I am traveling in early June to Moscow and St. Petersburg Russia. Any travel advice would be appreciated. We are a group of 2 moms, [age 54] and 2 daughters, [age 24]. We are staying at the Moscow Marriott Royal Aurora Hotel and Courtyard St. Petersburg Vasilievsky. How difficult is it to get to the hotel from the airport? Is the public transit good? Are there internet cafes? We don't speak Russian is that a problem? Any real "deals" for eating in Moscow or St. Petersburg? We heard Russia is very pricey. THANKS!
The State Department has some fairly specific warnings about crime in the Russian Federation:
CRIME: Incidents of unprovoked, violent harassment against racial and ethnic minorities regularly occur throughout the Russian Federation. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates General continue to receive reports of U.S. citizens, often members of minority groups, who have been 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. Americans 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 Americans are also at risk for harassment by police authorities.
Visitors to Russia need to be alert to their surroundings. In large cities, they need to take the same precautions against assault, robbery, or pickpockets that they would take in any large U.S. city:
- keep billfolds 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 away from the street.
The most vulnerable areas include underground walkways and the subway, overnight trains, train stations, airports, markets, tourist attractions, and restaurants.
Groups of children and adolescents have been aggressive in some cities, swarming victims, or assaulting and knocking them down. They frequently target persons who are perceived as vulnerable, especially elderly tourists or persons traveling alone. Some victims report that the attackers use knives. Persons carrying valuables in backpacks, in back pockets of pants and in coat pockets are especially vulnerable to pickpockets.
Foreigners who have been drinking alcohol are especially vulnerable to assault and robbery in or around nightclubs or bars, or on their way home. Some travelers have been drugged at bars, while others have taken strangers back to their lodgings, where they were drugged, robbed and/or assaulted.
In many cases, 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 without delay.
Travelers are advised to be vigilant in bus and train stations and on public transport. Always watch for pickpockets in these areas. 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. Robberies may occur in taxis shared with strangers. Travelers should be aware that there are few registered taxi services in Russia and should be aware of the safety risks inherent in flagging down informal or “gypsy” cabs.
A common street scam in Russia is the “turkey drop” in which an individual “accidentally” drops the 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 himself 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 pedestrian’s money being stolen. Avoidance is the best defense. Do not get trapped into picking up the money, and walk quickly away from the scene.
To avoid highway crime, travelers should try not to drive at night, especially when alone, or sleep in vehicles along the road. Travelers should not, under any circumstances, pick up hitchhikers: they not only pose a threat to physical safety, but also put the driver in danger of being arrested for unwittingly transporting narcotics.
Extortion and corruption are common in the business environment. Threats of violence and acts of violence are commonly resorted to in business disputes. Organized criminal groups and sometimes local police target foreign businesses in many cities and have been known to demand protection money. Many Western firms hire security services that have improved their overall security, although this is no guarantee. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable. U.S. citizens are encouraged to report all extortion attempts to the Russian authorities and to inform consular officials at the U.S. Embassy or nearest Consulate General.
Travelers should be aware that certain activities that would be normal business activities in the United States and other countries are either illegal under the Russian legal code or are considered suspect by the FSB (Federal Security Service). U.S. citizens should be particularly aware of potential risks involved in any commercial activity with the Russian military-industrial complex, including research institutes, design bureaus, production facilities or other high technology, government-related institutions. Any misunderstanding or dispute in such transactions can attract the involvement of the security services and lead to investigation or prosecution for espionage. Rules governing the treatment of information remain poorly defined.
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, travelers should try to obtain, if safe to do so, 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. Travelers should report crimes to the U.S. Embassy or the nearest Consulate General.
Internet Dating Schemes: The U.S. Embassy receives reports almost every day of fraud committed against U.S. citizens by Internet correspondents professing love and romantic interest. Typically, the correspondent asks the U.S. citizen to send money or credit card information for living expenses, travel expenses, or “visa costs.” The anonymity of the Internet means that the U.S. citizen cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or gender of the correspondent. The U.S. Embassy has received many reports of citizens losing thousands of dollars through such scams. American citizens are advised never to send money to anyone they have not met in person. Please review our information on Internet Dating Schemes .
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 markedly increased its enforcement activities against intellectual property rights infringements. 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 serious problem.
I would also recommend registering your trip with the department of state, just in case. As always forewarned is forearmed. Have a great trip.
Have you been talking to my Hungarian mother???
Your post sounds like the lecture I got on my 1st trip into Ukraine.
She made my Ukrainian guide come to Budapest to pick my brother and I up, and he had to meet the 'extended' family. Then we all had to go to the US Embassy in Budapest and 'register' our trip. My guide was sweating bullets.
I have traveled with this guide many times in Ukraine, Poland, Hungary and Russia, and we have since become friends. He is worth every penny I pay him, as he does all the driving (with no street signs it means stopping at every intersection to check we are on the right road to our destination), in Moscow most of the cabs are gypsy cabs so there is no way to know which car is a cab as they are not marked and you have to negotiate prices, matter of fact all prices are negotiated, and I probably save enough money and then some to pay his fee.
On top of it he is a black belt in martial arts, and occassionally has had to rid us of undesireables.
He also speaks Polish, Ukranian and Russian with a Moscow accent. I can't tell you the number of times english speakers have stopped us in the subway for directions as they were lost, could not read the signs, and were unable to communicate with anyone. Most of the former Soviet Republics & Eastern Block countries, its easiest to get around in Russian.