Migration Service (FMS), and request replacement; losing the migration card may or may not present difficulties upon departure from Russia.Additionally, there have been instances where replacement migration cards were required in order to register at hotels. Some FMS offices are also requiring replacement of the migration card before they will issue an exit visa, a process which can take more than 24 hours and require the traveler to stay in Russia at their own expense until the situation can be resolved.
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. Russian visa applicants are required to list on their visa application all areas in Russia that they intend to visit, and must also subsequently register with authorities upon their 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 (FMS) before traveling to unfamiliar cities and towns.
U.S. Citizens Also Holding Russian Passports: If you are a dual U.S./Russian national, you must enter and depart both Russia and the United States carrying the passport of that country. If you are a Russian citizen carrying a Russian passport, you should confirm that your Russian passport is valid beyond your planned departure. The Russian government will not permit you to depart Russia with an expired Russian passport, and obtaining one in Russia as a non-resident is extremely difficult. Russian authorities will also not permit departure from Russia if the Russian passport is lost or stolen, even in cases when the traveler also has a valid U.S. passport. In these instances, the traveler will be required to obtain a new Russian passport, a process that can take several months and will likely prevent a timely exit from Russia.
Russian consular officials generally require that dual U.S./Russian nationals renounce their Russian citizenship - a process that may take several months - prior to issuing any Russian visa in a U.S. passport, including transit (exit) visas. If you were born in Russia, you will be required to prove that you have renounced your Russian citizenship prior to obtaining any Russian visa, in order to be in compliance with Russian law. So-called "Repatriation Certificates" (Svidetel'stvo na vozvrashcheniye) issued to Russian citizens abroad are only valid to enter Russia, not to depart from Russia. Bearers of such certificates must apply for a new passport inside Russia. Males of conscript age (18 - 27 years old) who are deemed Russian citizens may experience problems if they have not satisfied their military service requirement.
For further information, please see the Department of State's webpage on dual nationality.
Minors: In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated special procedures at entry/exit points, such as requiring documentary evidence of the parent or guardian's relationship to the child and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian if not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not legally required, may facilitate entry/departure. For further information please see the Department of State's webpage regarding the prevention of international child abduction.
Special note: U.S. citizen minors who also have Russian citizenship and are traveling alone or in the company of adults who are not their parents, must carry a Russian passport, as well as a power of attorney written in Russian and signed by their parents. Such minors will be prevented from entering or leaving Russia if they cannot present such a power of attorney.
HIV/AIDS Entry Restrictions: Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to, and foreign residents of, Russia. Applicants for longer term tourist and work visas or residence permits are required to undergo an HIV/AIDS test. These applicants may also be asked to undergo tests for tuberculosis and leprosy. Travelers who believe they may be subject to these requirements should verify this information with the Embassy of the Russian Federation.
Apostilles: The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General in Russia cannot provide apostilles to documents. This process must be done by the Secretary of State of the U.S. state that processed the document (or in the case of a U.S. federal agency document, the State Department's Office of Authentications ). For more information about apostilles, visit the U.S. Embassy website.
Embassy of the Russian Federation: The Russian Federation has moved to an on-line visa application process in the United States, which can be initiated at this website. For additional information concerning travel to Russia, U.S. 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.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.Back to Top
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Due to continued civil and political unrest throughout much of the North Caucasus region of Russia, the Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to Chechnya and all other areas of the North Caucasus, including North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya, and Kabardino-Balkariya. The U.S. Government's ability to assist U.S. citizens who travel to the North Caucasus region is extremely limited. Due to ongoing security concerns, U.S. Government travel to the region is also very limited. Throughout the region, local criminal gangs have kidnapped foreigners, including U.S. citizens, for ransom. There have also been several kidnappings of foreigners and Russian citizens working for media and non-governmental organizations in the region. U.S. citizens have disappeared in Chechnya and remain missing. Close contacts within the local population does not guarantee safety. U.S. citizens residing in these areas should depart immediately.
Terrorism: Acts of terrorism, including bombings and hostage takings, continue to occur in Russia, particularly in the North Caucasus region. However, in the past several years, Moscow and St. Petersburg have also been the targets of terrorist attacks. Bombings have occurred at Russian government buildings, airports, hotels, tourist sites, markets, entertainment venues, schools, and residential complexes, and on public transportation including subways, buses, trains, and scheduled commercial flights. Extremist groups occasionally threaten to set off bombs in market areas of major cities that are operated largely by migrant workers. Large-scale public events also present an attractive target for terrorists. There is no indication that U.S. institutions or citizens have been targets, but there is a general risk of U.S. citizens becoming victims of indiscriminate terrorist attacks. U.S. citizens in Russia should be aware of their personal surroundings and follow good security practices. U.S. citizens are urged to remain vigilant and exercise good judgment and discretion when using any form of public transportation. When traveling, U.S. citizens may wish to provide a friend, family member, or coworker a copy of their itinerary.
In the event the U.S. Government receives information of any specific and credible threat, the Department of State will immediately provide information to the public through an updated Travel Alert or Travel Warning.
Demonstrations: U.S. citizens should avoid public demonstrations, whether properly authorized or not, and avoid any large crowds and public gatherings that lack enhanced security measures. Occasional peaceful demonstrations taking place near the U.S. Embassy do not generally interfere with public services, but U.S. citizens should avoid them when possible. Travelers should also exercise a high degree of caution and remain alert when patronizing restaurants, casinos, nightclubs, bars, theaters, etc., especially during peak hours of business.
Mt. Elbrus: Mt. Elbrus has become an increasingly popular destination for adventure travelers wishing to climb the highest mountain in Europe. However, the security situation in the regions surrounding the mountain remains highly unstable. The U.S. Embassy recommends against attempting to climb Mt. Elbrus, as it can only be done by passing close to volatile and insecure areas of the North Caucasus region.
Stay informed about the security of the area by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Country Specific Information, as well as the Worldwide Caution.
If you do not have Internet access, call us for updates --1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada, or from elsewhere on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. You can also call the U.S. Embassy in Moscow at 7-495-728-5577. Take some time before traveling to improve your personal security and ensure your safety by reviewing these useful tips for traveling safely abroad.Back to Top
CRIME: Incidents of unprovoked, violent harassment against racial and ethnic minorities regularly occur throughout the Russian Federation. The U.S. Embassy Moscow and Consulates General continue to receive reports of U.S. citizens victimized in violent attacks by "skinheads" or other extremists. Travelers are urged to exercise caution in areas frequented by such individuals and wherever large crowds have gathered. U.S. citizens most at risk are those of African, South Asian, or East Asian descent, or those who, because of their complexion, are perceived to be from the Caucasus region or the Middle East. These U.S. citizens are also at risk for harassment by police authorities.
While visiting 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: keep wallets in inner front pockets, carry purses tucked securely under arms, wear the shoulder strap of cameras or bags across the chest, walk away from the curb, and carry purses and other bags away from the street. The most vulnerable areas include underground walkways, the subway, overnight trains, train stations, airports, markets, tourist attractions, and restaurants. Foreigner travelers 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.
Internet Dating Schemes: Reports of fraud committed against U.S. citizens by internet correspondents professing love and romantic interest are common. Typically, the correspondent asks the U.S. citizen to send money or credit card information for living expenses, travel expenses, or "visa costs." The nature of the internet means that you cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent. We have received many reports of citizens losing thousands of dollars through such scams. Never send money to anyone you have not met in person. Please review our information on Internet Dating Schemes.
Turkey Drop Scam: A common street scam in Russia is the "turkey drop" in which an individual "accidentally" drops money on the ground in front of an intended victim, while an accomplice either waits for the money to be picked up, or picks up the money him/herself and offers to split it with the pedestrian. The individual who dropped the currency then returns, aggressively accusing both of stealing the money. This confrontation generally results in the theft of the pedestrian's money. Avoidance is the best defense. Do not get trapped into picking up the money, and walk quickly away from the scene.
Drug Crimes: The Russian media report that the drug GHB is reportedly gaining popularity in local nightclubs, under the names butyrate or oxybutyrate. This drug can also cause amnesia, loss of consciousness, and/or extreme intoxication when mixed with alcohol, and death. The drug, typically in the form of a capful of liquid mixed with a beverage, gained notoriety in the United States after incidents of date-rape and death. In many cases, stolen credit cards are used immediately. Victims of credit card or ATM card theft should report the theft to the credit card company or issuing bank immediately.Back to Top
Crimes Involving Public Transportation/Highway Crime: Travelers should be vigilant in bus and train stations and when taking other public transportation. Bogus trolley inspectors, whose aim is to extort a bribe from individuals while checking for trolley tickets, are also a threat.
Travelers have generally found it safer to travel in groups organized by reputable tour agencies. We discourage the use of unmarked taxis, as passengers have been victims of robbery, kidnapping, extortion, and theft. Criminals use these unmarked taxis to rob passengers, and often wait outside bars or restaurants to find travelers who have been drinking and are more susceptible to robbery. Robberies may also occur in taxis shared with strangers. Although there are few registered taxi services in Russia, you should always use authorized services when arriving at a major airport.
To avoid highway crime, try not to drive at night, especially when alone, and do not sleep in your vehicle on the side of the road. Do not pick up hitchhikers; they pose a threat to your physical safety and put you in danger of arrest for unwittingly transporting narcotics.
Crimes Involving Businesses: Extortion and corruption are common in the business environment. Business disputes may involve threats of violence and even acts of violence. Organized criminal groups, and occasionally even local police, target foreign businesses in many cities and have been known to demand protection money. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable. Please report all extortion attempts to the Russian authorities and inform consular officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or the nearest Consulate General.
Certain activities that are considered normal business activities in the United States and other countries are either illegal under the Russian legal code or are considered suspect by the Federal Security Service (FSB). There are particular risks involved in any commercial activity with the Russian military-industrial complex, including research institutes, design bureaus, production facilities or other high technology, and 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.
Airport Scams: Traveler's should be cautious when traveling in any of Russia's airports. There have been instances where U.S. citizens and other foreigners have been targeted. These scams usually involve a friendly stranger, who will ask you to watch his/her bag or purse, and then leave and either contact the police or return with someone appearing to be a policeman/woman. The bag may contain drugs or other illegal items. The perpetrators then extort money or other valuables to avoid hassles with the police. Travelers should never accept or agree to watch a bag that belongs to a stranger.
Personal Privacy: Travelers should be aware that in 1995, the Russian Federal Law on Operational Search Activity passed, in conjunction with Order No. 130 by the Minister of Information Technology and Communications (July 25, 2000), the "System for Operative Investigative Activities." Commonly known as "SORM," this law permits the monitoring, retention and analysis of all data that traverses Russian communications networks, including fax transmissions, telephone calls, internet browsing and e-mail messaging. U.S. citizens should be cognizant of this law when using any of these means of communication.
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. If stopped, obtain the officer's name, badge number, and patrol car number, and note where the stop happened, as this information assists local officials in identifying the perpetrators. Authorities are concerned about these incidents and have cooperated in investigating such cases. U.S. citizens should always report harassment or crimes to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or the nearest U.S. Consulate General.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State's list of embassies and consulates ). If your passport is stolen, we can help replace it. For violent crimes such as assault and rape, we can help find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, and even assist family or friends in sending you money. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Russia is 03 (pronounced "Skoraya Pomosh").
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.Back to Top
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While traveling in Russia, you are subject to its laws. This is true even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from those in the United States and criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but are still considered illegal in the United States. For example, U.S. citizens can be prosecuted under U.S. law if they buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or the use and/or dissemination of child pornography in a foreign country is also a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Russia, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. Therefore, it is very important to know what is legal and what is not legal in the country you are visiting.Back to Top
Attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals: Discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread in Russia. Harassment, threats, and acts of violence targeting LGBT individuals have occurred. Government officials have been known to make derogatory comments about LGBT persons.
In June 2013, the State Duma passed a law banning "the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors. Russian citizens found guilty of violating the law could face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,100). Foreign citizens face similar fines, up to 15 days in jail, and deportation. The law is vague as to what will be considered propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations. As a result, commentators have suggested that the law may make it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public. Violence against the LGBT community has increased sharply since the law was passed, including entrapment and torture of young gay men by neo-Nazi gangs and the murder of multiple individuals due to their sexual orientation. Many view this legislation as encouraging such violence, with the majority of attacks against members of the LGBT community going unreported.
LGBT travelers should review the LGBT Travel Information page.
Counterfeit and Pirated Goods: In many countries around the world, including Russia, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. In Russia, CD and DVD piracy is an especially serious problem. Transactions involving such products are illegal under Russian law, and the Russian government has increased its enforcement activities against infringement of intellectual property rights. In addition, bringing counterfeit and pirated products back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Division in the U.S. Department of Justice has more information on this problem.
Teaching in Russia: Some U.S. citizens coming to Russia to teach English have complained about schools' failure to facilitate proper visas and pay agreed salaries. If you are a prospective teacher, ensure that your employer is prepared to comply with Russian laws governing the employment and documentation of foreigners, including proper visa support, registration, and legal salary payments. Ask for references from other foreigners who have taught at the school and consider insisting upon written contracts stipulating the provisions of employment, just as you would in the United States. Warning signs include instructions to arrive in Russia on a tourist visa and "change status" later, payment under the table (in cash with no documentation or tax withholding), and requirements that the school retain a passport for the length of the employment. (Please note that upon arrival, a legal employee must surrender his or her passport for registration by the employer, but this process should take less than three weeks.)
Currency: The Russian ruble is the only legal tender currency. It is illegal to pay for goods and services in U.S. dollars, except at authorized retail establishments. U.S. bills that are worn or marked in any way are often not accepted at banks and exchange offices.
Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are plentiful in major cities. Travelers should follow all normal precautions when using ATMs. In particular, travelers should avoid "stand-alone" machines and opt to use machines at banks or higher-class hotels and stores. Credit cards are not universally accepted, and travelers should check in advance to see if a specific store, restaurant, or hotel accepts credit cards. Outside of major cities, commercial enterprises still operate largely on a cash basis and travelers should plan accordingly.
Customs Information: Passengers must personally escort their luggage through Russian customs. Under a strict interpretation of this law, airline companies may not deliver a lost bag to the traveler's final destination. Moreover, not all airlines will reimburse the traveler for expenses related to retrieving lost luggage.
Rigorous searches of baggage and stricter enforcement of customs regulations against the exportation of items of "cultural value" can occur. U.S. citizens visiting Russia have been arrested for attempting to leave the country with antique items they believed were legally purchased from licensed vendors. Travelers should obtain receipts for all high-value items (including caviar) purchased in Russia. Any article that could appear old or as having cultural value to the Customs Service, including artwork, icons, samovars, rugs, military medals and antiques, must have a certificate indicating that it has no historical or cultural value. Certificates may not be granted for certain articles due to their cultural value or antiquity. Certificates may be obtained from the Russian Ministry of Culture. For further information, please contact the Russian Customs Committee.
The importation and use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and other radio electronic devices are sometimes subject to special rules and regulations in Russia. The Russian Customs Service recently stated that terminal GPS devices may be imported upon their simple declaration on arrival. A special customs permit should be obtained in the case of importation of a GPS to be used as a peripheral device to a separate computer and/or antenna to increase its capability.
In general, mapping and natural resource data collection activities associated with normal commercial and scientific collaboration may result in seizure of the associated equipment and/or arrest. The penalty for using a GPS device in a manner which is determined to compromise Russian national security can result in a prison term of ten to twenty years.
Visitors may bring regular cellular telephones to Russia without restriction. Satellite telephones require advance approval from the Russian authorities. The Russian agency responsible for telecommunications issues and which approves the importation of satellite phones is Roskomnadzor.
There are also no restrictions on bringing laptop computers into the country for personal use. However, the software may be inspected upon departure. Hardware and software found to contain sensitive or encrypted data may be subject to confiscation.
Travelers entering Russia with $10,000 or more in cash may have to explain the money's origin and intended use. Travelers exiting Russia must declare the amount of cash and travelers checks exceeding $10,000 and list the source(s) of the funds on the customs declaration form.
Prescription Medication: Russia also has very strict rules on the importation of medication. Russia prohibits certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs common in the United States. Large quantities of any medicine will receive scrutiny.
The Embassy recommends that all U.S. citizens carry a copy of their valid U.S. prescription(s) when entering Russia with prescription medication(s). There have been instances where U.S. citizens have been detained in Russia because they were not able to prove they lawfully obtained their prescription medication in the United States.
If a traveler is in doubt regarding the importation into Russia of a particular item, he or she should address specific questions to the Federal Customs Service of the Russian Federation website or email.
Accessibility: Individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation in Russia very different from the United States. While Russian law requires most new public buildings and others with community space (e.g., shopping centers) be accessible for persons with disabilities, many older buildings are not required to meet these requirements.
Getting around in Russian cities and towns may be difficult at times since many sidewalks are narrow and uneven. Mobility is usually easier in cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, compared to smaller towns and rural areas. In general, public transportation is not accommodating to people with disabilities; this includes the Moscow Metro, which is not accessible to persons with disabilities.Back to Top
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in most localities is below Western standards due to shortages of medical supplies, differing practice standards and the lack of comprehensive primary care. Those facilities in Moscow and St. Petersburg with higher standards do not necessarily accept all cases. Access to these facilities usually requires cash or credit card payment at Western rates at the time of service. The U.S. Social Security Medicare Program does not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs in Russia. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk. We do not recommend elective surgeries requiring blood transfusions and/or non-essential blood transfusions due to uncertainties surrounding the local blood supply. Most hospitals and clinics in major urban areas have adopted the use of disposable IV supplies, syringes, and needles as standard practice. However, travelers to remote areas might consider bringing a supply of sterile, disposable syringes and corresponding IV supplies. We recommend travelers do not visit tattoo parlors or piercing services due to the risk of infection.
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. Cases of cholera have rarely been reported throughout the area. Travelers can reduce the risk of exposure to infectious and noxious agents by drinking bottled water and using bottled water for food or drink preparation. Tap water is generally unsafe to drink outside of Moscow. Tuberculosis is also an increasingly serious health concern in Russia. For further information about tuberculosis, please consult the CDC's information on Tuberculosis.
HIV infection rates 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 United States, and some sources suggest that gonorrhea and chlamydia are also more prevalent in Russia than in Western Europe or the United States.
Travelers may obtain information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, from the CDC hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Alternative Medical Treatments: Foreigners occasionally travel to Russia to receive medical treatment that is more expensive or prohibited in the United States, including stem-cell therapy and surrogate birthing. These treatments may involve considerable risks. Standards of infection control in both surgical and postoperative care may be inadequate. Patients undergoing treatment often develop secondary infections that cannot be handled by the facilities offering the procedures, and must be admitted to local hospitals of uncertain quality. In these cases, the patient is responsible for all additional costs, including repatriation back to the United States.Back to Top
MEDICAL INSURANCE: Travelers should not assume their health insurance will cover any medical expenses incurred during travel. It is very important to find out before leaving the United States whether your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You should ask your insurance company the following two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors' and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy does not apply when you travel, it is a very good idea to take out an additional insurance policy that will provide medical coverage during your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.Back to Top
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: You may encounter road conditions and driver safety norms that differ significantly from those in the United States. As a pedestrian, exercise great care near traffic, as vehicles frequently fail to yield to pedestrians. In some areas of Russia, roads are practically nonexistent. When driving, adhere to all local driving regulations, as they are strictly enforced and violators are subject to severe legal penalties. Russia practices a zero-tolerance policy with regard to alcohol consumption prior to driving. The maximum punishment is a two-year suspension of a driver's license. Authorities may detain an intoxicated driver until they determine that he or she is sober.
Avoid excessive speed and, if possible, do not drive at night, particularly outside of major cities. 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 working headlight and many cars lack taillights. 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 government tourist office. Some routes have heavy truck and bus traffic, while others have poor or nonexistent shoulders; many are one-way or do not permit left turns. In addition, 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 also wise to bring an extra fan belt, fuses, and other spare parts. In the Russian Far East most vehicles are right-side drive, affording the drivers limited visibility on two-lane roads.
If you are involved in an automobile accident while in Russia, leave your car in the location where the accident occurred and wait for local officials to arrive. Do not move your car from the location where the accident occurred or you may be held liable even if you are not at fault. Drivers may have to wait several hours for local police to arrive at the scene.
Temporary visitors to Russia may drive for up to 60 days with a valid U.S. driver's license and a notarized Russian translation. Tourists may also use International Driving Permits issued by the American Automobile Association or the American Automobile Touring Alliance to drive in Russia. Russian law requires foreigners on business or employment visas or with permanent residence status to have a Russian driver's license. In order to obtain this license one has to take the appropriate exams in Russian. Travelers may not use a U.S. driver's license in place of a Russian license. Travelers without a valid license are often subject to prolonged stops by police.
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.
Roadside checkpoints are commonplace and are ostensibly in place to detect narcotics, alien smuggling, and firearms violations. However, traffic police sometimes use these checkpoints to extract cash "fines." See paragraph under "CRIME," above, on mistreatment by local police.
Please also refer to our Road Safety page for more information.Back to Top
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Russia's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Russia's air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA's safety assessment page.Back to Top
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Russia dated July 2013, to update all sections.Back to Top